Bao Tong, former top Communist Party aide to the ousted late Chinese premier, Zhao Ziyang, has been under house arrest at his Beijing home for nearly two decades after his boss's fall from power during the 1989 pro-democracy movement. Following are edited extracts from a three-part series of his essays about the Olympic Games in Beijing, broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service beginning Aug. 4:
It is very naive to take the number of gold medals won as an indicator of the rise of China. That sort of patriotism...has nothing to do with the Olympic spirit...There are subtle differences between China and other countries when it comes to the training and selection of athletes. Other countries use athletics as a way of training the body. China uses athletics to snatch prizes.
China has sponsored a top-down professionalized system, a totally segregated approach to athletic training. Non-Chinese may not understand the term "away from production." It has its roots in the Chinese Communist Party's experience of the 1927-37 Chinese civil war, when peasants who relied on the land for their existence took up arms as their revolutionary duty to fight for a share of it. In the process, they were torn away from their families, from the rest of society, and from normal economic activities. They were said to be taken "away from production" to fulfill this task.
China's athletes are chosen as young children...and taken away from their families, from their schools, and totally cut off from normal social activities. The door is closed, and they give up their entire youth and part of their childhoods for the sole aim of entering and winning competitions, an aim for which they are totally re-molded by the system.
China has the largest population of any country in the world, and therefore an unending supply of human resources with which to win glory and acclaim for country and Party. But it is a totally different thing from encouraging ordinary Chinese people to get fitter and healthier.
A gold medal is just a gold medal. It is not of the same order as the well-being of the people, or the fate of the nation. The former Soviet Union won countless gold medals. The gold medals are still there today, but where is the Soviet Union?
China's array of medals and prizes was produced out of the sweat, tears, and lives of generations of athletes and paralympians...You can't use the achievements of our young people to cover up or to dilute the mistakes of the country's leaders.
The Chinese Communist Party has used the Olympics as a way of suppressing all other political duties. It has put all its energy into this for the past decade, emptying out the last drop of strength. All political, economic, propaganda, and diplomatic effort has been channeled into the Olympics. The entire Party and nation has repeated the message about the importance of the Games time and again, an importance which is greater than that of the fight against corruption, disaster relief efforts, human rights, or the livelihood and welfare of ordinary Chinese.
Ordinary citizens pay the price
It is hard to see how the efforts of ordinary people will be repaid. Aside from the more obvious contributions of effort and money from those who have it, there are all those people who have had their land grabbed away from them, or whose homes have been forcibly demolished, or who have been forced to give up their...business. Those who have been forced to return to their hometown as part of the pre-Olympics "clean-up," or those who have been detained against their will. Those who have been forbidden to speak, forbidden to conduct interviews, forbidden to offer legal services, or forbidden from helping people stand up for their civil rights or property.
There is a fly in the ointment, and that lies in the fact that the Chinese government has refused to keep the promises it made to improve human rights and to allow greater press freedom when it applied to host the Games in the first place.
In the eight years since China applied to host the Games, with the continued suppression of human rights and continuing controls on the freedom of the press, those promises have turned into nothing but empty words. And an empty promise is very hard to keep.
Chinese people who have had their rights infringed know it. A lot of the international media know it. Communist Party and government officials know it too, in their heart of hearts. Who would have the gall to propose or second this motion, to talk the empty talk about "the best Olympic Games ever"?
The best at suppressing the news? Maybe. The best at trampling on people's rights? Perhaps. Even though the curtain has yet to rise on the Olympics, we can say with 100 percent certainty that we have lost all hope of being "the best."
There is one extremely good thing about a one-party system, and that is that it can achieve pretty much anything it wants to. That's why Deng Xiaoping said that China should never go the way of the West, because it was terribly troublesome, and that any attempt to get anything done petered out in argument. That's quite right. Who would have dared to argue with Deng or Mao? That's why Mao announced in 1976 that Deng was an enemy of the people, and why Deng announced in 1989 that Zhao Ziyang was the enemy.
History repeats itself, and the wheel comes full circle. Leaders at every level have to deal with dissenting opinion, and at every level they have the power to brand the other a public enemy. In China, we produce miscarriages of justice and trumped-up charges like a high-intensity industrial zone, rolling them off the conveyor belt at a rate no-one else can match.
We are so efficient at it: Why stop now? It is a task beloved of Chinese officials at every level of leadership. One thing they are particularly good at, for example, is allowing people they like to get rich first. All you need to get a bank loan in the blink of an eye is the favor of a local ranking official. In the blink of another eye, you can acquire a whole state enterprise for the token price of between three and five percent of its market value, which you can then transfer into your own private ownership.
In the same blink of the eye, you can get access to a plot of land "approved" for your use, expel a large crowd of people who live on it and farm it, and begin a lucrative career as a property developer. Will anyone make a fuss? Well, that's easy to deal with. In the blink of an eye, anyone making a fuss will have lost their livelihood and received a warning from the authorities. Who will have the courage to publish such a negative news story? That would be revealing state and Party secrets, calling all sorts of trouble down on the heads of the journalist and even the whole newspaper.
In the case of a lawsuit being filed, the lawyer will either be warned off, obstructed at every turn, or have his license to practice taken away, or be convicted himself of a criminal offense. In the case of any mass unrest, the last resort is to send the security forces in to stamp out trouble. There is one of these "mass petitioning incidents" in China every five minutes, 80,000 a year, and they are all the inevitable by-product of a one-party system.
Under today's one-party system, we have a highly efficient system for an exponential increase in the gap between rich and poor, for corruption, state-sponsored robbery, oppression, and for the control of information. All these things fit together seamlessly. This is the human rights record and the state of press freedom against which it will be very hard to gain any improvements. This is the big, bad secret.
The efficiency of the one-party system can be applied in any number of ways. For example, to stop anything from happening that Party leaders do not like. China has been a People's Republic for 59 years now, but we haven't seen any progress in the direction of democracy in any of those years. The only reason China sent a delegate to the United Nations to sign the covenants on human rights back in October 1998 was because of the forthcoming application to host the 2008 Olympics.
Voting with their feet
As soon as the bid was successful, the thing was shoved into the shadows. The National People's Congress was never asked to ratify it. Putting on a show is indeed very efficient. Actually doing something is very inefficient. Thanks to China's one-party system, they really have been able to make a momentary difference to the air quality in Beijing. But as soon as the Games are over, who knows how many lifetimes ordinary Chinese residents will have to wait to get decent air to breathe again.
There is one clear barometer of how good a political system is. It's no good listening to what people say; mouths are very unreliable. You have to look at what the feet are doing. A good system will attract people. People in China may be living quite happily, and foreigners may make light of traveling a thousand miles to visit. But would they want to emigrate here? When they have seen the Olympics, seen the show, and had a chance to understand Chinese people a bit better, and to compare China to their own country, then what? I am certain that while they will say a lot of nice things about China, they are not going to start flooding in to live here. Whereas Chinese people would be leaving in their tens of thousands if the opportunity was there. That is my prediction. History will be the judge of whether I am right or not.
Original essay in Mandarin by Bao Tong. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.