Wednesday, August 13, 2008

China: Land of Harmony, Stability, Freedom, and Blue Skies

The 2008 Summer Olympics in China was supposed to be a showcase of China's stability and harmony. And, in a way, it has been.

Stability and Harmony: Or Else

There hasn't been a single protest so far, anywhere near the Olympic venues. That's quite impressive, considering what some people think about China's policies regarding Tibet and Sudan.

That's not too surprising, since the Chinese government is allowing protests only in designated protest zones: miles from the Beijing Olympic venues. And, to make sure that no undesirable elements make impertinent statements, there's a complicated and thorough bureaucratic process to follow for potential protesters.

I think that the director of security for the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, Liu Shaowu, said it quite well: "Assembling to march and protest is a citizens right. But it must be stressed that citizens must not harm national, social and collective interests" ("Beijing Olympics: China designates special 'protest zones' " Telegraph (UK) (August 9, 2008)).

"...must not harm national, social and collective interests." I'd say that rules out most Beijing protests from the get-go.
Bureaucratic Comic Relief?
The location of one of the protest zones is so funny, I suspect that someone in China's government has a sense of humor. Quoting from

"One of the three officially designated protest zones Beijing has identified for the Olympics is Fengtai World Park, a vast theme park about one hour's drive from the Games' main venues, a place where families come to picnic and see the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids and the Kremlin." ("PARTY CRASHERS" (August 12, 2008)).

I can't help but wonder if that choice is supposed to say something like: "See? Protests in China are just a carnival show, not something to take seriously." Well, maybe not.
The Disturbing Case of the Disappearing Protester
For that matter, There don't seem to be protests within the designated protest zones. I think it helps that Ji Sizun, who wanted to protest corruption, disappeared. "He applied at the Deshengmenwai police station Aug. 8, the day the Olympics began, and disappeared three days later, when he went back to check on his application...." ("Group: Police detain would-be Olympics protester" Associated Press (August 12, 2008)). I suppose he may have been plotting to say something that would harm collective interests.

Amnesty International isn't happy about how protest has been handled, and is making an issue of it.

Take a Breath of Fresh Beijing Air

But don't breathe too deep.

When it won the 2008 Summer Olympics assignment, China said it would improve its record on human rights, clean up the air, and freedom of the press.

On paper, China's got clean air. Their reports say so. On the other hand, the American Lung Association, on the other hand, has told visitors to Beijing to be ready for polluted air.

An op-ed writer for the Asian Wall Street Journal said that turning off the pollution sensors helped China get the 'right' pollution figures.

I Almost Feel Sorry For China: Fake Fireworks and Stand-in Cutie Exposed

The fireworks you saw on television, marking the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, were spectacular, weren't they?

They should be: It took months to get that CGI show ready. The special-effects shots were the 'aerial shots' from a helicopter. There really were fireworks on the ground, but Chinese officials decided to go the CGI route, since Beijing's smog would get in the way of real aerial photography.

Then there was that cute-as-a-button little girl moving her mouth, while another little girl sang off-camera. It was important, it seems, to project the right image.

Isn't This Enough Embarrassment for One Country?

On top of a disappearing protester, warnings from the American Lung Association, and complaints from Amnesty International, now the world finds out that China fudged fireworks and put a lip-syncing cutie in front of the cameras.

There's more, like how the western press reacted when they discovered that they were blocked from websites that discussed Tiananmen Square protests, Tibet, Taiwan or the Dalai Lama.

It wasn't anything personal: China blocks everybody's access to those sites. Don't want any harmful ideas in, you know.

I could go on, but I'm running out of time.

Tibetans, Chinese, Nudists: Freedom's Messy, but Worth It

I think China's gone too far in restricting protests, but the fact is that there has to be some regulation and control of public protesting. For example, when the Olympic torch went through San Francisco, the route was changed at the last minute: catching the press and the police off guard.

Also, keeping a fine collection of Tibetans, Chinese, and Nudists, from starting a brouhaha that could have gotten someone hurt.

I'm none too happy that a bunch of sun worshipers and clashing nationalists spoiled an event for a huge number of people: but that's what happens, sometimes, in a free society.

I'll take that sort of disappointment, over the China's harmony and stability, any day.

More, in the news:


The Mad Dog said...

I'm surprised that Americans expect anything different.

Brian H. Gill said...

The Mad Celt,

Realistically? Maybe not. But, there's always the off chance that this time may be different.

Another point: Americans aren't the only non-Chinese involved in this. I may have concentrated on an American's view of the situation, since I am an American.

However, by my count, three of the seven resources I used aren't American: Reuters;; Telegraph.

In their efforts to project an image of stability and harmony, China's leaders have managed to annoy quite a few people in the western press.

The good news in this situation is that the Olympics games themselves are running smoothly.

Brigid said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

By the way, what is that thing looming in the background of that smog shrouded photo? It looks like some cocoon from a horror movie.

Anonymous said...

China would never want the World to see the dirty truth that exists in their country. They would want us to believe it's all sugar plums and cute bunnies, when the truth shows a much different China.

Brian H. Gill said...


There's always a disconnect between what a country's leadership wants people to perceive, and what actually is.

In China's case, I'd say that the gap is unusually large.

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