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© 2008 - Ben Heine
China and the
2008 Olympics

By Mike Wootton

The leader in this week’s Economist magazine addresses the “Chinese rage” over the disruption caused to the world-wide tour of the Olympic flame. It cites the rage as being “out of all proportion to the alleged offenses”, an opinion with which I agree.

During the initial demons-trations over Chinese rule in Tibet (Xizang), the Chinese authorities undertook to educate (or re-educate) Tibetan monks in national patriotism. This statement begs the question as to why it should be thought necessary to educate people in national patriotism? An Orwellian idea. What appears to have happened over the few weeks between the torch’s departure from Olympia in March and its arrival in San Francisco is that there has been a worldwide mobilization of Chinese nationalist sentiment, to the point where in Australia the pro-Chinese spectators outnumbered the anti-Chinese spectators. Is this because the Chinese people, as Xinhua would have us believe have been “righteously indignant” about criticism by much of the world over their human rights record and have decided to go out and show public support for China centered nominally around the flame tour, or is it something deeper than that?

I was living in Beijing at the time of the rocketing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Although warned against it, I went out to watch the Chinese laobaixing (ordinary people) expressing their “righteous indignation” over the event at the US and British Embassies. The demonstrators had been brought by numbered buses from the various universities in Beijing to the diplomatic quarters, they were led off the buses by people carrying flags, to positions outside the relevant Embassies and then, on a signal, started their demonstrations. After a while at the blow of a whistle, the students all returned to their numbered buses and were driven away whence they had come. TV and newspaper coverage showed wild looking crowds of demonstrators outside the Embassies throwing rotten eggs and other missiles—the wrath of the Chinese people.

The power of Xinhua news-agency is not to be underrated. It is the national propaganda agency of China and has astonishing influence on Chinese opinion and Chinese thought, not only in China but worldwide. There are over 2,000 daily newspapers produced in China and with very few exceptions, they all say the same thing and contain the same opinions and views! There are also countless TV stations giving the same opinions and views—woe betide any journalist who writes something counter to the best interests of the Party.

The Chinese government has for many years tried very hard through educational curricula and the media to instill correct political thinking and behavior into its subjects. Pride in national identity (and xenophobia) is a key element of this, and these bits seem to stick ("one nation one family") when every TV station closes down for the day. Any Chinese can tell you about the awfulness of the Opium Wars and the sacking of the Summer Palace. To sustainably instill correct political thinking is more difficult it seems, laobaixing do not have too much time for political dogma and as China’s economy develops further in its skewed looking unequal way, then about 80 percent of the population (involved in agriculture) will have even less time for politics and will need to spend more time on worrying where the next meal is going to come from.

China desperately wants to be seen as a world power after so many years of isolation and so many perceived historic slights to its national pride at the hands of “evil and rapacious” foreigners. It demands respect from the rest of the world, yet in today’s world respect has to be earned, it must not be demanded, that turns people against you. Despite the undoubted and growing economic clout of the nation (supported by the multilaterals who continue to pour in development aid to the World’s biggest foreign exchange reserve country), it will not be earned by mobilization of the “righteous indignation of the Chinese people” at every incident of external criticism. Is there any other country in the World which would exhibit the same widespread level of national fervor over a perceived slight which damaged the public relations surrounding China hosting the Olympics ? Do they really want the world to tremble at China’s wrath? I hope not.

It’s time to mature and to start to integrate with the developed world, not to shout at it and vilify winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and respected international media whilst at the same time exhibiting a distinct lack of transparency over human rights ("internal matters, not anybody else’s business"). Who is it that is politicizing the Olympics?

The laobaixing are no doubt pleased and proud that the Olympics are to be held in China and those who can afford the tickets and the travel costs are looking forward to seeing an extravaganza of an event and much good sportsmanship. Let’s hope there is not too much loud trumpeting about the number of gold medals that the Chinese athletes win beating the foreigners. Turn down the volume China please, it’s unbecoming.


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