Politics and the 2008 Olympics

rightBeijing made an effort to keep politics out of the Olympics the best it could and tried to sort out human rights and dissident issues as much in advance as possible so malcontents wouldn’t embarrass the Chinese regime at the time of the Olympics themselves. Beijing arguably employed more carrot than stick methods as the Olympics nears. Foreign journalists were promised they could roam where they have wanted although many said these promises were not kept (See Media) and foreign protestors were deported rather than imprisoned.

When Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics there were those who thought the Olympics could help reform China, with some even arguing that the Olympics might help bring democracy to China as it did in South Korea in 1988 and make it a fairer place governed by the rule of law rather than whims of party officials. The bid committee stated, “By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights.” Others think the Olympics will only give a mark of legitimacy to the regime.

Beijing clearly used the Olympics to further its political aims. Joseph Cheng, a professor at the City University in Hong Kong told the Los Angeles Times. “The Olympics is certainly a good diversion from China’s problems. They’re also seen as a way to promote nationalism and legitimize the regime.”

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at the People’s University in Beijing, told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a legitimate question whether China should spend those huge sums on the Olympics when 900 million farmers are still very poor...But after emerging from a century of revolutions, wars, and political movements, the government sees this as a landmark opportunity for recognition from the outside world."

Bao Tong, the most senior official imprisoned for opposing the Tiananmen Square crackdown, wrote: “The government has been quite as eager to use the Games as a ploy to enhance its international prestige. The Chinese government fervently hopes through its coming-out party to boost its domestic support and regain people’s trust.”

China expert Orville Shell said, “I don’t think there has been a more important interaction with the outside world than the Olympic Games. They view this as their coming-out party, christening, bar mitzvah---you name it. And the leadership understands that the Chinese people, too, even those who don’t like Marxism-Leninism, desperately yearn to have their country be great and respected.”

The international community is putting a lot of pressure on Beijing to uphold promises it made to get the Olympics---namely to improve human rights and promote openness.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Olympic Watch olympicwatch.org ; Students for a Free Tibet studentsforafreetibet.org ; Wikipedia article on the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay Wikipedia ; Team Darfur teamdarfur.org ; On the 2008 Olympics in Beijing: Official Site for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing en.beijing2008.cn ; China Orbit chinaorbit.com ; Wikipedia article about 2008 Games Wikipedia ; Olympic.org olympic.org ; China.org on the 2008 Games china.org.cn ; New York Times Articles on the Beijing Olympics nytimes.com ; China Digital News chinadigitaltimes.net Analysis of the Games with Good Bibliography PDF file afssse.asn.au

Good Websites and Sources on the Olympics in China: Chinese Olympic Committee en.olympic.cn ; China.org on China’s Olympic History china.org.cn ; Database on Olympic Athletes databaseolympics.com ; Success of Chinese Athletes pponline.co.uk ; Photos of Chinese Kids Training freshpics.blogspot.com ; Book: Olympic Dreams by Wu Guoqi hup.harvard.edu ; The Red Face, a Film About Olympic Training Epoch Times ; High Altitude Training chinasportstoday.com ; Book: Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 by Xu Gouqi

Good Websites and Sources on Sports in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Sports Today chinasportstoday.com ; China Daily Sports chinadaily.com.cn ; China Sports Review chinasportsreview.com ; China Sports Blog chinasports.wokpopcorn.com ; South China Morning Post Sports scmp.com ; Sports in Ancient China Chinese Olympic Committee ; Traditional Sports Travel China Guide

Links in this Website: THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; PREPARATIONS FOR THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; VENUES AND INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION WEATHER Factsanddetails.com/China ;THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE ATHLETES AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; OPENING CEREMONY AND STARS AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPICS AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE OLYMPIC TRAINING Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC SPORTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC SWIMMING AND DIVING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC TRACK AND RUNNING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LIU XIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC GYMNASTICS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC BADMINTON, SHOOTING WEIGHTLIFTING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA---OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/China

Politics and the Olympics

China’s government is not the only government that has used the Olympics to further its political aims. The Nazis did in most famously in Berlin in 1936. David Wolf, a public relations official who stood near U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the opening ceremony for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. “I can tell you every country exploits the feel-good aspects and often well before opening day.”

The Olympics themselves are the objects of politics: the boycotts of Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984; the Munich massacre in 1976; the African nation boycott to protest apartheid in South Africa in 1972; and the raised fists by black American athletes at Mexico City in 1968. The Olympics in Seoul provided a beacon for international attention and a rallying point that helped bring down an oppressive regime and install democracy.

World Leaders and the 2008 Olympics

Bush at the Opeing Ceremonies
A record 80 heads-of-state attended the Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies or events at the Beijing Olympics. The previous record was 31 in Sydney. A special thank-you party so to speak for former U.S. President George Bush and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was hosted ta the Forbidden City

On the day of the Opening Ceremonies Chinese President Hu Jintao hosted a luncheon attended by U.S. President George, Bush, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and most surprisingly French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who only a few months earlier had suggested that world leader boycott the Opening Ceremonies to protest Chinese policy in Tibet. In a speech at the luncheon Hu said, “the world has never needed mutual understanding, mutual toleration and mutual cooperation as much as it does today.”

U.S. President George Bush hung around for a couple days after the Opening Ceremonies. He attended the United States-China basketball game, hit a volleyball around with eventual beach volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor, took a ride on the Olympic mountain bike course, and attended a practice of the women’s softball team.

Before the Olympics China reached out to Asian neighbors, particularly Japan and Taiwan, to improve ties.

Human Rights and the 2008 Olympics

When asked about the Olympics, Tibet, Darfur and human rights, Chinese President Hu Jintao told foreign reporters, “I don’t think that politicizing the Olympic Games will do anything good to addressing of those issues. And I think such an attempt runs counter to the spirit of the Olympics Games and goes against shared aspirations of people from around the world.”

According to the Geneva-based Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions, 1.5 million people were forcibly evicted to make way for Olympic venues and infrastructure. The Beijing government figure was 14,901.

Authorities took away 300 Bibles from four Americans who had plans to distribute them. China provided free Bibles to athletes, tourists and spectators to anybody that wanted one during the games. About 10,000 bilingual copies were distributed at the Olympic Village. Most of the others were given out at official state churches.

The IOC was criticized for not raising more objections to things like the blocking of Internet sites and intimidating journalists and protesters.

Chinese activist Yang Chunlin was sentenced to five years in prison in March 2008 on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for organizing a 2007 petition entitled “We Want Human Rights, Not Olympics.”

See Hu Jia

See Media

In many ways the clamp downs in dissent was not a surprise as China wanted to present it best face for the Olympics. Many Chinese didn’t see the measures that foreigners objected to as human rights violations but as necessary sacrifices and took offense to foreign criticism and say it as rude repsonse to their hospitality. Orville Shell wrote in Newsweek before the Games, “The Beijing Games present a fraught and sensitive moment. Protests would almost certainly spark the kind of nationalist and autocratic backlash that they’re meant to remedy.”

Human Rights Before the 2008 Olympics

Beijing promised to improve human rights in China during its lobbying efforts to win the Olympics in 2008. On the eve of the 2001 vote to determine who gets the 2008 Olympics, Liu Qi, the mayor of Beijing and head of the team bidding for the 2008 Olympics, said the Olympics in Beijing would “benefit from the furtherance and development of our human rights cause” and would be “an opportunity to foster democracy, improve human rights, and integrate China with the rest of the world.” Tiananmen Square organizer Wang Dan and other dissidents were released one month before the International Olympic Committee came to Beijing for its inspection tour.

Whether and how much human rights had improved In China as the Olympics neared was a matter of debate. Dissidents were still rounded up and harassed; the media was still censored; people could still get in big trouble for expressing their political views; and the government still exerted a lot of heavy-handed control on people’s lives. In April 2008, Amnesty International issued a statement that said that China’s human rights abuses were getting worse because of, not despite, the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. If anything the government is cracking down on dissenters harder than ever. A total of 742 people were arrested in 2007 for political crimes like subversion, according the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation. This was the highest number in eight years and more than double the number than in 2005. See Human Rights, Government

In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics there were reports of homeless people, petitioners and beggars being rounded up in Beijing and sent back to their villages or hometowns or in some case to re-education camps and even mental hospitals. According to human rights and labor groups authorised Olympic merchandise had been made with child labor as young 12 and workers paid less than minimum wage.

Many feel that China reneged on the promises it made to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to improve human rights. Some feel that the IOC should have taken some kind of action because China did break its promise or at least put more pressure on China to improve human rights. IOC head Jacques Rogge said that China made a moral commitment to improve human rights but made no contractual agreement on the issue.

China says that it fulfilled its obligation and improved human rights, pointing to new laws that protect the elderly, women, employees and migrant workers. An article in the People’s Daily read: “Those who want to use the Olympics to discredit China and those who think the Olympics will promote China to change in the way they “hope,” are doomed to be disappointed. There efforts will be futile.”

Protests During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

Tiananmen Square duirng the Olympics
There were few protests during the Olympics because potential foreign protesters were denied visas and Chinese protesters were not granted permission to protest. The protests that did take place were very small, involving only a handful of people, and were mostly carried out by foreigners.

In a rare meeting with foreign reporters a few days before the start of the Olympics, Chinese President Hu Jintao warned against “politicizing” the Games. “Politicizing the Olympics goes against the Olympic spirit and the shared aspirations of people all over the world,” he said in the carefully scripted press conference.

Three “protest zones” were set up in public parks several kilometers from the sports venues. Applicants had to fill out a lengthy application and questionnaire. One zone had mock-ups of the White House and other world monuments to create the illusion the protesters were somewhere other than China. Citizens were surprised the government would provide them with a forum to air their grievances.

Police did not approve any applications for protests during the Olympics. Chinese authorities said they received 77 applications for people who wanted to hold protests, involving 149 people, including three people from overseas. In a typical case an individual filed paperwork for the protests, appeared for an interview and was told to come back in five days but was picked up by police several hours after the interview and sentenced to a month in prison for “distributing social order.” In the end many saw the “protest zone” scheme as means of getting malcontents to declare their intentions against the government and use their declarations to crack down on them.

One man, who didn’t apply for permission, managed to stage a small protest with his three-year-old son, with the son holding up a sign saying his grandmother was not fairly compensated for being kicked off her land. Some foreign photographers managed to take some picture of the boy before the man fled in a taxi 10 minutes after the protests began. Police tried to stop the man but had to back off because of the presence of the foreign press. Later the grandmother was harassed by authorities.

The largest civil disturbances in Beijing associated with the Olympics took place several weeks before the Games began when large numbers of “petitioners” airing their complaints on land grabs, corruption , police torture and various grievances---began gathering around petition reception offices in Beijing. Hundreds were rounded up outside the offices and bus and train stations where they entered the capital. Tighter checks were issued on travelers entering Beijing to catch them. There was also a small demonstrations in Qiamen near Tiananmen Square by people protesting being forced from the homes and not being adequately compensated.

Detained During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

Several Chinese were detained and harassed for applying for protest permits. At least two were missing as the Olympics closed---Ji Sizun, a legal advocate from Fujian Province who was detained after trying three times to apply for a protest permit, and Hua Huiqi, a Christian advocate for “underground” churches who was stopped by Chinese officials on his way to an authorised church service attended by President Bush. Hua escaped from his detainment and went into hiding

A Chinese AIDS activist was sentenced to a year in prison on “extortion” charges for persisting in petitioning during the Olympics for compensation for her husband, who died from a tainted blood transfusion in Henan Province.

Two elderly women---79-year-old Wu Dianyuan and 77-year-old Wang Xiuying---were sentenced to a year in re-education camps for seeking applications to demonstrate over being insufficiently compensated when their homes were seized for redevelopment. Official were apparently bothered by the women’s repeated requests to protest and the sentences were given with the understanding they would be rescinded if they stayed at home and didn’t bother anyone anymore. A couple weeks after the sentences were issued they were canceled.

Other dissidents and activists were given “free car service” during the Olympics and for the entire month of August so authorities could more easily keep track of their movements. Describing how this worked the Christian activist Yue Jie wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Plainclothes police officers set up their presence in front of my house. They converted a small room in my apartment build into a command center. They worked in three shifts, each with two police officers. The public security bureau also hired a security guard...and a driver, both of whom were responsible for tending my needs 24 hours a day.”

”Each time I needed to go out,” Yue wrote, “the security guards and the driver would run to the command center and report my request to the police officers. Then the officers would come and inquire about about the destination of my trip or the nature of my errands. Following their permission the driver would start the car and politely invite me to get in. They would drive my wife and me to the supermarket and even help us carry the groceries.”

Foreign Protestors and the 2008 Olympics

Many foreign NGO staffers based in Beijing were asked to leave for the summer. Tightened visa requirements---which in some cases required visitors to supply letters of invitation, hotel reservations, round-trip tickets and bank statements---prevented or deterred perceived foreign troublemaker from entering the country. Rules were established that prohibited six types of foreigners from entering Beijing during the Olympics. These including: 4) the insane and those suffering from mental disorders and 6) those who “might engage in any acts that threaten the security or interests of China.”

Even so Reporters Without Borders managed to hijack an FM radio and broadcast speeches by human rights advocates and appeals for freedom of expression for 20 minutes. There were few protests and political gestures by athletes. One exception was a Polish weightlifter who shaved his head before awarded a silver medal to show solidarity with Tibetan monks.

Fourteen would-be protesters from Hong Kong were detained for two days in a hotel and then sent back to Hong Kong by plane for planning to protest being swindled out of just compensation for investments.

Fifty-eight foreign protestors were arrested and deported. Among them were American Christian protesters who staged a small anti-abortion protest and prayer vigil in Tiananmen Square. After an arguments over who would pay for the airplane ticket for the deportment they were threatened with jail then fed Kentucky Fried Chicken and taken to the airport and deported.

One detained pro-Tibet protester said he was subjected to 10 hours of interrogation in which an air conditioner was turned on until he was freezing and turned off until he was drenched in sweat and not allowed to sit down in a room in which the sound on a television was turned on so high it hurt his ears. Pro-Tibetan protestors and journalists that covered them said they were roughed up by police.

Sometimes an issue was made over Beijing’s insistence that deported protestors buy their own plane tickets home. A Tibetan woman named Kemo who had been in the United States was told she had to leave when she arrived at Beijing International Airport because she was involved in recent pro-Tibetan protests. After she was accused of lying her children were taken away from her and she was slapped when they resisted. She was told she could either accept her deportation and buy the plane tickets or be sent to jail and have her children taken away from her. She bought the tickets.

Protests Before the 2008 Olympics

In August 2007, around the time of the one year countdown to the start of the Olympics, there were a several small protests by both foreigners and Chinese. Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalist issued reports, saying China has failed to fulfill its promises to improve human rights and uphold press freedoms. Since then protests have gotten bigger, louder and drawn more publicity.

There were a number or protests associated with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. They fell into three main groups: 1) those that objected to China’s human rights policies; 2) those that supported Tibet; and 3) those opposed to China’s support of Sudan and its policies in Darfur.

Explaining why the Olympics had become a focal point for international protests on a number of China-related issues and causes Jill Saviit of Dream of Darfur told the New York Times magazine, “The Olympics is a unique lever with the Chinese, and we’re not going to get another one---it ain’t happening again.” In response to the point that protests only seem to put Beijing on the defensive, one activist told the Los Angeles Times, “trying to talk to them politely has not born much fruit.”

The argument that China used to thwart protests---whether they be for Tibet or Darfur---was that the Olympics should not be politicized and any attempt to do so violates the Olympic spirit. The Chinese public seemed to be more sympathetic to the Chinese government than international critics.

But the Chinese government can not say with a straight face that it wasn’t politicizing the Olympics itself. The whole event was an effort by the Chinese Communist Party to boost its stature abroad and legitimize its rule at home. The Beijing Olympic Committee said in its website that it was committed to “promoting mass sporting events on an extensive scale...and spurring the socialist modernization of China.”

There was some discussion that athletes might stage protests at the Olympics. The IOC strongly opposed this, citing Article 51.3 of the Olympic Charter, which forbids “any kind of demonstration of political, religious or racial propaganda” at “Olympics sites, venues or other areas.”

Darfur and the 2008 Olympics

In February 2008, filmmaker Steven Spielberg said he was withdrawing from his position as creative advisor for the opening and closing ceremonies because of China was not using its influence to help improve the situation Darfur. Spielberg said, “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual...The situation has never been more precarious---and while China’s representatives have conveyed to me that they are working to end the terrible tragedy in Darfur, the grim realties of the suffering continue unabated.”

The Chinese government expressed “regret” over Spielberg’s decision and said that efforts to link China to Darfur are “irresponsible and unfair.” The Chinese media condemned him and Western celebrities for politicizing the Olympics. The Guangming Daily said Spielberg “broke his promise” and “betrayed the Olympic spirit." According tot the People’s Daily. “A certain Western director was very naive and made an unreasonable move toward the issue of the Beijing Olympics.”

The actress Mia Farrow was at forefront of the effort to use the Olympics to bring attention to China’s role in Sudan and Darfur. Farrow used the term “Genocide Olympics” to describe China’s role in Darfur in an op-ed piece written in the Wall Street Journal with her son Rinan Farrow. She put a lot of pressure on Spielberg and led an alternative Genocide Olympics torch relay of sites associated with genocide in Chad and Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia aimed at showing Beijing that it may have hosted the Olympics but its connections with atrocities committed outside of China had not gone unnoticed. From Farrow’s camp there was talk of a boycott

Around the same time that Spielberg made his announcement a letter signed by eight Nobel Prize winners, 119 U.S. lawmakers and several entertainers was presented to the Chinese that called on them to use their “significant influence” in Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur. Mia Farrow organized the letter and wanted to give it personally to a Chinese official but was rebuffed and forced to slip the letter under the door of the Chinese consulate in New York.

Farrow is very active in group called Dream of Darfur, headed by Jill Savitt, that has had a degree of success pressuring China on the Darfur issue and has developed tactics employed by a number of anti-Beijing groups. A large scale Beijing Olympics campaign on the Darfur issue was first proposed by Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, at a meeting of Save Darfur. Activists have also lobbied corporate sponsors of the Olympics and mutual funds that invest in Chinese stocks.

Beijing officials have said any attempt to pressure them or disrupt the Olympics on the Darfur issue would fail. An article in the People’s Daily read, “Western exploitation of the Olympics to pressure China immediately provoked much disgust among ordinary Chinese. The vast majority of Chinese people have expressed bafflement and outrage at the Western pressure. In their view its absolutely absurd to place the Darfur issue, so many thousands of miles away, on the head of China.”

Even so China has seemed a little rattled by the bad publicity surrounding its involvement in Sudan. It announced it would send a group of peacekeepers to the United Nations mission in Darfur and expressed “grave concerns” to the Sudanese government about the violence in Darfur. See Sudan, International, Government

Team Darfur and the 2008 Olympics

Joey Cheek, an Olympics gold medalist in speed skating in 2006, founded Team Darfur, an international coalition of athletes seeking to bringing attention to the crisis in Darfur, had his visa revoked. The Chinese government did not say why the visa was revoked but did say: “The visa issue is a country’s sovereign affair. The purpose is to provide a proper, secure, environment for watching and attending the Games.”

On the Olympics, Cheek told National Public Radio, “In the same breath that they’re said to be apolitical, they’re said to be a celebration of human rights and they’re said to be a sporting festival we hope that can transcend mere sporting festivals. And when you lay claim to such lofty ideals, at some point...if are actually prepared to live the ideals you’re speaking of, you’re going to run into friction...When we talk about the crisis in Darfur, we talk about the millions of innocent people that are suffering there, and we talk about the positive role that China could play, should they chose to.”

Farrow, who is also associated with Team Darfur, was denied a visa. Nine American athletes---including two women’s softball players and a woman’s soccer play---who were affiliated with Team Darfur were put a potential “troublemakers” list by the Chinese government but were allowed to compete.

Tibet and the 2008 Olympics

Tibetan flag
Around the time of the one year countdown to the start of the Olympics, large anti-Chinese, pro-Tibet protests were staged in New Delhi; banners protesting the Chinese presence in Tibet were hung on the Great Wall of China; and a pro-Tibetan activist shouted questions at Rogge when he visited Beijing. The foreign protesters who hung the banner and the activist who harassed Rogge were deported on a plane to Hong Kong.

In April 2007, Chinese authorities arrested four pro-Tibetan protesters who had climbed to Mt. Everest base camp and hung a banner to protest the Olympic torch through Tibet. A soccer match between players from India and Tibet was staged in Delhi to protest the Beijing Olympics.

More than 100 current and former Olympics athletes, including and number of world record holders and gold-medal favorites in track and field such as American hurdler Lolo Jones and Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles, published an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging him to seek peace in Tibet and safeguard human rights in China. Athletes were urged to make a two-handed T for Tibet but none were seen in the Games, in part because the IOC banned it.

On the issue of human rights awareness, IOC President Jacques Rogge said “Tibet, rightfully so, is on the front pages. But it would not be on the front page if the Games were not being organized in China.”

See Tibet

Students for a Free Tibet Protests

angry monks
Students for a Free Tibet staged eight small protests involving 55 people in Beijing during the Olympics, including a protest outside an ethnic minority theme park. Most of their activities involved unfurled “Free Tibet” banners and displaying the Tibetan flags, acts which are illegal in China. Most Free Tibet protesters came with tourist visas, posing as typical Olympic tourists, but a close look in their luggage would have turned up things like walkie talkies, climbing ropes, numerous black Sharpie marker and 25-by-10-feet nylon sheets.

At dawn two days before the Olympics officially began members of the group climbed 20 meters up a pole on a bridge near the Bird’s Nest stadium and hung a banner that said, “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet.” The banner hung for about an hour. Group members---three Britons and an American---were taken away by police about 12 minutes after the banner was hung.

Later, four people---three men from Germany and the United States and a British woman---were held after unfurling a Tibetan flag outside the Bird Nest stadium just after midnight. About midway through the Olympics, three Americans, a Briton and a Canadian were detained and deported after they unfurled Tibetan flags and a banner with “Free Tibet” spelled in lights in English and Chinese from an Olympics billboard near China Central TV headquarters in Beijing.

Eight Americans, a Briton and a German of Tibetan descent were arrested and sentenced to 10 days of detention after police broke up their unauthorized pro Tibet demonstration. It was a rare penalty give to foreigners for “upsetting public order.” The protesters were released early and deported due to diplomatic pressure.

New York-based Students for a Free Tibet was founded in 1994 and claims to have 650 chapters in more than 30 nations. A spokesman for the group said the acts committed during the Beijing Olympics had been successful even though they were only seen by a few Chinese because they brought some attention to the Tibetan issue in the international media. The group collected $1 million in donations for their campaign and used 150 volunteers---many organized into four- and five-person cells with specific missions but no knowledge of what other cells were doing. Other members worked as “citizen journalists,” filming, videoing and photographing the missions and posting the footage on the Internet.

Protests During the 2008 Olympics Outside of China

In Nepal and India, thousands of Tibetans took to the streets to air their grievances. In Kathmandu 1,000 people were detained for violating a ban on protesting outside the Chinese embassy. In India, some Tibetans went on hunger strikers. In New Delhi, 3000 people, most of them Tibes chanted anti-Chinese slogans in front of the Indian parliament and a group tried to storm the Chinese embassy.

In Ankara Turkey, an Uighur man drenched himself with gasoline and set himself of fire before fellow demonstrators rushed to extinguish the flames and took him to the hospital. In Hong Kong several small protest were staged.

Protests of varying size took place in London, New York, Washington, Toronto, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Madrid and Lisbon. In Paris, protesters associated with Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International gathered outside the Chinese embassy to protest the treatment of journalists, Tibetans and Uighurs in China.

None of the protest got much media attention. Some involved only a single protester. Few people in New York noticed the plane the circled the Statue of Liberty with a banner that read “Red Torch for Tibet.”

Affect of the Protests on China

The pressure put in China by human rights groups and foreign governments on issues like Tibet and Darfur didn’t seem to accomplish much. On China’s leaders, Andre Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, told Reuters, “I don’t see them changing their policy to get Western approval. They have no need no to change anything they do in foreign policy to make themselves look good.”

Even so the Chinese government did take a harder look at some of these issues and in the case of Darfur did make some concessions by backing a United Nations resolution to send a peacekeeping force to Darfur and contributing their own engineers. In the case of Tibet, the protests and the torch relay disturbances, if anything, hardened the government’s stance against the Tibetans and fueled anti-Tibetan feelings and a sense of nationalism among ordinary Chinese.

Nationalism and the 2008 Olympics

The Tibetan issue and the Olympic torch relay have generated strong nationalist and anti-Western sentiments. Shi Yinhong of the People’s University of Beijing told Reuters, “The Western response to Tibet has ignited this sense that although we’ve become richer, they still treat us like it’s the 19th century...If the purpose of the West in initially supporting the 2008 Olympics was to promote a more open, pro-Western China, they have failed.”

One Chinese newspaper said in January 2008 that China would never compromise its core interests, condemned critics and portrayed itself as a victim facing “accusations from all over the world, including misunderstandings, sarcasm and very harsh criticism.”

Some Chinese saw the disruption of the torch relay as a deliberate attempt to blacken China’s name and ruin the Olympics.

The Communist government in the beginning tacitly condoned expressions of anti-Tibetan sentiments, manifested most strongly by cybernationalists in the Internet and with the boycott of Carrefour. The behavior of young Chinese reminded some of the Red Guards during the Cultural revolution. In the end government, worried about its image abroad, reigned in the students with a call for “rational patriotism” and “Olympic harmony.”

When Jin Jing, the “wheelchair angel”, questioned the boycott of Carrefour, she was attacked as a “traitor” and for being “unpatriotic.”

Image Sources: 1) Human Rights Watch; 2, 3) Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad; 5) Tibet Uprising.org

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2010

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