Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Book Reviews: Medals And Rights

June 23, 2008

What the Olympics reveal, and conceal, about China.
Andrew J. Nathan
The New Republic (USA)
July 9, 2008

Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City
By Lillian M. Li, Alison J. Dray-Novey, and Haili Kong (Palgrave
Macmillan, 321 pp., $27.95)

Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China
By Susan Brownell (Rowman & Littlefield, 213 pp., $24.95)

Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008
By Xu Guoqi (Harvard University Press, 359 pp., $29.95)

China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges
Edited by Minky Worden (Seven Stories Press, 331 pp., $18.95)

Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China
By Anne-Marie Brady (Rowman & Littlefield, 231 pp., $75)

Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China
Edited by Monroe E. Price and Daniel Dayan (University of Michigan
Press, 416 pp., 26.95)


The two million foreign guests who are expected to visit Beijing in
August will encounter a largely familiar and exceedingly cosmopolitan
environment. They will find clean air, smooth traffic, easy Internet
access, and standardized restaurant menus, all intended to provide
them with seventeen days of physical, mental, and moral ease. Beijing
has trained 1,500 "civilized bus riding supervisors," appointed 5,000
anti-jaywalking monitors, held "queuing awareness days," and mounted
campaigns against spitting and slurping. The planners have paved over
old neighborhoods to make way for five-star hotels, malls, and theme
restaurants. Migrant workers who built the Olympic venues will have
been dispatched back to the countryside, beggars and petitioners
shipped home to their villages, and dissidents and would-be
demonstrators placed under temporary house arrest or jailed. Visitors
will see an edited Beijing, the way its governors and many of its
residents would like it to be seen, a world capital with its exotic
side under control.

And yet these same visitors may detect a deep ambivalence in the
city's welcome. The pride may seem leavened with insecurity, the
greeting tinged with rejection, the celebration not quite drowning
out the whispers of doubt. China has arrived at the modernity it has
been seeking for over a century, but it is not quite the modernity
that we--and many Chinese--have been expecting.

Visitors may be struck first by Beijing's monumentalism. Old
Beijing's charm lay in the narrow alleyways known as hutongs,
courtyard houses, streetside handicrafts, and slow savors of
life--all built, to be sure, on a system of class and gender
exploitation that could not survive. Mao Zedong's new government
after 1949 tore down the city walls and built Tiananmen Square as a
vast public space to celebrate communist rule. But thanks more to
economic stagnation than to city planning, much of the old city was
preserved. The first stage of urban revolution happened indoors and
underground. Multiple families were crammed into old houses, street
trades were eliminated, and tunnels were dug for civil defense. The
peddlers and handicraftsmen disappeared, and street life turned drab.
But the alleyways and the low buildings of the capital remained
largely untouched, at least physically.

Deng Xiaoping's commercial revolution after 1979 created crowds,
bustle, supermarkets, fast food outlets, high rises, bland sprawling
residential districts, and wide congested roads. Several
international athletic events, such as the Asian Games in 1990,
contributed new construction. And this year's Olympics has finally
completed the destruction of the historical city, with a huge new
airport terminal, thirty-one competition venues, new roads, subway
lines, hotels, bridges, neighborhoods, and parks. What remains of the
old-style houses and streets, crafts, means of transportation, and
ways of life is mere outdoor museum displays, according to Lillian M.
Li and her co-authors in their narrative of the city's lost past.
Visitors should carry this readable book with them as an aid to
imagining what is no longer there, and to understanding the political
sources--including hubris and corruption--of what they see.

The main Olympic site north of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen
Square sits at the top of the city's cosmologically significant
north-south axis, explains Susan Brownell in her book on the
anthropology of Chinese sports. It thus expresses the unity of sports
and politics that the Chinese authorities and the International
Olympic Committee have been at such pains to deny. Brownell says that
planners at one point wanted the main stadium, referred to as the
"Bird's Nest" because of its lattice-like construction, which was
contrived to accommodate 11,000 VIPs so that the whole hierarchy of
power could display itself before the people on this most auspicious
occasion. The stillsecret opening and closing ceremonies that have
been designed for the arena will be global and glitzy, but they need
to convey the same power, dignity, and order as did the old PRC
aesthetic of massed gray suits, red ties, and primary-color potted
flowers. After all, Hu Jintao's chief contribution to Chinese
political thought in his six years in power has been the concept of
the "harmonious society."

The Olympic buildings are diverse, and some of them are innovative.
Yet in both the process of their construction and, I expect, in their
use, they embody the dominance of the state. The public scale
overwhelms the private scale, national power trumps personal comfort,
and society's interests supersede individual rights. China's systems
of land ownership, construction approvals, contracting, and labor
discipline allowed quick and efficient displacement of residents
(often through police and court collusion with developers, and the
threat and use of violence), along with quick decisions on design,
quick letting of contracts, and quick completion of projects. The
buildings together announce that this is a society able and willing
to consummate the Hegelian overcoming of its own past.

So, too, at the human level, China offers a political and social
landscape in which those who are not part of the future make way for
those who are. The individual fits in or gets out. Job ads for bank
clerks and office workers specify sex, age, height, and good looks. A
lawsuit a few years ago against height discrimination in job hiring
was dismissed by a local court for lack of jurisdiction. A case on
discrimination on account of looks was settled out of court with no
precedential effect for other cases. The 380 hostesses guiding the
athletes through the Olympic awards ceremonies will all be about the
same age, height, and weight, and they have been trained to walk and
gesture in standard ways.

By contrast, people who suffer from hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS are
treated with widespread discrimination in college admission and
employment. In search of something called "population security,"
couples are forbidden to bear more than one child, pregnancy
screening has been upgraded to prevent "defective births," and
mothers are taught how to raise children of "high quality." Despite
the loosening of restrictions on migration for work, a legally
entrenched caste system still grants rural residents political and
social-welfare rights inferior to those of urban residents. Worsening
income inequality shows its marks on the weathered faces of migrant
workers who come to the cities from the villages to do the hardest
labor, often going home cheated of their pay at the end of their term
of employment.

The Olympics have been designed to showcase the upside of this
dialectic: glass towers, modish people, prosperity, and health of
every kind--economic, political, and physical. As Xu Guoqi points
out, when China was the "sick man of Asia," many of its people were
ill as well, and social thinkers of the time were obsessed with the
connection between the two problems. They understood the relationship
through the theory of social Darwinism, an idea then popular in the
West, which held that human history was the story of competition for
survival among the races. A Chinese elementary-school textbook of the
1920s explained that "Mankind is divided into five races. The yellow
and white races are relatively strong and intelligent. Since the
other races are feeble and stupid, they are being exterminated by the
white race. Only the yellow race competes with the white race. This
is so-called evolution." Mao Zedong's first known published essay was
on physical culture, and his theme (borrowed from contemporary
thinkers such as Liang Qichao) was that a strong nation must have
strong people.

What Susan Brownell calls Chinese "body culture"--ideas of health and
how to get it--revolves around notions such as "seminal essence" and
"vital breath." These concepts inform such Chinese disciplines as
qigong (slow-movement exercises) and wushu (martial arts), both of
which she says are more about shaping the subjective experience of
the body than about training the body for competition. The Chinese
state does not invest much in facilities for everyday fitness. Rural
residents and migrant workers get their exercise doing manual labor.
Most urbanites "cultivate their life force" (yangsheng) through
traditional arts--tai chi, walking, keeping birds, and writing
calligraphy in water on the pavement--that can be practiced for free
in parks and other public spaces. The anthropologists Judith Farquhar
and Qicheng Zhang pointed out a few years ago that such gentle
physical and spiritual exercises generate a calm, go-with-the-flow
ambience that supports the regime's favored political quietism.
Except for the new rich who belong to private golf or swim clubs,
strenuous competitive sports belong to the arena of foreign policy,
not everyday life.

Western sports were brought to China by the YMCA in the early
twentieth century to help internationalize the country. Xu Guoqi
tells this story in his book on China's involvement with
international sports. In the 1950s, the new communist government set
up a nationwide physical-education system modeled on that of its
ally, the Soviet Union. The purpose, the Physical Culture and Sports
Commission said at the time, was "to give participants a stronger
physique and will power in order to better serve socialism and the
defense of the fatherland." In those days China's sports diplomacy
was limited to the Soviet bloc and what were called "the Games of the
Newly Emerging Forces," because the mainland People's Republic of
China had withdrawn from the Olympic movement in the mid-1950s to
protest the participation of the rival regime located on Taiwan,
called the Republic of China.

Both Xu's and Brownell's books contain withering accounts of decades
of the International Olympic Committee's clumsiness in handling the
two-Chinas problem. Xu's analysis is based on research in the IOC
archives; Brownell's is informed by conversations with a senior
Chinese Olympics statesman, He Zhenliang, whose biography she has
translated (He Zhenliang and China's Olympic Dream, by Liang Lijuan,
published by Foreign Languages Press last year). They tell how the
fictions that Olympic committees do not represent nations and IOC
members transcend their countries' interests clashed with the
zero-sum struggle over legitimacy between the PRC and the ROC. Each
side claimed to be the government of all China, and each took turns
boycotting games when the other was allowed to participate.

The American Avery Brundage, who served as IOC chair from 1952 to
1972, oscillated between trying to get both Chinas in and keeping
them both out. When he tried to get the ROC committee to change its
name, he earned a verbal flogging in the anti-communist U.S. press.
When the Canadian government refused visas for the ROC team to
participate under its national flag in the Montreal Games in 1976,
Canada was roasted by American politicians. But four years later,
after the United States had switched diplomatic recognition from
Taipei to Beijing, Washington copied the Canadian strategy and denied
the ROC team the right to use its own name and flag in the Lake
Placid Winter Games. It was not until 1984 in Los Angeles that both
Chinas participated, having finally accepted a 1979 IOC proposal that
Taiwan use the name "Chinese Taipei" and give up the right to display
its national flag, anthem, and emblem. This so-called "Olympic
formula" has subsequently been used to enable Taiwan's participation
in a variety of official and unofficial settings, and is supposed to
be used again in August when Taiwan's teams come to Beijing.

Under Mao, talented athletes went to special schools run by the
military. That system was restored after the Cultural Revolution and
confronted a series of doping scandals in international competitions
in the 1990s. The system has been civilianized, but today as in the
past, Xu Guoqi reports, recruitment and training for international
competition remain major priorities under central state planning.
Little seems to be known about training methods or the physical cost
to the athletes, although Xu reports that in order to keep their
focus on their sport, athletes are not allowed to fall in love or to
marry until they reach the age of twenty-eight for men and twenty-six
for women. Brownell, herself a top track-and-field athlete who
participated in the 1986 Chinese National College Games when she was
an exchange student, corrects misrepresentations about
athlete-automatons, genetic engineering, and child abuse. But she
acknowledges, as do other authors, that the Chinese government puts
most of its sports funding into competitive sport rather than
community sport. The reason is that sports in China is about the
nation, not the public. Having come in second to the United States in
Athens in 2004, China is aiming for the highest number of gold medals in 2008.


Few foreign visitors to Beijing will see--but surely few can be
unaware of--the state repression that is as integral to the
contemporary Chinese model as urban monumentalism, social conformity,
and state-managed sports. In July 2007, police in northeast China
arrested a peasant land-rights activist named Yang Chunlin who had
collected thousands of signatures for a petition titled "We Want
Human Rights, Not the Olympics." He was held and tortured for eight
months, then tried and sentenced to a five-year prison term on the
vague charge of "inciting subversion of state power." Lu Gengsong, a
Hangzhoubased activist who campaigned online against official
corruption, was sentenced to four years in February 2008 for the same
crime. Wu Lihong, a farmer activist who exposed environmental
pollution in Lake Tai in Jiangsu province, was sentenced to three
years in 2007 on fake charges of fraud and extortion.

The government has intensified repression in the past two years in
order to ensure order during the Olympics. The San Francisco-based
Dui Hua Foundation says that arrests for endangering state security
rose in 2007 to their highest level in eight years. The small cadre
of Chinese "rights protection" lawyers who have stepped forward to
defend political activists in court have been subjected to escalating
beatings, detentions, and threats, as chillingly detailed in a recent
Human Rights Watch report.

The government seems to treat critics who have foreign audiences with
special venom, as if to remind outsiders how little their disapproval
matters. Two of the best-known cases are Hu Jia and Chen Guangcheng.
Hu Jia, an AIDS activist and blogger, was sentenced to three and a
half years in April 2008 by a Beijing court for--again--inciting
subversion of state power because of his writings, including an open
letter on "The Real China and the Olympics." For months before his
arrest, Hu had been harassed. At one point he posted on YouTube an
ominous yet comic video of buff young plainclothes security agents
outside his apartment smoking, lunching, and picking their teeth.
When Hu's wife went on an errand, they crowded and jostled her like
bullies in a high school hallway.

This must be especially terrifying when the bullies run the country.
I have asked activists why they take such risks. They usually say
that they know how to maneuver within the limits allowed by Chinese
law. But for many of them this gamble eventually goes wrong, and Hu
Jia was such a case. After his arrest, Hu was tortured with stress
positions and sleep deprivation. As Jerome A. Cohen and Eva Pils have
observed, "It is part of the logic of political systems that treat
opposition as a crime that they must not only punish the opposition,
but also break its spirit."

The case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist for women's rights,
is even more egregious. Chen is a soft-spoken man in his early
thirties who got involved in helping draft appeals against forced
abortion and sterilization in the rural area where he lived, which is
part of Linyi city in Shandong province. (Chinese cities administer
surrounding rural areas.) After a visit to Beijing, Chen was
kidnapped and brought home by public security agents from Linyi, who
placed him under illegal house arrest. When he persisted, he was
roughed up by thugs, then arrested on charges--intentionally
ludicrous, for a blind person--of destroying property and assembling
a crowd to disrupt traffic. Defense lawyers who came from Beijing to
see him were taken off a bus, beaten, and kept from attending his
trial, which produced a sentence of four years and three months. On
appeal a higher court did something that virtually never happens in
China--it sent the case back for rehearing. But the local court
reaffirmed the original sentence, which Chen is currently serving
under harsh conditions.

How do cases like this happen in the up-to-date China of Hu Jintao?
As James Mann pointed out in The China Fantasy, many American
politicians and businessmen claim to believe that China's leaders are
forging ahead against cultural and social obstacles to establish the
rule of law and democracy. Yet here was a case that must have been
well known to Hu Jintao and "Grandpa" Wen Jiabao (as the premier
identified himself to children during the recent earthquake relief
efforts), a case so troubling that even a Chinese court intervened, a
case that Hu and Wen could have corrected if they had wanted to.

Instead, the official who presided over the railroading of Chen
Guangcheng was promoted. This official, named Li Qun, is a typical
product of modern China's ladder of success, the Chinese Youth League
system that produced Hu Jintao. Like many in today's
techno-bureaucratic leadership, Li Qun is broadly experienced and
lavishly credentialed. He studied physics at Shandong University,
worked in the Chinese Youth League, served as mayor in a smaller
Shandong city, took an executive training course in economics at the
Shandong Party School, led a group of Shandong cadres to take a
special M.P.A. course at New Haven University in Connecticut, and
enrolled in an in-service Ph.D. course in "management engineering" at
Northwest Industrial University in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province.

At the time of Chen Guangcheng's persecution, Li Qun was Party
secretary of Linyi. In China the local Party secretary runs
everything--the police, courts, media, the people's congress (a
rubber-stamp representative body), the population-planning
bureaucracy, the agriculture bureau, industry, commerce, and so on.
Li Qun's joint appointments (besides his Party role) were as mayor,
head of the people's congress, and head of the local Party school; he
also chaired or assigned his deputies to chair coordinating
committees that exist in every Chinese territorial unit on legal and
political affairs, family planning, propaganda, and other key sectors.

This universal Chinese set-up--some scholars call it "de facto
federalism"--has produced both China's remarkable economic surge and
its environmental disasters and rights abuses. The regime gives local
officials full powers, and holds them accountable to achieve a short
list of priority tasks. The key benchmarks are high economic growth,
close conformity with mandated annual birth rates, and low levels of
what the regime calls social disorder, such as demonstrations and
episodes of collective petitioning. Having too many local citizens
visit Beijing to petition national authorities counts as a black
mark. To keep their records clean, according to a 2005 Human Rights
Watch report, local officials send "retrievers" to Beijing forcibly
to repatriate their local citizens who have gone there to petition.
These well-dressed young men wait across the street from the petition
offices with their car doors open, waiting to kidnap local citizens
and bundle them home, often for terms of forced labor. This was what
happened to Chen when he petitioned for Linyi women in Beijing.

Chen Guangcheng's activities threatened to weaken Li Qun's record on
two counts essential for Li's promotion: family planning and social
disorder. When Chen didn't get the message from harassment and
beatings, Li Qun either did--or like King Richard caused to be
done--what needed to be done, and had Chen convicted. Apparently the
Party's secretive internal personnel department, the Organization
Department, approved: in 2007 Li Qun was promoted to the post of head
of Propaganda Department of Shandong provincial party committee.

Another successful Youth League alumnus was in charge of Tibet during
the recent disturbances. Before going to Tibet, Zhang
Qingli--coincidentally a Shandong native like Li Qun--held county-
and city-level posts in his home province, did a stint in the central
CYL office in Beijing, and served in provincial-level posts in Gansu
and Xinjiang, in China's far west. Like Li, Zhang garnered a variety
of academic credentials along the way and worked some of the time in
propaganda. In late 2005, he was posted as Party secretary to Tibet.

There Zhang pushed the third round of a multi-year "patriotic
education campaign" under way since 1996, which requires Tibetan
monks and nuns to thank the motherland (meaning China) for the gift
of modernization and to denounce the Dalai Lama for "splittism."
Mickey Spiegel explains in her essay in the collection China's Great
Leap: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression that during
such campaigns Party officials take over the monasteries, deciding
who is promoted, what is published, and how daily rites are
conducted. This time the Party tightened control even further by
publishing a formal decree in July 2007 proclaiming that no
incarnation of any lama would be valid in the future without
government approval. This extended an existing practice. In 1995, the
Party had named a Panchen Lama in violation of Tibetan religious
procedures, taking custody of the incumbent recognized by most
Tibetans and disappearing him from the public scene. And it had
claimed the right to the final say in recognizing the future
incarnation of the Dalai Lama. These are among the two highest lamas
in Tibetan Buddhism. The "Measures on the Reincarnation of Living
Buddhas," promulgated in 2007, extended this principle to the entire
range of Tibetan religious leaders at even the lowest level.

During the patriotic education campaign, Zhang Qingli is said to have
remarked that "the [Party] Central Committee is the real Buddha for
Tibetans." Such statements do not register as insulting among most
Han Chinese, because they reflect the social Darwinist conviction
that religions are superstitions and minority cultures are backward.
Such faiths and cultures are expected naturally to dissolve as their
adherents experience modernization.

Among Tibetans, on the other hand, the campaign against their
religion generated dissatisfaction even more intense than that
created by Han-dominated, environmentally insensitive economic
development. For this reason--and to take advantage of the
international attention generated by the upcoming Olympics--young
monks carried out peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa starting on March
10, which was the anniversary of the uprising against Chinese
occupation in 1959. When the demonstrations spread and turned
violent, Zhang Qingli rushed home from a meeting in Beijing to
convene a Party and government conference on restoring order. He told
those assembled that "the Dalai [Chinese officials don't grant their
enemies the honorific "lama"] is a wolf in a monk's robe, a monster
with a human face but the heart of a beast; we are in a fierce battle
of blood and fire with the Dalai clique, a life and death battle
between us and the enemy." There followed a violent crackdown
revealing, among other things, the failure of the designated civil
order force, the People's Armed Police, to master the crowd-control
techniques they were supposed to have been studying since the
Tiananmen tragedy nearly two decades ago.

There is no reason to think that Zhang's career will suffer for
exacerbating the split between Han and Tibetans. After all, China's
top ruler, Hu Jintao, was promoted to the status of heir apparent in
1992 partly on the strength of his having declared martial law in
Lhasa in 1989. The government publicly rewards leaders who show
toughness because it wants to make sure people understand that it is
determined to keep control.

In some political systems, Li Qun's promotion to the post of
provincial propaganda chief might count as being kicked upstairs. Not
in China: propaganda is one of the most important domains in the
Chinese party-state. It is thanks to the success of China's
propaganda work that public assent is procured not only by
repression, and runs both wide and deep. As Anne-Marie Brady
demonstrates in a superb study of this central and hidden part of the
Chinese system, the surface diversity of the Chinese media hides the
guiding hand of a high-level Party office in Beijing called the
Central Propaganda Department, which works its will across the whole
spectrum of activities in media, education, entertainment--and also
in sports. Deliciously, Brady reveals that the department is funded
partly by a 3 percent tax on enterprises ranging from bookstores to
karaoke bars, golf courses, and bowling alleys, because all these
units fall within its orbit of control; and it uses these funds
partly to support Party and army publications, rural bookstores,
literature prizes, and social science research. She does not say
whether the Beijing Olympic Committee is also paying this tax, but it
may well be doing so, since sports are under the partial control of
the propaganda system.

Brady reveals that China's central propagandists have studied the
theories of "manufacturing consent" by Walter Lippmann and Edward
Bernays, and have learned from media critics such as Noam Chomsky,
and--although she does not make quite this ultimate ironic
point--emulate such Western visionaries of popular journalism as
Rupert Murdoch. They know how diversity and contention within a
permitted range of subjects render invisible the subjects forbidden
by the regime and placed outside the perimeter; how naming and
framing place inconvenient facts in a desired light. The department
intervenes at all levels of the media hierarchy through a system of
news guidance, post-publication review, and reward and punishment.
Its most effective tool is a traditional Chinese invention rather
than a Western import: a "you know what we mean" style of regulation
that allows experimentation, tolerates ambiguity, and then punishes
retroactively and arbitrarily.

The efflorescence of creativity that foreign visitors will see in
Beijing in August is not a challenge to Party control. It enables
that control. The lively art and music scenes, colorful newsstands,
crowded bookstores, stylish clothing, experimental dance, innovative
architecture, sexy advertising, rampant consumerism, luxurious
housing, ebullient schlock, even the considerable scope for academic
inquiry: this lightly patrolled free zone is not the antithesis but
the twin of the permanent crackdown on the political frontier, where
the few who insist on testing the regime are crowded to the cultural
margin and generally ignored. In this sense the energetic new Chinese
art that has caught the imagination of Western buyers, with its
pictorial irony and cynicism, repudiation of history, detachment from
the world, and love of stunts, is not the challenge to those in power
it is sometimes construed to be. Rather, it is a secret joke that the
regime shares with the artists and their audience--part of a new
social contract that allows the children to have their sly fun so
long as the grown-ups run the house.

Brady argues that the end result of this sophisticated cultural
programming differs little from the mass media in the West, where
just as in China nothing important is discussed. Like American TV
viewers and tabloid readers transfixed by the photo shoot of the
teenage star Miley Cyrus and the debate over whether to lift the
federal gas tax for the summer driving season, Chinese readers feel
they are living in an environment of freedom. The difference is that
even those motivated to do so have no way to break into the monopoly
circle that decides on the fundamental issues that confront their society.


The Beijing Olympics have never been anything but a conscious part of
this strategy--what Brady nicely calls a campaign of mass
distraction. Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China is a
grudgingly admiring analysis by communications specialists in the
West of the Beijing organizers' strategies for "seizing the
platform," shaping the space, and "controlling the narrative." A
central theme is that the Olympics redefine citizenship--both Chinese
and foreign--as consumership, abetting the depoliticization of public
life that lies at the heart of China's post-Mao propaganda strategy.

Indeed, the Beijing Olympics mark the full mastery of marketing
techniques by Chinese bureaucrats. According to Xu Guoqi, "The
Beijing organizing committee hopes that through merchandising,
sponsorships, and other commercial applications, China's logo will by
and large pay for the Games." (This hope may have failed, given the
escalating costs noted by domestic critics.) Authorized vendors have
sold zillions of dolls, keychains, T-shirts, Swatch watches,
papercuts, and telephones representing the five Olympic mascots--the
saccharine, symbolically laden, and cutely named fuwa. The official
game logo, a running stick figure against a red background, has been
crammed with meanings: the running man is both winning a race and
throwing his arms out in welcome; the shape of his body resembles the
Chinese character for jing in Beijing; and the red background evokes
a traditional Chinese chop by which people used to sign their names
on documents and precious art works.

To be sure, the Olympics so far have not entirely worked out the way
the planners intended. Beijing's bid in 1993 for the 2000 games was
defeated at least partly on human rights grounds (although Frank
Ching implies in China's Great Leap that bribery from the winning
city of Sydney had more to do with it). It is not clear whether
Beijing made explicit human rights commitments in its second bid.
Sharon K. Hom notes, in China's Great Leap, that despite numerous
requests, the host city contract has never been made public. Brady
says foreign p.r. consultants advised Chinese officials to mention
human rights in the bid document, and Brownell reveals that they
debated at the very high vice-premier level whether to do so,
deciding in the end to keep such mentions informal. This may explain
a remark--often cited by critics--made around that time by Liu
Jingmin, vice president of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee, who
said that allowing Beijing to host the Games would "help the
development of human rights. " Whether or not human rights were
explicitly included, Beijing certainly made pledges that it would not
fulfill. China's Great Leap documents non-compliance with all four
elements of the published 2002 Beijing Olympic Action Plan: Green
Olympics, High-Tech Olympics, Free and Open Olympics, and People's
Olympics. Even the logo has evoked ironic caricatures, including one
in which the red running man is the bloody silhouette of a firing-squad victim.

The campaigns to embarrass China over the 2008 Olympics have been as
long in the works as the Games themselves. From the moment the Games
were awarded to Beijing in July 2001, human rights advocates, instead
of calling for a boycott, began planning to use the event to ramp up
pressure on the Chinese government. Human Rights Watch and Human
Rights in China set up special websites tracking the Beijing
organizing committee's failure to make good its commitments. (I am on
the Asia advisory committee of the former and am board co-chair of
the latter.) The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a series of
reports on violations of press freedom. Amnesty International's
"Olympics Countdown" series has tracked violations over the two-year
period leading to the games. Chinese Human Rights Defenders has
issued an "Olympic Watch" series of press releases. The Save Darfur
campaign and an offshoot, Olympic Dream for Darfur, pressed China to
address the Darfur problem via the link between Beijing and Khartoum.
Advocacy groups recently demonstrated along the route of the Olympic
torch, clashing with blue- and-white-suited Chinese escorts who were
drawn from the student body of the People's Armed Police academy.

All this is also propaganda, of course--human rights groups prefer
the term "advocacy"; but precisely for that reason it is a mystery
why the Chinese leaders and the IOC ever thought they could get away
with throwing a party to celebrate China's accomplishments at which
no one would mention China's shortcomings. Why did China put its face
out to be slapped? And why did the IOC abet them in doing so?
Evidently both parties were blinded by the charm of their own
blarney, the line that sports is only sports.

But in the end this miscalculation has not mattered much. In the
Chinese leaders' accurate realpolitik analysis, they had already
stared down Western human rights pressure after Tiananmen, defeated
Bill Clinton's "human rights conditionality" in 1994, rolled back
post-Tiananmen sanctions, forged alliances with other rightsviolating
states to pull out the teeth of the United Nations Human Rights
Council, and pushed Western criticism into the confidential
government-to-government "human rights dialogue" and "private
diplomacy" channels where there is no fear of real action. The West's
economic interdependence with China has become so intense that an
Olympic boycott--or indeed any effective sanction against China--has
become unthinkable.

At home, if the government cannot have Western approval, it can make
stone soup out of disapproval by playing the criticisms as an attack
on the pride of the nation. This official attitude was well expressed
in a book that Chen Guangcheng's persecutor, Li Qun, published in
2004, well before the Olympic controversies had reached high pitch.
During his studies at New Haven University in 2000, Li Qun did an
internship in the office of Mayor John DeStefano Jr., and after his
return he published a book unforgettably titled I Was a Mayor's
Assistant in America. He described his studies in America as a
"political test" that confirmed his confidence in the road of
socialism with Chinese characteristics. "Most Americans," Li wrote,
"are friendly to China, although they do not understand it very well.
But a small group of politicians strike the banners of democracy and
human rights to critique us constantly by their own standards,
distort things, and interfere with our domestic affairs. Their real
purpose is not to protect the so-called human rights but to use this
pretext to influence and limit China's healthy economic growth and to
prevent China's wealth and power from threatening their world hegemony."

There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of Li's sentiments,
clichéd though they are, or the degree to which they represent the
views of many Chinese inside China and out. Coming to the United
States and seeing how things work here does not necessarily shake the
faith of Chinese officials, or students, in their country's way of
doing things. Quite remarkably, and in general for the better, tens
of thousands of Chinese students have returned home from the West to
play their willing roles in academia, the media, business, and other
sectors, accepting subordination to the ruling party and its national project.

Thus it is not only China's growing military and economic power that
renders it less and less vulnerable to human rights advocacy, which
depends on international reputational costs. Perhaps even more
importantly, the government is protected by its success in shaping
its own public's reaction to the criticism. Indeed, the regime faces
more risk in yielding to Western criticism than in being subjected to
it. The audiences that matter are not in the United States and
Europe, but in China and the Third World. Even the main Olympic
sponsors--GE, Coca-Cola, Kodak, McDonald's, Visa, and seven other
American and foreign companies, who are front and center in the eyes
of international consumers--have decided to hunker down and absorb
whatever hits cannot be avoided in order to protect their enormous
long-range stakes in China. This is an almost unimaginably large
market, and a market that remembers. Name and shame works with
countries dependent on the West, but China is no longer such a country.

Xu Guoqi raises the possibility that the Olympics will lead to the
transformation of the Chinese regime the way the Seoul Games in 1988
brought on Korean democratization. True, the regime this year has
suffered a series of what some Chinese see as cosmological
portents--a crippling snowstorm, Tibetan unrest, and the huge Sichuan
earthquake. The leaders certainly react to any such challenge, and
much smaller ones, as if their rule is fragile. Yet sophisticated
crisis management and canny media spin have earned the government
broad public support each time. Even if an unexpected event occurs in
August--something security agencies have been gearing up to
prevent--the likely consequence will be to strengthen the regime's
already robust grip on power. Assertive and unapologetic, the new and
future China now struts the stage. Its character dovetails with what
is reported to be the forceful personality of the designated future
leader, Xi Jinping, currently the vice president, who is slated to
succeed Hu Jintao in 2012.

This is modern China. It is not what we imagined it would be when
Richard Nixon wrote forty years ago that we should not leave China
"forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its
fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors," and
started us down the path of engagement. When we wondered all these
years whether China would modernize or not, Westernize or not, become
civilized or not, we were asking the wrong questions, making the
wrong distinctions. What we got instead is a China that is both proud
and resentful, open and closed, like us yet not at all like us. We
used our three wishes and now we must live with what we got. The
onetime sick man of Asia is in exuberant health--that is the intended
message of the Beijing Olympics, and the unintended one.

Andrew J. Nathan teaches at Columbia University. He is a co-editor of
How East Asians View Democracy (Columbia University Press).
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank