The image of four-month-old Qianci in the arms of her mother, Zeng Jingyan, is hard to dispel. The little girl is screaming at the top of her lungs, her crumpled face a picture of fear. Of course, she doesn't know why camera teams are bending over her, blinding her with their lights and terrifying her with their microphone booms suspended terrifyingly close to her face. All she can hear is her mother, cursing and crying at the same time, bitterly condemning the government and bravely wiping the tears from her face. The mother eventually removes her child from the commotion and takes her home to the gated community where they live, a luxurious example of pre-Olympic urban renewal in Tongzhou, a suburb of Beijing. The community is called "Bo Bo Freedom City."
The name is the height of cynicism. Qianci will spend at least part of her childhood in this Freedom City without her father, 34-year-old Hu Jia. A court in Beijing has just sentenced the dissident Hu to a three-and-a-half-year prison term for what it called "inciting subversion of state power," an act that consisted of Hu allegedly publishing five articles critical of the Chinese government on the Internet.
In reality, the judges convicted Hu, a computer expert, because he issued the sort of welcome message to China's guests for the XXIXth Olympic Games that Beijing's rulers cannot tolerate. In their eyes, what Hu wrote jeopardizes their entire system of government. Come to Beijing, Hu wrote in an open letter to visitors last September, but don't forget that this huge celebration, the vast oceans of flowers, the smiles of the hostesses and the orgies of fireworks, that this spic-and-span city with its avant-garde sports arenas and avenues lined with the flags of every country imaginable, that this enormous evocation of harmony under a motto dictated by the party -- "One Word, One Dream" -- has a bitter dark side.
'Torture and Oppression'
In fact, for many Chinese it is more of a nightmare than a dream, and sometimes a bloody one at that. It oppresses a country that, according to Hu, "has no elections, no religious freedom, no independent courts and no independent trade unions." China is a country, Hu writes, "in which an effective secret police maintains torture and oppression, and one in which the government even engages in the violation of human rights and is not prepared to comply with international obligations."
Of course, these words are those of an obstructionist whose image of China is that of a man who has spent years campaigning on behalf of AIDS patients and petitioners who have lost their apartments as a result of Beijing's Olympic building frenzy. That his vision is true is something that he will now experience first hand. These are dark days for China, for the Olympics and for the rest of the world.
After the Chinese government's suppression of a rebellion in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and in the huge country's western provinces, the West is suffering the shock of realization. Many thought that China, as it emerges to become a modern economic power benefiting from Western-style globalization, was moving beyond a past littered with human rights violations. Now, it is suddenly being revealed once again as a depressingly ordinary old-style dictatorship -- and as a perfectly functioning police state in which raising one's head in protest is a dangerous undertaking.
Almost every day brings new, bitter disillusionment for foreigners who have been only too willing to admire China, and to marvel at the Shanghai skyline, at the frenzy of modernization that has gripped the Chinese economy and at the late-night traffic jams created by the proud owners of new cars in China's mega-cities. Now, however, Chinese authorities are busy dashing hopes that China's ascent to affluence and global power might automatically lead to political liberalization. Or that Starbucks coffee shops would inevitably encourage democratic discussion. Or that Audi sedans could guarantee unlimited freedom. Any such aspirations are now clearly a thing of the past.
Crackdown on Activists
Ironically, it is the Olympic Games -- viewed as something of a reward for China's successful economic boom -- which are now revealing that China has changed but little since tanks rolled onto Tiananmen Square in 1989 and mowed down a nascent democracy movement. "It is increasingly clear that much of the current wave of repression is occurring not in spite of the Olympics but actually because of the Olympics," Amnesty International writes in an early February report on China's crackdown on activists.
It appears that in China, which many in the West tended to regard as something of a benevolent, affluent dictatorship, not that much has changed after all. On the day the Olympic flame was lit in Greece, a Chinese court sentenced Yang Chun Lin, an unemployed worker, to five years in prison for demanding "human rights instead of Olympic Games."
The Amnesty report charges that Beijing, in the run-up to the games, has ramped up its crackdowns on human rights activists, as well as on beggars and vagrants. The Chinese police have compiled lists of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and known activists designed to help the authorities intervene more quickly if and when there are demonstrations. In recent months, more and more people have been locked away in re-education camps. In January, the Beijing media reported on a new cleansing campaign "to ferret out illegal activities that damage the city's image and threaten the social order."
In the police-run re-education camps, prisoners are at the mercy of their overseers' moods. Witnesses frequently report that drunken police officers amuse themselves at night by ordering inmates "to quarrel with their fellow prisoners," thereby encouraging them to fight each other. Other victims of the re-education camps complain about the lack of medical care and wretched food.
The 'Dalai clique'
Authorities have been especially diligent when it comes to discouraging China's 210 million Internet users from voicing any criticism. Since last fall, police symbols have begun popping up every 30 seconds on some users' screens -- an unmistakable warning from China's cyber cops of the dangers of imprudent opposition. The government is even investigating mobile phone users who allegedly use text messaging to "endanger public safety."
But government repression is at its most brutal in the regions of Tibet and western China plagued by rebellion, where protests continue three weeks after the uprisings began. Eight Tibetans were allegedly killed when government forces cracked down on a demonstration in Tibet as recently as last Friday. To finally pacify the rebellious provinces, Beijing announced government plans to put more than 1,000 Tibetans on trial this month. The defendants include people arrested after the unrest and those who turned themselves in, hoping for a mild sentence.
The charges against them were revealed in a lengthy account of events that China's ambassadors sent to members of the world press last week. The government insists that the rebels were "incited to rebellion" by the "Dalai clique" in an effort to forcefully achieve a "separation" from China. Under Chinese law, this is regarded as "inciting rebellion" and "endangering national unity." Both are crimes that carry severe penalties. But even if this rebellion is quickly dealt with in the courts, will it be forgotten four months later, when the Olympic flame reaches Beijing once again?
'Journey of Harmony'
The Olympic torch's so-called "journey of harmony" around the world (which will likely include a procession through Lhasa after a trip to the summit of Mt. Everest) could very well turn into a source of unending embarrassment for the Chinese. There will be anti-Beijing and pro-Tibet protests at practically every station along the way, with the probable exception of the North Korean capital Pyongyang.
In Istanbul last Thursday, an unknown demonstrator managed to get within five meters (about 16 feet) of the torch before the police stopped him. The torchbearer managed to dodge the obstacle, but not before his escort of six muscular Chinese men wearing blue Olympic track suits, sunglasses and baseball caps leapt into combat position. Beijing, which has chosen not to entrust the protection of the flame to the security forces of the respective countries, has deployed an entourage of its own guardians of the Olympic torch.
In London on Sunday and Paris on Monday, the scenes were even worse, with the flame actually being extinguished in the French capital and the last leg of the parade being cancelled. Demonstrations turned violent and dozens were arrested in both cities. On Tuesday, China once again showed an absolutist interpretation of the protests, saying in a foreign ministry statement: "We express our strong condemnation of the deliberate disruption off the Olympic torch relay by 'Tibetan independence' separatist forces."
The flame is set to arrive in San Francisco on Tuesday, and protesters have already geared up for a rousing welcome. Tibetan activists scaled the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday to unfurl banners in support of Tibet.
No Torch for Chinatown
As was the case in Bangkok, many athletes and celebrities are refusing to carry the torch through their respective cities. Mayors are changing the already published relay route and releasing the new routes at the last minute. In Indonesia, the flame will practically be smuggled through the capital Jakarta with almost no public participation. Because so many of its residents are of Chinese origin, San Francisco was chosen as the Olympic flame's only station in the United States. But now the torch will probably not even be carried through the streets of the city's world-famous Chinatown. For days, protestors have been gathering at noon in front of City Hall, chanting: "Reject China's bloody torch."
Activists have also announced two alternative torch relays. The "Human Rights Torch" and the "Torch of Tibetan Freedom" will arrive in San Francisco several days ahead of the Olympic flame. On Tuesday, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and actor Richard Gere are expected to attend a rally and candlelight vigil at the city's United Nations Plaza.
The flame will now be carried only about three kilometers (less than two miles) through the Indian capital New Delhi, from the heavily guarded gate of the presidential palace to the city's famed India Gate. And instead of the 105 athletes, politicians and Bollywood stars originally scheduled to attend, no more than 10 to 15 torchbearers will pass on the flame. India's biggest football star, Bhaichung Bhutia, a Buddhist from the eastern Indian state of Sikkim, has declined to participate. "What is happening in Tibet is not right," he says. "I will not carry the torch."
Western PR professionals have already developed a name for China's so-called journey of harmony, which is turning out to be such a dramatic embarrassment for Beijing. They have dubbed the Olympic Torch the "Flame of Shame." Still, all calls for boycotts have so far been half-hearted and have been met with fears of offending the growing world power, eagerness to protect business investments and a disinclination to disappoint Olympic athletes. But the athletic event has already lost its allure -- the hope that the cosmopolitan celebration would finally establish China as a full-fledged member of the modern world has evaporated.
The Promise of the Games
It was a whole different story at the beginning of the new millennium. In the summer of 2001, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came together at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater to choose its finalist, and the choice was clear. It took only two rounds of voting for Beijing to emerge as the winner -- the other contenders, Toronto, Paris, Osaka and Istanbul, didn't stand a chance. China was the perfect location for the IOC, which takes both the idea of international understanding and the interests of sponsors into account when making its decisions.
By the time the IOC made its decision, the country had whipped itself into shape as an economic giant, producing goods for the West and offering the unparalleled promise of 1.3 billion potential consumers. Another reason that the vote was so clear was that Beijing had lost out to Sydney eight years earlier.
Deng Xiaoping, the great promoter of a new China, came up with the idea of bringing the games to his country. In 1990, one year after the student revolts and the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Asian Games were held in Beijing, which hosted 6,122 athletes from 37 countries. It was the first major international sporting event in Chinese history and when he toured the athletic facilities, Deng said that they were so good that it would be a shame not to host the Olympic Games there in the near future.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, then president of the IOC and already an old man at the time, was an especially influential supporter of Deng's plan. A few months before the IOC's 1993 decision on the 2000 Summer Olympics, Samaranch and the mayor of Beijing rode around Tiananmen Square a few times on bicycles -- in full view of television cameras. China even released regime critics to support the bid, but reservations were still too great. Beijing lost out to Sydney by just two votes, while Samaranch remained a supporter of the Chinese cause, even saying that "we would be very pleased" if China were to apply once again.
The China that competed with Moscow eight years later was a different country. No dissidents were released this time. And this time the Chinese application was less of a petition to be re-accepted into the international community than a demand by a country brimming with self-confidence -- a new China that even planned to cover the site of the 1989 massacre with sand for the event's laid-back beach volleyball competitions. China's representative to the IOC, He Zhenlian, promised that the whole world would benefit if the games were awarded to Beijing.
Many arguments in the current boycott debate were already hashed out back then. An overwhelming majority of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the US House of Representatives was opposed to Beijing being awarded the games, arguing that the number of human rights violations in China was "abhorrent." The European Parliament expressed similar sentiments. Thomas Bach, the current president of the German Olympic Sport Federation and the IOC vice-president at the time, said: "There are two schools of thought. The one says that the games should not be awarded to a country as long as it does not satisfy a certain standard of human rights. The old school says that the games help open up the country."
Bach and Samaranch believed the Chinese because they wanted to believe them. Liu Jingmin was the deputy mayor of Beijing at the time and acted as spokesman of sorts for the city's application committee. Today he is the vice-president of the Beijing Organizing Committee. The promises he made in the spring of 2001 now verge on the grotesque. "If Beijing is allowed to host the games," he said, "it will help the development of human rights." Liu suggested that China could become a liberal country and even spoke of "complete freedom" for reporters.
'Mistakes of the Past'
Back when the decision to award the games to Beijing seemed so perfect, international advocates dreamed of a wonderful party, at which the Chinese would take center stage as open, tolerant and affable global citizens who would be in perfect control of the organization of a gigantic athletic festival -- and that all of this would take place in a cleaned-up city with extravagant architecture. Beijing's "peaceful ascent" would be witnessed by 30,000 journalists and half a million visitors from overseas.
Even leading US sinologists such as Richard Baum believed the global attention, "together with Beijing's strong motivation to present the best possible games to the outside world, will prevent China's leaders from repeating the major political mistakes of the past."
The Chinese Communist Party, for its part, hoped to score points with many skeptical citizens and prove that it, and it alone, would be capable of mastering such an organizational coup and help the Chinese regain their pride and self-confidence. Their reasoning was that anyone who became enthusiastic about the games could not help but love the Communist Party as well.
The Boycott Taboo
But, in its ardor, the party leadership committed a fatal error. It believed that it could keep politics out of its Olympic gala, all the while busily exploiting the games for its own ends. When human rights activists, environmentalists and the Tibetans also began using the Olympics as a forum for their own interests, the Chinese leaders were totally flabbergasted and outraged. That was when they started calling for the games to be apolitical.
But their change of heart came too late. Any international solidarity Beijing enjoyed earlier was lost in Lhasa, long before the athletes arrive in August. If the games were to be re-awarded, Beijing probably wouldn't stand a chance. Still, hardly any nation truly wants to miss out on the "Festival of Youth," and staying away would probably achieve very little. In fact, as experience has shown, boycotts tend to trigger defiant, nationalist reactions rather than improved human rights records.
In the run-up to the Nazis' 1936 Berlin extravaganza, the US Amateur Athletic Union considered a boycott, but, with a narrow majority, decided to participate after all -- despite the open racism of the Nazis, with slogans such as, "Negros have no business attending the Olympic Games."
The Nazi Party, both despite and because of massive opposition abroad, staged a propaganda spectacle of unheard-of proportions, complete with Leni Riefenstahl films that exaggerated the Aryan athlete's physique. But one of the most lasting memories of the 1936 Olympics was of Jesse Owens, the US's phenomenal black athlete, who went down in history as the superstar of the Berlin games.
'Slap in the Face'
In 1980, entire nations boycotted the Olympics for the first time, because the host nation, the Soviet Union, was occupying Afghanistan at the time. The then US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said that he would not send any US team to "a nation which is currently engaging in an aggressive war," and that "to hold the Olympics in any nation that is warring on another is to lend the Olympic mantle to that nations actions."
Together with the West Germans, 41 national Olympic committees joined the US boycott, 24 others took the opportunity to refrain from attending for financial or athletic reasons, or they simply left the invitation unanswered. But many athletic organizations defied their governments, only making concessions to the boycott by skipping the opening ceremony or marching without their national flags. The Soviets only pulled out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s -- and they took their revenge by staying away from the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984.
In each case, however, those most strongly affected by the boycotts were the athletes who, after years of training and preparation, had to stay at home. Nothing was achieved politically. With these experiences in mind, the German athletic community was initially hesitant when it came to discussing a Beijing boycott. Athletes were relieved when the German Olympic Sport Federation announced its opposition to a boycott. "The Olympic Games are the ultimate event for athletes," said hammer thrower Markus Esser, adding that a boycott would be like "slap in the face."
Until recently, Olympic officials had been doggedly silent on the events in Tibet, repeatedly citing the old and misguided argument that the Olympics and politics are two separate issues. IOC President Rogge on Monday, though, said that he was very concerned "with the international situation and what's happened in Tibet." Athletes, however, have been more willing to take a stance.
Anna Battke, a pole vaulter from the western German city of Mainz, announced her plans to protest in Beijing, saying that she considers it her obligation "to draw attention to injustice." Imke Duplitzer, a fencer, plans to skip the opening ceremony because it reminds her "a little of 1936," when "a regime was also presenting itself to the world at the Olympics."
But athletes have very little latitude when it comes to protesting. According to the IOC charter, expressions of political views are taboo within the Olympic facilities. Offending athletes face the threat of disqualification and revocation of their medals. This restriction prompted the German water polo team, one of the favorites for a gold medal, to hit upon the idea of wearing orange bathrobes to mimic the color of Buddhist monks' robes. Other Olympic athletes support the human rights portal "netzathleten.de" and plan to wear armbands imprinted with the words "Sports for human rights." Tibet cannot expect more than these restrained displays of solidarity from athletes anxious not to jeopardize their careers.
Anyone who violates the ban on inadmissible propaganda "can be excluded immediately and following an assessment of the individual case," Walther Tröger, the German IOC representative, said late last week. "Of course," he added, "anyone who does not wish to take part in the Games for reasons of conscience is free to make that choice."
Was Tröger encouraging athletes to stage individual boycotts? It would be the right moment and opportunity to influence China. It is clear that China's concept of sleek self-promotion is no longer working. Neither a stupendous opening ceremony nor anything else will cancel out the memory of Tibet's brutal repression.
Dispatching Inconvenient Souls
Prior to last month, the future had seemed rosy for the rising world power. With its skyscrapers and stylish airports, and with its representatives negotiating their way through international markets and trade shows with as much ease as in a noodle restaurant at home, buying their way into investment funds and multinational corporations, China now comes across as a modern, capitalist country. Its citizens have never been as well off as they are today. They are permitted to become wealthy, travel, buy apartments, study at Harvard and do many of the things they wouldn't have dreamed of doing only 30 years ago. Nevertheless, anyone opposed to the system still risks severe penalties.
The Communist Party maintains an elaborate system of government-run farms and psychiatric clinics, re-education and labor camps, prisons and "legal schools," all places to which the Communists can dispatch inconvenient souls. According to victims' reports, pre-Olympic China is still a place where prisoners in police custody are beaten and tortured. The law, if it even exists, is bent and stretched. The practice of holding all family members liable for the crimes of one family member is commonplace, as in the case of Hu Jia, whose wife Zeng Jinyan lives under constant surveillance.
Judges are not needed to send petty criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts or the followers of banned religious organizations like Falun Gung to re-education camps for up to four years. The police have the authority to make such decisions. More than 300,000 prisoners are currently being held in 310 of these camps. And judges are not needed when an official decides to extend a delinquent's sentence by a year because he has not demonstrated sufficient remorse.
Law enforcement officials also have the right to detain suspects in jails for weeks, often refusing to allow suspects access to an attorney. Dissident Hu was interrogated for hours at night. To prevent his wife from talking to journalists, the police threatened to take her daughter away and said they would only return her to be nursed.
Many Chinese jurists feel that the omnipotence of the police goes too far. The government is also beginning to consider moderating the country's draconian criminal code. One proposed reform calls for limiting "re-education through work" to a maximum sentence of 18 months, as well as giving suspects the right to an attorney. Because more and more criminals, some of them innocent, have been executed in recent years, the Supreme People's Court established new chambers to review all decisions by the provincial courts. But this is only done on the basis of written records. Witnesses are not heard. Nevertheless, experts report that fewer criminals are being executed than in the past. Although the number of executions remains a state secret, estimates for 2007 ranged up to 6,000. This is still a larger number than in all other countries where the death sentence is practiced combined.
Only a few hours after the conviction of Hu Jia, American John Kamm is sitting on a beige sofa in room 402 at the Renaissance Hotel in Beijing. Kamm, the founder of the Duihua Foundation (Duihua means "dialogue"), visits Beijing once every three months.
In discreet talks, Kamm attempts to secure the release of political prisoners, or at least to improve their situation. This time he also plans to deliver a list of political prisoners to the Chinese. "The mood in Beijing is tenser than I've felt it since 1989," says Kamm, straightening his glasses. Although his reception by government officials was amiable, their tone was very sharp. "There are no signs that the Chinese will come around based on international public opinion."
And the Screen Went Dark
According to official figures, 742 people were arrested last year for offences like "threatening state security," many of them in the Muslim Xinjiang region. "That's twice as many as in 2005," says Kamm. "The year of the Olympics, 2008, will also be a record year for political arrests."
To make matters worse, Communist Party leaders are suddenly faced with new concerns in an entirely different area, one that was the picture of success until recently: the economy. Economic data have been relatively gratifying until now. The Chinese stock index has more than quadrupled since mid-2005. Practically the entire People's Republic, including schoolchildren, students and retirees, seem to have become stock holders.
To be able to play the stock market game, millions of Chinese have taken out mortgages on their apartments, speculating that Communist Party planners will hardly allow a crash to happen before the Summer Games. Besides, Beijing has done its own part to boost the stock market. A record number of state-owned businesses have been turned into publicly traded corporations, and more and more images of success have been broadcast around the world, such as the initial public offering of the mining company Shenhua Energy last fall. Company executives were lined up ceremoniously on a red carpet, incredulous at what they saw happening on the giant electronic board above their heads. Shenhua's stock price jumped by close to 90 percent on the first day of trading.
'Why Does Beijing Do Nothing?'
But the Olympic stock fever had already cooled before the Tibetan monks revolted. A glut of new securities brought prices down again, fueling growing fears that China could also be affected by the worldwide financial crisis. The Shanghai index is down more than 40 percent from its high point last year.
"It's falling again, it's falling" -- those were the last words of a shareholder named Xie, before he died on the selling floor of a securities company in Chongqing in mid-March. The 61-year-old investor has lost four-fifths of his savings in the market. The next day, an investor, despondent over the stock market crash, jumped to her death from the 23rd floor of a high-rise building in Shenzhen. Last week a shareholder stood in front of the city's stock exchange waving a flag with the angry words: "Why does Beijing do nothing?" The man only left when the police arrived.
Premier Wen Jiabao seeks to appease his subjects almost weekly as he travels around the country. In some places he shakes hands with starving farmers and bemoans the growing gap between rich and poor. In others, he sympathizes with customers in supermarkets as they complain about rising prices, especially for pork. China's Communists are very nervous, even without the Tibet troubles. Thirty years after Deng proclaimed his new policies of reform and opened up the country, progress is creating increasingly deep rifts within Chinese society. This makes modern China more and more difficult to govern, which is precisely the reason its leaders had such high hopes for the Olympics.
China was finally headed toward a common goal, one that would have everyone rejoicing -- if it weren't for the diabolical Dalai Lama, the Tibetans he has incited and their supporters in the Western media community.
Beijing had hoped that the games would divert attention away from ethnic tensions and the dark sides of China's economic miracle. Every evening at the beginning of the news program on state-owned television, viewers are presented with a countdown to the Olympics. The newscasters fervently read the government's celebratory statements, but even this program is incapable of glossing over growing economic worries.
Problems for Sponsors
The looming recession in the United States is of great concern to China. Suddenly Beijing is realizing how dependent its economy is on the superpower across the Pacific, an important customer that also happens to be China's biggest debtor. Because China must continue providing jobs for millions of new workers year after year, even a minor economic hiccup could have a potentially explosive impact on Chinese society.
Indeed, even without Tibet, the world, including foreign sponsors of the Olympics, would have reason enough this year to take a critical look behind the Chinese façade. Only four years ago, German automaker VW could hardly contain itself for joy. The company paid an enormous sum for the right to supply the vehicles in the Olympic motor pool. But that enthusiasm has since dissipated. At company headquarters in the central German city of Wolfsburg, VW spokesman Andreas Meurer has the unpleasant task of downplaying the company's commitment. Unlike Coca-Cola or Microsoft, says Meurer, VW is not an "international sponsor." Instead, he adds, the company is providing purely logistical support that relates "purely to China."
Pulling out, says Meurer, would be "counterproductive." But VW could not withdraw anymore, even if it wanted to. In its most important foreign market, the automaker operates on the basis of a joint venture with two of China's most powerful state-owned corporations, both of which are deeply entrenched in the government's industrial policy. If VW were to boycott the Olympics, it would almost be as if Hu Jintao were to disinvite himself.
Other German sponsors, like Adidas and transportation logistics company Schenker, are also in a predicament. At home they are vilified as the paymasters of a propaganda show, but in China even restrained appeals for moderation would be interpreted as siding with the Tibetans -- possibly leading to a nationwide boycott of their products. Both in the government press and in the Internet, China's rage at Western criticism over the Tibet issue is on full display. It is as if China had turned back the clock by decades.
The chauvinism is also aired on television. TV veteran Xing Zhibin, wearing a conservative outfit and a dated hairstyle, has spent the last three decades proclaiming each new ideological direction on the evening news. Recently, she has been heading up the attacks on Public Enemy Number One: the Dalai Lama. Not a day passes without warnings of new outrages planned by the Dalai Lama. "According to our information, the Tibetan separatists now plan to form suicide units to launch violent attacks," the Ministry of Public Safety has announced.
The 'Brain-Washed' West
The propaganda falls on willing ears. For the majority of Chinese, it is not a question of democracy or dictatorship, or even of human rights. What is important to them is the unity of the fatherland and the dominance of the Han Chinese over ethnic minorities like the Tibetans. Which makes the response from the rest of the world seem like an attack. Western sympathies for Tibet evoke Chinese memories of foreign partition. European imperialists were the first, when they forcefully opened up the country during the course of the Opium War from 1840 to 1842. Later the Japanese invaded, committing massacres and subjugating large parts of China.
Now, after decades of Communist Party control, young Chinese possess a burning national pride that is easily inflamed. And the Internet is a perfect outlet for bottled-up, anti-European sentiment. "They once used cannons," one blogger writes angrily on the popular Web portal sina.com. "Now they show up with their democracy and human rights slogans." Another blogger accuses the West of being "brain-washed," a neat reversal of Western accusations against China.
Defiance is spreading, even in the most official of places. The games are an event for the whole world, not a stage specifically for China, says Jiang Yu, the spokeswoman for the foreign ministry in Beijing. "Don't think that China can be isolated if no one shows up," she adds.
It almost seems that the Chinese regret ever having taken the Olympic gamble. The Western press is firing with both barrels at China before the Games begin, writes Liu Zuokui of the pro-government Academy of Social Sciences. "The evil intentions of these people are now being uncovered," Liu adds.
Nothing Left to Chance
Chinese politicians no longer invoke images of happy relaxation for sports lovers around the world. Instead, their rhetoric emphasizes safety and the goal of "preserving stability." Their fear of evildoers was recently reinforced when flight attendants on a flight from Ürümqi to Beijing discovered a Uighur woman who had smuggled gasoline into the cabin and apparently planned to ignite it.
The authorities are combing the biographies of foreign journalists and athletes for political activities. Police officers proudly showed representatives of the press how they are able to monitor every bus stop near the stadium in Beijing. Nothing is to be left to chance. The ceremony on Tiananmen Square last week, when Chinese officials received the Olympic flame from Greece, provided only the most recent example. Police and soldiers sealed off a wide parameter around the heart of China for the event, and a large numbers of minders mingled with the invited participants and journalists.
But amid such an atmosphere, of what use are the Olympics to Beijing anymore? President and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao, for his part, showed not the slightest trace of enthusiasm when he passed on the Olympic torch to the first runner last Monday. The runner was given a police escort and was shielded from the people. "If Hu and Premier Wen could do as they wished," says a source familiar with the Chinese Communist Party, "they would cancel the games."
But that would be an unforgivable sign of weakness. Instead, the party is closing ranks, closing its eyes and persevering. Hu, rigid as a board, wearing a dark suit and red tie, strode across Tiananmen Square. A giant portrait of Mao was illuminated behind him, and in front of him was the mausoleum where the embalmed body of his predecessor lies in state. Beijing used Hu's staged TV appearance to imply that although it is permitting the Olympic flame to burn, it is only doing so within its old, ideological framework.
Beijing even censored reporting on the transfer of the Olympic flame. When Japanese network NHK, which can also be received in Chinese hotels, aired reports on protests against the torch relay, censors immediately interrupted the program. And the screen went dark.
By Rüdiger Falksohn, Detlef Hacke, Andreas Lorenz, Gerhard Pfeil, Jan Puhl and Wieland Wagner
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan