Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

Separating Tibet and the Olympics

| April 14, 2008


This op-ed was reprinted in The International Herald Tribune on April 15, 2008, as "Keep Tibet Separate from the Games". It was also reprinted in China Daily on April 23, 2008, as "Mixing Politics with Games is Foul for Both".

AS A NATIVE of China with great affection for the Tibetan culture, I have felt saddened by the violence that erupted in Tibet in mid-March and has left a number of civilians and a police officer killed.

I learned Tibetan folk dancing during dance training in Beijing years ago. I understood from the passion of my teacher and fellow classmates that Tibetan culture is well respected among China's majority Han population. As a journalist intern, I interviewed the Tibetan singer Caidan Drolma (in the Tibetan language her names mean "longevity" and "fairies" respectively). Her smile and golden voice in the song "Emancipated Serfs to Sing the Song," which reflected her own experience, remain fond in my memories.

Here in the United States, I always detect a whiff of politics when Tibet is mentioned. Media coverage on the violence has been critical of the Chinese government. One scene that rekindled my feelings for Tibet was an interview on the privately owned television service for overseas Chinese, Sinovision, which featured an ordinary Tibetan woman on the street who emotionally pointed out that the good life of the Tibetan people had been disrupted by violence committed by a few Tibetan mobs.

Interest groups want to utilize the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to advance their causes. But as a Wall Street Journal reader from Hong Kong responded to a Journal op-ed article calling for a "Genocide Olympics" campaign, some people "forget that the whole point of the Olympics is its explicitly nonpolitical nature."

Some people believe it is fair to vent their grievances with China, but don't see any unfairness in depriving China and its people of the dream to host the Games. In both 1936 and 1948, Chinese Olympian athletes had to detour through Asia to raise fund for their trips by performing in competitions. They ended up exhausted and defeated in the Olympics. It would be equally unfair to deprive the world's athletes of their dreams and the chance to compete in the most important global athletic competition.

Using the Tibetan issue as a cunning game of political machinations is unfair both to China and to the Tibetan people. In order not to alienate certain voters, a politician might say before an election that countries should consider boycotting the Olympic Games. But, after winning the election, he might just as easily switch positions in order not to upset domestic athletes and infuriate China. He would be a victor, but China and the world's athletes would be the victims.

Foreign reporters highlighted a few weeping monks decrying Tibet's lack of freedom in the Jokhang Temple after China organized the media trip to Tibet. Didn't the young Han Chinese man shown separately on Sinovision, whose teenage sister died in the fire set by the mobs, deserve equal coverage by western media?

It would be wrong to assume that the Chinese do not have free minds and that the government orchestrates everything. It's not surprising that blogs in China have exploded in the anti-splittist and anti-West comments of the "Fen Qing" (furious young surfers), expressing anger over the violence and the western media's one-sided, twisted reports.

Overseas Chinese have also been energized. A video on YouTube, "Tibet was, is, and always will be a part of China," produced by a Canadian Chinese student, was clicked 1.2 million times and received 72,000 comments in three days. Patriotism and nationalism are strong among the Chinese. The power of the people's voice should not be underestimated.

Historical burdens at times prevent people from moving forward. Buddhism's art of meditation offers wisdom: Let go, develop a refined awareness of the present moment, and reach a clarity of mind. This may be useful for all who genuinely care about the fate of Tibet and desire a constructive solution. As Gandhi said, God ultimately saves him whose motive is pure. Violence and political maneuvering may not necessarily help shorten exiled Tibetans' journey back home.

Anne Wu is an associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Wu, Anne.“Separating Tibet and the Olympics.” The Boston Globe, April 14, 2008.

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