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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."

Viewpoints: The Chinese pull it off -- and they did it their way

September 2, 2008

Beijing hosted the Olympics without compromising on human rights
The Gazette (Montreal)
August 31, 2008

Well, they got away with it, didn't they? The Chinese staged a
magnificent, moving spectacle in Beijing - but they did it their way,
giving away very little in return. As the world's athletes returned
home last week, China remained the same rivetted-down autocracy it
was before the whole Olympic business hit town.

Why should we be surprised? This is a society which, just 30 years
ago, altered its entire way of making a living almost overnight -
from the most asininely-pure socialism, where even a farmer's tiny
pigpen was state-controlled, to wide-open billionaire capitalism -
while remaining firmly under the heel of the Chinese Communist Party
and its bland, ruthless bureaucrats.

So much, too, for the anticipated "Olympic effect." It went home with
the athletes. Today in the Middle Kingdom, patriotism and gold medals
easily trump democracy and human rights. Those same party bureaucrats
made promises to the International Olympic Committee of openness and
access, a free flow of visitors and information. But of course they lied.

Access to websites was blocked, access to the land and its people
restricted. There was a spot of bother over Tibet, which the Chinese
handled with empty promises of a chat with the Dalai Lama's
representatives. The authorities in Beijing designated three official
sites for demonstrations, then set an Olympic record by finding
deficiencies in all 77 of the proposals submitted for such demos.

The police cracked down hard on two ladies, aged 77 and 79, who
protested against their homes being flattened by Olympic
construction. You can't be too careful. One wouldn't want an army of
grannies to start waving their canes at the supreme leader, Hu Jintao.

(Yes, that was him you saw briefly during the closing ceremonies -
crisply-tailored, unruffled, leader of nearly a quarter of mankind
and still almost unknown to foreigners and Chinese alike. Kind to
puppy dogs and children? Maybe. Or perhaps one right mean bastard.
Who knows? The world has little more knowledge of Hu than Lord
Macartney had of the Qian Long emperor in 1793, when he arrived
bearing a message from George III.)

Politics aside, the Games themselves were something special. The
stadiums were spectacular, the most impressive in Olympic history.
Likewise for the opening and closing ceremonies. The citizens of
Beijing stopped spitting in public, a minor miracle. Even the weather
co-operated, washing away worries of athletes dropping like flies,
their lungs pitted by pollution.

Visitors and TV viewers were dazzled by the Forbidden City and the
Great Wall. I was more taken with something kept strictly hidden
during my time as a foreign correspondent in Beijing from 1969-71 -
namely, female flesh. The bikinied Olympians playing beach
volleyball, as well as their spectacular cheerleaders, had my full
attention. It occurred to me that, somewhere not far off, Jiang Qing
must be spinning in her grave.

Jiang, aka Mme. Mao Tse-tung, was the chief attack dog of China's
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76), probably history's
most grievous assault on culture since the Qin emperor buried the
scholars' books (and the scholars) two millennia earlier. Jiang's
idea of a good time at the theatre was watching ballerinas in army
uniform doing rifle drill en pointe in The Red Detachment of Women.
(You had to be there.)

She was not big on sex - a change from the time decades earlier, in
Yenan, when she shared a cave with Mao and lured him into his third
marriage. She always appeared publicly in the lumpiest of Mao suits,
plain-faced, her short-cut hair tucked under a worker's cap.

That, of course, was her business. Unfortunately, like it or not, her
business was everyone's, and consequently half the population of
China, something like 400 million female persons, had to dress
exactly the same sexless way. The puritan Red Guards were ferocious enforcers.

It wasn't just a case of no bikinis; it was no shorts and no skirts
either, nothing but blue or green trousers with ample room for winter
underwear. In two years in Beijing, I never saw a real skirt on a
Chinese woman. Occasionally, a foreign leader would be greeted by
young girls in colourful dresses - but they had long pants on
underneath, rolled up just above the skirt hem, which reached nearly
to the ankles.

Not all change is progress - but beach volleyball in China, in the
officially-prescribed attire, definitely qualifies in my view.

Mao, stuffed and mounted in his Beijing mausoleum, would almost
certainly agree. The Great Helmsman, it turns out, was also a great
swordsman. His personal physician, Li Zhisui, has described Mao's
practice of inviting succulent young things to share his big, broad
bed in place of his harridan wife.

As for personal hygiene, "I wash myself inside the bodies of my
women," Mao stated graphically. Just a dirty, dirty old man.

Norman Webster is a former editor of The Gazette.
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