Today is the final day of the 2008 Olympic Games hosted in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. To the degree that the objective of the Chinese leadership in hosting the 2008 Olympics was a domestic political one, it’s succeeded splendidly. The Chinese people are, rightfully, proud of the accomplishments of their athletes. Chinese athletes took home 51 gold medals as of this writing, the greatest number of any national contingent. To the degree that the objective of the Chinese leadership was an international one, it may not have succeeded nearly so well.
The opening ceremony of these Games was emblematic of this Olympics and, perhaps, China itself. Are they all? Emblematic of the host country, I mean.
Directed by a motion picture director, the opening ceremony had a cast of thousands, sets, costumes, action, drama, spectacle, and special effects. All in all a powerful illusion that masked the reality.
This was highlighted when it was revealed that the giant footprints in lights during the opening ceremony were computer generated and present only in the video feed given to the befuddled NBC.
There’s been a pattern of deception in these Olympics, beginning with the Chinese leadership’s promises made to the IOC to all them to host the Olympics—to conform to the purported Olympic ideas with nonviolence and greater openness, promises that were systematically broken.
It continued with the computer fakery in the opening ceremony, with the false fronts placed on Chinese street scenes (picture at left), and with allegations of ineligible Chinese athletes taking part in the Games with the apparent complicity of the Chinese government. Clearly there were two sets of Games taking place: the actual Games and the fantasy Games being shown to the world.
Some Western journalists have been dazzled by the pageantry right along with the IOC. Others not so much.
Fortunately even surprisingly the New York Times has not been among the beguiled. Yesterday in an editorial the NYT critized the Chinese leadership, the IOC, and the Bush Administration sharply over the Games:
To win the right to host these Games, China promised to honor the Olympic ideals of nonviolence, openness to the world and individual expression. Those promises were systematically broken, starting with this spring’s brutal repression in Tibet and continuing on to the ugly farce of inviting its citizens to apply for legal protest permits and then arresting them if they actually tried to do so.
Along the way, government critics were pre-emptively rounded up and jailed, domestic news outlets tightly controlled, foreign journalists denied full access to the Internet and thousands of Beijing’s least telegenic residents were evicted from their homes and out of camera range. On Friday, the Chinese police confirmed that six Americans protesting China’s rule in Tibet had been sentenced to 10 days of detention.
Surely one of the signature events of these Games was the sentencing of two women in their late 70s to “re-education through labor.” Their crime? Applying for permission to protest the inadequate compensation they felt they had received when the government seized their homes years ago for urban redevelopment.
A year ago, the I.O.C. predicted that these Games would be “a force for good” and a spur to human-rights progress. Instead, as Human Rights Watch has reported, they became a catalyst for intensified human-rights abuse.
The Times concluded its editorial with the valedictory
The medal count and DVD sales cannot be the last word on the Beijing Games.
We’ll see. Once the Western journalists have returned from their sojourn in China and are freed from the constraints of the Great Firewall of China or official supervision perhaps a more frank and realistic portrait of the Games may emerge.
Someday I hope that the Chinese people have enough confidence to let us see their ancient and remarkable country as it is and without stage-managed fantasy. But these Olympic Games were not that day.