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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Patriot Games

July 31, 2008

Geoffrey York,
The Globe and Mail
July 29, 2008

BEIJING -- It's fascinating to see Beijing telling the world that
"the Olympics must not be politicized" -- a message that Chinese
officials have repeated endlessly in their public pronouncements over
the past year.

Of course the Olympics next month will be one of the most political
in history, and not merely because of the protests against it. The
Chinese government itself has been happy to use the Olympics for
political purposes, including the crucial task of rallying patriotic
support from Chinese people around the world.

Even the Olympic flame, usually described by Beijing as the "sacred"
flame, has been used to fuel nationalism and to promote the
government's own self-interest. In Tibet last month, a Chinese
official used the Olympic torch relay as an excuse for a vitriolic
attack on the Dalai Lama.  The official, Zhang Qingli, stood beside
the Olympic flame and vowed to "totally smash the splittist schemes
of the Dalai Lama clique." (The International Olympic Committee later
reprimanded the Chinese government for this outburst, saying that
sports and politics must be kept separate.)

A rising tide of Chinese nationalism has been one of the political
results of the Beijing Olympics. But even within China, this
nationalism is now being debated and questioned.

A popular Chinese magazine, Nan Feng Chuang, this month published a
long and thoughtful commentary on the dangers of nationalism in the
Olympic year. I found it one of the most provocative and interesting
essays of the year. Here are some excerpts:

"Chinese nationalism during this year of the Olympics has once again
shaken the West. Though the international media has indeed committed
errors, and some of the torch relay protests were clearly not
rational, the strident nationalism China has displayed in the year of
the Olympics has puzzled countless people, including China herself.
Other than flags, battle songs and slogans, does China really not
have a better way to show the world a more civilized spirit and conduct?

"Obviously a nation needs some degree of nationalism to foster
cohesiveness, but in the end it's very easy for extreme nationalism
to lead to separation from and even opposition to the rest of the
world." Many years of political inculcation and ideological education
have resulted in the common people speaking in government platitudes
and being filled with a sense of righteous mission."

"It is interesting to note that many Chinese usually have strong
analytical abilities and critical spirits. When speaking about
injustice in their everyday lives, their judgments are frequently
right on the mark. But once there's an international dispute, once
they have to make a judgment on something that happened in a remote
foreign country, once an alien society or culture is involved, their
judgment fails and they become blind conformists. Wild venting of
nationalist sentiments is principally a problem of incomplete and
distorted information.

"There is a psychological dimension. Under the banner of
'patriotism,' little people can in a heartbeat become strong and
powerful. Patriotism can help people temporarily forget their
smallness and pain, and from the act of yelling ultra-nationalistic
slogans they discover the illusory feeling of 'greatness' and 'heroism'."

"By some material standards, in the past few years China has reached
world power status. But has it spiritually prepared itself to be a
world power? If we are only ready to enjoy the advantages of being a
great power and are unwilling to accept the misunderstandings and
censure that inevitably accompany this esteemed status, then we don't
have what it takes to be one."

"Chinese nationalism must answer the following question: after great
sacrifices are made to this collective called the nation, what's the
value of being one small unit among countless others? In any
envisioned new nation-state, what's the position of the individual?
If this problem is not solved, when the people are worked into a
frenzy of ultra-nationalism, they may be deceived and manipulated by
those who rule them."

"Returning to the Olympic Games, at present there are a lot of people
who are worried: when the French and the Japanese teams take part in
events, will the Chinese audience hiss and boo? When CNN conducts
interviews in Beijing, will people on the street use uncivilized
language and behavior? When Western tourists wear clothes printed
with heterodox views, will those nearby react with violence?

"Right now what we do know is that the authorities will take measures
to prevent these things from happening. Who knows if they will
succeed, but if nothing unfortunate does happen, we can't say that
it's because ultra-nationalism has already been tamed. Those in power
have only temporarily forced it into a cage."
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