As the Beijing Olympics begin, the world looks on with mixed emotions. It’s a moment which should bring us closer together, and Chinese citizens deserve their excitement — but the Chinese government still hasn’t opened meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or changed its stance on Burma, Darfur and other pressing issues.
Even worse, extremists in China are promoting the view that Olympic activism like ours is anti-Chinese. We can’t stay silent, but we also can’t let our efforts be abused to divide people. So what can we do? The answer comes from the Dalai Lama himself, in an unambiguous gesture of Olympic spirit and friendship: a handshake.
It began in London, passed hand to hand by thousands of us — now the handshake has gone online, and is criss-crossing the globe on its way to Beijing. All of us can join, Chinese and non-Chinese, and it comes with a promise: to hold ALL our governments accountable where they fall short, in Tibet, Iraq, Burma or beyond. We’ll deliver our message in a bold media campaign in Hong Kong and around the world: Click below to see how the Olympic handshake started, sign up to join in, and watch it circle the globe —
The handshake idea is nice (with all of the banality of that word fully intended), but let’s not forget to extend the dialogue to the Uighurs or with Taiwan. Ok, I concede, the “round-the-world” map animation showing virtual handshakes is pretty rad, but I digress.
There’s not a lot of hope for the kind of openness that allows for fruitful dialogue on the Chinese side when they beat up and harass foreign journalists trying to cover the attack in Kashgar. Then there is the systematic internet censorship. The guarantee of press freedoms for foreign journalists was part of the contract that the Chinese government agreed to in order to host the Games. The Chinese government isn’t living up to their side of the bargain.
And then there are those Beijingers who were forcefully and unlawfully evicted from their homes without proper compensation to make way for the Olympics. And the peaceful Chinese civil society activists (and regular residents of Beijing) who are living under lockdown as a result of the games. Their grievances can hardly be considered anti-Chinese; since they ARE Chinese. Same goes for the repression of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups.
Ok, so I’ve given a handshake for peace, but what is the Chinese government going to give its own citizens and the international community in return? Do Chinese leaders and hardline nationalists even want a handshake? Or do they want the world to kowtow in reverence and awe at the “new” China’s coming-out party? As much as we all wished that the Olympics were about sports and international goodwill, the truth is, they are also about state-sponsored political propaganda (and uncomfortable displays of nationalism if you ask me) as well as corporate bottom lines.