Seeing Ourselves in Others

Tabitha Speelman reviews Zhou Yijun’s Out of the Middle East

What lead to the nationwide bursts of street protests in Iran in the last week of 2017? “Eggs (a bad economy) and headscarves (a lack of freedom),” writes Chinese foreign affairs columnist Zhou Yijun. The former Middle East correspondent’s popular post on Tencent-sponsored platform Dajia goes on to discuss the possible involvement of “hostile foreign forces” (unlikely) and concludes with the need for Iran’s authorities to allow political reform.

Zhou’s article was part of enthusiastic online discussion in Chinese about the protests on either side of China’s Great Firewall. Although a censorship directive to “no longer hype” the protests came out after a couple of days – perhaps prompted by the amount of online commentators rooting for the protesters – earlier articles were not deleted. This space for coverage of political events outside China, where domestic censorship is growing ever stricter, is also what enabled Zhou's recent book on political reform across the Middle East, including Iran, to get past the censors and into bookstores.