Misplaced Passion (Part 1)

“At that time I was traveling in Italy. I saw on newspaper stands in several cities pictures of the young monks and of their spiritual leader Dalai Lama, as well as headlines showing Beijing and the Olympics. People’s attention had migrated from the Clinton and Obama presidential campaigns to the far-away Chinese western highlands.

At first I thought that this dispute was one that would quickly blow over. 2008 is a year imbued with too many political nuances. China would soon declare that she was returning to the centre of the stage. The spotlight would not only uncover her glamour, but would also reveal more vividly the confusion, insecurities and agitation that had once been hidden beneath the surface.

In the few months before, I had already witnessed a few interludes. A TV hostess went on stage to reveal her private affairs, linking them with the Olympics, in front of a full audience, and declaring that ‘China will not become a great nation until she has her own set of values’. Some athletes were worried about Beijing’s air pollution and were considering withdrawal from the Games. Hollywood film director Stephen Spielberg resigned from the opening ceremony art consultant position to protest against the Chinese government’s attitude on the Darfur issue…..

In any world-class event, interludes of such kind can only be regarded as normal. Any host country cannot possibly have control over everything. I was even hoping for more of such interludes to help cool down the excessive zeal about the Games. In the name of the Games, government’s uncontrollable power has been continually expanding; the astronomical expenses are allowed to go unchecked; its every move is naturally law-abiding; its intrusion on citizens’ lives has undoubtedly been increasing; but the worse thing is: the Games have sparked off a powerful self-paralyzing emotion. This country has realized a dream that she cherished for years, you should not feel anything except pride and exultation….. This country is like a child who is eager to prove itself. Its government is adamant about hosting the best Olympic Games, and as a matter of habit interprets ‘the best’ as ‘the biggest, the most wholesome and the most expensive’. To this end, it is ready to put up efforts with no consideration for costs incurred. And the people in this country, after years of receiving inane education and propaganda, often cannot differentiate the concepts of nation, government and party. As their personal lives have been highly atomized, they are only able to perceive the meaning of being an individual when they participate in group action…..I am hoping for some surprises that can force government and the people to think more critically.

Despite all that, I have never for a moment been worried about the fate of the 2008 Olympics. It’s going to be a complete success.

So, I thought that the Tibet riots were no more than another interlude. I even harbored a certain resentment towards the western media’s fanaticism. Whenever they discuss the Tibet issue, those journalistic theories that they take such pride in, such as fairness, objectivity, independent and in-depth investigation, seem to disappear naturally – they become sentimental and fanatic. Tibet represents a unique religious faith. Her altitude and natural landscape beauty have rendered her the ultimate Eden for humans. She has managed to escape from the intrusion of consumerism- and technology-driven globalization. And the transcending personal charm of the Dalai Lama has made this impression even more prominent. Ever since the start of his exile in 1959, he has increasingly become an icon hybrid of Nelson Mandela and the Pope. He is on one hand a political leader who fights despotism and injustice – not to mention that his opponent is a Communist regime, on the other he also represents a certain spiritual power. This spiritual power has perhaps more to do with the New Age movement that began at the end of the 1970s, than with the Buddhist religion. Dalai teaches people how to achieve inner calm and happiness in a world that’s filled with hustle-bustle and immense pressure. Thus Tibet and Dalai have been incorporated in a consumer system.

When people talk about revolution or religious freedom, it’s not that they care about what it represents – it’s because it provides a means of escapade from the realities of life.

I can imagine how such a mood can affect an ordinary European or American, as I have come to know them through frequent contact. They are totally ignorant about Chinese history, let alone being able to understand the complexities involved. But they would talk enthusiastically about how they view the Tibet issue. It’s just like someone whom you just met for the first time talking to you about global warming and African problems – not that those issues are not important, but in actual fact he knows nothing about them but only wants to show that he’s in fashion. Following the hasty and opportunistic declaration of stance by country leaders like French president Sarkosky, my resentment towards these people has increased. I have never doubted the ability of the Chinese government to solve the crisis. China is just too big and her market is just too enticing, and her economic power is growing rapidly. As long as she maintains her economic growth, all the western moral high grounds will as a matter of course collapse.

However, after I finished my travels and returned to Beijing, I have realized that the matter is much more serious than I expected. The seriousness is not about the Olympics being bundled with the Tibet issue, or the ever deepening imbroglio surrounding international media critique. After all, we live in an era where politics is made superficial and dramatized. But people often forget, the ultimate swaying force is not the visible force.

The thing that worries me most is the way in which the people and the government have reacted.

(to be continued on another post)