Thoughts on Recent Events of the Olympic Torch

Like thousands of people who went to see the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco, I was deeply disappointed by not seeing a single flame. Later, I watched the videos of the live reports on Youtube. My heart sank to the bottom. I have never seen anything like this: the Olympic torch – a symbol of world peace – was heavily guarded by three walls of police and security.

The first wall was the “blue guys” – the Chinese “torch body guards,” the second wall was police motorcyclists, and the third wall was fully armed policemen. Since when has the Olympic torch to be protected by an army troop? To me, the torch run has completely lost its meaning, and it was a bigger embarrassment than what had happened in Paris.

I understand the protesters have the right to protest and they were trying to make their point. But such protests can hardly get their point across and may even just do the opposite. Although they made it clear that they were not protesting against the Chinese people but the government, the Chinese people were angry and rallied behind their government more than ever.

Unlike Americans who separate themselves from the government, Chinese still see the government as their representation, or their collective “face,” especially on the international stage. When the government was humiliated, they felt they were losing face, therefore, humiliated; when the government was criticized, they took it personally and believed they were attacked.

It seems today Chinese are angrier toward foreigners than their government. It’s not surprising that many young people were calling for a boycott of Carrefour – a popular French supermarket chain in China. The strong sentiment of nationalism is troublesome. The irony is that although Chinese are vocal against foreign media’s biased reports, they are mute on the government’s news censorship, which contributed to the problem in the first place.

A young entrepreneur, who owns an interior design firm in Beijing, once told me: “We know our problems, but it’s not up to Westerners to point the finger at us.” He said he couldn’t care less about politics – or democracy for that matter, as he had all the freedom to do anything he wanted.

Early this year, a top think-tank in Beijing released a “political reform plan,” which laid out the detailed blueprints for building a “modern civil society,” and eventually “mature democracy and rule of law.” I haven’t read the report, but according to a Reuters article, the report indicated that “freedom of the press is an inevitable trend” and current political system is incompatible with the economic growth. It mapped out three phases of reform in the next 12 years, including human rights, religious freedom, and restriction of the communist party’s power.

It seems that China is moving toward the right direction. The most important thing is that the world cannot afford to have a “closed China” and go back to the Cold War. Economically, America and China are too inter-connected and inter-dependent. America has a lot of influence on China in many areas, but not by bullying (which I believe is one of the reasons for the strong nationalism among the Chinese youth), but by engaging and leading by example.

The Olympics, which was supposed to be a great opportunity to show the world what China has achieved, is turning out to be a great challenge to China’s leaders. It would be interesting to see how events unfold in the next few months.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Recent Events of the Olympic Torch

  1. A very well reasoned and argued article Helen. You pointed out quite well the still yet misunderstood sensibilities of the Chinese people. We in the West tend to forget that when our nation does something that we disagree with we can separate ourselves from the action to an extent. Not so in China, where an attack on the government is an attack on the people.

    That said however, it is the International Olympic Committee who should hang their head in shame for having awarded the games to China in the first place. But I guess if you have the spending power of a billion people, you tend to get what you want in the end no matter what international “niceties” such as human rights may have to be overlooked. Moreover, the Olympic Committee has brought the ideals of the flame into disrepute.

    But then again what would you expect form an organisation who’s immediate past president use to drop the white handkerchief for General Franco?

  2. The time to have expressed opposition was when the IOC was considering locales for the Olympics. I do not believe the citizens of Beijing should be penalized for being the host city. Boycotts are not the best option for solving problems – they can even make things worse.

    It will be a sad shame if tensions between the U.S. and China rise over this.