Political aspirants range from lawyers and farmers to pensioners and even a leggy model. Hundreds have begun campaigns online through Chinese social-networking sites that, despite some restrictions, allow citizens normally limited by censorship of traditional media to connect in unprecedented ways. "My main reason for running is to let everyone know they have the right to vote and the right to stand as a candidate," says Li Zhiyong, a 41-year-old lawyer in the wealthy southern city of Shenzhen who declared his candidacy online in May. "A lot of people don't even know the basic procedure of elections, and I want to educate them about their rights."
The central government appeared, at first, to accept this grassroots activism, even as more explosive displays of people power in the Arab world were unnerving party leaders. Earlier this year, state-run media published cheery articles about unlikely candidates for local legislatures, including a high school student in Shenzhen with a passion for politics. But by June, the backlash — inevitable, it now feels, for a regime paranoid about any challenge to its power — had begun.Ironically (perhaps?), the lack of enthusiasm for these individuals comes at a time that the Chinese military is working on its public image. But it also might be consistent with China's recent efforts at warning the U.S. against protectionist ideas.
Mind you, many American citizens have knee-jerk reactions when it comes to China, and those reactions often are consistently negative. How the stories mentioned above fit into those stereotypes seems apparent.