Sunday, 31 August 2008

Tibetan resistance, the CIA and the murky swamp of history

This story of the CIA's support of Tibetan resistance against the PRC is not often told in English-speaking media, but one you will often hear CCP supporters bring up, often in conjunction with allegations of the old chestnut WMB (western media bias). WMB is the Chinese version of WMD.

It's a cracking tale and an interesting look at how the US viewed mainland China in the couple of decades after the establishment of the People's Republic. It's also drives home the point of how utterly self-interested and lacking in prinicpal international geo-politics is and always has been.

I watched a documentary on this topic last year and remember one Tibetan fighter recalling how betrayed he felt when the US stopped aiding their cause. It was at that point, he said, that he and his comrades realised that the US had never intended to really help the Tibetans still pushing for independence - but just give them enough weapons and training to be a nuisance to the PRC as part of their wider strategic interests.

I must say I'm quite impressed by how well researched this WSJ article seems to be.
Revolt of the Monks
How a Secret CIA Campaign Against China 50 Years Ago Continues to Fester; A Role for Dalai Lama's Brother
By PETER WONACOTTAugust30, 2008
Chodak, an 83-year-old former monk, fled Tibet in the wake of a bloody Chinese invasion more than 50 years ago. Today, he spends his days trimming wool carpets at a refugee center perched above the tranquil tea plantations of this Indian hill town. The plight of Tibetan exiles like Chodak, and their Buddhist message of nonviolence, has drawn world-wide sympathy to their cause.

Tibet's history of resistance
But Chodak's story has a twist.
He's one of the last surviving guerrilla fighters who took up arms against the Chinese during a little-known chapter in Tibet's history. His life has been one of war, not peace. Starting in the late 1950s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency trained scores of Tibetans, many of them monks, and then air dropped them back to their country with weapons and wireless radios. The linchpin of the operation was an older brother of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of 2.7 million Tibetans and today a Nobel Prize-winning symbol of peaceful resistance. "We were fighting to protect Buddhism from those who wanted to harm it," said Chodak in an interview, his eyes now clouded with cataracts. These days, armed
with little more than his message of peace and the occasional chortle at Beijing's expense, the 73-year-old Dalai Lama enjoys the upper hand in an international public-relations war. He inspires protests that embarrass the Chinese government around the world, including during the recently concluded Beijing Olympics. He also provokes over-the-top denunciations from Chinese officials. During the unrest in March, Tibet's Communist Party Secretary, Zhang Qingli, accused the Dalai Lama of sabotaging the region's stability and described the Buddhist leader as a "a wolf in monk's clothes, a devil with a human face."

The article goes on the describe how intimately involved in the resistance the Dalai Lama's immediate family was, and how the US support for the resistance waned due becoming bogged down in Vietnam, and then stopped altogether with Nixon's recognition of China.

I would like to take this opportunity to say something deep and profound, something well thought-out and insightful, something maybe even intelligent. But the best I can come up with is this:

Politics is a dirty business.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Lives well-lived

Some people truly live amazing lives. The National has this story on two American men with the same first name who lived most of their lives in in China and developed an intense dislike for each other. These opening sentences give an enticing taste of the article's content.
Around the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, a small crowd of foreign sympathisers came to help build the Maoist dream. Sixty years later, one of them is still there.
Thanks to Danwei for finding all this fascinating stuff.

Justice for the grandmas

In a classic face saving maneuver, the Chinese government has relented on the issue of punishing grandmas for trying to protest in the protest areas set up for the Olympic Games. This is from the Oz:

TWO Chinese grandmothers sentenced to re-education through labour for applying to protest during the Olympics will escape punishment.

The Beijing municipal committee which sentenced them less than two weeks ago revoked its order yesterday, said Human Rights in China.

Neighbours Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, were handed the one-year punishment after they asked several times for permission to protest in one of the three areas where authorities said they would allow such activities during the Olympic Games.

The elderly women said they wanted to protest as they had not received compensation after their homes were demolished by the Beijing city government seven years ago.

The two said they had applied five times to stage protests at official Olympic protest zones.

But instead of getting approval for their protest, they were both slapped with the one-year sentences of re-education through labour for disturbing public order.

Under the police order, the pair were spared immediate detention but would have been sent off to camp if they caused more trouble.
Thank God the all-powerful benevolent grandma central committee has let the Chinese Government off the hook...

Friday, 29 August 2008

A Freudian slip

Now this is possibly the most amazing article I have ever seen in an official Chinese news publication. Found by Zhongnanhai, it was published on China Radio International's website.

The Dalai Lama's Demons
Friday 08 August 2008
The Dalai Lama is respected worldwide for his peaceful philosophy. Today, some exiled Tibetans, shunned by their peers, no longer believe in his leadership. A controversial buddhist deity lies at the heart of the dispute. (Report: C. Henry, N. Haque)
Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is revered as a hero by his people and respected world-wide for his peaceful philosophy. Today, however, there are cracks at the heart of his community. A minority of Tibetans exiled in India, including monks, no longer believe in his leadership, and are shunned by their peers. France 24 correspondents Capucine Henry and Nicolas Haque take a closer look into the widening rift that threatens to tear apart the Tibetan people.
In a hitherto peaceful village of Tibetan refugees in southern India, certain monks can no longer enter their monastery, and are banned from stores and public places, including hospitals. Their crime? Revering a god considered a demon by the Dalai Lama.
The controversial Buddhist deity of Dorje Shugden lies at the heart of the conflict. Considered by some as an enlightened tutelary deity and by others as a malevolent force, it was labeled a demon by the Dalai Lama himelf. He made this clear last January, in a speech imbued with rare violence at a Tibetan university in Southern India.
A historic speech “I have meditated and considered (my decision to put aside the Shugden) at length in my soul and spirit before coming to the right decision”, he said. People have killed, lied, fought each other and set things alight in the name of this deity. These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent.”
The speech was a historic moment in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and the beginning of a schism which could exclude the four million Tibetans followers of Shugden. A few weeks after the Dalai Lama's speech, Shugden monks could no longer enter monasteries. They regroup themselves outside village walls and meditate on why the Dalai Lama has excluded him.
“Can the Dalai Lama really ban an entire religion?” asks one. “We are in the right, he’s the one who is being incoherent. On one hand, he’s always preaching freedom of religion and compassion, but on the other he’s forbidding us to worship the god we choose”, says another.
Apartheid in Buddhist land Photos of Shugden leaders are posted on city walls, branding them as traitors. Signs at the entrance of stores and hospitals forbid Shugden followers from entry. It’s apartheid, in Buddhist land.
Our reporters followed an ostracized Buddhist monk as he tried to affront the fellow villagers who have banned him. “We’re not violating Buddha’s teachings, and we’re excluded from everywhere just because of our religion” he complains.
“Aren’t you ashamed of betraying the Dalai Lama? You’re a monk! He is our only pillar, the only person we can count on,” he is asked.
In India, Shugden followers are forced to go into hiding. “I fled my house three days ago” says an old woman taken in by a family 300 kilometers away from her home. “I was the only Shugden in my village. Every day I grew more afraid of attacks.I had to block my door with stones for people not to break into my house”.
Pro-Chinese ‘traitors’ Behind this Shugden witch-hunt lies the fear of Chinese infiltration in the ranks of the Tibetan refugees. In the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, Shugden followers, with their open Chinese sympathies are considered a political threat.
“The Shugden and the Chinese are obviously allies,” says the Tibetan Prime Minister, professor Samdhong Rinpoche. “Their cults all over the world are financed by the Chinese”. He adds that “people are afraid of Shugden violence. They are like terrorists, they will stop at nothing, everyone knows this.” To prove his point, he shows our reporters the photo of the murder of a leading Buddhist monk and two of his disciples in 1997. Tibetans are certain the Shugden are behind the murder.
A leading Shugden figure, Mahalama Losbang Yechi, defends his links with the Chinese community: “I approve the Chinese presence in Tibet. What we are living with the Dalai Lama today shows how authoritarian his theocratic regime must have been in the past. It was much more violent than what Tibetans are living today under Chinese rule.”
Yechi has filed a lawsuit against the Dalai Lama in an Indian high court for religious persecution. He denies acting on the orders of Chinese authorities.
Shugden followers, willingly or not, have become the symbol of a schism that threatens the struggle for Tibetan autonomy. For that, thousands of refugees have begun to pay a price.
Wow. That was a trip. I would be interested in knowing would run through the head of Joe 爱国 when he reads sentences like "The Dalai Lama is respected worldwide for his peaceful philosophy." This is the most "anti-Chinese" article I have ever seen in a Chinese publication. Zhongnanhai speculates that this was put up by accident, and I have to say I tend to agree with that sentiment.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Me, victim, you, aggressor

The arm of patriotic education is long and sinewy. From Diana Fu, writing in the NY Times:

Training a massive army of volunteers is not just about showcasing China’s might; it is also a great medium for extending patriotic education. Through volunteering, students are learning a political lesson about China’s place in the world. Olympic student training manuals include sections titled “China’s Olympics journey is the classic text of patriotic education” and “Patriotism is the core spirit of Zhonghua sports.” Every volunteer can track China’s journey from humiliation to triumph. Here’s an extract from the training manual which every student volunteer is required to memorize:
Before 1949, Chinese athletes formally participated in three Olympic Games (10th, 11th and 14th), and came back with no medals each time. A foreign newspaper published a cartoon of a group of sickly-looking Chinese attired in long gowns and sporting the queue. They were carrying a gigantic “0″ on their shoulders. This cartoon was titled, “the sick man of East Asia”… The July 13, 2001, victory marks the
climax of the Chinese nation’s rise from “sick man of Asia” to strong nation status… Beijing, China, finally won the right to host the 29th Games in 2008. Beijing is ebullient! China is ebullient! The Chinese diaspora is ebullient!

So will the Olympic-sized dose of gold medals cure China of its western cartoon-inspired "sick man of East Asia" self-diagnosis? For the dream of not reading such ebullient jingoism, I sure hope not. Then what would I write about?

But seriously, if public discussion ever does get freed up in this country one thing that will (hopefully) be fascinating to watch is the battle to tell the dominant historical narrative. My cynical side tells me that what will emerge is something not very different from what is in this article, a teleological retrospective account of China being a hapless victim of foreign machinations, followed by the CCP saving the country, followed by a long and necessary period of authoritarian capitalism, etc etc. However, it will be interesting to see, in particular, how much more the events of the Cultural Revolution are brought into mass consciousness, and what light they are viewed in. Equally fascinating will be whether more nuanced views regarding Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan become publicly accepted.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Journo says it as it is

Qu: What has the power to turn a bunch of rabid China-bashers into frolicking panda huggers?
A: The soothing capitalist sweetness of M&Ms.

I don't think I'm the only one who has noted with a little surprise the changing of the tune in the western press over the last couple of weeks when it comes to reporting on China. It was as if all the armchair critics who had been firing journalistic missiles at everything Middle Kingdom-related for the last eight months had suddenly become complimentary, if not downright fawning, at the way the event was handled - and by extension the dastardly commie government that ran the show wasn't so bad after all. It was only two weeks ago that the sinister foreign media were making totally unreasonable claims about internet access, yet today it's all about how extraordinarily efficient the whole shebang was. I was delighted to find a refreshingly candid article in the Irish Times explaining this weird phenomenon.

More than at any other Olympic celebration , we were aware of being tranquillised - we lived in a theme park, not China, writes Tom Humphries

THE MAIN transportation area at the Olympic press centre is a grid several football pitches in area with buses going hither and thither from designated stops. To get to the shuttle that whisks us nightly to our plush seven-star hotel suite, we must go past the stop that whisks other people to the Beijing Foreign Experts Institute. We can't help but feel a pang of envy.

All of us here, after all, are foreign experts, unblushing about painting an overall picture of China after a couple of weeks spent within the Disney on steroids environment that the Olympics provides.

In truth we are the least-qualified people on earth to comment on China and the games. We can only compare and contrast these Beijing games as seen from within the bubble with the experience of being within other bubbles.

First the bubble. You know it is there but the Chinese, in a masterstroke of overstaffing, have solved the security problems that can occasionally make the Olympic experience (or lately just working in Croke Park) so oppressive, intimidating and so involving of queue.

Exposure to the Salt Lake City winter games and to the Athens Olympics left a trace impression of a security world gone mad. Nightclub bouncers and men with machine guns had inherited the earth. Long, long queues formed to get into any arena or press centre. There were no words better guaranteed to sink the hearts of hacks at the back of an epic security queue than the demand that all cameras and laptops be removed from bags for inspection.

The Chinese have solved it all. We come down to the hotel lobby, scan our danglers in (sounds more exciting than it is: our danglers are our accreditation cards, which dangle from our necks like cowbells). Once that is done (10 seconds max), including wild cheery hellos and good days and thank yous and you're welcomes, we step on to a bus and drive down a special Olympic highway and become part of the Olympic family in the pristine Olympic green.

And we can go from venue to venue on our dedicated Olympic highways without ever leaving the Olympic bubble or needing to be searched again. Our meals, our banking, our technology, our haircuts, our massage requirements, our visits to McDonalds - all these things are provided within the bubble. Sometimes we come out and it has been raining. Other times we come out and the government has been oppressing. Of the two conditions, rain makes more impact on us. We berate the athletes for not making an articulate expression of political concern like Smith and Carlos in 1968, but in the bubble we are just as soothed and self-absorbed.

In terms of being hermetically sealed off from the host community, these games feel qualitatively different from their recent counterparts. The Olympic venues don't groan under the weight of merchants' tables flogging mountain ranges of licensed souvenir gear. In parts of Beijing, the Olympics are practically invisible.

Perhaps because the Chinese people are so overwhelmingly decent and friendly without ever being cloying about it, we find ourselves within our Truman Show compound trying to re-educate ourselves and to help things along for China by maintaining a sunny Olympic spirit.

You give little things a pass. You can't get Amnesty sites or the Huffington Post on the web within the press centres, but we are busy anyway. That little girl miming because she was cuter than the girl who was actually singing well - The Irish Times often uses other people's photo-bylines on my pieces for the same reason.

Even the charmingly Kafkaesque idea that there would be three special areas reserved in Beijing for people who wanted to protest about things, but that those people would have to apply to the local authorities for permission to protest (no permissions were granted among the 77 applications), almost became darkly humorous with the news that several applicants for the right to protest had been arrested, among them two old ladies.

If we are to be frank, the human rights violation we fret about the most is that the shop in the main press centre stocks no other type of chocolate except Snickers bars and M&Ms - and they disappear quickly once word gets around that a new consignment has arrived.

We live in a big theme park, not in China. Those of us who came to this country to work at the games don't even have visas. Our danglers identify us as special at the airport - Olympic family. More than at any other Olympic celebration we are aware of being tranquillised and we are gulled by the experience, soothed and made passive.

China has planned and constructed these games to soothe us. It exposes us to the friendliest, most helpful security people in the world, the warmest citizens and their touching innocent pride. They smile hugely when they throw Snickers bars at us! And our reservations and protest plans feel like bad manners.

We roam the huge Olympic green like contented buffalo. Past the wonderful red glow of the Bird's Nest and the gloopy blue Water Cube, and the quiet thrilling efficiency of everything, and we are not in China but China is selling a version of itself to us.

We remember all the promises made in Moscow seven years ago and realise that China has delivered over and over again in terms of the infrastructure of these games and, rather cynically, hasn't blinked on much else. But we can see nothing and hear nothing, so while we are here, we do nothing and hope those who hope for more understand. We were queuing for M&Ms. Okay?

And thus the bias of the western press has been proved. If you feed them enough M&Ms, they will definitely turn a blind eye to assaults on a few of their colleagues.

Actually, this should come as no surprise. The psychoactive powers of chocolate have been well-documented scientifically. Chocolate contains around 380 chemicals, some of which act as cannaboid mimics and latch onto receptors in the brain, triggering a reaction not unlike that of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The relevant lipid, Anandamide, is perhaps the cause of this unprecedented wave of panda-hugging engulfing the western media.

Your blogger would suggest that in admitting his and his colleague's journalistic laziness, Tom Humphries has in fact stumbled upon a great TRUTH - that the Chinese Government deliberately packed the international media centre full of opiate-inducing snack machines IN ORDER TO STOP ANY JOURNALISTIC INVESTIGATION OUTSIDE OF THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA CENTER.

And in terms of their objectives - you can't but help admire the vile cunning of the Chinese Communist Party. Of all the choices of brain-affecting substances available, they chose the most inane, yet effective. They could have packed their vending machines with cocaine, ecstasy, or heroin, but these drugs are just so democratic. Nobody would believe you can get better dope in Beijing than the great cities of Berlin, London or New York. Opium was a possibility - but it's just so god-damn imperialistic. And caffeine - well that's been known to give journalists energy instead of put them to sleep. Energy that could be spent on chasing down a story.

Now that Guerrilla Snorefare has uncovered this slimy sweet-toothed scandal, the question must be posed: Just where will the Chinese Government stop?

It must be said though, that there may be more than one factor at play. Perhaps part of the reason the English press, at least, is so complimentary is because they are packing their dacks* at the prospect of being humiliated by the efficiency of the Beijing organisers. As was noted by The Independent following the closing ceremony:

It was hard not to feel a shiver of sympathy for Boris Johnson as he was handed maybe the heaviest baton ever passed on in the history of organised sport. Implicit in the eight-minute handover sequence was that if London was to succeed it would do so on its own terms – and its vastly inferior budget.

Roll on 2012.

*This Australian slang refers to defecating in your pants out of a heightened sense of fear.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Guerrilla's astute predictions come to pass

The Games are over, the verdict is in, and the critics (by this I mean me) are unanimous. The gold medal of the Games (and by this I mean the most astute predictions of how the final medal count would unfold) have been won by none other than myself. It is now my distinct pleasure to quote from my post on the first Sunday of the Games - that's two freakin' weeks ago - about which country would rack up the most medals.

So in the interests of insightful commentary and cutting-edge analysis that you've come to expect from GS, allow myself to quote.....myself. Following a brilliant expose on China's ancient plans for Olympic domination I said:
The rest, as they say, is history. Except in China, of course, where it's 5000 years of history. And if you had any doubts, I feel I need to hardly point out to you the incredible effectiveness of this wily scheming. Just check out the medal table. Here is my prediction, at the end of Day Three. The US may win most medals, but China will top the gold medal count.

1. China (map) 49 20 28 97
2. United States (map) 34 37 36

Sometimes I feel my talent is being wasted in the stuffy confines of the advertising world.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Using biased western media as supporting proof

One thing I find consistently odd in Chinese news publications is the bipolar attitude they have toward foreign, specifically western media. On the one hand they are extremely quick to claim unfair and biased (that's a word I've heard way too much this year) points of view regarding China, on the other they seem to crave positive feedback. It makes for a very interesting mix, especially when the China Daily starts quoting a French publication giving a positive review of the air quality.
Measures taken by Beijing to tackle air pollution before the Olympic Games have proved to be effective, setting at rest previous concerns over the issue, an article in the French sports daily L' Equipe said Thursday.
It was only a few short months ago that French people in Beijing were afraid to identify themselves as such because of the brouhaha over Parisiens expressing their democratic right to make public protests over the torch relay. In addition French media were given a lashing in Chinese press about their heinous misrepresentations of the glorious motherland. Nicholas Sarkozy even briefly became No 1 most hated foreign leader when he suggested Olympic boycotts may be a sensible response to China's handling of the riots in Tibet. Now a French newspaper's positive response is given as definitive proof of the general good quality of Beijing's Olympic air. I would like to take this opportunity to say: WTF?

iTuning out: The CCP has had enough of listening

This article from The Oz:

APPLE'S online music store, iTunes, has been blocked in China after more than 40 Olympic athletes downloaded a pro-Tibet album from the site.Consumers in China began inundating Apple help forums on Monday, saying that they could not access iTunes. Earlier on the same day the US-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) announced that 46 athletes from America, Europe and even Beijing had used the site to download Songs for Tibet, which had been offered to them free.
The disappearance of iTunes behind the “Great Firewall” of China comes in the midst of the Beijing Olympics when the Government promised free and unfettered internet access for journalists. While it has lifted blocks on some sites, many are still inaccessible. IT analysts said there was no doubt that the store had been blocked and that it was not merely experiencing a technical fault. Apple acknowledged that there was a problem but refused to comment. Yuna Huang, the company’s Beijing publicist, said: “We’ve seen the situation but can’t offer any more information.” The censorship could backfire.
Mr Wohl said that since the iTunes site had gone down many people in Beijing, including athletes, had asked for the album. “Obviously there are a million different ways of getting an album to somebody,” he said.

What a great example of shooting oneself in the foot. Joe 爱国 is never going to be interested in a load of western imperialist claptrap such as an album with the title of "Songs for Tibet." You may as well give a southern redneck the best of Enya. The only people who will be listening to this kind of thing will be idealistic members of the international community. As such, the Net Nanny is therefore displaying an extraordinary amount of pettiness trying to control what information foreigners have access to. And like so many things that have happened during these Games, they have created two stories worthy of international attention out of one. Originally, there was just a story about an album. Now there is a story about an album and how it was blocked - much more interesting and newsworthy.

But probably the most disturbing thing is the fact that "boycotting Apple" over this ridiculously trivial matter has already rasied its murky one-eyed head. If this nitpicking pettiness is going to be a recurring theme every time a multinational stops calling black white because Chinese netizens and the Government say so, then I can't see too many companies taking a moral stand in the face of the market. But having said that, considering how quickly the Carrefour "boycott" died down earlier this year, it seems apart from making a loud noise about it the average Chinese person doesn't care enough to let these kinds of things stand in the way of their purchasing decisions. Which is a good thing. Chinese consumers, I have some faith in you.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Protesters perplexed

Sometimes, one comes across an article so cautiously written it makes satire redundant.

77 protest applications received after August 1
BEIJING - Beijing authorities have received 77 applications for demonstrations since August 1, a spokesperson with the municipal public security bureau said on Monday.These applications involved
149 people, including three persons from overseas. Most
of the applicants applied to protest in public for issues like labor disputes, medical disputes or inadequate welfares, the spokesperson said.
Seventy-four applications have been withdrawn so far, because the problems those applicants contended for were properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations, added the spokesperson.Two other applications have been suspended because
their procedures were incomplete, the spokesperson said. In one of such cases, for example, the applicant applied to take children to the demonstration, which is against China's law.According to China's law on demonstrations and protests, children are not eligible to take part in any demonstrations because they do not have independent will, nor can they be liable for their behaviors."The applicants (whose applications have been suspended) have been told to provide information of the eligible participants, and provide the adequate papers as required," the spokesperson said. "It doesn't mean their applications have been rejected." The Chinese law requires demonstrators submit their requests at least five days in advance and detail the intention and topic of the protest, as well as the basic information of the participants.
The one remaining application has been vetoed by the public security authorities, as it is in violation of China's law on demonstrations and protests, the spokesperson said without elaboration.

Cops crush my Olympic dreams

Flushed with success from our clandestine Friday felony at the women's beach volleyball (see below) a motley crew of assorted ne'er do wells and myself assembled at the Rickshaw yesterday afternoon to plan further hijinks.

The target was the men's hockey between Aus and the Netherlands, and the plan was simple: find some Brazilians, slit their throats, and steal their tickets and passports. Failing that, we also hoped just to purchase them in the normal way from any scalper we could find.

The first problem proved to be of a geographical nature. Our cabbie happened to be one of those ubiquitous cranially-challenged clowns who didn't have a clue of our destination and so dropped us off near the Bird's Nest. Several phone calls and conversations beginning with 那个,and 这个 later, and we found another taxi who could take us to the actual location.

The temporary setback overcome, we hovered near the entrance to the stadium trying to attract the attention of those shady deviants who ply the scalping trade. And attract attention we did - only not from scalpers. Merely moderately obese middle-aged men who wished to have their pics taken with the females of our party.

Our plan thwarted, we sulked awhile in sullen rage before hitting up some dim sum and karaoke. Not too bad an alternative, but it didn't really stack up against a night at the Olympics. And a very puzzling turn of events considering the ease at which we picked up tickets on Friday night. It was a mystery wrapped in a fortune cookie, that is, until this morning when I saw this article at Xinhua.

Beijing police has seized in a single day 110 scalpers who illegally sold Olympics tickets at competition venues, according to media reports.
About 340 Olympics tickets were found to be sold through illegal trading by scalpers on Friday, including 17 foreigner nationals, the Legal Daily reports.


And so unnecessary. The scalpers are like the vultures of the Olympic savanna. Without them hundreds and thousands (more) tickets will not be used, and hundreds and thousands more pics showing row upon row of empty seats to audiences around the world are going to reinforce the belief that this is the No Fun Games.

And so I look at you, the noble protectors of law and order in this fair city, with big, sad eyes, and ask one pitiful question: Why?

Post script: To make matters worse, the Xinhua article also had a typo. You wood never see me do such things.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Western media continues to bash China

In a desperate attempt to keep the criticism of China up at all costs, the western media has gone to the extraordinary lengths of researching the internet to see what Chinese people are saying about the Games.

The mystery of the half-filled stands at many events at the 2008 Olympic Games has been solved, according to Chinese internet users, who say it is the result of a policy to prevent the gathering of large and possibly uncontrollable crowds.

They claim ticket sales to the public were secretly restricted. Blocks of tickets went to government departments, Communist party officials or state-owned companies, which have quietly obeyed orders not to hand them out. “People are so angry because they slept all night outside ticket booths and got nothing and now they see this,” said one blogger, Jian Yu.

Can you believe it? When will the western media accept that the glorious Chinese nation and its 5000 years of history have put on the most incredible Games ever?

BOCOG and international media to communicate by telepathy

Communication is now at an all time high between the international press and the Olympic organisers.
Beijing Olympic organisers have abandoned their regular daily press conferences following a series of heated exchanges between officials and journalists in the past four days.

Beijing spokesman Sun Weide said there would be no press conference on Saturday because the Olympics were running very smoothly.

Swimming's dirty laundry hung out to dry

If you were wondering at the mysteriously fast emergence of Chinese swimmers at this Games (you probably weren't, but anyway), look no further.

JESSICAH Schipper's coach has admitted selling the training program used by his protege to the Chinese swimmer who produced the race of her career to deny the Queenslander's dream of gold.

In a revelation that will rock Australian swimming, coach Ken Wood says he sold his top-secret training methods - which transformed Schipper into the world's best 200m butterflyer - to the Chinese coach of Liu Zige.

Wood, who is in Beijing as one of the coaches with the Australian Olympic team, admitted he received "big money" from the Chinese for the information.

"They pay for the programs," Wood said yesterday. "They pay good money, big money. I wouldn't help them for nothing."

But Wood denied betraying Schipper, saying he severed all ties with China after Australia's Olympic trials in March.

The 78-year-old would not reveal how much China paid for his private program - based on 40 years of swimming knowledge - but said the poor remuneration of Australia's top swim coaches left him little choice but to seek international customers.

Wood's program contains detailed information on stroke technique, weight training, diet and preparation for elite swimmers.

In an explosive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Wood spoke of heartbreak at seeing Schipper beaten by Lui.

But he confirmed receiving a series of payments from Chinese coach Jun Wei, who in turn was granted access for Liu to Wood's program and his pool, the Redcliffe High Performance Centre north of Brisbane.

Schipper finished third in her favourite event to the Chinese pair of Liu Zige and Jiao Liuyang, who both recorded remarkable improvements in their personal best times.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Fear and loathing at the women's beach volleyball

It was a Thursday at the office when I felt the Olympic pull drag me in the direction of the office door. Without a clue as to what I wanted to see, I consulted my attorney. "I advise you to go to see the women's beach volleyball," he said. Then he sighed mournfully. "You do realize I'm forced to come with you."

As we arrived at Chao Yang Park, it was clear this was no ordinary law-enforcement activity. Police swarmed the scene like bees to nectar, looking for the numerous criminals, terrorists, and Tibetans undoubtedly infesting our midst and perpetrating the most heinous crimes as we speak. But we had a dirty little secret of our own. That's right. We had no tickets.

Surreptitiously, we sidled up to people who looked shady enough to possess the contraband we so desperately sought. The guy in the shades and the trenchcoat standing next to the playgound, the nice young lady with the miniskirt, fishnets, and cigarette dangling out of her mouth, the Indian man selling Rolexes for a very good price.

Our intrepid adventure was cut short when a bunch of of brazen bronzed Brazilians walked straight up to us and said point blank "Do you need tickets?" After a few moments of haggling my attorney and I had the contraband, and I turned to find that a cop had been curiously watching the whole sordid affair.

Affecting an air of nonchalance, we strolled toward the gate and past the cop, who seemed as if he were undergoing a deep internal struggle to contain his indifference to our existence. A few minutes later, we were inside the stadium.

As for the actual event itself, I feel it can best be displayed pictorially.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A blast from the past: The Democracy Wall

Rhetorical question aimed at nobody in particular: How do I write about modern calligraphy without mentioning the Democracy Wall of 1979?

The phenomenon of the 1979 Democracy Wall in Beijing now seems surreal, considering the vast social and economic changes that have taken place in China since then. But there, for a brief period, citizens gathered to read and comment upon layers of large posters painted in bold ink on all kinds of scrap and newspaper, each poster calling for civic and political reform. Within a short time Deng Xiaoping, consolidating his power as the eventual successor to Mao Zedong, suppressed the movement and the wall was moved to a distant suburb.

The short-lived Democracy Wall was the last prominent use of calligraphy as a vehicle for personal expression in the public forum, concluding a long tradition of intellectuals expressing their concerns to the seat of power in their own hand. Calligraphy—the manner of writing itself—was an essential aspect of literacy. It served as a means of displaying sincerity and erudition, with its practitioners drawing from a widely-circulated canon of masterpieces dating back as far as 1,500 years.

Unfortunately I just can't see the good people at the China Tourism and Travel Press considering that to be a healthy topic for conversation in my guidebook. I can picture the explanations now: "There was no Democracy Wall" "The Democracy Wall was not harmonious" "They were misguided people who thought democracy was superior the the Chinese system"

And with the Olympics, a still-roaring economy, and government satisfaction at heady heights, they may even be close to the truth.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Diabolical Chinese performance-enhancing plot exposed

In a stunningly devious display of satanic.... deviousness, China has hijacked the colour red in order to gain a statistical advantage over their Olympic opponents. (The world)

Yes folks, this is what is has come down to. A century of planning to get the Games to China, a communist revolution sixty years ago to ensure that red would be the color of the flag when it finally happened, and 5000 years of history have all crystallized into this one event.

But actually, the scheme goes much deeper than that. Several thousand years ago, the Chinese built a wall to keep meddlesome outsiders away so they could develop their sporting skills uninterrupted. Then they invented sophisticated farming techniques and started to breed like rabbits, waiting for the time they could claim a full 20% of the world's population to launch a serious medal assault. Cunningly, they created gunpowder and exported it, knowing full well that barbarians would use it to kill each other and keep their reproduction rates down. They established ping-pong training centres at Shaolin Si and Leshan where super warrior-paddlers honed their lethal speed by smashing needles through plates of glass. They practiced their gymnastics skills by flying through the air and running along walls. Then, in a brilliant twist of psychoanalytical mastery, China created the worst soccer (football, if you will) team in the world. Embarrassment, humiliation, and loss followed. The anger of the people knew no bounds. Defeat after defeat stoked the nationalistic hunger for victory. The red flag burned like a raging fire in the hearts of the people, desperate to be quenched.

After 5 thousand years of history, I mean training, the gold campaign was almost ready. But something was missing. Victory seemed inevitable. The people were becoming too complacent. They lacked a certain....focus. Deep in Zhongnanhai, an ancient sage counseled the Central Committee. Although he was in failing health, he had one last edict to issue. "To give the people the drive they lack," he said, "You must find them a common enemy. Look no further than the western media." With these final words, the ancient one went to take his afternoon nap.

Bemused by the old man's words, the Central Committee carefully considered the problem. After a few rounds of ping-pong and some baijiu, Hu Jintao snapped his fingers. "I've got it!" he said. "We'll let some of the Lhasans off the leash for a while. Then we'll clear out the foreign media. Then we'll make our torch relay go all around the world, and express our complete surprise at the protests that follow. We'll also send some goons and thugs to protect it! The western media is sure to go ape, and when they do, we'll claim it's all a plot against China!"

The other members were shocked at the audacity of the plan. "Jintao, you old bastard" said Wen Jiabao,"If the people knew how brilliant you were, I'd lose my Facebook status as China's favourite politician."

The rest, as they say, is history. Except in China, of course, where it's 5000 years of history. And if you had any doubts, I feel I need to hardly point out to you the incredible effectiveness of this wily scheming. Just check out the medal table. Here is my prediction, at the end of Day Three. The US may win most medals, but China will top the gold medal count.

The delicate dance of diplomacy

This rather telling quote regarding the weekend's China/US basketball match caught my eye in the Newsweek Beijing Beat blog:
The U.S. President had been licking his lips over this showdown for some time. A month ago on the sidelines of the G8 Summit in Tokyo, amidst talk about strategic issues like North Korean and Iran, Bush requested tickets to the game from his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. There was talk that Hu, though not known to be much of hoops follower, might show up as well. Instead the FM Yang was Bush's escort for the night.
Good to see the world's most powerful man keeps his eye on the ball. However, it must be said that the Prez seems to have cleaned up his act with his sloppy quotes in recent years, which is a relief after some of the pre-Iraq war rhetoric. I would go so far as to say he sounded statesmanlike at the opening of the new American Embassy in Beijing last Friday, not making any silly bellicose sports-related predictions (a good thing, judging by the medal count at the moment) and talking up friendship, mutual cooperation, and fairy floss like a seasoned diplomat.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Beijing fails to boogey

The Opening Ceremony looked pretty good last night from what I saw on TV, but in Beijing the atmosphere had all the liveliness of a sloth and a tortoise beating each other to death. After a BBQ lunch a group of us went to Chao Yang Park to watch the Opening Ceremony live. Upon arriving at 6pm or so, there was only a small crowd, loads of volunteers with nothing to do, and a huge screen, that was not on. We were then informed it would not be on at all.

So we went to Ritan Park. Same thing. My flatmate went to Wangfujing, near Tiananmen Square, where he said there were a number of big screens, but only one or two on. And those that were on did not have any sound.

The Opening Ceremony is the biggest party in the world. If the government here couldn't loosen up a little for that, what are they going to loosen up for?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Rare air

This was the image that confronted me from my office window at 10am on the 7th August - 36 hours from the start of the Games.


To be fair, it's not always that bad. Last week it was even clear for a couple of days. But recently it has often been almost this bad.

We went for a boozy work lunch at Hou Hai this afternoon to celebrate the beginning of the Games weekend. The lack of tourists was a little surprising, even given the lack of them generally...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Talkin' 'bout calligraphy

Since it is less than 48 hours until the opening ceremony, I thought I would talk about calligraphy, and specifically one of the most interesting of the ancient masters. This is an unedited extract from the guidebook I am writing...

Zhang Xu

Like the rigid, formal form of the characters they painted, the Four Masters of the Regular Script were all literati of high social status, who also served with distinction in government. The flipside of these rather stiff characters would be another Tang Dynasty artist, the drunken wild man of calligraphy, Zhang Xu (who is thought to have painted from 710-750).

In a fascinating 1300 year precursor to Jimi Hendrix playing the electric guitar with his teeth, Zhang Xu is famous for his orgies of drunken excess, in which he would pace about, shout, and soak his hair in ink in order to paint his timeless classics of wild cursive script.

Reading, (or more correctly, trying to read) “Crazy Zhang’s” fluid streams of alcohol-tinged calligraphy, it is quite eerie to imagine this ancient Chinese artist, who had a totally alien concept of the world, indulge in these seemingly modern-day western antics of artistic excess. In a strange kind of way, Crazy Zhang penchant for a tipple is a nice reflection of the fact that no matter where you are in time, location, or culture, people all have tendencies to behave in the same way.

However despite his counter-cultural tendencies, Zhang Xu did have his more restrained side. His wild cursive was in fact based on earlier Han examples, he just found that his talent had the greatest chance of being expressed to its fullest extent when he was ridiculously drunk. Furthermore, he was also adept at the more restrained style of Kaishu (Regular Script). Maybe, after all, he was less Jimi Hendrix and more Hunter S. Thompson.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Information Games begin

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games will not begin for a few days, but ESPN has already picked up a story about a somewhat daring "Free Tibet" protest carried out by a foreigner.

"There was a man about 100 feet up a highway post, wearing climbing gear and a climbing helmet, holding a banner that read "Tibet Will Be Free." He also had a Tibetan flag hanging out of his backpack."
I am all for freedom of speech and the right to protest, but all this act is going to win is a lot of bad feeling. If the story makes it into any Chinese media (I doubt it will because it is too small a deal) it will be interesting to see whether ugly nationalism rears its head, or the general goodwill of the Games takes over. I'm hoping for the latter.


All governments do it. The Chinese Government happens to be incredibly blatant about it, probably because they can be. One of the things they have been talking up is the designation of special protest zones. However not only are these areas so far away from anywhere that they are rendered more-or-less useless, the strong likelihood remains that authorities will take down the details of protesters (not an idea I'd be comfortable with, that's for sure). On top of that, it seems that even if you want to protest in the 'correct' way, this is what may happen:

Beijing trumpeted its decision to establish special protest zones for this month’s Olympics as a demonstration of the liberties enjoyed by citizens of China’s capital. But when former residents of Beijing’s historic Qianmen district applied for permission to use one of the zones to demonstrate against the demolition of their traditional courtyard homes, police were unequivocal. They said that in order to maintain stability they would certainly not approve our protest,” said Zhang Wei, a group member whose home was levelled two years ago to make way for an upmarket retail and residential complex. The quick refusal of permission for a demonstration, even one in a city park well away from Olympic venues, underscores the determination of China's Communist government to curb dissent.

In the meantime, the amount of tourists in the city two days out from the biggest show on earth is decidedly small, and not looking to get a whole lot bigger.

"I am giving you a low price because there are no customers these days," a shop-keeper at Beijing's Hongqiao market, famous as one of the world's major retail market for pearls, grumbles after a customer has managed to beat down the price to drastic levels.
People connected to the travel industry were expecting a flood of visitors coming to Beijing two weeks before the Games. Instead, there is a small trickle of visitors just three days before the start of the Games apart from the athletes and sports officials from different participating countries.

I would like to make a (belated) suggestion to the Government that will solve both of these problems. People around the world have the opinion that these Games are going to be boring because of the micro-management of everyone's behaviour - right down to kite-flying. In order to get tourists flowing, I say the government lets people protest when and where they want. Free Tibet marches on Tiananmen Square? Student sit-ins demanding democracy at Tsinghua? I know I'd pay good money to see that, and I'll bet a lot of other foreigners would too.

Two days to go

And the air is still so thick you can almost eat it.... if you wanted to get sulfur poisoning that is. A few days ago it was fine, but the last couple have been terrible. It could go either way, I think. Just like the Games themselves.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The air, I mean, plot, thickens

So today the visibility out of my office window was probably the worst it has been for several weeks. The polluted fog over the city is an interesting metaphor for the sometimes murky ambience of the Games. Add to the atmosphere a thick police presence and tens of thousands of aggrieved foreign journalists and you have a volatile mixture that could well erupt at any moment. It's as difficult to see what will pan out as it is to see the next building from my office window...

A mission to nowhere

This article just caught my eye in the Oz:

ONE of the Dalai Lama's top envoys says Tibetan negotiators will present Chinese negotiators with a detailed autonomy plan at their next meeting in October.

"During the eighth round (of negotiations held since 2002), it is almost about all or nothing,'' Kelsang Gyaltsen told German news magazine Der Spiegel today.

"We will present a detailed plan of how we foresee autonomy in Tibet. If the Chinese side reacts positively, one could propose specific preliminary steps, for example a pilgrimage of the Dalai Lama to China.

"Such a development could lead to a meeting between His Holiness and the Chinese president and provide decisive momentum.''

Mr Gyaltsen said he had reason to believe Beijing was ready to resolve the dispute over Tibet in negotiations.

Now, I don’t want to sound cynical or nuffin’, but how on God’s green earth is the CCP going to get away with making a pact with the man they have portrayed as the devil’s spawn for almost six decades? The hate for the Dalai Lama held by vast sections of Han Chinese is so palpable you can almost smell it. After spending decades of whipping up a cult of Lama loathing among their citizens, an agreement which sees the CCP invite the malodorous monk to the motherland is going to be a miracle on a par with the second coming.

I wish the DL's envoys the best of luck. But I think the CCP have invested too much effort in creating an imagined enemy in the form of exiled Tibetans to allow them the space to do a U-turn now. And even if in some divine act they can come to an accommodation, how are the fen qing (nationalist youth) and other Han Chinese going to take it? It might just start a revolution....

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Chinese Government announces tough new anti-terrified crackdown in Tibet

This just in from the Guardian:

China seeks "absolute monotony" for Olympics

In the wake of a few hundred Tibetans terrifying 1 billion Han Chinese in March, the Chinese Government has called for stronger international support in the face of these superhuman fiends of terror.

"We're absolutely terrified," said a government spokesman. "So our solution is to terrorize the terrorists. Then we'll be less terrified, and the terrorists will be too terrified to terrorize, and we'll be able to ensure a terrific terror-free Olympics. Pretty clever, eh?"

"But to do this, we need the help of the rest of the world."

When it was suggested to him that the Dalai Lama actually does not seek independence for Tibet, the spokesman was unmoved.

"It is a well known fact that the Dalai Lama has the sole of a god," he said. "We can barely control Tibet as it is. If the Dalai Lama, with his god-sole comes back to China, the s%*& is really going to hit the fan."

Friday, 1 August 2008

I smell bacon

Is it just me or does there seem to be about five times the amount of cop cars on the streets these days? Must be a part of the Central Committee's efforts to welcome all the visitors.

Prez dishes out some Olympic love

This just in from Xinhua.

Chinese president warns against politicizing Olympics

BEIJING -- Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday warned that politicizing the Olympics runs counter to the Olympic spirit and will not work.

"As proof that we would never politicize the Games, we locked up a number of political dissidents," he said. "We also shipped out large numbers of the working proletariat, who are known for their tendency to form left wing political parties and stage revolutions. That kind of anti-revolutionary revolutionary thinking is clearly not in the Chinese spirit of harmony."

He went on to shrug off suggestions that the international media may not adhere to the noble journalistic principal of reporting everything exactly the way the CCP wants it to be heard.

"No problem," he said. "The Chinese people have a magical wand that can wave all political criticism away," he said. "And we'll gosh-darn use it."

He hastily assured everyone, however, that China would ensure that guests would be warmly welcomed and the Games would be enjoyable for all.

"China has always opened its door to the outside world, apart from most of its history" Hu said . "But if you're black, a Russian female, from Xinjiang, Tibet or want a visa for the Olympics, you better be careful."