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Internet censorship and muted athletes in China

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China’s internet censorship caused a storm in international media in recent days. Foreign journalists in Beijing were livid that they didn’t have unhindered access to the internet. China had blocked critical websites like Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the Chinese Services of the BBC or Germany’s Deutsche Welle. And this despite official assurances that international journalists would have unhindered access to the internet in Beijing.

The stories the international journalists sent to their media back home were bad press for China. Consequently, the censors unblocked some of the critical websites.

Unfortunately, these sites have only been unblocked for international journalists. Chinese journalists or average Chinese users still can’t access websites that the Chinese leadership considers dangerous (including all of WordPress).

In an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk, the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, picked up on this fact on August 4, 2008.

[Poettering] We must have freedom of information, and not just for non-Chinese journalists, but also for journalists from China itself. I am very happy about the reaction of the international media in recent days. It shows the strength of our pluralistic society, which assesses itself in terms of our values, which also include freedom of the press and freedom of information. If through this publicity we move closer towards China gradually opening up, then we have won a great deal.

[Deutschlandfunk] You say this passage in the Olympic Charter, where the political neutrality of the athletes is stated, must go…

[Poettering] The part of the Olympic Charter where it says that the athletes should not express themselves, that they should not voice any criticism, no longer fits in the world of the 21st century. Today we are a globally connected information society.
The Olympic Games shouldn’t lead to people having to put on a muzzle. We have to talk about human rights. And if the Olympic Charter says that human dignity should be respected, it must also be possible to appropriately express this.

We want to make our contribution to the Beijing Olympics being a success, but not at the price that freedom of information and human dignity are not addressed. We must be consistent. Because if we abandon human dignity, if we abandon freedom of information, we call into question the foundations and values of our own society. We say yes to the people, to human dignity, also to the dignity of the Tibetans and many minorities in China, and yes to freedom of information. We shouldn’t retreat from that position.

I am not calling for anything from the athletes, but I would like to encourage those who would like to speak out on events to do that. This also corresponds to the freedom of individuals to express themselves as they wish. I encourage you if you would like to speak out in appropriate forms, then speak about what bothers you, what is on your mind. And no one can prohibit that, no functionary of any side whatever.

I believe that in a free society we all have the duty to speak out when it comes to the defense of human rights, of human dignity, freedom of information.

Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2008 at 12:48 pm

What comes after the Olympic fever in China?

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Chinese students helping Olympic visitors

Chinese students helping Olympic visitors at the airport

If you arrive at Beijing’s brand new Capital Airport these days, you’re immediately confronted with China’s enthusiasm about the Olympics.

And that feeling of excitement is going to stay with you every step that you take in China.

At the airport, you’re likely to see groups of young Chinese all decked out in blue and white track suits, ready to help the arriving Olympic athletes and guests.

The airport itself is covered with billboards advertising anything and everything with the Olympic logo. Even McDonalds tries to get in on the action, although I can’t imagine any serious athlete sustaining a diet of Big Macs, fries and Cokes…

Driving into Beijing, you’ll see Olympic flags lining the highway. And once you’re in town, the games are even more omni-present.

The Olympic logo is everywhere

In our hotel, the Olympic rings graced the breakfast buffet.

coffee, tea, or the Olympic rings?

Coffee, tea, or the Olympic rings?

Large flat-screen TVs in the hotel restaurant broadcast a continuous loop of the greatest Chinese triumphs during the 2004 Olympics.

(It seemed to me like I’d seen that same TV footage over and over again when I was in China late in 2004. Long after the Athens games were over, Chinese television was still celebrating every Chinese gold medal and showing every flag-raising.)

Brainwashed or happy to see me?

If you wanted to be mean, you could say that the people in China have been brainwashed. They’ve been subjected to displays of Chinese triumphs, national symbols and Chinese achievements over and over again (e.g. all the spectacular new buildings erected for the Olympic games).

A special Olympic hairstyle

A special Olympic hairstyle

But I think the enthusiasm in China for the games is real. Most Chinese are extremely proud that their country will be hosting the games this year.

They want to be good hosts.They want to make sure that these games will be a success and that the international community will be impressed.

The Chinese want to be liked – and what’s wrong with that.

For decades now, the Chinese have been looking forward to these games. They’ve put years of hard work and incredible sums of money into the preparations. And knowing their talent for machine-like precision when it comes to organising big events, everything should run smoothly once the games begin.

O.K.,  you never know whether some protesters will be successful in making their voices heard during the Olympics (Tibetans? The Uighurs? Falun Gong? Environmentalists? Human Rights activists? Come to think of it: there are a lot of discontented groups in China)

From the point of view of the Chinese government, such demonstrations would, of course, add a nasty dissonance to the desired harmony of the games.

But what I’m really wondering about is what comes after the games?

What effect will it have on the Chinese psychologically, when they realize some time later this fall that the games are over.

Olympic mascots at a souvenir shop

Olympic mascots at a souvenir shop

How will they feel when all the international guests and athletes have packed their bags and left? When the stadiums are empty, the swimming pools deserted, the press center dismantled.

Everything the Chinese have been working so hard for will be over. No more fireworks, only the dark night sky.

How will they cope with that emptiness? No one has prepared them for it.

Is there such a thing as post-olympic-depression?

Chinese leaders will have to find some way give those patriotic feelings that they’ve fuelled a new goal. Something new that the Chinese people can strive for.

Otherwise, the big national hangover could turn into more than a headache for the leadership.

WordPress is blocked in China. Therefore I was only able to upload this post after having left the country.

Written by Thorsten

July 14, 2008 at 11:03 am

Sorry, we’re out of dog meat

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July 12 -13, 2008 edition of China Daily

July 12 -13, 2008 edition of China Daily

There will be no dog meat in Beijing restaurants during the Olympics.

According to this weekend’s edition of China Daily (the country’s English language newspaper), the city’s 112 officially designated Olympic restaurants have been banned from selling dog meat during the Olympics.

The paper continues that non-designated restaurants have also been encouraged not to serve the meat.

“Dog meat sales are being suspended as a mark of respect for foreigners and people from ethnic groups,” an anonymous official with the administration was quoted as saying by Beijing Daily on Friday.

Giving up cultural identity to please foreigners

Personally, I think it’s sad that the Chinese are bending over backwards to please their international guests. I wish they were as sensitive about international public opinion when it comes to Zimbabwe or Sudan.

If dog meat is a part of Chinese culture and cuisine, then why pretend that it isn’t to please the foreigners?

Why don’t the Chinese just say “yes, some people in our country do eat dog meat – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to order it.”

After all, restaurants in China serve many other things that are “hard to stomach” for Westerners: jellyfish, camel’s feet, shark fin soup or chicken claws. Yet all of these are considered delicacies in China.

Maybe dog meat touches a sensitive spot in Westerners. I remember that coming across a dog meat butcher in Vietnam definitely came as a mild shock to me when I was there a few weeks ago.

But still: if it’s part of their culture, why should they get rid of it just to please me?

WordPress is blocked in China. Therefore I was only able to upload this post after having left the country.

Written by Thorsten

July 13, 2008 at 8:31 am

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