07.29.2008 Protest: China's Olympic Syndrome
Some years ago in Manhattan while I was riding the subway uptown, a young woman entered the train and began to proselytize to the crowd, which, as usual, paid her no attention. She went on about religion, God, and so forth, and when she was done, I expected a call for donations. Instead, she contributed a bit of worldly wisdom that has stayed with me ever since: “I know we all look good,” she said. “But we’re not all being good.” And she exited the train.
Years later, those words capture the spirit for me of the Beijing Olympics. As a recent transplant to China (I’ve lived in Shanghai for the last year and a half), the build-up to the Olympics is hugely visible not just in Beijing, but all over the country. From the large banners on the highways in Shanghai to the lampposts that declare simply “Beijing 2008” along the streets, the feeling is in the air. For China, the Olympics has been both a galvanizing force and an exercise in pride, partly deserved, partly not.
Recently, however, the exercise has not gone entirely according to plan. In spite of their inevitability, the mass protests in Tibet, Xinjiang (the Muslim part of Western China), and Mongolia still caught the government off their usually rigid guard. Even more unpredictable has been the tumultuous time the government has had trying to control the coverage of these events. And when widespread public ...