Alarmed by the spectacle of authoritarian states wobbling in the Middle East, China is still trying to protect itself from any thought of a similar “Jasmine Revolution.” The New York Times reported that beyond locking up even more human rights activists, lawyers, and dissidents than usual, and beyond censoring online mentions of the
popular folk song “Jasmine Flower,”
the authorities have
suppressed the sale of jasmine itself
This sort of crisis micromanagement is a tradition in the People’s Republic. In 2008, after an American visitor was stabbed to death at the beginning of the Beijing Olympics, it became impossible to buy any sort of kitchen knife anywhere in the capital. Now, according to the Times, the wholesale price of jasmine flowers has fallen by two-thirds, as flower markets in Beijing have stopped selling the blossoms,
The Beijing Public Security Bureau declined to answer questions about jasmine. But a number of cut flower and live plant business owners said they had been either visited by the police in early March or given directives indicating that it had become contraband.
Thanks to a censored Internet, most Chinese have never heard of the protest calls in China, nor are they aware of the ensuing crackdown.
In the absence of concrete information, fantastic rumors have taken root. One wholesale flower vendor at the Jiuzhou Flower and Plant Trading Center in southern Beijing said he heard the ban had something to do with radiation contamination from Japan. A young woman hawking floral bouquets at Laitai, a large flower market near the United States Embassy, said she was told jasmine blossoms contained some unspecified poison that was killing people.
Many sellers, however, were less than eager to discuss jasmine with a foreigner, particularly at the Sunhe Beidong market, where a policeman could be seen last month nosing around the bouquets. Most quickly steered the conversation to more promising topics. “You don’t want to buy jasmine. It’s just not trendy this year,” said one clerk at the Laitai market, pointing to pots of lavender and rosemary.