Beyond the classy Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing lie unhappy realities. Cowered citizens, intrusive security and empty roads are integral to Olympics 2008. It’s all games but no sport.
China has spared no efforts to make the event a success. Half of all the cars and vehicles that normally ply in Beijing have been taken off the roads. Polluting industries have been shut and attempts have been made to control the weather in the city to make sporting activity pleasant. The average Chinese citizen has been made to believe that a dashi (great enterprise) is on, one that will put China in its rightful place among great nations.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
What lies beneath the hubbub is a feeling of insecurity. The faintest criticism, the mildest protest, is treated as a challenge to what China is trying to achieve. Any such instance forces unhappy memories of foreign domination, or what the Chinese call bainian guochi (100 years of national humiliation), to resurface. This is unusual behaviour for a first-rate power and the world’s fourth largest economy.
China’s political system is not helping matters. In China, because of long-standing problems in provinces such as Xinjiang and Tibet, this adds to problems that result from lack of usual freedoms for all citizens. The hosting of the Olympics has worsened the problem. As a result, the government is unable to see anything on the horizon, save the successful hosting of the Olympics.
Will the Olympics change anything? As argued above, the reasons for China’s interest in the Olympics are wholly different from those of other countries. Under normal circumstances, games are fun. In China, they’ve led to a security crackdown. Will they lead to more freedom for Chinese citizens? The blocking of Internet sites even for accredited journalists should dispel such notions. The gains will largely be psychological. The Chinese leadership will have its hurrah. It will not result in any change in how the world views China.
The Games reveal what the Chinese regime is all about. Given their scale, Olympics are bound to have their share of glitches and problems. Except for the odd headline, they don’t create waves. In Beijing, however, the quest is for perfection: perfect behaviour, spanking vehicles, open vistas in an otherwise crowded city, as if it were Legoland. If the Games were to signify change, things would be different. They are not. The Olympics are reinforcing all that is negative in China.
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