They Might Not Be Giants -- Olympic Torch Conundrums

April 8, 2008

People who are being recognized for their life's work, athletic and otherwise (and their expository abilities), are now simultaneously being charged -- flag football-style -- with protecting the erstwhile symbol of goodwill. There was a great photo in the NY Times where an Asian woman in a wheelchair, missing a leg no less, fiercely guards the torch she carries while a bodyguard blocks a tackle. If anything were instant propaganda, this would be it.

Journalist and all-around community rockstar Helen Zia, who will run in San Francisco's torch relay tomorrow, notes in an SF Gate editorial that "China is not a monolith," and "blanket condemnations of China and its people" find glass-house parallels in American policy.

Still, the political brouhaha is distinctly confusing. I am not Chinese American, and I am pro-Tibet. The choice of Beijing as a venue is clearly a questionable one given its persistent, heavy air pollution. The environmental solutions do not promise much beyond the short-term. The censorship and resolutely positive message spins do nothing but positively turn my gut. Part of me itches to join in on the protests tomorrow, but the irony behind people wanting to wrest away an Olympic torch makes me want to stay at work.

What to feel aside from "how sad" and "how weird"?




Giles, were you directing the question toward me? If so, I mean "pro-Tibet" in the broadest meaning, as in "I'm all for Tibet." What form this ultimately takes, I leave to Tibetans. In the present form, this involves political autonomy, which appears to me a reasonable value.Just wanted to mention that to have a political stance, I don't think that we need to go into an infinite regress of "he said, she said," or "100, 200, 300 years ago X territory was really controlled by Y people," etc. Or that because my grandfather was on the Bataan Death March (since you brought up Okinawa), it should logically affect whether I think Japanese individuals today are entitled to their opinions, or my evaluation of Okinawa. Are contemporary Germans "allowed" to think Bush is a bad leader? Should American individuals have been neutral on the issue of South African apartheid because of poor race relations domestically?As "China is not a monolith" (to quote Zia), neither is the U.S. Those who protest are likely among those that have beef to pick with the mentioned issues.
Nothing can justify such act by attacking a disabled girl on wheelchair carrying the Olympics torch. The protestors claim that they are fighting for freedom, peace, and human rights but they are not walking the walk after talking the talk. Silly hyprocrites!
To giles,I totally agree with you. People really need to do some research before they take a strong stance. Tibet, like many regional problems, has many sides of a story. You have to learn from at least both sides to make a sound judgement. Just blindly believing in either US media or Chinese media is foolish and lazy. The self-righteousness of people from both sides really bothers me.Some information about tibet history if people are interested: is a book about Tibet history. information of Tibet in above links are from neither Tibet government in excile nor chinese government.
i suppose my question is directed to anyone who has an answer. i still am not informed enough - will i ever be? - to know what pro-tibet really means.i suppose contextually, what i'm really "pro" is whatever helps create an environment in which fewer people suffer. what does that mean though? i raelly can't say for sure. is that a pro-tibet stance? do we know?i don't know if these are actually questions of rhetorical. i suppose they're actual if someone has definitive answers. so far, i feel i haven't heard anything definitive any way.
Keep learning and thinking, is all I have to say. About the Parenti article, here's a rebuttal:This brings up again the essential flaw in Parenti's reasoning-it is not based on the experience of Tibetans. The actuality is that there is now and always has been a people's movement of Tibetans- in fact the vast majority of Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet- who overwhelmingly support the Dalai Lama and more specifically are in favor of Tibetan statehood. This movement cannot simply be dismissed as incidental, or foreign-backed, or primarily aristocratic in nature. The argument that the Tibetan resistance is driven by aristocrats is fairly essential for Parenti et al because without it they would be forced to recognize the existence of this movement-and the existence of such a movement would suggest that perhaps the Tibetan people themselves are more enamored of the Dalai Lama than they ever were of Mao.
i feel like this whole thing has less to do with tibet than it has to do with communism and the general attitude towards them evil chinese. did anyone read sfgate yesterday? where this one guy said:"I know it sounds racist, but if they want the Olympics in China they should go back to China," he said.- am i not surprised that it would come down to that?
Boo - no doubt there are anti-Chinese things being said, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not about that. It's about human rights and civil rights.There are many pro-China folks commenting on blogs about the Dalai Lama being a terrorist, slaveholder or the "Dalai Liar". That's pretty disgusting, like calling the Pope "The Poop" or something. Grotesque distortions are occurring, and I think it puts Chinese Americans in a bit of a squeeze. To not get defensive, and use the power principle, but to take a compassionate approach and tolerate and hear what Tibetans, Darfurians, etc have to say. I think all of this is good, because at no time in memory have I heard Chinese and Chinese Americans, as well as all the others, be so involved with these issues. Of course most of what you see at first is heat, but there's hope for the future, if we can get to meaningful dialogue.Also, I've heard from sources within the Tibetan community and also news reports that their websites and communication systems have been targeted by hackers. There's a lot of malice going on here, and maybe it is up to Asian Americans to be the "hyphen" or bridge back to Asia in some sense. I'd hate to put that burden on anyone, else is it going to happen? If Zia and Ling Chi Wang and the respected elders of the community aren't willing to discuss human rights issues, then why should Chinese listen to Tibetans?Again, I feel very disappointed in those two for not displaying an iota of conflict about the Olympics. Again, the Olympic Charter calls for respect for human rights, yet you don't hear prominent Chinese Americans talking in this way. It's a huge double standard.And I've protested the US too, as have many of the people who protested yesterday - so it's not about hypocrisy, it's about accountability for all.
hey ravi! whats up. i like reading your thoughts, it helps inform my thing i'm wondering about is the criticism of zia and wang. i udnerstand not being with the one-sided view of the issue, but aren't essentially all op-eds about thsi issue one-sided? in particular, the pro-free tibet opinions don't seem to give any weight to an opposition argument either.isn't that the point of an op-ed piece? to present a point of view that isn't necessarily popular in the wider discussion? i mean, who knows what helen zia feels privately in her own head, but when writing publicly, felt a need to present her POV a certain way?
Hey Ravi, good to see you are still taking your vacation here after the festival. :)Thanks for the Washington Post article, which conveniently omits the slavery system in Tibet region before 1959.A terrific article "Myth and Reality"—Tibet's isolation and unique religious practices have made it the focus of many Western myths—by author Foster Stockwell gives an excellent historical overview about Tibet, including its culture and religion, and how Tibet has been a part of China since 1239.I also summarized why I disagree with the pro-Tibetan independence protesters, especially their effort to tarnish the Olympic spirit, in San Francisco, Paris, and around the world, and why they should leave Olympic alone.
Hey Giles - wasn't sure which Giles this was - hope you're well!Of course many op-eds are one sided and heavy in rhetoric. But that's not the ideal standard of discourse, right? I find myself mistrustful of polemics (and especially ones I disagree with LOL!) When we have a state controlled media as the one in China, then there's reason for alarm when Chinese Americans are so one-sided in their op-eds. When Joan Chen reports blandly in the Wash Post (and bone-chillingly) that "most Chinese support the crackdown in Tibet" without acknowledging that there's a lot of history here, that nearly all Tibetans support the Dalai Lama - then clearly we have a problem. Of course, we have our own sidedness, but it's clear from the above posts that we have access to dissenting opinions, and can thus form our own view. The passing of the Torch seems like the only opportunity for common people to be heard by the Chinese government.Also, I was just reading about the history of the Torch Relay. Turns out it started as a propaganda tool by Hitler before the 36 games - he wanted to link the Third Reich with Ancient Greece. So this thing has always been political, throughout the modern games.
And to give you a flavor of the animosity and paranoia of Beijing, here's what a leaked document about their propaganda efforts said about the DL's books:"The Dalai-related books, such as Art of Happiness, Ethics for the New Millenium, and Political Philosophy of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama became the US bestsellers in 1999. We cannot underestimate the negative impact of these books on our nation. "That's just the mildest part of it. The whole doc is available at
Thanks, Rebecca, for feeling conflicted. That's exactly what's missing from Zia's one sided op-ed.
i am not pro-tibet... but i feel really distanced from this whole thing as well... my problem with everything that has been happening is that americans have always followed trends without understanding the issue in its entirety. we protest because it's a cool, hip thing to do, especially in the bay area. we get caught up in an issue that we understand from one side, only. we go with the crowd. i look at the people that are speaking up for tibet, and the people that are pointing their fingers at china for being a violator of human rights, and i think to myself, how hypocritical. if we are to look at violators of human rights, wouldn't the united states be amongst the top on the chart? i also look at other things that we could be protesting too. the war, still, after so many years. issues on illegal immigration. for goodness fakes, hello? the gas prices. after watching sicko - freaking health care. yet, we do what is so typical of what's expected of americans. go sticking our nose in other people's business before we can examine ourselves and pick at our own faults. this whole self-righteousness attitude just rubs me the wrong way.
what exactly does it even mean to be "pro-tibet?" i'm not being snarky. i'm truly asking. there are various points of view of what a free tibet would look like, and i don't think there is one specific version that is widely accepted as the default.i think the media's coverage of what's been going on raises a lot of obvious questions that nobody seems to be answering/asking.what are the exact human rights violations we're talking about?would that be like the way the US doesn't allow for an independent Puerto Rico? the way Vieques is used as a US military testing site? The way DC residents pay federal taxes and receive no federal representation? the way the land of Hawai'i was confiscated to provide military presence in the Pacific?Or would it be more like Okinawa? The Phillipines? Korea?Or is it like the way the US is cluster bombing Iraq (80,000+ dead)?oh no, I forgot, those don't matter, we only protest the policies of other countries.i don't have a very specific or well-defined opinion about china/tibet, because it's difficult to really understand what people are fighting for when one side of the argument is completely absent from the american mainstream and alternative media.i'm not saying i'm "pro-china" or "pro-tibet" or "anti-china" or "anti-tibet" whatever those mean, because i believe all issues have more than two sides.i think, however, people should DEFINITELY do some research into tibet and the dalai lama's history with china and the US, and come to their own conclusion - not what the media tells us is the accepted leftist opinion...
ah research. the one thing people don't do here. we're too lazy. if anyone's not educated, we're not. or just ignorant.