Olympics 'Will Change China'

Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong says the processes governing fair play and equal treatment according to the rules of the game will have a big impact on Chinese society.
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Bao Tong at his Beijing home, April 2008.
Bao Tong at his Beijing home, April 2008.

Bao Tong, former aide to the ousted late Chinese premier, Zhao Ziyang, has been under house arrest for nearly two decades after his boss's fall from power during the 1989 pro-democracy movement. He writes from his Beijing home:

The Olympics in Beijing are finally over. And it truly was a distinguished event. The athletes, judges and other employees worked hard to create faster, higher and stronger achievements for the record-books, and their honorable efforts are worthy of salutation. The arrangements were carefully and thoughtfully prepared by the hosts, and were executed to a very high standard, incomparable standard, some said.

The work of the host country really did attain a high peak: the high peak performance of a one-party state which was able to deploy the resources of a huge country with incomparable resources and a huge population to achieve a rich and incomparable result in front of all the Chinese people and the entire world.

'Miracle system'

But there are still around 200 million people struggling on the poverty line of around U.S.$1 a day. They are the source of much of the money, material goods and manpower which have been poured into preparations for the Olympic Games over the past eight years, an achievement which is without doubt miraculous. Because there is no need to give an account of oneself to the people; no need to to ask their approval. All the Communist Party has to do is issue a decree saying what it wants, what there shall be, and how much of it, and who shall provide it.

What sort of a system is that? This is the one-party system that has control over 9.6 million square kilometres. This is the incomparable miracle of this incomparable system.

China is a country of many ethnic groups and religions. There is a great deal of tension in the countryside, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and there are corrupt officials and miscarriages of justice for as far as the eye can see. Every five minutes, there is a "mass incident" somewhere in the country. And yet everyone has been forced to wear the manufactured smiles of harmony in order to play host to the Olympics.

Activists 'harmonized'

China's leaders give the orders, and they are put into effect by dictatorial government departments using the police force. The propaganda department has control of information, all the local commanders are placed on duty, and all the civil rights activists and petitioners have been 'harmonized', along with the 'tofu buildings', the journalists and the lawyers. In fact anything that looks remotely 'unharmonious' has been tidied away out of sight. So, for the guests who came from so far away, China had a smile on its face.

Only the incomparable, laughing, weeping one-party system with its power over 1.3 billion people would be capable of such oppression, lockdown and micro-managing.

Deng Xiaoping once made a comparison of China's one-party system and the political systems in the West. His view was that the checks and balances of power typical of Western political systems meant that an event like China's Cultural Revolution could never happen in those countries. But he rejected the Western system for its lack of effectiveness. You could never get anything done like that, he believed, and decreed therefore that the four principles of the people should be upheld forever; that the one-party system should continue forever.

Evictions, corruption, embezzlement

The one-party system rejects restrictions on and supervision of state power by the people. But it can't rid itself of differences of opinion and intent within its own ranks. So it still fails to achieve effectiveness. There are events driven by profit and departmental pride, events like evictions, urban redevelopment and embezzlement of state funds, every day now. They astonish people with their effectiveness. And yet it is impossible to get the system to grasp meaningful achievements such as honoring contracts, or improving human rights, or redressing grievances. People have continued to be disappointed year after year.  The pageantry in Beijing can be as perfect as you like, but at the end of the day the mortal wound still lies in the phrase, "not honoring contracts".

The hosts have shown off the riches of the one-party state through the vehicle of the Beijing Olympics. Two angles have emerged here. One is the Olympics as seen by the one-party state. The other is the one-party state seen through the lens of the Olympics. Valuable lessons can be learned here. Through the lens of the Olympics, people will be able to see both the strengths and the shortcomings of a single-party system; its light and its darknesses; its successes and failures.

Fair competition under a one-party state...

The spirit of fair competition, and a one-party state. Each has its own attractions, and each has grown on the basis of its own internal logic. And China will go definitively one way or the other at some point in its future.

China has showcased the one-party state to the whole world. And the Olympics, in the way it deals with its own ceremonies and procedures, has also shown to China the rules that govern fair competition. Athletes are treated as equals; fair competition is guaranteed by the rules governing the sport. No-one is allowed to contravene these rules; not the athletes, nor the judges and referees, nor the members of the Olympics Committee, not anyone.

Whether or not there is fair competition depends on whether or not the rules are followed faithfully. This has all been witnessed by China's population in broad daylight, rather than being carried out under the table or behind closed doors. This is the way of the Olympics.

The way of the Olympics

The way of the Olympics is different from the way of the one-party state. One is built on struggle, the other on competition. One describes differences between self and an 'enemy', the other states that all shall be treated with equal humanity. One was ushered in by the roar of cannons of Lenin's October Revolution, while the other was the culmination of 100 years of hopes, cries and invitations on the part of China's leaders.

Fair competition, also known in Chinese by the phrase "fei'e polai," or fair play, expects that athletes will play by the rules; it extends an equality of treatment to all those taking part, together with a quality of honesty and straightforwardness. I don't know why it is that in China, whose people have endured 80 years of unredressed grievances, and which is now in the grip of Olympic fever up and down the country, we haven't seen a concomitant burst of enthusiasm for playing by the rules.

If China raises high the banner of the Olympics without also raising high the banner of fair play, if its government still harbors a strong dislike for the politics of daylight, then its words will have become divorced from their meanings into pure spin, and the Olympics will have come here in vain.

...now that our leaders have invited the mysterious Mr O. to visit

China's political and economic life is suffering from a serious sickness, the roots of which lie in the fact that in the length and breadth of this enormous country, inside and outside the Party, there is a lack of probity, a lack of justice and a lack of openness. You may think you saw the practice of fair treatment for all inside the Bird's Nest Stadium, but did you see it in Weng'an county, Guizhou? There, only the local officials are allowed to start fires: Local people aren't allowed to do as much as light a lamp. Where is the justice, the fair competition, in that?

Back in 1919, when Chen Duxiu wanted to invite Mr. De [democracy] and Mr. Sai [science] into China, the authorities refused to allow it. Now, they have invited Mr. O to come in of their own free will. But Mr. O shouldn't just be confined to the Olympic Village. He should be allowed into real villages, into petitioner villages, down the mines, into the brick kilns, into the courts and the news bureaux, inside the county governments: all over the country, in fact, spilling justice and openness and probity wherever he goes.

For only when the Party branch secretary plays by the same rules as the rest of the village; only when the county Party secretary plays by the same rules as the rest of the county; only when a Politburo member plays by the same rules as the rest of the country: only then will China see lasting peace and stability. Only then will we see everyone truly being treated equally, and with the same humanity, and the rules of the game being observed by all. And only then can we be sure that we won't see another serious incident like those in Shanwei, or Weng'an county, or Dongbakuai.

China will choose

Both the spirit of fair competition and a one-party state have a base among the masses; each has its own attractions. The die will be cast between them at some point in China's future.

I am an optimist. I believe that Chinese society is diverse; that its people are not mass-produced from a single iron template, and that as long as it doesn't self-destruct, that the spirit of fair play will inevitably win the day.

The history of the development of human rights in the United Kingdom, beginning with the Magna Carta (1215) and the Statute Concerning Tallage (1297) through to the Bill of Rights (1689), and the history of other countries, shows that the principle of fair competition isn't only necessary to protect the weak in society; it is also necessary to govern relations between the strong.

Civil rights movement

All the struggles of Chinese people at every level of society that are going on right now, in every group and organization, and on the part of individual citizens, to protect their legal rights and interests, will inevitably result in a mighty consensus on this principle, which will have an effect on every walk of life, including elections, the flow of information, on public demonstrations, all of which will be governed by the rules of fair competition.

I believe that our People's Republic, which is nigh on 60 years old now, won't spend much longer languishing without a voice amid the old evils of undemocratic elections.

A lot of people have voiced their concerns about what will happen to China after the Olympics are over. After all, the Olympics won't solve our economic, political or social problems. But actually I do believe that the concept of fair competition, of equal treatment according to the rules of the game, of openness, of fairness and of probity, will have a massive impact on every level of Chinese society which will last for a long time to come.

Original essay by Bao Tong, broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service on Aug. 28, 2008. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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