Monday, April 28, 2008

Olympolitik

I was motivated to write something after reading a post on BBC News reporting Chinese reaction to the Olympic torch protests - which seem to be universally hostile to demonstrations in the west. I've no idea how representative the comments are, but since it's the good old BBC (who I trust beyond all reason), and given that Britain enjoys uncensored free speech, I'm prepared to believe they're at least commonly held views among Han Chinese.

The posts make several points, most of which made my blood boil. Grrrr:

  1. The Olympics are non-political and should not be used by protestors to make a political point.
  2. Tibet has been part of China "for more 1,000 years" [sic].
  3. China has poured huge resources into Tibet to develop the economy.
  4. Tibet was previously a very unequal, feudal society.
  5. Most Westerners haven't been to China and misunderstand the country and it's politics.
  6. Westerners are hypocritical in their condemnation given their own human rights abuses at Guantanamo, Iraq and other places.
Lets vent some spleen at these points, in order.
  1. Beijing is out to make as much political capital out of the Olympics as possible and if you live by the sword, expect to feel it poking you in the jacksy from time to time. Among the torch-related stunts we still have to look forward to are a procession though Tibet itself (to show Chinese unity, naturally) and climbers carrying the torch to the summit of Everest. No political controversy there then.
  2. This is just wrong. Sadly I don't have the space to summarise 1,000 years of Tibetan and Chinese history here, but there are plenty of books on the subject. For maximum accuracy, try reading one that's been not been approved for publication by the Chinese Communist Party. My recent personal favorites can be bought here and here.
  3. This is true, but in no way excuses the systematic destruction of an entire culture, religion and way of life. 98% of Tibet's religious buildings were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Ever notice the UN or Oxfam battling Buddhist monks on the street? No, me neither.
  4. Also true, but again, no reason for a military invasion, unless you're a Maoist of course, when it turns out to be all the justification you need. Unhelpfully, the oppressed masses that were 'liberated' by Mao have ever since demanded the return of the Dalai Lama. Don't those ungrateful proles don't know a good oppressive dictatorship when they see one?
  5. I suspect a greater proportion of westerners have been to China than Chinese have been to Tibet. And what do Chinese see if they visit? The Chinese tourists we saw in Tibet were all lead around in large, homogenous tour groups and you can bet the violent history of the Cultural Revolution wasn't on the itinerary. The main reason to go to Tibet for a Han Chinese is the big subsidy the government gives you to resettle there in order to dilute the ethnic Tibetan population.
  6. It's a terrible shame that Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other recent western abuses have undermined our moral authority. But the deaths of millions of Tibetans in the Great Leap Forward and tens of thousands more in the Cultural Revolution, hardly compares to Guantanamo (where I hear the medical faciities are excellent). And it's probably best not to get started on Chinese Support for the governments of North Korea, Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Perhaps the bigger question is, should we pay any attention to the opinions of someone who lives in a country where information, and thus opinion, is state controlled?


Don't worry, I'm not gonna get all misty-eyed about the Dali Lama. But since the DL's image is banned, simply printing this page in China (including Tibet) would mean jail time (bird for petty, as they say back home). Thankfully little Picotrip is unlikely to get anyone banged up in China since you can't read it there, as I reported from Tibet in an earlier post.

Oh, and I've switched on comments, in the interests of free speech and the right to reply ;-) Let's see if we get any.

1 comment:

The White Charger said...

Not sure I agree with the Olympics being non-political.
I agree that they _should_ be non-political, but in practise they are, and always have been politically in nature.

Details about the Ancient Olympics Games are naturally somewhat obscure, and subject to a bit of romanticization (is that a real word?). Remember- these were pagan festivals celebrating physical supremacy between hostile, sometimes warring city-states.

As far as the Modern Olympics go, de Coubertin's motives for reviving the Games may have less to do with establishing a non-political platform for the celebration of sporting excellence, and more to do with some kind of non-military one-up-man-ship, to "pay back" Germany for France's embarrassing defeat during the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, when he was a kid.

To quote de Coubertin: "Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally."

Hmm.... That does sound somewhat political to me...

Having said all that, I totally agree with the rest of what you say :)