China: Revolution from below

Wenran Jiang – The Globe and Mail

Copyright The Globe and Mail
An excerpt:
“The Chinese enjoy more freedom than at any time in recent history. Ordinary Chinese people enthusiastically support the Beijing Olympics, contrary to many critics who label the Games as a government propaganda showcase.
The protests against the Olympic torch relays in London, Paris, and other cities in Western countries strengthened that feeling. Though not very fond of many aspects of the government, most of the Chinese people were outraged by those who spoke of the “genocide Olympics.” They want to have a good sports party, and they want to have a good time, like everybody else around the world. Their passion is for the basketball star Yao Ming and the Olympic gold hurdler Liu Xiang. They don’t like to be lumped together with their government, and resent the exploitation of the occasion for political purposes.
Comparisons of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the Nazi regime’s 1936 Games in Berlin are profoundly ignorant. Whereas Hitler’s tyranny in Germany was intensifying through the 1930s, China has moved away from the personal dictatorship of Mao toward a more collective leadership. Whereas Germany went on to launch aggressive wars against other countries after the 1936 Games, leading to the disasters of the Second World War, China has in recent years pursued a good-neighbour policy and settled almost all its border disputes with the surrounding countries.
In addition to keeping a sense of balance in assessing where China is today, we also have to be realistic and patient about where China should be. Clearly, many human-rights advocates have strongly hoped and wished that the 2008 Beijing Olympics would follow the pattern of the 1988 Seoul Olympics in South Korea – that is, the Games would shortly lead to Western-style democratization. With a growing realization that this is unlikely to happen, some people have questioned the usefulness and even the legitimacy of having granted the Summer Games to Beijing in the first place.
Others, more moderately, have complained that neither human-rights groups nor the Western news media are doing a good job in highlighting China’s human rights-problems, with the result that this Olympic year will be a sadly missed opportunity.
Such a perspective, well intentioned though it is, seems to have ignored the lessons from the Tibetan crisis and the Olympic torch relay protests earlier this year: A well-organized movement intended to raise awareness of the Chinese government’s Tibetan policy overstepped into an attack on the Chinese people themselves, as if they were not worthy of hosting the Olympics. Scenes such as that of pro-Tibetan independence protesters violently seizing the Olympic torch from a wheelchair-bound female Paralympian in Paris were counterproductive; they angered the Chinese public and pushed them to rally around the government, strengthening the hand of the hardliners.
To have counted on the Beijing Olympics to deliver a fast political miracle inside China, or anything else that the outside world might have wanted, was both unrealistic and shortsighted. We need to ask: What happens to China, to all the problems and challenges it faces at the end of this month when the Games are over? What is the leverage then?
At the root of the “whatever China does, it is not good enough” attitude is a heavy dose of old colonial attitudes and racial prejudice, in the widely shared, although not always explicitly acknowledged assumption in both our elite and popular discourse that the West knows what is best for China, and must impose its values and guide the country in the direction the West wants.
Many critics do not understand that the real agent of change in China is neither foreigners nor the Chinese government. The Chinese people are the forces that move China forward. The media should refrain from portraying them as passive and ignorant followers of a Communist dictatorship or as a mass of nationalistic and xenophobic robots lacking in independent judgment.
With or without the Olympics, China’s long march toward modernity and democracy will be driven primarily by internal dynamics, managed by the Chinese themselves and at their own pace. The Chinese people want human rights and democracy no less than we Canadians do. We certainly should not think that they demand less or deserve less. For most Chinese, the key questions are not about whether China will become a democracy…”
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