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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Opinion: Crouching tiger, hidden dragon

August 12, 2008

The Brisbane Times (Australia)
August 11, 2008

One of the great rock'n'roll songs of the past year was the
National's Fake Empire. A romantic-sounding tune marked by a quiet
declaration that "we're half awake in a fake empire", it married the
lonely-guy blues of a New York night to a veiled critique of American
imperialism. In short, it expressed the feelings of being lost inside a dream.

The song could just as well serve as an anthem to the 2008 Beijing
Olympics: for the quickly dispersing illusion China has sought to
construct of a harmonious Games - as well as just how much we in the
West have been willing to cling to such lies, out of misguided
idealism or a greed for business opportunities in the jaws of the
Chinese tiger, not to mention a little fear about how strong that
tiger is becoming.

I have no doubt these Games are the most significant and politically
dangerous since the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Hitler and the Nazi
Party sought to use those Games as a propaganda tool for resurgent
German nationalism and racist notions of Aryan superiority, and with
it Germany's right to rule the world.

Historical equations, of course, always lack nuance. But the
parallels between Berlin 1936 and Beijing 2008 remain odiously
apparent. Chinese nationalism is rampant, the poison by which the
so-called Communist regime sustains its right to govern today.
Underlining it is the racist Han Chinese sensibility that Tibetans,
Uighurs and other minorities are lower-grade humans and "barbarians"
- as are we Western "long noses". Talk to any semi-educated Han and
you will hear all about China's phenomenal 5000 years of culture; dig
into that talk and you will understand how the past 100 years of
Chinese turbulence and misery are the fault of the West.

Arguments in favour of a Beijing Games have related to liberalisation
and democratisation, as if exposing China to global influences would
assure humanitarian and political progress. A similar hope has
underlined long-running business interactions between China and the
West ever since Deng Xiaoping opened the doors on a period of
economic liberalisation in 1978.

Unfortunately self-interest and greed now motivate most "political"
thinking in the Special Economic Zones of the coast. People there
celebrate forms of conspicuous consumption that would make Donald
Trump blush while the rest of the country continues along in its
peasant miseries, hobbling under exploitation, corruption and
environmental abuses. Coal miners work in Dickensian conditions,
dying 10 a day in some of the most unsafe and polluted corners of the planet.

Time and again the West has prostituted its ideals to Chinese wishes.
Consider the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao, who in 2004 was
jailed for 10 years for revealing to an overseas website how the
Government planned to deal with the anniversary of the Tiananmen
Square massacre. Shi Tao's email details were handed over to Chinese
authorities by Yahoo, a company that took comfort in complying with
Chinese law and sustaining its business interests on the mainland.

A 2001 speech by News Corporation's James Murdoch denouncing the
Falun Gong as "an apocalyptic cult" is another such moment of modern
dialogue. Murdoch's observation may have a grain of truth to it, but
the eager-to-please shrillness of his speech failed to justify the
widespread detention, torture and death of Falun Gong members.

But don't put your faith in the younger generation of Chinese. The
one child policy has bred a generation of "little emperors", selfish
and spoilt by the adoring focus of their parents and grandparents,
the recipients of what is known as a 4-2-1 inverted pyramid of family worship.

These are the same youth who were bussed in to support the path of
the Olympic flame across the world. As events in Canberra showed,
they are vocal, organised and aggressive. Almost a quarter of the
Chinese population is now under 30. At home in China the more extreme
among them are known as the fen qing, or "angry youth". You can see
them gathered in McDonald's and Starbucks, in sneakers and baseball
caps, bitching about how much they hate America.

Brought up in a post-Mao era and a system that blanketed out events
like Tiananmen Square, talk of such historical moments is as tiresome
and vague to them as Woodstock and Altamont are to Western youth.
Indeed, young Chinese regard Tiananmen as the ultimate in sentimental
Western fantasies, a cliche we hook ourselves on to slight their
country's ascendancy.

It's unclear how much the Government will be able to ride the
nationalist fervour of this new generation, and how much it has the
potential of creating instability even for it.

As China's global public relations took a nosedive following the
Tibetan riots and ugly protests and counter-protests around the
progress of the Olympic flame, officials were forced to appeal for
"rational patriotism". Ironically the younger generation's zeal is a
byproduct of the censorship and propaganda they have been suckled on.
Many of these same youth could not understand why their Government
did not come down harder and sooner in Tibet. The thought that these
will be the leaders of tomorrow is chilling.

Of course, no one article can summarise the complexities of China
today. But the appeasements the West has made out of a desire to
avoid upsetting ultra-sensitive Chinese feelings, and through
opportunistic business interests, bode ill for the future. Kevin
Rudd's recent bid to be seen as "zhengyou" - a friend who tells you
the truth even if you don't like it - was a brilliant diplomatic
move. It remains to be seen how much that perspective becomes another
way for China to let the West blow off steam while it moves coolly ahead.

The fact is these Games are about symbolically launching the Chinese
Century to come, as well as affirming "the Mandate of Heaven" on the
current rulers, an almost mystical form of nationalism updated to
present day needs: propaganda reshaped as marketing to launch China
Inc. upon us all.

Watching the Opening Ceremony, I nonetheless found myself caught up
in their beauty, and in the larger Olympic notions of unity and
nobility that seem capable of withstanding the ugliest of political
spin jobs. As if in the end some grain of hope and communication
might still be broached. As if a mere gesture might wake us all to
something better.

Mark Mordue is the author of Dastgah: Diary of a Headtrip. He was an
Asialink Australian writer-in-residence at the University of Beijing
in 1992 and is working on a novel set in China.
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