Beijing Is Haunted by Olympic Ghosts

German scholar, Gudrun Wacker, takes a new approach to the recent Olympic human rights controversy. From German Institute of International and Security Affairs:

Did the Chinese government know what they were in for when they applied for host the Olympics Games in Beijing? Most likely not. Events in the last weeks in Tibet and other places have emotionalised, politicised and radicalised for the debate about these games, which were controversial to begin with. From the perspective of the Chinese leadership, “one world, one dream” is on the verge of turning into a nightmare: The Olympic torch relay has mutated into an ideological and physical battlefield where anger frustration is vented. The Olympic torch itself has turned into the symbol for the political regime of the host country.

The international Olympic Committee(IOC) has tried to keep the non political character of the Games. Their efforts have failed – due to the current developments. They now declared that athletes can utter their opinions freely during the Olympics, but have to refrain from demonstrating.

Full of hope, western countries had cited the Seoul Games in 1988 the model for the Games in 2008: At the minimum, the Games in Beijing were expected to trigger a similar opening of the political system. Over the last months,however, a different and no less inadequate comparison has become prevalent: Berlin 1936 – and with it the interpretation that CHina’s leaders only have one thing in mind, that is, to instrumentalise the Olympic Games for winning international legitimisation for their authoritarian rule, under which human rights violations are the order of the day.

Also US-based writer Jayshree Bajoria from the Council of Foreign Relations digs deeper into nationalism in China.

China’s today is shaped by its pride in its history as well as its century of humiliation at the hands of the West and Japan. China expert Peter Hays Gries writes: (PDF) “Chinese nationalists today find pride in stories about the superiority of China’s ‘5000 years’ of ‘glorious civilization.’” This yearning for lost glory is accompanied by the story of victimization in the past, a narrative central to what being Chinese today means, says Gries. China perceives itself as a victim of Western imperialism that began with the First Opium War and the British acquisition of Hong Kong in 1842 and lasted until the end of World War II in 1945, during which it suffered humiliating losses of sovereignty.

“Chinese nationalism was actually partly a creation of Western imperialism,” says Minxin Pei, a senior associate in the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Pei says the first surge of Chinese nationalism was seen in 1919 in what’s now widely referred to as the May 4th Movement when thousands of students demonstrated against the Treaty of Versailles’ transfer of Chinese territory to Japan. Some of these student leaders went on to form the Chinese Communist Party two years later in 1921. “The current Chinese communist government is more a product of nationalism than a product of ideology like Marxism and Communism,” says Liu Kang, a professor of Chinese cultural studies at Duke University. Kang says today nationalism has probably “become the most powerful legitimating ideology.”


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