The year-long crescendo that will culminate in the 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies is underway, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry is getting plenty of practice in responding to its critics. In June, veteran actress Mia Farrow and friends launched the "Olympic Dream for Darfur" campaign, complete with website and plans for an alternative torch relay. In April, activists unfurled a banner at the foot of Mt. Everest calling on China to "Free Tibet!" with another group staging a similar event on the Great Wall itself in August, both of which events the world can view on YouTube.
In each case the stern response from Beijing, heard again last month during the 17th Communist Party Congress, is that the Olympics must not be "politicized," and any attempt to pressure China on Darfur, Tibet, freedom of the press, political prisoners, capital punishment, organ donations, child labor, or anything else, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry script, "runs counter to the Olympic spirit and the wishes of the people in the world."
Perusing Beijing's preparations for the Olympics at home and abroad, there's no shortage of Chinese political doctrine, served up pure or blended with some not so subtle gestures respecting Chinese territorial sovereignty. But because Chinese political rhetoric has acquired a fluency in the progressive, multicultural vocabulary of Western liberals, it may not be getting the notice it deserves on this side of the pond.
Consider the Beijing Olympic slogan, "One World, One Dream." It shouldn't take a degree in political theory to cause one to wonder if this all too Confucian-sounding aphorism refers to something more than all the world's athletes' dreams of Olympic gold. No slogan produced by the People's Republic would be complete without the Chinese Communist Party's Official Interpretation, and the page-long document produced for this one explains it as an expression of the concept that "the whole Mankind lives in the same world and seeks for the same dream and ideal."
No denying that first clause, but what about that common "dream and ideal"? Would that be the one in which people can openly criticize their governments, freely browse websites that include words like "democracy" or "freedom," and vote for candidates from more than one political party?
Or consider the interesting exercise in political correctness that awaited foreigners who aspired to carry the Olympic torch through China. The Chinese company contracted to manage the torch relay, Lenovo, invited would-be torchbearers on its website to apply. Applicants must be "New Thinkers," defined as people who "find creative solutions to bring about global change," and were required to submit a 50-word paragraph explaining "What makes you a New Thinker for a New World?"
And the Olympic torch route itself can hardly be said to be politics-free: The planned 137,000 km 2008 Olympic Torch route, supersized by China in terms of distance run and continents covered, is pointedly traveling through territories where Beijing's authority requires further consolidation. Like Tibet: Chinese athletes will carry the torch across the Tibetan plateau, all the way to the top of Mt. Everest. In June the Chinese news agency Xinhua announced the paving of a road to the 17,000 foot base-camp at Mount Everest, "so as to ease the path of those bearing the Olympic torch." The surprise revelation of the road's construction did not sit well in India, where it was seen as a further step in the integration of the Tibetan plateau with the mainland, like the recently completed China-Tibet railway.
Beijing had proposed to run the torch through Taiwan at the close of its multi-continental tour, just prior to returning to the mainland, an act of political choreography meant to reaffirm Taiwan's connection to the mainland. Taipei's rejection of the idea caused the People's Republic to continue the pressure through alternate means. Since 1984, at Beijing's insistence, Taiwan's athletes have participated in the Olympics under the name "Chinese-Taipei." This year, reports the Bangkok Post, China resumed its campaign within the IOC to require Taiwan to field its athletes under the moniker "China-Taipei," a small but significant shift carrying the political implication that the inhabitants of Taiwan are not only ethnic Chinese, but subject to Beijing. This is nothing new—Beijing has insisted for some years on this name game with contestants in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants.
Politics at its highest is essentially moral philosophy applied to public affairs, and the fact that Beijing regards outside "politicizing" of the Olympics off-limits while its own must not be questioned should speak volumes. China remains a one-party state, with its moral philosophy informed by the idea of progress toward a political objective not in keeping with individual rights and liberties. It will be too easy for others whose politics begin with the rejection of the Declaration of Independence's laws of Nature and Nature's God to miss the significance of similar Chinese political rhetoric we're bound to hear in the months ahead.