April 11, 2008


China's multiple victims include its own public (Howard W. French, April 10, 2008, NY Times)

Unfortunately for conventional Chinese opinion, the first instance of hypocrisy that needs to be dealt with involves the plight of the Uighurs, whose situation very nearly mirrors that of the Tibetans, the distinction being that Tibetans have become lovable because of popular notions about Buddhism and because of the way Hollywood has romanticized Tibet and its saffron-robed monks and supported the Dalai Lama.

Natives of Xinjiang, by contrast, are Muslim, and geopolitics and popular culture have combined in ways that have been deeply prejudicial to the Uighurs, who have no celebrity sponsors or young Western sympathizers eager to identify with their culture or support their cause.

The biggest and least obvious victims in this crisis, however, are the Chinese themselves. This has nothing to do with the ritualized self-pity combined with zealous nationalism and occasionally vicious hate speech that one encounters from Chinese all over the Internet these days. Here, we speak of people who insist that any criticism of China is really motivated by deep-seated Western contempt for the Chinese people themselves, or of the strident Chinese voices that say that people in the West have no standing to criticize them because Westerners have plenty of awful things to answer for themselves. [...]

The reason the people of China are the biggest victims in the ugly spectacle of the last few weeks is that the Chinese government sold them on the Olympics as a measure of their standing and stature in the world. It did so, moreover, as if hypnotized by its own peculiar and stilted rhetoric, which demands that the world applaud its achievements with no pause for questions or thought.

That, after all, is the meaning of Beijing's insistence that politics have no place in the Olympics, even as the country uses the Games to bolster its domestic standing and to make an unsubtle statement to the world: We are successful and grand. Behold and admire us. We have arrived.

One hopes that the Chinese public, smart, increasingly sophisticated and more and more exposed to the kind of reality checks that come from contact with others, can figure out the trick that is being played on them. A criticism of an action of their government is in no way a criticism of them.

Why not? Their continued acquiescence to totalitarianism can't help but be an indictment, especially twenty years after most of the rest of the Communist bloc shucked off such regimes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2008 6:17 AM
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