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August 22, 2008

China’s Porcelain Façade

“The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” –Thomas Jefferson

After returning from Beijing in August, where I attended the Olympics as a guest with a corporate association, it was distressing to watch NBC’s glossy coverage and glowing commentary about China. Apparently, NBC dared not venture off the reservation, and its coverage offered no insight into the oppression outside the Olympic village.

But then, it is the Year of the Rat.

Suffice it to say, I found China to mirror what I anticipated: A great people with a great historic and cultural legacy (1949 to present notwithstanding), rightly proud to be hosting the Olympics – China’s coming out party after years of isolation and brutality.

Though the Olympic venues were remarkable, I was far more impressed by meetings with Chinese nationals, from the most prominent mainland developers, business leaders and fund mangers, to citizens on the street who, as soon as they spotted the U.S. flag on my shirt, would endeavor to make conversation.

Most impressive of those with whom I had scheduled meetings were leaders of underground Christian movements in Beijing and other major cities, who provided a stark example of how the Red Chinese government continues to oppress the most basic human rights. The Chinese people, all 1.329 billion of them, remain enslaved under the rule of the tyrannical government. They share none of the rights outlined in our Constitution, which most Americans take for granted.

One evening, I was visiting with a former leader of the protests at Tiananmen Square. We stood above the street in the exact location where video footage of one fearless student protestor confronting a column of tanks was recorded. (That student disappeared that bloody night, never to be heard from again.) The Chinese government still refers to that night at the “Tiananmen incident.” Most Beijingers call it the “Tiananmen massacre.”

In the square, celebrating the “new face of China,” stood a very large topiary sculpture of the “running man” icon, symbol of the Beijing Olympics. The irony of this blood-red figure running through Tiananmen Square did not go unnoticed.

Across the square from looms another great irony: a 25-foot portrait of Mao Zedong overlooking Tiananmen hangs above the entrance to the Imperial (Forbidden) City, an incredible treasure of structures dating from the 14th century Yuan and Ming dynasties.

Mao was the infamous leader of China’s Communist Party from 1945 until his death in 1976. He presided over the deaths of at least 30 million Chinese during his “great leap forward” to centralize China’s agricultural production. He also supervised the almost complete eradication of China’s cultural and intellectual advances during the “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s, when his Red Guard murdered more than a million Chinese academic and cultural leaders, and exiled the rest to communal farms for “reeducation.”

The blatant irony of Mao’s portrait at Tiananmen is that, if not for the objections of other Communist Party leaders during his Cultural Revolution, Mao’s Red Guard would have leveled the Imperial City. No small irony also that the entrance under his portrait leads to “The Gate of Heavenly Peace.” Not for student reformers in 1989…

Mao may be dead, but he is not gone. His iconic image is ubiquitous in both urban and rural China, even appearing on the face of every denomination of Chinese currency. The Russian people tore down statues of V.I. Lenin soon after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The prevalence of Mao’s image is a good indication that the Red Chinese government is still alive and well, despite reports of its imminent demise.

For the 2008 Olympics, China put on its best face, rather like a movie set. Beijing’s new airport is among the world’s finest. Every main Olympic thoroughfare was newly paved, signed, landscaped and lighted. Even the primary rural routes outside the city had makeovers, with fresh paint and greenery covering 100 feet on either side of those roads. Beyond that makeup, however, was the dirt and dilapidation that makes up most of China’s rural areas.

The new Olympic structures were certainly impressive, though few of the 250,000 people who were ejected from Soviet-era block housing that formerly blighted the Olympic green were adequately compensated. Indeed, many of them did not receive alternate housing.

Despite the fact that all construction and many businesses were forcibly shut down for the Olympics, and only autos with license plates ending in even numbers could travel on even days, and odd numbers on odd days, one thing Beijing could not cover up was the oppressive smog.

Of course, they tried.

In the days ahead of the Opening Ceremony, the Chinese government launched “rain rockets” to seed the clouds and pre-empt any precipitation. (I suspect they seeded those clouds with “free radicals” from Tibet.) There was no rain on the opening parade, but the choking smog was still in the air.

There was also no rain on the route of the Olympic torchbearers. Nor were there any protestors. Perhaps that was due to the fact that armored personnel carriers full of Red Guard regulars were blocking every intersection and lining the entire route.

The Red Chinese government also created numerous other environmental effects. Consequently, the ceremony became a metaphor for the fraudulent façade that hides China’s Communist government under the strong arm of “Dear Leader” president Hu Jintao.

For example, only one of the 29 spectacular firework footprints featured in the aerial footage leading to the Bird’s Nest stadium was real; the others were computer generated. NBC host Matt Lauer concluded that this was just “a cinematic device” which was “almost animation.” No, Matt, it was precisely animation.

During the ceremony, there was only one helicopter overhead, a China Central Television helicopter providing aerial footage edited by the Chinese central government and fed to NBC, so China could some of the images NBC broadcast had been, shall we say, retouched.

Then there was the adorable 9-year old, Lin Miaoke, who we now know lip-synched the “ode to the Motherland,” which was actually sung by a 7-year old, Yang Peiyi, whom the government deemed not attractive enough to represent China. Ceremonial music director Chen Quigang explained, “The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings, and expression.”

There was also that moving march of children in traditional dress, one from each of China’s 56 ethnic groups, we were told – except we now know almost all of them were Han, not representatives of each of those other groups. Probably too much risk that one of the little ethnic participants would raise a democracy banner.

Of course, there were veneers beyond the Birds Nest, too.

Along the marathon routes, the 10-foot “culture walls” exhibited cultural images, which the government preferred to promote over images of the impoverished masses behind the walls. Again, the air feed was from a CCTV helicopter, and NBC wasn’t about to give us a ground-level glimpse of the squalor behind those impressive barriers.

Unfortunately, the games were also blighted with corruption. There are highly credible reports that three of China’s celebrated female gold-medal gymnasts had their official credentials updated to indicate they were 16 years old, the minimum age for Olympic gymnasts. Official documents, birth certificates, passports, etc., had previously indicated two of the girls were 13 and one was 14.

Perhaps the records were just mixed up when these little girls (who had already survived China’s “one child” abortion policy driven by a preference for boys) were snatched from their mother’s arms at the tender age of three and sent to government-sponsored training camps.

When it was all over, Chinese athletes won more gold medals than any other nation except the former Soviet Union, which also had a centralized state-funded pipeline for athletes.

Notably absent from NBC’s coverage were protests of any size and description, as all protestors are considered a “threat to the success” of China’s Olympic image, and were quickly subdued.

Likewise, few protests lodged on Chinese Internet sites made it to the outside world.

Having walked some of the Great Wall at one of its highest points prior to the beginning of the Olympics, I can report that on a rare clear day, the view to the east is magnificent. However, few dissenting views from Chinese citizens make it over the Great Firewall of China.

The Chinese government routinely blocks millions of websites with references to Taiwan, Tibet, Darfur, Tiananmen, Amnesty International, freedom, liberty and democracy, ad infinitum. Of course, in part because of essays like the one you are reading, Beijingers tell us they had a difficult time accessing PatriotPost.US.

Still, the whole world could access the International Olympic Committee’s Beijing website, with its laughable guarantee from IOC president Jacques Rogge of “no censorship in Beijing.”

Thought the Chinese claim the Olympics was a huge success for them, both in terms of NBC’s dezinformatsia an the economic windfall, current estimates are that the number of visitors to China this Olympic year will not exceed the number of visitor last year.

After all, the Red Chinese still have a choke hold on Tibet.

More notably, as a leading exporter of weapons to third world nations, China did not want to sully its relationship with African nations by allowing UN troops into the Sudan in order that those troops might intervene in the Sudanese government’s fourth year of wholesale genocide. However, threat of an Olympic boycott forced China’s hand in 2007, and UN troops were allowed into the Sudan, but only those from African nations, and with no mandate to stem the slaughter.

Beyond the Olympics, and beyond China’s porcelain façade, the foreign investment in China and the resulting economic growth is as vigorous as the purges by Mao’s Red Guard. Still, every fledgling Chinese business owner shares this unspoken concern: Will I still own my business in 10 years, or will the government nationalize it (or otherwise take control of it through excessive taxation – the U.S. model adaptation of Socialism).

There is another economic concern that the entire free world should lose some sleep over. If the Chinese economy does not continue its present growth rate, producing almost 20 million new jobs annually to feed its bulging urban population, the result could be massive civil unrest. More than half of the Chinese people now live in urban centers, and the illegal migration of rural Chinese to the urban areas continues unabated, because the other half subsist on about two dollars a day.

Needless to say, as was the case at Tiananmen Square 19 years ago, the Red Chinese government does not handle civil unrest well.

A likely response to civil discord could be the absorption of millions of additional Chinese into the Red Army and service corps, bolstered by a resurgence of Communist nationalism. For sure, the Reds will be looking for some creative activity to occupy the minds of the Chinese people, something to divert them from concern about their empty stomachs.

In 1919, before communism came to China, a student newspaper there boldly proclaimed as its motto, “Democracy – a government for the people, by the people and of the people.” Don’t expect to see any student newspapers proclaiming anything along those lines anytime soon.

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