By Maura Moynihan, June 15th, 2008
As Beijing gears up for the world’s premiere sports and entertainment extravaganza, the Summer Olympic Games, lavish pageants are in the works; musical banquets, Forbidden City package tours, corporate sponsor trinkets and goodie bags for the 50 yard dash and the high dive. Managing the games is a logistical feat of infinite complexity, imparting strain and glory to the host city. The Sydney, Athens and Turin Games were triumphs, there were no incidents of violence, sabotage or aggressive nationalism, it was a relief to see the world come together and somehow pull it off. It is unlikely that the Beijing Summer Games will transpire quite so harmoniously, and it is intriguing to ruminate upon how things might fall apart, as the Tibet crisis festers and burns.
The Tibetan uprising that erupted in March tore the mask off the police state, as China brazenly escalated its savage persecution of the Tibetan people and a wave of global outrage drowned the Blood Torch. The Beijing Olympic Committee has just revoked pledges to the International Olympic Committee on press and travel freedoms for guests of the Games. No more all-access pass for the tourist or the reporter, it’s all going under lockdown. It seems that the CCP party bosses are on track to squander Olympic Glory, if that’s the price for keeping Tibet in bondage.
Tibetans within reach of the state are being punished for dousing the Blood Torch with arrest, torture, murder, and getting cut out of the Olympic joyride; hopeful Tibetan entrepreneurs are now facing a bleak summer filled with PSB battalions instead of curious and sympathetic travelers. The Public Security Bureau has ramped up surveillance and harassment of non-Chinese nationals, and the Beijing Olympic Committee has issued a new list of “rules” for their Olympic guests, posted on the organizers' official website (www.beijing2008.cn
). It is standard CCP stuff, warning of “sexual subversion, spitting, smoking, attacking referees, and waving “insulting banners”, or “harm China’s national image or damage the social order”. The rule book contains a thinly veiled threat to Tibet sympathizers; "Not all of China is currently open to foreigners, and if foreigners do not have permission they should not go into areas not opened…Foreign spectators will not necessarily automatically get visas just because they have bought Olympic tickets.”
So what does this bode for the summer games, as some 90,000 tourists and 30,000 journalists descend upon Beijing? One of my most treasured news clippings comes from the1987 New York Post, which tells of how a British tourist in Gyantse was manhandled by Chinese soldiers who mistook the image on her tee-shirt of the 1950’s American television comedian Phil Silvers for the Dalai Lama, and tried to strip the woman of her clothing in a public square. Think of how the Blood Torch goons squads assaulted anyone who unfurled a Tibetan flag. Imagine the potential for disaster, in the fearsome dry heat of a Beijing summer, hordes of strangers speaking a multitude of languages, the PSP on high alert to gag any and all protestors, many a tee shirt could be mistaken for God knows what, it’s probably somewhere in the manual, next to spitting and waving insulting banners.
It was a mere two decades ago, in the 1980’s, that Tibet was at last pried open by the press of modernization, roads, planes, and tourists. It was then, as China lurched towards normalcy, that the people of Tibet seized the moment to march in the streets of Lhasa. PLA soldiers stormed the Barkhor with guns and tanks, tourists whipped out cameras, captured the evidence, and flew back home to bust the police state. The IOC insists that China has evolved in the past two decades, pointing out all the gleaming new sports facilities and fast food franchises in Beijing. Now the IOC must grapple with an impending disaster. The Tibet crisis has triggered a xenophobic dementia within the Politboro that threatens the logistical capacities of the Games, and extends the PR nightmare of the torch relay, when citizens, many of them sports fans, throughout the world stood with the Tibetan people.
It is difficult to comprehend the scope of damage inflicted upon Chinese society by the perverse tyranny of Mao; millions beaten and starved to death in the Great Leap Forward, millions more imprisoned and exiled during the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese Communist Party is accustomed to bullying its citizens, as it callously razes the homes of the poor to make way for super malls and punishes Tibetan monks and Falun Gong practitioners in the manner of Spanish Inquisitors. It’s had a spectacular run of luck, merging corporate capitalism with Mao’s police state, but this summer it is set collide with a stampede of Malboro Men, clutching Cokes and Big Macs, ready to cheer on their compatriots in the Olympic Stadium. What will happen if an athlete waves the Tibetan flag on the medal’s stand, a drunken tourist screams “Free Tibet”, or an agitated PSB officer mistakes Phil Silvers for the Dalai Lama?
It’s going to be a long, hot summer.