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China: Patriotism of Dissent

May 2, 2008

By: Loghman Fattahi
Georgetown Independent

The motto of China's 2008 Olympic Games is "One World, One Dream." This
slogan, according to the Chinese Communist Party, conveys China's
commitment to "peaceful development, a harmonious society and people's
happiness." However, in the words of Amnesty International: "The
[Beijing] Olympic Games have so far failed to act as a catalyst for
reform" in China. The Party monopolizes power and controls the press; it
regulates cultural and religious liberty with "patriotic education,"
indoctrinates China's youth and suppresses political dissent through its
security and military forces. As the Olympic torch journeys on its
130-day route around the world, it acts not as a light of liberty and
democracy, but rather as a blind portrayal of China as a "peaceful" and
"benevolent" 21st century superpower.

Notwithstanding its own promises as well as pleas from the United
Nations, International Olympic Committee, Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch and Western countries, the Communist Party single-mindedly
perceives all political protest as poisonous to "the people's democratic
dictatorship." The U.N. Human Rights Council announced that it is
"deeply concerned by reports of [Chinese] security forces firing on
protestors and alleged killings" in Tibet. For democracy to advance in
China, it is imperative to depoliticize the Chinese military, which
should preserve the civil rights of Chinese citizens and not the
supremacy of any particular party, including the Party.

As pro-Tibetan protests have grabbed global interest, an equally
important event has received little attention: The incarceration of Hu
Jia, a prominent Chinese civil rights advocate. On March 4th 2008, Hu
Jia received three and a half years of imprisonment for attempting "to
subvert the State's political power and socialist system." With
diplomatic finesse, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice characterized
the verdict as "deeply disturbing."

An equally "disturbing" issue is the eerie silence of the Chinese people
toward Hu Jia's incarceration, which sharply contrasts their sonorous
protests against Western media "bias" and "Tibetan separatists." Hu Jia
though is not a Tibetan "splittist," but a proponent of peaceful
democratic political reform within China. There are few Chinese who
openly sympathize with Hu Jia's democratic ideals or condemn his
imprisonment. In a population of over one billion people, there has been
no tangible Chinese protest supporting him.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of support for Hu Jia.
Although the Communist Party allows strictly regulated internal protest
against foreign countries, it prohibits protests against its own
domestic and foreign policies, such as Tibet and Darfur. Unlike other
dictatorships, China's youth are overwhelmingly supportive. The youth's
socio-economic conditions reinforce the Party's attractiveness. China's
youth have witnessed only economic boom; this confers considerable
legitimacy upon the state, thus allowing it to marginalize issues of
civil liberty. Chinese youth have few social opportunities to volunteer,
debate or play sports outside of state-run organizations. And, China's
education system replaces education with indoctrination, presenting the
Party's position as absolute, mathematical truth.

The Communist Party seeks to exploit China's economic growth to minimize
domestic political grievances against it. Improvement in material
conditions, however, will not placate the Chinese people's enduring
political grievances. The failure of its economic strategy in Tibet
manifests the Party's inability to utilize economics to diminish Tibetan
concern for their cultural heritage and political liberties. China's
future economic growth requires a concurrent growth in democracy.

According to analysts, the incarceration of Hu Jia and the suppression
of the Tibetans signify the Communist Party's broader plan to suppress
Chinese dissidents and minorities. This preemptive suppression is meant
to help the Party display a unified and "harmonious" image to the world
during the Olympic Games.

The right to dissent is fundamental to China's future as a dynamic
society. Thus, China needs more Hu Jias, who selflessly expose the
nature of the Communist system. I hope our Chinese friends will share
the democratic sentiment that patriotism and dissent are not mutually
exclusive. Let's hope, in the Olympic spirit of friendship, that China
peacefully evolves into a democracy and that our Chinese friends
recognize the veracity of William Fulbright's axiom: "In a democracy,
dissent is an act of faith."

Fattahi is an Associate Editor and a Regional Studies freshman.
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