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What Really Happened in China

The Olymipcs are over, and too many opinion writers and bloggers are feeling all warm and fuzzy about China.  These writers have managed to ignore what was happening in China while they were busy oohing at the fireworks an aahing at the pomp and sighing at the telegenic smiles of the athletes.  What really happened:

  • China continues to occupy a country.  It continues to violently repress even peaceful opposition.  (I assure you that if I were treated like the Tibetan, I’d be far less restrained than they have been).
  • China continues to threaten Taiwan.
  • China permitted not a single protest in the designated protest areas.  It notably jailed a pair of elderly women for just asking.
  • China continues to deny that the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 ever happened (and, shamefullly, Google agrees).

I know that some of you are reading this and thinking that I’m being unfairly judgmental of a different culture.  Others are going to tell me that the US has its own civil and human rights problems, and I shouldn’t get involved.

I have a retort: This blog post, this tiniest of protests, this simple expression of opinion, is grounds for jail in China.  So long as China prevents honest discussion, it will never be worthy of the Olympics.


Comment from Jason Butler
Time: August 25, 2008, 7:33 am

The air never smelled sweeter than it did the moment I stepped into the Seoul airport after three months in China.

Comment from Quantum Mechanic
Time: August 25, 2008, 12:02 pm

Can you explain the Google thing more? While I wholeheartedly agree that their “Do no evil” think is a big, stinking, pile of hypocritical you-know-what, I didn’t have any problems finding plenty of hits when googling on Tiananmen Square 1989.

Comment from dunster
Time: August 25, 2008, 1:12 pm

Google censors it’s results to Chinese users. It used to be really easy for you to see this yourself. You could go to and, type in your favorite controversial topic, and see the different results. Here’s a screenshot of the old behavior:

That test doesn’t work anymore. If I run that test, I get the American version of (crazy, eh?), not the Chinese version. I don’t have an easy way to test the Chinese version of and prove that it’s still true.

Comment from sean regan
Time: August 25, 2008, 5:53 pm

Ever read the lyrics of the March of the Volunteers?.. You know that song everyone was chanting so loudly when the flags went up? (Not the Jackie Chan song on Sunday). Sure the Star Spangled banner is a pretty gory song about bombs bursting. This one really takes effect when actually sung loudly by over 10k people wearing the same clothes as oposed to simple clapping prior to the word brave at the end of the SPB. I’m pretty sure the olympics was meant to send some pretty obvious message to the rest of the world, both friendly cuddly ones “Beijing Beijing” by Jackine Chan and also don’t screww with us, we have over 1B dancers in light suites.

Arise! All who refuse to be slaves!
Let our flesh and blood become our new Great Wall!
As the Chinese nation faces its greatest peril,
All forcefully expend their last cries.
Arise! Arise! Arise!
May our million hearts beat as one,
Brave the enemy’s fire, March on!
Brave the enemy’s fire, March on!
March on! March on! On!

Comment from Theresa MacPhail
Time: August 31, 2008, 10:51 pm

Um. Wow.

OK. I lived in China. I speak Chinese. I have Chinese friends.

I’ve read a gazillion books on Chinese politics, history, economy, and rights. I’ve talked to people, studied these topics.

The Chinese are making progress, Dan. Not that you would know that by simply relying on Western media reports of what goes on in places like Tibet. Or by reading an article in the Economist or the Atlantic Monthly.

Perhaps it wouldn’t alarm you to know that from 2005-2008, anti-China rhetoric was on the rise in Congress. Or that people feel free to openly belittle East Asians (and Mexicans) as the last groups available for scapegoating and scorn.

Congressmen actually regularly blame China for most of our problems, which is patently untrue and ridiculous. Congress also point its collective finger at China when it comes to rights and occupying countries, but I think that this is a bit like telling your little brother that he needs to get his shit together while you are smoking a joint, drinking a beer at age 19, and just stole $40 from your mom’s purse.

This kind of easy jab is part of the problem. Sure, China is far from perfect. But anyone who knows anything about China (and I don’t mean living there for 3 months whilst not speaking a word past “ni hao”) will tell you that things are changing – in all kinds of meaningful and concrete ways.

Anyway, you are right that one tiny online protest doesn’t matter much in the bigger scheme of things (though I realize that isn’t really your point). China did a magnificent job of hosting, they are not going away anytime soon, and they are not going to democratize anytime soon, either. But they do have a more open society, and it does increasingly provide spaces for protest (just look at the art scene for frakking’s sake!). I do feel all warm and fuzzy about the Chinese people, Dan. They are very much like us, actually. Which is probably why they bug you so much.

Comment from dunster
Time: September 1, 2008, 10:48 pm

I think I can agree with most of what you’re saying, Theresa, but my main point still holds.

You obviously know more than I do about China, and I respect that. I know I’m not an expert on China. I’m also not endorsing scapegoating or empty rhetoric. I’m willing to believe that the Chinese are making progress. And I’m not claiming that the US has everything right – I don’t think the US’s problems are relevant.

My point is this: A country that does not permit its citizens to learn the truth, a country that does not permit free expression of thought, is a country that is not worthy of the Olympics.

Is there anything in your comment that touches that point?