The flame of nationalism

by John Quiggin on April 24, 2008

As the Olympic torch touches down in Australia, it is hard to see how any good can come of the entire exercise.

After Kevin Rudd’s visit to Beijing, which seemed to herald a newly mature relationship between Australia and China, we’ve spent a week or more embroiled in a petty squabble, of a kind which is all too familiar in international relations, over the role of Chinese torch attendants/security guards, with the Australian government insisting that all security will be provided by our police and the Chinese saying that the attendants will “protect the torch with their bodies”.

George Orwell observed over 60 years ago that

Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

and history since then has given plenty of examples. It looks as if the 2008 Olympics will join them.

Until relatively recently, it looked as if the Games might produce some net positives, making it harder for the Chinese government to suppress dissent and pushing them in the direction of democratic reform. In this context, protests against the torch relay might be seen as increasing the pressure.

In fact, however, the protests have focused* entirely on the national claims of Tibet (as represented by the government in exile of the Dalai Lama) and have produced an unsurprising nationalist reaction in China (effectively in support of the existing government). The result, almost certainly, is that the position of supporters of democracy will be worse than ever, with any criticism of the Chinese authorities being viewed as support for external attacks on China’s territorial integrity.

As far as Tibet is concerned, all this is likely to prove counterproductive. A democratic Chinese government would almost certainly come around to the viewpoint that territorial control over Tibet is an expensive indulgence, in terms of both economic cost and international standing, while a democratic and independent Tibet would have little choice but to pursue close economic and political ties with China. But as long as China remains in its current political stasis, no movement on this issue is likely.

About the only good news is that the torch will be gone soon, and we in Australia will be able to forget about the Olympics for a few months.

* Update: As observed in comments, it would be more accurate to say that media coverage of protests has focused exclusively on this issue which fits the competing narratives of both Western and Chinese media much better than protests over Darfur, treatment of dissidents and so on.

{ 56 comments }

1

joseph duemer 04.24.08 at 1:31 am

You seem to be blaming those who are protesting real human rights violations by China in Tibet of being an impediment to the rise of a splendid democratic China. So everyone should just be very very quiet and let the games proceed? No doubt a Chinese utopia is just around the corner.

2

mikesdak 04.24.08 at 1:33 am

The George Orwell quote is quite apt, since the modern Olympic torch relay was revived for the 1936 Olympics. With that type of beginning, maybe this would be a good year to end it. Just fly the thing from Greece if they must have it.

I do wonder what kind of ivory-tower thinking led the IOC to award China the Olympics in the first place. I know they did it quite a few years ago,but how could they not have seen this coming?

I do see the protests as an opportunity for a western leader with the guts to use it; to inform the Chinese that,unlike them, you are accountable to your citizens for your actions. Unlike them, you must not only tolerate but seriously consider what is being said by those citizens, which is that the Chinese government is a barbaric totalitarian state. That if they can offer any rebuttal beyond “No we’re not, and it’s none of your business. How dare you!” you would be happy to hear it. But I don’t see it happening. The Chinese have money,and it’s money that matters.

3

John Quiggin 04.24.08 at 1:44 am

Joseph D, I don’t have any recommendations. In retrospect everything that has happened has been pretty much inevitable. I’m just observing that no good will come of it.

4

salient downs 04.24.08 at 2:00 am

You seem to be blaming those who are protesting real human rights violations by China in Tibet of being an impediment to the rise of a splendid democratic China.

I did not find evidence for that anywhere in the post. I did find evidence, in the sixth paragraph, that one of John’s concerns is the experience of the Tibetan people. By my reading, John sees that the protests have triggered a knee-jerk reaction from the Chinese government rather than winning concessions from them.

Cf: The result, almost certainly, is that the position of supporters of democracy will be worse than ever, with any criticism of the Chinese authorities being viewed as support for external attacks on China’s territorial integrity.

I do wonder what kind of ivory-tower thinking led the IOC to award China the Olympics in the first place. … The Chinese have money, and it’s money that matters.”

Whatever answer exists to your own wondering can probably be found by delving into that “it’s money that matters” concept. The explosively burgeoning Chinese economy had to have been a major factor.

5

joseph duemer 04.24.08 at 2:17 am

I don’t have any recommendations.

Yeah, it’s the rhetoric of objectivity that bothers me, I suppose.

6

JamesP 04.24.08 at 2:31 am

I very much doubt that a democratic China would ever let go of Tibet, given the degree to which such a hypothetical state would no doubt be driven by popular nationalism. Not to mention that Han Chinese are now a slight majority, and likely to become a distinct majority in the future. Working for Tibetan autonomy and a lessening of Han racism within the context of a wider China human rights policy seems to be the sensible thing.

7

shannonr 04.24.08 at 3:08 am

>>Not to mention that Han Chinese are now a slight majority, and likely to become a distinct majority in the future.

Presumably you mean “a majority in Tibet”. I know that this is a popular “internet fact” — unfortunately it remains completely untrue.

Tibet’s population around 2.8 million. 90% of that is ethnically Tibetan, with Han Chinese the biggest chunk of the remainder.

Tourists seeing lots of Han in Lhasa is probably the source of this misconception. But Lhasa has only around 15% of Tibet’s population — and is probably, in terms of “faces seen on the street” — up to half Han.

I don’t say these things to “defend China” or from any other “position”. It’s just that if we’re debating these things, I feel we should do so from a factual basis — on all “sides”.

8

JamesP 04.24.08 at 4:25 am

Huh, you’re right – and right, I think, on the urban illusion, since Lhasa is *very* Chinese. I’m surprised how small the Han population in Tibet is, actually, looking at the statistics. I’m pretty certain the official figures leave migrant workers out, though, since they usually do – there were a lot of Sichuanese in Lhasa last time I was there.

9

shannonr 04.24.08 at 4:57 am

Official Chinese stats do leave migrant workers out a lot, that is true. On the other side of that coin, though, is that migrant workers are usually “limited” to major-city fringes, and major construction sites (like several thousand spread out along the length of a major highway).

But we’re well off topic now! :) Back on…

Talking to taxi drivers daily here in Beijing, my current “summary comment” on the “flame issue” is “I think it’s wonderful that Chinese students are learning the habits of protest and democracy while they are in Western countries —- I hope they can bring some of that home!”

Gets ’em thinking every time… and they never fail to respond with something well thought out of their own…

…like their counterparts in other countries, the great tragedy is that taxi drivers aren’t running the country, and politicians aren’t driving taxis!

10

Colin Danby 04.24.08 at 4:58 am

The penultimate paragraph looks a little naive. Territorial claims seem to matter very deeply to governments, and to ramify into institutions, political culture, settlers etc. I’m trying to think of other examples where a government has “come around to the viewpoint that territorial control over _____ is an expensive indulgence” and just let it go.

Of course from a certain distance, (though I will piss off Joseph D now) the torch relay theater works for everyone. Activists in cities the world over get the chance to protest, because the torch conveniently visits them! China’s government gets the chance to conflate nationalism with the wholesome associations of sport and brotherhood and fair play.

I once protested the apartheid-loving Governor of New Hampshire Meldrim Thomson during his attendance at a Shriners’ football game (which was raising money for the care of burned children) so I’m aware of the semiotic hazards of this kind of thing. But I’m glad I didn’t listen to the fogies who lectured me about being counterproductive.

11

John Quiggin 04.24.08 at 5:36 am

“I’m trying to think of other examples where a government has “come around to the viewpoint that territorial control over _ is an expensive indulgence” and just let it go.”

The dissolution of the British empire is one obvious example. The French were a bit slower to learn but reached the same point in the end, as did the other European colonial powers. The fall of Suharto in Indonesia was followed almost immediately by the end of the occupation of East Timor. Then there’s the breakup of the Soviet bloc and of the Soviet Union itself, and the end of Czechoslovakia.

Of course, all of these provoked a fair bit of domestic angst, and none of them exactly matches China/Tibet. But in the end, democracies are rarely willing to pay a high price to keep territories whose inhabitants want independence.

12

Colin Danby 04.24.08 at 5:57 am

The dissolution of the USSR made it very difficult for a successor state like Russia to exert a claim over a place like Latvia.

And the Brit empire never laid _territorial_ claim to India. The French empire is a more appropriate example.

I thought about East Timor too but it’s not a particularly happy or non-violent example. And we could run through examples of democracies hanging on to places like Kashmir, Catalonia, Gibraltar etc. A territorial claim can surely get insinuated into electoral politics is such a way that a democratic state might be *less* willing to let a territory go than an authoritarian one.

I don’t want to push the claim too far — your “expensive indulgence” outcome is certainly possible. But far from automatic, no?

13

John Quiggin 04.24.08 at 6:16 am

As a general point, the problem I see is not so much the fact of demonstrations for independence and human rights in Tibet as the invisibility of concerns about democracy and human rights in general.

14

Martin Wisse 04.24.08 at 7:22 am

Tibet controls the water sources of China’s biggest rivers, does it not? How likely is giving up control of that?

15

Dave 04.24.08 at 7:43 am

@12: “the Brit empire never laid territorial claim to India”….?

So crowning Victoria Empress of India was just kidding?

If you mean that the UK didn’t try to make India a colony of settlement, you might be right; but if you are, then the peaceful departure of Canada, Australia and New Zealand from direct UK control contradicts your larger claim.

16

Matthew Stinson 04.24.08 at 8:07 am

John wrote:

In fact, however, the protests have focused entirely on the national claims of Tibet…

Frankly, this isn’t true. Press coverage of the events certainly made “Free Tibet” protesters the center of the storm, likewise the Chinese media have spun the story into only “splittists” protesting the torch, but a wide variety of groups — RSF, environmental NGOs, Darfur activists, and others — brought criticism to bear on China in Paris, London, and elsewhere, but they’ve all but disappeared because the media narratives on both sides have no time for them.

17

No one 04.24.08 at 8:29 am

Canada, Australia and NZ: I’ve never really understood what kinds of claims Britain was making over these countries. They were territorial for a time, but once settler communities became established I’m not sure what the British made of them. Certainly in the case of NZ direct control was basically relinquished as being financially too expensive as early as the 1870s.

Talking to taxi drivers daily here in Beijing, my current “summary comment” on the “flame issue” is “I think it’s wonderful that Chinese students are learning the habits of protest and democracy while they are in Western countries——I hope they can bring some of that home!”

I guess this is tongue-in-cheek? I wouldn’t necessarily link protests with democracy. And anyway, protests have a long history in China which are equally–maybe more–related to self-determination and nationalism, eg., May 4th and more recently, the protests over the bombing of the chinese embassy.

18

abb1 04.24.08 at 8:48 am

Adam Kotsko’s Weblog links to this. Scroll down to No Shangri-La by Slavoj Žižek (who else?).

19

JamesP 04.24.08 at 9:31 am

Heh, shannonr, do you know Brendon over at Bokane? His thing on the difference between city and suburban taxi drivers in Beijing was hilarious. ‘Democracy? I don’t know …’ vs ‘Democracy? FUCK YEAH!’

20

Bob B 04.24.08 at 9:38 am

@15: “So crowning Victoria Empress of India was just kidding?”

That was something Disraeli divised to flatter Queen Victoria – as he reportedly said to Matthew Arnold: “Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty, you should lay it on with a trowel.”

Only some, like Winston Churchill, took the notion of the Emperor of India seriously, hence his persistent opposition to Baldwin’s India Act of 1935, which provided for limited internal self-government in India although Churchill opposed even that. It was his maverick behaviour as a Conservative MP which kept him out of Conservative governments through the 1930s rather than his repeated warnings after 1933 about the looming threat of the Nazis. Many also blamed him, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925, for the downstream consequences of returning the Pound to the Gold Standard.

Btw Disraeli’s perceptive private view of Empire, expressed in a letter to Lord Malmesbury in 1852: “Those wretched colonies will all be independent too, in a few years, and are a millstone round our neck.”

21

Dave 04.24.08 at 11:38 am

I love this revisionism, ‘the British were never serious about hanging onto India’, I mean, FFS! If they weren’t serious, they could have let the INC have it any time after 1885!!

22

joseph duemer 04.24.08 at 1:07 pm

@10: . . . though I will piss off Joseph D now.

Not really, Colin. I’ve been hanging around the internets long enough that I rarely get pissed off about anything in on-line discussions. I was really just trying to make a point — perhaps not very well — of my skepticism about: A) the effect of the recent protests, which I think will be minimal, and B) the evolution of China toward democracy, which I think will be never, or pretty close to never.

But I’m glad I didn’t listen to the fogies who lectured me about [protests] being counterproductive.

Exactly.

23

fs 04.24.08 at 1:58 pm

It was naive to think that the increased global attention to China woudl make the regime more likely to observe HR etc. It was always much more likely that the increased attention would make the regime crack down even harder on dissent before the OG. Tibet is jsut another reason to do so.

24

novakant 04.24.08 at 2:16 pm

Erm, guys, it took a hundred years of protests and whatnot to convince the Brits that India is an “expensive indulgence” – so I’m not sure why this has been brought up as an example designed to bolster John’s point.

25

Chris Stiles 04.24.08 at 2:59 pm


Erm, guys, it took a hundred years of protests and whatnot to convince the Brits that India is an “expensive indulgence”

There were plenty of people who had a vague feeling that India was an ‘expensive indulgence’ prior to the 40s. It just took hundred years of protests to get them to the point where they were willing to do something about it – over and about the protests of the military people who wanted to keep India on the basis of ‘strategy’.

In general you are correct – it isn’t a good example to bolster that particular point [though I’m not convinced that John was making it].

26

Dan Kervick 04.24.08 at 3:14 pm

George Orwell observed over 60 years ago that

Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

and history since then has given plenty of examples. It looks as if the 2008 Olympics will join them.

Actually, given the huge number of international sporting contests that are held every year, in every conceivable sport, it appears to me that there are precious few examples of the “orgy of hatred” phenomenon. And sporting contests are just one of many kinds of human activity that are the media of international cultural exchanges. Most of these exchanges and spectacles go off without incident.

Excuse me for not being with the program, but I am one westerner who is far more impressed with what the Chinese have been doing right for the past few decades than what they have been doing wrong, and I am very pleased that they are being given the opportunity to host the world at a major international event, and further open themselves and integrate themselves into the broader world community. Millions of Chinese people have been working extremely hard and energetically for a few decades now to build their economies, raise their standards of living, and improve the prospects for future generations of Chinese. They deserve this opportunity to show off what they have done.

China has a long way to go, as many of us do. But the Chinese are substantially more free now, socially and economically, than they were under the psychotically sick and impoverished Maoist insane asylum state of the 60’s. This is amazing progress, and merits recognition. Most of the improvement has little to do with western protests of any kind, but rather to disciplined diplomacy and the patient integration of the Chinese economy into the broader world.

I would love to see China continue to evolve more humane and tolerant social institutions, and more integrity in their rule of law. And I expect that the growing complexity of the Chinese society and economy will lead to a certain amount of decentralization and more local control, simply as a practical matter. But Chinese civilization has been around for more than 3000 years, and China has never been a democracy. Personally I don’t much care if it ever becomes a democracy.

27

Dave 04.24.08 at 3:30 pm

That’s sweet of you, Dan. Do you care if your own country ceases to be one? Or mine? I care if yours does, and I care whether China moves towards or away from values of freedom which, if they are not upheld as universal, are doomed to extinction – because if they are only ‘white people’s values’, we should note that the white people aren’t going to be in charge soon[-ish]. Then [without those values] it’s the good ol’ boot stomping on a human face forever [or until the oil runs out, anyway].

[Meanwhile, how exactly do you resolve the ‘I would love’ and the ‘don’t much care’ in that last para? Either it matters or it doesn’t.]

28

Dan Kervick 04.24.08 at 4:16 pm

[Meanwhile, how exactly do you resolve the ‘I would love’ and the ‘don’t much care’ in that last para? Either it matters or it doesn’t.]

Because I distinguished between liberalization and democracy. Highly centralized and bureaucratic governments are not all the same. Single party governments are not all the same. Some rule with a lighter hand, and some with a heavier hand. China has liberalized significantly since life under Mao, and I hope for the sake of the Chinese people it liberalizes more. But I don’t think it makes sense to regard it as some sort of godawful tragedy or crisis if a country that has never had elections in 3000 years, and yet has managed to enjoy a rather high level of civilization for much of that period, continues not to have elections.

I live in a country that has been around for a much shorter time, and has more than 1% of its adult population in jail. We are having an election right now where the debate is consumed by tabloid inanities about the candidates’ personal lives, and most often resembles a particularly idiotic sort of beauty contest. So I don’t think we have achieved enlightenment about universal values or have mastered the arts of sound government.

29

abb1 04.24.08 at 4:23 pm

Yeah, Dave, why shouldn’t they be able to evolve their own way and, perhaps, come up with a different form of government that you might want to copy one day? It’s interesting that in communist countries they typically had (and probably still do in Cuba) much better developed democratic institutions on the local and workplace levels than most people in the west do.

30

Tom Hurka 04.24.08 at 5:09 pm

Re #26:

I agree the Orwell quote is a huge over-generalization. The Winter Olympics, as just one example? The only orgies of hatred there have been between individual American women figure skaters.

31

TSOL 04.24.08 at 5:28 pm

“Tibet’s population around 2.8 million. 90% of that is ethnically Tibetan, with Han Chinese the biggest chunk of the remainder.”

This is a serious issue: Tibetans clearly need to be educated in the wonders of multiculturalism and diversity. The current group of protesters are clearly an atavistic group of xenophobe nativists.

32

Dave 04.24.08 at 5:51 pm

@29: you’re having your cake and eating it: how can country X ‘not be a democracy’ and have ‘much better developed democratic institutions on the local and workplace levels’? Institutions that let people vent [within, doubtless, carefully-defined limits] without actually giving them the chance to change the system aren’t ‘democratic’. And in not being democratic, they will, in the end, be repressive, because they will not acknowledge that the people have the right to change the government – so, when conflict arises, as it will, repression will ensue.

I’m NOT, repeat NOT advocating a one-size-fits-all westernised globalisation, I’m saying that, as a matter of fact, a country that isn’t a democracy isn’t a democracy, and the fewer democracies there are in the world, the less freedom there will be. You may be all happy-clappy multiculturally OK with ‘other’ people not having democratic rights, but I will continue to think that that’s a bunch of… well, fill in your own blank.

33

Colin Danby 04.24.08 at 6:00 pm

I realized after I wrote it that my “territorial claim” formulation was liable to outraged misinterpretation. I’m simply trying to think about the French/Brit difference in the institutions and legalities and political culture by which a colony is linked to the metropole. Once you have made the claim that a place is part of your soil, written it into your maps, then it’s harder to undo. A claim of empire, an older category meaning rule over distinct nations, is easier to walk back at least in the political culture of the last two centuries. I think the Chinese gov’t would take severe exception to anyone who described its rule over Tibet as imperial.

But I never understood how the commonwealth operated.

I’m with Tom H. — the Olympics have always seemed more earnest and silly than sinister, 1936 aside. Test cricket, on the other hand…

34

abb1 04.24.08 at 6:17 pm

how can country X ‘not be a democracy’ and have ‘much better developed democratic institutions on the local and workplace levels’?

Why not? In the Soviet Union Aeroflot’s passengers used to take a vote to decide if the pilot should risk it to fly in a bad weather. Now, that’s democracy, baby!

35

Dave 04.24.08 at 6:47 pm

@34: ah, sorry, you were being silly, I should have realised.

@33: perhaps, then, the colonial rule of the USA over its ‘Native Americans’ might have been a better example? Territorial contiguity and all that…

36

engels 04.24.08 at 7:14 pm

the Orwell quote is a huge over-generalization. The Winter Olympics, as just one example

What if the generalisation were restricted to ‘sporting events which anybody other than Canadians and a small handful of others could actually give a rat’s arse about’?

37

abb1 04.24.08 at 7:23 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuba_and_democracy#Comments_by_political_writers_and_academics

Groups or individuals that describe Cuba as democratic or a “democracy” generally focus on community participation at local municipal level. For example, Cuban Teresita Jorge writes that democracy in Cuba “takes place from the grassroots up in the selection of those who will represent the people at all the levels of government“[20]. Similarly, Political scientists Haroldo Dilla Alfonso and Gerardo González Núñez study what they describe as Cuba’s “community power and grassroots democracy”. They write that “this participatory system contained an interesting combination of direct democracy and the use of representation as granted by election. In general, it attempted to provide citizens with the ability to choose the local leadership, express claims, oversee and evaluate local policy and its results, and become involved in projects of community benefit.” The pair concluded that “we ought to consider Municipal Assemblies as a remarkable step forward in building democracy”

38

abb1 04.24.08 at 8:03 pm

http://www.mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=6904&pc=9

This study considers the institutional evolution and progress of village elections in China. China’s dramatic economic growth in less than 30 years is the result of economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, and thus has lifted more than 200 million people out of poverty. This change began with the “household responsibility system” permitting peasants to farm their own land, which eventually led to the abolishment of the commune system. In an effort to establish viable rural governance after de-communization, villagers took the initiative in establishing village self-government and electing their own leaders to manage village affairs. This book studies the creation and evolution of democratic institution of village election. […] It argues for the institutional buildup of democratic infrastructures to ensure what could eventually be the beginning of a more extensive move towards democracy.

39

mollymooly 04.24.08 at 9:28 pm

Whatever about one-size-fits-all democracy, I am sceptical of one-size-fits-all protesting-against-foreign-dictatorships. China is not Zimbabwe.

40

Bob B 04.24.08 at 9:57 pm

“China is not Zimbabwe.”

Quite so. China has a thriving economy and inflation is under control.

No one has remarked on the enthusiasm of putative totalitarian regimes for staging the Olympic Games – remember Berlin, the venue for the Olympics in 1936?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwO30VlJscY

Who will substitute for Leni Riefenstahl?

41

novakant 04.24.08 at 11:41 pm

What if the generalisation were restricted to ‘sporting events which anybody other than Canadians and a small handful of others could actually give a rat’s arse about’?

Ahhh, sour grapes. But, hey, even mountainless England and snowless Jamaica had their 5 minutes of fame at the Winter Olympics.

42

Dave 04.25.08 at 7:47 am

@38: “…It argues for the institutional buildup of democratic infrastructures to ensure what could eventually be the beginning of a more extensive move towards democracy….”

Or, in other words, some book says that what the CCP allows peasants to do [which is, from that brief summary, no more than, say, the absolute monarchs of C18 France ‘allowed’ their peasants to do, self-organise to meet immediate material needs and the external demands of the state] might, in the future, potentially, become a way of letting those same peasants have real power [which would, therefore, negate the current real power of the CCP]. The end point sounds fine, but I think the road-map for getting there is a tad optimistic. Local autogestion is meaningless in political terms if it continues to operate sous tutelle of a one-party state.

43

abb1 04.25.08 at 8:54 am

The problem with absolute monarchs is that it was a hereditary system and peasants’ interests weren’t represented. In China instead of monarchs you have a party of something like 70 million people – itself a democratic institution. And if you want to make a career as a party apparatchik you have to start from the bottom, as a laborer, that’s required (or, at least, this is how it worked in the Soviet Union).

44

bernarda 04.25.08 at 9:04 am

I disagree with this, “In fact, however, the protests have focused* entirely on the national claims of Tibet (as represented by the government in exile of the Dalai Lama) and have produced an unsurprising nationalist reaction in China (effectively in support of the existing government).”

Many commentators have talked about the general detestable character of the Chinese Regime, like Cafferty who is amply criticized on youtube by Chinese goons and thugs working for the Party.

45

Dave 04.25.08 at 11:10 am

At this point abb1, when I am discussing a situation with someone who can describe a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party as a democratic organisation, I just laugh, and walk away. Bye.

46

abb1 04.25.08 at 12:20 pm

Why, it’s democratic within the accepted boundaries, like any political party. One can’t advocate higher degree of income redistribution while being a US Republican party functionnaire. You have a volunteer grassroots-organization of 73 million people, leaders are elected. Of course it has a platform you have to adhere to, that’s normal. The issue is not the party itself, it’s the fact that there is no real opposition party, even though the PRC, in fact, is a multi-party state.

47

ajay 04.25.08 at 1:42 pm

40: No one has remarked on the enthusiasm of putative totalitarian regimes for staging the Olympic Games – remember Berlin, the venue for the Olympics in 1936?

Enthusiasm, possibly, but if you look back at history you’ll find that very few dictatorships have ever hosted the games. The only ones, I think, have been Berlin (1936) and Moscow (1980).

48

engels 04.25.08 at 2:55 pm

So is true that ‘China is a “barbaric” totalitarian state which must never be mentioned without unqualified condemnation’ or that ‘China is kewl and who needs outdated imperialist dogmas like “democracy” anyway?’. I await the verdict of the people of the Internet with interest…

49

abb1 04.25.08 at 3:32 pm

Democratic centralism!

…We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!

50

Roy Belmont 04.26.08 at 1:32 am

#26″
But Chinese civilization has been around for more than 3000 years…
In that 5000 years is more than 3000 years, that’s a true thing. Just seriously inexact.

51

Dan Kervick 04.26.08 at 4:40 am

#50: In that 5000 years is more than 3000 years, that’s a true thing. Just seriously inexact.

I didn’t want to go out on a limb, since I don’t know the current state of scholarship on the somewhat mythical Xia dynasty, or also whether it is or is not appropriate to regard pre-Shang settlements as part of the continuous civilization we call “Chinese”.

52

SG 04.26.08 at 2:39 pm

I just came back from dinner with 2 Japanese people who told me that, until the 2000 Sydney Olympics, they had no idea about Australian Aboriginal history. To them Australia had always just been a cheerful, welcoming place with an image of openness and gentleness. But with the various discussions about rights surrounding the olympics, they came to learn (mainly through Cathy Freeman’s story) about Indigenous history. It changed their view of Australia.

I had never really believed that activism around the olympics could make a difference. I don’t know how much difference educating 2 ordinary Japanese people about Indigenous history is, but it seems like something. So maybe these protests do have some benefit (though in this case I’m not sure that the protests are actually giving a truthful message – but that is a different issue).

53

DRR 04.26.08 at 7:31 pm

A quote from Lenin, how cute…and quaint.

abb1 remains my favorite commenter here but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still essentially an intellectual charlatan.

54

abb1 04.26.08 at 8:03 pm

Hey, ‘quaint’ is correct, I agree.

Obviously I am not advocating ‘democratic centralism’, a concept that is, in fact, remarkably similar to the controversial ‘unitary executive’ doctrine: you are given a chance to elect your leader, but once it’s done – shut up and follow. So it’s not really that different from the modern political thought in the western liberal democracies. Or some of them, at least.

55

Roy Belmont 04.26.08 at 8:47 pm

Abb1 is the Elton John of Marxist-Leninist struggle.

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abb1 04.26.08 at 10:05 pm

That’s Sir Elton John to you.

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