Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Lorne Gunter: Today's China -- real freedom, real danger

August 13, 2008

Lorne Gunter, lgunter@shaw.ca
The National Post (Canada)
August 11, 2008

The Olympics has revealed two Chinas. There is the one the Chinese
government, the IOC and the CBC are doing their darnedest to portray
-- modern, confident, competent, out-reaching. It is a very real and
very genuine China. Yet it exists simultaneously with another very
real China, the one no one wants to admit to -- violent, dictatorial,
repressive.

The first China has a young face. It is the China of last Friday's
opening ceremonies. It has grand, benign ambitions and is capable of
pulling off the most remarkable public celebrations since conquering
Caesars were treated to elaborate triumphal parades into Rome at the
end of successful campaigns.

It craves to be a superpower, but a superpower of the mind and bank account.

It is the China of the Bird's Nest national stadium and the Water
Cube aquatics site, the soaring skyscrapers of Shanghai and Beijing
and the Ling Long Pagoda. It wants desperately to be accepted by the
rest of the world, and appreciated for its accomplishments.

The other China is old. It is the China of pollution, Internet
censorship, political executions, authoritarianism, suppression of
Falun Gong and Tibet and the Uyghurs of Xinjiang province. It has
secret police, fires missiles at Taiwan and props up tyrannies in
places such as Sudan, North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe.

The first China giggles at its own clumsy, yet sincere attempts to
speak English to foreign journalists, while the other, darker one
culls its universities and boardrooms for flawless English speakers
it can put forward as official spokesmen so that no one would ever
guess it was not perfect.

In short, the Olympics are revealing that in post-Mao China, the
habits of Maoism are hard to shake for the Central Committee and much
of the country's ruling caste. The Olympics exist within a New China
bubble. Outside, the Old China security apparatus is working to keep
that bubble from being burst. But at the same time, Old China's
brutish methods threaten the bubble every bit as much as Tibetan
monks, Muslim separatists and democracy protesters.

Ancient China thought of itself as the Middle Kingdom, suspended
between heaven and Earth. Modern China is much the same, caught
between the powerful grip of its old society -- which produced the
horrors of 70 million dead in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural
Revolution-- and the modern international world it seeks to be part of.

That's why at these Games the Great Helmsman has been recreated as
sort of a rollie-pollie national mascot: Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan,
Yingying, Nini and Mao Tse-tung. He is too beloved, still, by many
older Chinese to be cast overboard completely. Yet in the new China
his legacy is too horrific to venerate or even recall.

The China of the Olympics is not a false front. It's more a sort of
parallel China to the old, bellicose, goose-stepping one. Defying the
laws of political physics, the two occupy the same space
simultaneously without cancelling one another out.

A friend with extensive experience in China explains this dichotomy
by saying that ordinary Chinese are now nearly as free as anyone to
express their disdain for their government, but as soon as their
rantings attract an audience (as soon as they begin to compete for
the loyalty of their countrymen with the China's communist rulers),
then they will be arrested, tortured, imprisoned and perhaps even executed.

  The freedom is real, but so is the threat.

So long as the world is prepared to see only the new, young China,
the old cruel China -- the menacing military superpower-to-be -- will survive.

In this way, with its refusal to see China's human rights abuses and
its willingness to rationalize away China's censorship, pollution and
other warts, the IOC has become bad China's chief enabler.

You could see just how keen the IOC was to whitewash China's problems
this week when Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC's medical
commission, insisted the haze over Beijing was not smog, but a "mist"
brought on by heat and humidity.

At no time during peak daytime hours this week has the air quality
index in China's capital fallen below 91. In North America, when the
index hits 50, environment agencies begin warning small children, the
elderly and asthmatics to restrict outside activities. This is
probably being overcautious. But were Dr. Ljungqvist the chief of
public health in any major western city, at a reading of 91 he would
be demanding action rather than making up cockamamie stories about
misty mornings.

The IOC has covered for Old China ever since it awarded it the Games
in 2001. Committee members may think that by diverting the world's
attention to New China they are hastening the end of Maoist China,
when in fact they are prolonging its life.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank