China's Brutal Olympic Echo

China’s brutal crackdown against Tibetan protesters ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing carries with it a terrible echo from the past. Scores of people, including school children are reported dead and more repression has been promised. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), said “[We must] resolutely crush the ‘Tibet independence’ forces’ conspiracy and sabotaging activities.”

Even after decades of occupation, the ruthlessness of the crackdown has shocked much of the world. It happens the week after the US State Department removed China from its list of the world's worst human rights offenders.

Yet the concern expressed by world leaders has seemed less for the people of Tibet than the fate of the Summer Games, with Olympic cash deemed more precious than Tibetan blood. The Olympics were supposed to be China's multibillion-dollar, super sweet sixteen. Britain's Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Mark Malloch-Brown told the BBC, "This is China's coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that."

Other countries hankering after a piece of China's thriving economy have rushed to put daylight between the crackdown in Tibet and the Olympics. No surprise, the Bush’s White House, underwriting their war in Iraq on loans from Beijing, headed off any talk that President Bush would cancel his appearance at the Olympic Games when spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush believed that the Olympics "should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics." Earlier, the European Union said a "boycott would not be the appropriate way to address the work for respect of human rights, which means the ethnic and religious rights of the Tibetans."

While the nations of the West have ruled out the idea of boycotting the games, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday that the EU should at least consider boycotting the opening ceremony if violence continues. Later Kouchner backtracked, saying "We're not in favor of it. When you're dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights. That's elementary realism.''

Whatever happens next, China's crackdown is not happening in spite of the Beijing Olympics, but because of them. It is a bold play by China to set a tone for the remainder of the year. Since its occupation of the country in 1951, China has suppressed its Buddhist faith and made Tibetans a persecuted minority in their own country via the mass migration of millions of Han Chinese. As monks and young Tibetans took their grievances to the streets over the weekend, the government made clear it would brook no protest and tolerate no dissent.

But it's helpful to remember that in many countries, including our own, pre-Olympic repression is as much of a tradition as lighting the torch.

In 1984, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates oversaw the jailing of thousands of young black men in the infamous Olympic Gang Sweeps. Gates also sent the LA Swat Team to Israel and West Berlin for special training.

The 1996 Atlanta games were supposed to demonstrate the gains of the New South, but the New South ended up looking much like the old one, as public housing was razed to make way for Olympic venues, homeless people were chased off the streets and perceived trouble-makers were arrested. As Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project recently recalled in Vancouver, BC, another city poised to crack down on crime, drugs and homelessness in preparation for the Winter Olympics in 2010, Atlanta officials "had six ordinances that made all kinds of things illegal, including lying down. Lots of people were shipped out, and lots of people were put in jail. [The Olympic Planning Committee] actually built the city jail. Activists there called it the first Olympic project completed on time."

Repression followed the Olympic Rings to Greece in 2004. As the radio program "Democracy Now," reported at the time, authorities in Athens "round[ed] up homeless people, drug addicts and the mentally ill, requiring that psychiatric hospitals lock them up." The pre-Olympics "cleanup" included detaining or deporting refugees and asylum-seekers. Being the first Olympics after 9/11, police surveillance of immigrant Muslims and makeshift mosques in Athens greatly increased.

But the worst example of Olympic repression--and the most resonantto the current moment--came in 1968 in Mexico City, where hundreds of Mexican students and workers occupying the National University were slaughtered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, ten days before the start of the games. Recently declassified documents paint a picture of a massacre as cold and methodical as President Luis Echeverría's instructions.

Echeverría's aim was the same as China's: a pre-emptive strike to make sure that using the Olympic games as a platform for protest would not be on the itinerary. The irony, of course, is that while Echeverría succeeded in crushing the protest movement outside the games, on the inside US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in an expression of Black Power, cementing the 1968 games as a place defined by discontent. It's a lesson the 2008 athletes might remember. Officials may try to smother dissent on the streets of Lhasa and elsewhere in China, but in the games themselves--from the path of the Olympic torch up Mount Everest to the opulent venues constructed in Beijing--the risk for protest, and the opportunity, is real.

76 Reader Comments | Add a comment


it would be amazing if the people in charge of placing the olympics were interested in human rights concerns. Instead of this we have the ultimate group of money hungry investors behind the guise of the Olympic Ideal. The worst part is that too many people believe the ideal is real and do not hold anyone within the inner sanctum of the olympics responsible for anything.

China full-courts the dollar, wins going away

Inhabitants of the U.S. buy tons of stuff made in China and China gets wads of dollars in return. China keeps the war-addled, bankrupt U.S. afloat by loaning it back wads of dollars daily aka buying U.S. Treasury bonds. The Rep/Dem regime - yelling stimulus, stimulus - takes Chinese dollar-wads and sprinkles some back to U.S. inhabitants so they can...gobble up more stuff from China. This is why China can snuff Tibet and Darfur et al while lifting its leg on the shoes of our Manchurian frat boy and Bela Pelosi.

Olympic boycott?

I think that with the many issues coming along with China hosting the Olympics, this would be a perfect year to boycott the Olympics. Along with the awful treatment of Tibet, there is also support for the government in Sudan, helping to lead to the continuation of the genocide in Darfur.

If there is no boycott, I sincerely hope that athletes take the path that Dr. John Carlos and Tommie Smith took, and find a way to show protest while still taking part in the games.

Mexico gets a free pass

Note the point of this article - America's corporate stooge Mexico got away with mass murder on our doorstep, yards from the Olympics, while China must be punished for doing to Tibet what America got away with doing to its Indians and to Mexico.

So murder to protect Wall Street and its colonies is different than murder to protect the only 3rd World country that has the balls to challenge Wall Street and beat it at its own game. Or more succinctly, it's different when it keeps white people on top.

Mexico does NOT get a free pass

The point of article was not to excuse Mexico, but to point out the similarities between the two situations: Pre-emptive force to discourage any type of opposition.

The almighty dollar (or yen, or euro, or Amero) reigns supreme.

It's all about being a Superpower

It's a historical fact that as countries become more powerful they also choose to make up their own rules when it comes to what they want to do. And because they have so much power the rest of the world kisses their asses. For a while we've been the big dog, but now China is flexing it's bully muscles. And it works for them just like it's worked for us.

boycott idea

We really cant control what the US olympic comittee will do. However, we could boycott the games as people. Don't watch the games on television. Don't attend the games. Unfortunately, the only say we have in a capitalist society is where we choose to spend our money.

The truth

the truth of the matter is that every country is responsible in one way or another for human rights abuses, whether you're looking at China, the US, Canada, Chile, or Papua New Guinea.

Its also particularly hypocritical for westerners to condemn certain types of human rights abuse and allow others to go unchallenged in their own backyard.

There are people that are informed enough, educated enough, and intelligent enough to understand the ways in which their governments and they themselves are complicit in human rights abuses every day. Them challenging China on Tibet is part of a greater struggle for the respect of human life.

But those that challenge China on Tibet and not the US on Iraq, or Chile on the Mapuche etc... those that take oppressive situations as opportunities to choose and pick their condemnatiions --> well they're basically promulgating a neo-colonial approach to international affairs.


Berlin anyone?

tibet, China, Darfur

It is my understanding that China is also supporting the regime in the Sudan, which is responsible for the atrocities in Darfur.

China's interest there is oil, which it receives in exchange for money and military equipment.

missing the point

In suggestion that human rights should be a partisan issue you are missing the point completely. Regardless of what the situation in Tibet may have been like prior to China's occupation, and regardless of where you might stand on Tibetan right to self governance, at issue here are human rights concerns.

China's crackdown on Tibet protesters has been brutal and hateful. They are clear human rights abuses that should be condemned. That's the bottom line.

On the other hand, may he who has never sinned cast the first stone...any official condemnation from another country would be hypocrytical, which is why grassroots, bottom up demonstrations are the way to really support human rights internationally. Partisan politics should be irrelevant in this case

where is the reaction!?

The decision to boycott the Beijing Olympics is, of course, out of the people's hands and would take a priceless, much deserved opportunity away from our athletes. But, the people of this country have a voice, not to mention hands to hold placards and feet to march; so where is the reaction to China's repression and killing of Tibetans? It is time for people to say more with their actions than their bumper stickers have already said. What we need to show the world is that people are united in their outrage over how the Chinese government has treated the people of Tibet for this long. This is a breaking point for human rights and a gigantic chance to use our precious freedom of expression for good. So, will we clear the bar on this one or not? Lives are at stake here, not just world records.

I believe we should Boycott

I have a grandaughter adopted from China. For all I know her parents or grandparents could be homeless on the streets, after the ABC report of 13,000 evictions every month??? They are in the streets the old and the infirm!

Also, Tibet, How can you hurt holy men??? I am a Christian...that means I respect every faith and yes I MEAN every faith!!!!

I know I WILL NOT watch the games at all and I have rarely missed them in my 58 years...



Like all other sporting events, though hidden under the veil of the 'amateur', the Olympics is a business.
Boycotting the athletes is both pointless and unfair.

The sponsors are the ones' that should be boycotted, the networks that show the games.

Not watching them and buying their productes at McDonalds etc. could make the protests more relevant (with the economic imperative).


This is going to be an interesting Olympics this season...




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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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