By Adrienne Mong/NBC News
A Dai farmer in Yunnan.
BEIJING — We were on the road this past week so had been following from afar all the reports of the continued Chinese government crackdown.
Ever since an anonymous call for the Jasmine rallies surfaced on the Internet in the days leading up to Sunday, February 20th, the authorities have tightened up their monitoring of microblogs and other online discussions as well as rounded up dissidents, activists, and lawyers.
Based on the news coming out of Beijing and Shanghai — where the crackdown has been intently felt by foreign journalists — China appeared to be turning the clock back to a much more repressive time when paranoia seemed to reign.
But in the hinterlands of Inner Mongolia in the far north or Yunnan towards the southwestern border with Myanmar, where we had been travelling this week, it was a different China. One that seemed to be still opening up to the outside world and busy with modernizing.
It was the country that gave credence to arguments that China is not like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, or any of the other nations in the grip of anti-government turmoil.
A place, for instance, where farmers, enabled by local government to grow cash crops, have seen their living standards improve immeasurably in the past ten years. Where an agronomist who grew up in Burundi and came to China six years ago marvelled at the paved roads that allowed him to make regular visits to farmers—something that along with the cell phone coverage, clean running water supply, electricity, and Internet access was simply unimaginable where he was last working, in Tanzania.
A place where farmers were more interested in using their cell phones and the Internet to keep track of international commodity prices like rubber than to participate in dissent.
A place where the word “jasmine” means nothing but tea to the local villagers.
As ever, it was sobering and inspiring to see people whose idea of a better life meant being able to earn enough money to buy a refrigerator or a motorbike or, in one instance, a new 4x4.
But then back in Beijing, within an hour of walking back through my front door from the airport, two local police officers stopped by unannounced at 10:20 p.m.
As they have been doing all week, they were checking up on everyone’s paperwork, and they took the time to remind me—as a foreign journalist — to follow Chinese law and regulations. A place that is reverting to type as a police state.
And this was still the China that also failed to look after its own people. One report this morning recounted a typical encounter between petitioners coming to the capital to lobby for their interests and the security forces engaging in ham-fisted bullying.
A place where, according to state-run media, 739,000 security personnel have been deployed across Beijing — many of whom were on alert at the city's two main sites designated by the anonymous people or group urging for the Jasmine rallies.