A few weeks ago I was chatting online to my friend Dan; we were talking about China, which you may be surprised to learn is hosting a minor sporting event at the moment.
I said that China were going to put on an amazing show, but I hated the fact that Beijing had the Olympics in the first place. The Chinese government is not interested in sport, or in “legacy” usage: they just want the world to know how marvellous Beijing is, how “normal” China is.
Dan is 23. He’s too young to remember what happened in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and I guess it’s one of those things that doesn’t get taught at school: too recent to be history, too ancient to be current affairs. I explained what happened: the peaceful student protests for democracy, the jittery junta, the defacing of mao’s portrait, the tanks. The massacre. He didn’t know about the massacre.
I was 20 at the time, the age of many of the students gunned down in the square. It could have been me.
I found this BBC News report by Kate Adie from that day; I remember it vividly and it still upsets me to watch it. Don’t read the comments, they’ll depress you as they did me.
Thousands died that night, many others rounded up and carted off to prison then or later: nobody knows for sure how many, and the Chinese sure aren’t saying. People aren’t allowed to talk about it. An episode of Panorama last week showed that, despite assurances about lack of censorship due to the Olympics, a word from the government-imposed minder is enough to shut up anyone straying from approved topics.
Do people really believe, are they really that naive, that the relative freedoms granted for the games – access to a few more web sites (but not, of course, on forbidden topics) and a bit more journalistic leeway – won’t be reversed once the Olympic and Paralympic bandwagons have rolled on?
China spent millions trying to win the Olympics and billions to stage it. No expense has been spared, any prospective talent “nurtured” in the hunt for gold. The winning divers in today’s men’s 10m synchro, now both 17 I think, started diving aged four. I wonder how much choice they had in the matter; and how much they have now. And I wonder what will happen after the games. Will the Chinese continue throwing money at sport? Or has the goal been achieved?
It’s all about prestige, about China’s place in the world. Invest in us! Work with us! Forget all about that nasty business a few years ago. And people are.