The Dignity of the Torch: II

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Here’s another take on the issue by our colleague at the Beijing Bureau, Lin Yang:

With the overwhelming patriotic propaganda on the Olympic torch’s “harmonious world tour” in the local press for the past month, I thought I could no longer be surprised by anything. But I was wrong. The torch’s Seoul leg took Chinese nationalist sentiment to new heights. About 1000 Chinese students violently attacked anti-North Korea and pro-Tibet independence demonstrators, as well as the police. “At least one person was injured and taken to the hospital”, according to Bloomberg news. A Youtube video can be found here.

Nationalism is too broad a topic to tackle, but I do have some thoughts on violence and the value of self-reflection.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu did give an explanation for the violence by the Chinese students in Seoul-“Tibetan separatist forces intended to sabotage the Olympic torch, which belongs to people around the world. But the Chinese students meant to be kind and friendly.” “Some of them came out to protect the dignity of the torch, and their intent was good.” I take it this means Ms. Jiang also acknowledges the violence took place at the relay, though in this case “good intentions” is all that matters.

Although what constitutes a good intention can be subjective, violence is violence, and physical violence is inexcusable. Ironically, it seems like violence has become the last resort for people to show their support for this international sports events that promotes peace and understanding. The Olympics has been surrounded by physical confrontation, cyber violence, hostile propaganda, and extremely abusive language. The Dalai Lama is not only a “splittist”, but also a “wolf with a face of a human but a heart of a beast”; The parents of Grace Wang, the controversial Duke University student, had to flee their apartment — where enraged patriots launched attacks with rocks and feces — and live on the run; Carrefour stores in some cities were looted while people who dared to object to the boycott were physically assaulted; and one look at any Chinese internet BBS on the Olympics, western media, and Tibet will leave you amazed at the variety and level of obscenity. Is this any different than behavior by the anti-Beijing Olympic groups condemned by China?

Now let’s talk about self-reflection. I guess the Beijing Olympics brought an unexpected shock to both the Chinese government and the Chinese people: it turns out that the world’s impression of China is different from what we read in the Chinese media. China expects to be liked by people around the world, and anything short of that is unacceptable. I can understand the hurt and indignity when this belief is put to test and proves to be wishful thinking. But when the torch relay was met with resistance and disapproval in every country but North Korea, one might want to take a second and ask why, even if only out of curiosity.

There are several ready answers: Because western media with “ulterior motives” hold a deep bias against China; because the world feels threatened by a rising China and wants to make it difficult for her; because the separatists have their secret agendas; because the innocent people are deceived by lies about China. When Cafferty called the Chinese “thugs and goons”, the world is made to witness the righteous rage of China, expressed in “thugs and goons” behavior. When most of the Chinese are only allowed access to state controlled news, western media are publicly condemned in official press and routinely harassed by angry Chinese for reporting biased stories; When Carrefour in China was made a scapegoat and suffered losses over a non-existent funding deal with the Dalai Lama, it was hailed as a victory.

To err is human, but you’d never know it from reading the Chinese side nowadays. We are demanding a lot of apologies, from CNN, from Cafferty, from the French, from the Japanese, from the EU council, from Nancy Pelosi, and we are also busy condemning all those who raise questions about the Olympics: media, politicians, Chinese “traitors” who refuse to join the ideological crusade, and the “splittists”, who left Chinese students with no choice but to resort to violence.

Are you proud to be always on the right side?