The Perils of Forced Modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, writes on

The Chinese government’s plans for the Olympic games did not include a revolt in Tibet. The immediate aftermath of the widespread protests in Tibetan- inhabited areas in mid-March 2008 – from Lhasa in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces to the east – has seen intense efforts by the authorities to restore control and manage access to information. The disruption by monks at the Jokhang temple in Lhasa of a choreographed visit of foreign journalists on 27 March indicates that the strategy is not working.

Beijing’s worried officials will do their best to defuse the potential of these unfolding events to subvert their larger understanding of what the event in their city on 8-24 August means for China. It is notable in this respect that China has avoided mentioning the precedent of the Olympic games in Tokyo in 1964, or voicing any sense that there might be a parallel in the impact of the respective events on the respective countries’ global profile. In principle, one attractive way for the Beijing authorities to think about the 2008 Olympics is that they will come to be seen as comparable to 1964. The Tokyo games – and the Osaka world Expo that followed in 1970 – globally promoted a vision of a Japan that had bounced back from a period of extremism and defeat to become a stable country with modern cities and forward-looking aspirations. These two high-profile international gatherings also symbolised the concurrent processes of economic development that would see Japan’s own rise to its current status as the world’s second biggest economy.


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