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Beijing Olympics: Their Importance to the Chinese Government

Brittany Jordan

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Vladimir putin xi jinping 6

Vladimir putin xi jinping 6

Chinese strongman Xi Jinping and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in Moscow on June 5, 2019 (Sputnik / Alexander Vilf / Kremlin via Reuters)

The pandemic has caused many people to ask, “What is courtesy? How should we treat our neighbor? What is a proper accommodation and what is an accommodation too far?” A big topic. A wonderful example of courtesy has come from the world of cricket — yes, cricket (a sport I have never seen, except in brief video clips). I lead with this in my Impromptus today.

I also have the question of President Biden and his shakiness. As I relate in my column, I hated a New Republic cover in 1985, which asked, “Is He All There?” The “he” was President Reagan; I was a student Reaganite. But look: People have a right to ask such questions.

What else do I have in Impromptus today? Ukraine — Ukraine and Russia, and China, actually. Generation after generation, the Kremlin sells the same rug: “We feel encircled! We feel threatened! We have security fears!” All nonsense, of course — an attempt to distract the Russian people from the problems afflicting them. But there are always gullible Westerners to buy the rug, time after time.

Vladimir Bukovsky, the late, great dissident and writer, was acid on this subject when I interviewed him three years ago. (I quote him in today’s column.)

Other topics? Boris Johnson, the British prime minister; Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire governor; and so on and so forth.

This week, I’ve recorded a Q&A podcast with Perry Link, the China scholar. He is one of the most experienced and most judicious people in the field, as many of us see it. Though an authority on language and literature, he has spent a lot of time on politics and human rights as well. With a co-author, he has just completed a biography of Liu Xiaobo, the democracy leader (and Nobel peace laureate), to be published in the near future.

In our Q&A, Professor Link and I talk mainly of the Beijing Olympics, coming up. We also talk of various other matters, cultural and personal.

The Olympics are very important to the Chinese government — i.e., the Chinese Communist Party — and the government is very sensitive to boycotts and other slights. What accounts for this sensitivity? Professor Link discourses interestingly on this question, as on all others.

Even as late as the 1980s, he says, there lingered a sense in China that socialist ideals had something to offer: “We can all get together, we can serve the people, we can do things that benefit everyone.” But after the Party committed the Tiananmen Square massacre, there was no more pretense.

So, where do you turn when you have no more moral capital to drawn on? How do you claim your right to lead? The CCP turned to two things: money-making — be as materialistic as you want and make as much money as possible — and nationalism. The hosting of the Olympic Games (in 2008 and now) is part of the nationalist project.

Forget the Uyghurs in Xinjiang (or East Turkestan). Forget Hong Kong. Forget a declining economy. We have the Olympics, and all eyes are turned to us! We are the big man on campus, or on the earth.

The more the economy declines, Professor Link points out, the more flagrantly will the Communists draw on nationalism. They will say, it’s the foreigners’ fault. They’re always doing us dirty. We will show them what we’re made of.

This has been a tactic of dictators and dictatorships from time immemorial.

What else does Professor Link say? Oh, so much. We talk of the Soviet Union, and the well-known dissidents who emerged from those decades: Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Bukovsky, et al. The Chinese Communists have been in power for more than 70 years now. Very few Chinese dissidents are known to the world at large, right?

Professor Link recalls comments by Yu Ying-shih, the great historian of China, who died just last year (having been born in 1930). Link and Yu were colleagues at Princeton. In early 1992, everyone was saying, “The Cold War is over!” Which it was, in a broadly understood sense: the Soviet Union and its bloc versus the West. But China, Vietnam, North Korea, and other countries were still Communist, Professor Yu said. If those dictatorships had collapsed, while others retained their grip, would everyone be saying, “We won; it’s over; go home and relax”?

(Some would, some wouldn’t.)

Toward the end of our Q&A, I tell Professor Link a little story. On a recent night, I met a friend in an opera house — a fellow arts critic, Russian-born. We often talk about music and other arts, particularly Russian. On this occasion, my friend said to her companion, “Jay is such a Russophile.” And it’s true.

But that would come as a surprise to some people, who tend to equate the government with the people, and the culture, and the society.

How about Perry Link? He is an ardent foe of the Chinese government. In fact, he is banned from China! And I know of no one — no foreigner — who loves China more. He fell in love with things Chinese — and people Chinese — when he was a student, and that love has never ebbed. On the contrary.

“This really might sound presumptuous,” Professor Link says, “but, to me, the Communist Party feels like an outsider. My Chinese friends, and Chinese literature, and Chinese history, and everything that I’ve devoted my life to and that I love is the heart of things, and this group that seized power in 1949 and has ridden herd on the country I love for 70 years — they’re the outsiders.”

Professor Link adds, “That’s the way it feels to me, inside.”

Some people say to him, “How does it feel to study the country that hates you?” Oh, no: A party hates him (with good reason).

Frankly, I don’t see how you can love a people without wanting them to have human rights.

My Q&A with Perry Link, once more, is here; and today’s Impromptus here.

Brittany Jordan is an award-winning journalist who reports on breaking news in the U.S. and globally for the Federal Inquirer. Prior to her position at the Federal Inquirer, she was a general assignment features reporter for Newsweek, where she wrote about technology, politics, government news and important global events around the world. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Toronto Star, Frederick News-Post, West Hawaii Today, the Miami Herald, and more. Brittany enjoys food, travel, photography, and hoarding notebooks and journals. Her goal is to do more longform features journalism, narrative writing and documentary work, and to one day write a successful novel and screenplay.

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