Beijing Olympics: When Red China, the Green Olympics, and the Yellow River Collide
Broken Records, Broken Recordings, Broken Dreams
Beneath all of the anticipation and hype about who will win the gold at the upcoming Summer Olympics in China, another more important contest is being waged. Like two lunging sumo wrestlers grappling for control, two powerful forces are hurtling towards each other on a collision course with destiny, scheduled to explode onto our TV and PC screens this August, and rated “R” for violence and strong language. Pushing one way will be the Chinese government, straining to keep its population of 1.3 billion people, yearning for free speech and expression, from doing so. Pushing the other way will be 500,000 visitors from around the world, personally armed with the most dangerous weapon ever used against China’s Communist Regime – the free and unfiltered truth about China captured on video. Armed with tens of thousands of the latest media gadgets, these temporary guests stand poised to share with the world not only the truth of these Olympic Games, but more importantly, the truth about the Chinese people’s lifelong “Olympic” battle with their government over free-expression.
During the last Summer Olympics in 2004, it was considered cutting edge if a cell phone could capture a quality digital image. Four years later, cell phones and PDA’s now double as video cameras, catching action whenever and wherever it happens. Because of this, there’s a strong possibility that it won’t be the giant truck-mounted NBC cameras that catch the most interesting action this Olympiad, or even the 22,000 credentialed foreign journalists – it will be the YouTube downloads and the CNN iReports, from handheld devices in the capable hands of thousands of curious onlookers and uncredentialed citizen journalists. Whereas the host government can easily control the venues and primary locations to ensure there’s no “Peking,” the nooks and crannies and the alleys and streets will be impossible to completely control. What remains to be seen is which message will be more compelling – the sweet, or the sour?
This summer’s Games will be another round in this wrestling match for control of information, and the resulting violence could run Olympic circles around Tiananmen Square, that bloody massacre viewed in full color in 1989, as Chinese tanks literally crushed civilians trying to exercise their freedom of expression. Who could forget that gripping scene as one demonstrator, perhaps only 5 feet tall, but standing much taller in the world’s eyes, boldly faced the approaching column of Chinese tanks, placing his very life on the line.
If I were Tibet on this one, I’d say that the chaos in the months leading up to the Olympics is only a foreshadowing of what the actual event has in store for us. Is it just me, or can you sense catastrophe is imminent when – even though France selected their speedy 400-meter sprinter champion Stephane Diagana to carry the torch - it was STILL put out THREE TIMES by protestors before it left Paris! Tensions in China are already on high alert due to recent religious conflicts, as the Chinese government now wants Tibetan Buddhist monks to denounce the Dalai Lama and accept the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama. In fact, the Tibet Daily Newspaper recently quoted Tibet’s very patriotic deputy Communist Party chief Han Peng as saying, “We should strengthen patriotic education so as to guide the masses of monks to continuously display the patriotic tradition and uphold the banner of patriotism.” I mean, I’ve heard of double-speak, but triple-speak?
Bad Air Days
Adding insult to injury will be a first hand view of the environmental atrocities being committed throughout China’s large cities and Olympic venues, and showcasing for the world the worst air pollution on the planet, responsible for over 656,000 deaths each year. Even after promising the world’s first “Green Olympics,” spending $12.2 Billion on 20 key projects, banning 300,000 heavy-polluting vehicles, and enforcing alternating driving days, the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has already gone on record as saying that, “Events lasting longer than an hour might have to be postponed on “bad air days.” In fact, with less than 100 environmentally friendly “Blue Sky Days” last year, several athletes have already dropped out of competition, including the world’s fastest marathoner Halle Gebrselassie, citing the suffocating smog, Singa-poor air quality, and Shang-high levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and smothering particulate matter (PM10).
It Takes An Olympic Village
If you thought the violent demonstrations in Paris or Tibet earlier this spring were disturbing, just wait until 08-08-08. I’m confident that at this very moment, numerous carefully orchestrated protests are being organized for maximum impact and visibility to the over 2 billion people expected to view these events. This might be the single best and last chance of their lifetimes to show the world the “true” China, and they won’t let this opportunity pass them by. Think about it. If you were a nation living under repression for 60 years, and your government invited the entire world over for a party, what would you do?
Unflattering stories are already leaking out, including one published recently where Beijing magazine vendor Liu Qifel noted that he had assumed the Olympics would bring real improvements to life in the city, but it hasn’t turned out that way. “Look at this street. The old buildings have been newly painted. The buildings facing the street have been decorated, but the buildings behind them are unchanged. I don’t like those façade projects because they are useless to our ordinary citizens.”
I believe that “façade” could very well become the central theme and buzzword for these entire Games, with the Chinese authorities suddenly in the crosshairs, given two probable - yet undesirable - choices, both of which will have them seeing Red. Either the Chinese government will attempt to lock down ALL communication, confiscating and/or neutralizing recording devices which may have captured unflattering footage OR the world will be flooded with the sights and sounds of human rights atrocities captured by the numerous digital eyewitnesses both at the Games, but even more importantly, across the Chinese nation as the world’s tourists and sports enthusiasts crisscross this most populous country on earth.
With the Great Wall of Silence broken, information and images will begin pouring out of China like a breached Missouri levy, and the “China Cabinet” (which is seldom used and mostly for show) will be forced to make apology after apology to explain away this embarrassing footage, and give new meaning to “Dancing Beijing” – which just so happens to be the official logo of these 2008 Olympics.
Somewhere buried in the founding Communist doctrine of China is the belief that if you give people a inch, they’ll take a mile. In fact, if you anagram the word “China”, it spells: “a inch.” Bad English, but you get the idea. Interestingly, you can also rearrange the letters of the word “China” to spell “Chain,” a haunting reminder of what that country has fastened around its citizens as they continue their 60 year struggle against their government’s Sumo grip on the freedoms that we in the U.S. take for granted.
So what will it be? Broken records? Broken recordings? Or broken dreams? On the Chinese calendar, 2008 is the Year of the Rat, and by the end of the Summer Games, the entire world may smell it. China wanted to host the Olympics to show how far they’ve come. Beware what you wish for.
Douglas J. O’Bryon