China's totalitarian games
by Jeff Jacoby
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CHINA, THE world's largest dictatorship, ruthlessly represses freedom at home while abetting the vilest tyrannies abroad. Letting such a regime host the Olympic Games, many people warned, would prove a mockery of the Olympic charter, which is dedicated to the goal of "promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."
But Beijing and its supporters insisted that the Olympics would make China better. The Games would "foster democracy, improve human rights, and integrate China with the rest of the world," promised Liu Jingmin, Beijing's vice mayor and a senior member of its Olympic organizing committee "By allowing Beijing to host the Games, you will help in the development of human rights."
The International Olympic Committee repeatedly seconded that motion. "We are convinced," IOC president Jacques Rogge assured one interviewer, "that the Olympic Games will improve human rights in China." He told another: "We believe that the Olympic Games will have definitely a positive, lasting effect on Chinese society."
Well, the Games have certainly had a lasting effect on one part of Chinese society -- the 1.5 million men, women, and children expelled from their homes in Beijing to make room for the construction of Olympic facilities and urban beautification projects. To clear them out, the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions found, Chinese authorities resorted to "harassment, repression, imprisonment, and even violence." Demolitions and evictions frequently occurred without due process. Many dispossessed residents were not compensated; those who were usually received a fraction of the amount needed to make them whole.
In America, you can fight an eminent-domain taking all the way to the Supreme Court. In China, you suck it up and keep your mouth shut. Otherwise you end up like Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, two former neighbors who were unhappy with the compensation they received when their homes were demolished. Rather than suffer in silence, they sought permission to demonstrate during the Olympics in one of Beijing's three official "protest zones." Permission was denied. Instead they were charged with disturbing the public order and could face a year of "re-education through labor." Wang, who is nearly blind and walks with a cane, is 77. Her friend is 79.
The two elderly women weren't the only Chinese citizens locked up for seeking permission to protest peacefully. "Gao Chuancai, a farmer from northeast China who was hoping to publicize government corruption, was forcibly escorted back to his hometown . . . and remains in custody," The New York Times reported. "Two rights advocates from southern China have not been heard from since they were seized last week at the Public Security Bureau's protest application office in Beijing."
All told, at least 77 people filed applications to demonstrate during the Games. Not one was approved.
A million and a half residents expelled. Free speech strangled. Elderly women jailed. That's what it means when a police state like China hosts the Olympics. That's what you get when the IOC and its corporate supersponsors care more about television ratings and market share than about the values of the Olympic movement. That's what happens when the free world cons itself into believing that China's Communist rulers, who sustain genocide in Sudan and torture nuns in Tibet, will refrain from doing whatever it takes to turn the Olympics into a vehicle for totalitarian self-glorification.
The cruelty and deceit were on display right from the start, from the digitally faked fireworks to the last-minute yanking of a 7-year-old singer because a Politburo member decided she wasn't pretty enough. To produce the synchronized pageantry of the opening extravaganza, thousands of performers were forced to endure horrendous conditions. The ceremony's 2,200 martial artists, for example, drilled 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for months, and were forbidden to leave the army barracks where they were quartered. Prolonged exposure to the relentless summer sun "resulted in heatstroke for some students," AP reported; one grueling, rain-drenched rehearsal lasted 51 hours, "with little food and rest and no shelter from the night's downpour."
When thugs host the Olympics, thuggish behavior can be expected. According to Reporters Without Borders, 22 foreign journalists were attacked or arrested during the Games. At least 50 human-rights activists were arrested, harassed, or forced to leave Beijing. Scores of websites related to human rights, Tibet, and Darfut were blocked or digitally attacked. Far from easing up, Beijing turned the Olympics into an opportunity to intensify its crackdown on dissent.
As in 1936 and 1980, the 2008 Games were a showcase for a dictatorship. In such a travesty, Americans should have played no part.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)