15 August 2008

Olympic party and protest

Posted in Comment tagged , , , at 3:25 pm by lilithhope

Another Brit was detained in China today after unfurling a “Free Tibet” banner from atop the China Central Television building in east Beijing. He is the eleventh foreigner to be detained by the Chinese authorities since Wednesday because of Tibet-related protests.

Meanwhile, in other pockets of the capital, countless numbers of ordinary Chinese are also being detained for attempting to voice their frustrations regarding the government. Like Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign of the 1950s, in which dissidents were encouraged to express their grievances against the government, only to subsequenyl suffer ‘re-education’ for their non-conformism, the Chinese authorities have once again duped the population into thinking that it is safe for them to articulate their greivances.

The government established three ‘protest parks’ around the city where individuals who felt compelled to speak out certain government policies, mainly those related to the Olympics, such as the levelling of the a traditional area of downtowm Beijing composed of old houses known as ‘hutongs’ in order to build an ultra-modern shopping centre. However, the protest parks are empty.

What’s more is that you need to apply for a permit to protest in the first place, and those who are venturing to obtain such permits are simply going missing: one minute they are on their way to the police station to request a ‘protest permit’, the next they are simply absent and unreachable. Essentially, the protest permission is a means of trapping principaled citizens like rats. And who knows what sort of treatment they are being subject to: are they undergoing the re-education of their parents, or just being stowed away until the media avalanche that has accompanied the Olypmics subsides?

And then there’s the attacks in Xinjiang, the ‘other Tibet’: another province inhabited by a non-Han Chinese ethnic group with a different language and different religion, which also wants its independance form Beijing. So far, 31 people have been killed in 2 weeks, in what has been called “the deadliest upsurge of violence seen in Xinjiang for many years” (Al Jazeera). The Uyghur sepratist movement has experienced sporadic bouts of action over the past 20 years, each of which has been followed by a brutal crackdown by the central authorities. The current reportsof mass detentions and checkpoints in Xinjiang show that that pattern is repeating it.

All these different yet linked events signal that people in China are trying to use the media spotlight currently on Beijing in order to express voice their discontent with the system. One of the interesting things about it, though, is the way that among the various battles being fought, foreigners to China have clearly chosen theirs: Tibet. It is interesting that no Westerner is hanging a “Free Xinjiang” banner from any public building, or that they prefer to focus on what is happening in that far off, mystical mountain-top Buddhist land than what is going on in the streets of the city around them (house demolitions, arbitrary detentions).

But look at the information available about all the various protesters: countless people detained in Beijing because of the protests, countless more detained in Xinjiang as some form of collective punishment, and a whole 11 foreigners detained because they want their 5 minutes of fame in nobly defending the Tibetan cause. We realize that we have no numbers for the former two groups of people being detained, only ‘witness testimonies’ or vague statements from human rights associations.

How many people have gone missing from the streets of Beijing, Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang) and Kashgar (second city of Xinjiang) in the past week? How many names do we not know?

The Westerners that protest against the Chinese government know that their passports make them immune to the harshest treatment, and it seems like therefore they go about their protest with some sort of arrogant pride. They know that they can contact the embassy for support.

And what of the Uyghurs? What of the hutong dwellers? There is no knight in shining diplomatic BMW with tinted windows who will try to find out their names, contact and inform their families, attempt to extradite them. The best they can count on is a smidgen of investigative journalism and a press release from an NGO. The plight of their struggle for justice will not be adopted by some feisty twenty-something expat who could add a dimension of solidarity to their cause.

No, the Uyghur will remain marginalized and therefore continue in their violent resistance campaign, international deafness forcing their screams to become louder and louder. And the hutong dwellers, the peasants, the civil society activists, the bloggers and other Han dissidents… well, suffice to say that they’ll probably be keen to keep a low profile in the future.