I just made up a silly story:
A couple wanted to host a party to showoff their new house. They did a lot of preparation: cleaning the house, cooking dishes, and educating their kids to be polite to the guests. The kids were all enthusiastic and expecting to enjoy the party. However, when the guests arrived, they brought a dog with them, and, the dog left a dump on the lawn. The guests told the couple: the dog dump is our gift to you, good fertilizer for your lawn. The couple was embarrassed but found that they had nothing to say. However, their anguished kids rushed out and screamed at the guests “believe or not, we will kill the dog if you don’t clean the shit!” The guests were intimidated; they forced the dog to eat its own shit. Then they left party.
The couple = the Chinese government
The guests = the US, France, England
The kids = Chinese nationalistic youth
The party = Beijing Olympic Games
The dog = Dalai Lama
The shit = “Free Tibet” “human rights”
The Western media enjoyed the spectacle of China’s public image crisis – China is torched by its Olympic torch.
The Olympic torch relay was protested by pro-Tibet activists everywhere, from Athens, London, Paris and San Francisco. Yet, it stopped at San Francisco, at least the media coverage of it stopped. On April 9th 2008, when the torch relay was no longer the stage for pro-Tibet Independence but a stage for pro-China/pro-Olympic demonstrators, Western media was shocked. Later, when the Western media found out the diasporic Chinese communities across the world joined a grand pro-China/pro-Olympic movement (in Toronto, Ottawa, Melbourne, Paris, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, London, Manchester, Washington DC, Sydney…), they were confused. When they found out that Chinese youth in mainland China are using cyberspace to organize a boycott against French Supermarket Chain – Carrefour on May 1st, they were scared. When they found out that Chinese students in Beijing loudly chant to expats “Welcome to Beijing!!!” “One World; One Dream!!!” with angry expression, they collapsed.
On CNN, CBS, NBC, and even NPR, news of the Olympic boycott disappeared almost overnight. The West seems to still believe that the 1999 nationalist movement against the US for bombing the Chinese embassy was manipulated by the Chinese government, but this time the Chinese nationalistic movement is no doubt bottom-up; it was initiated by the Chinese diasporic community. When these western educated Chinese youth, not the brainwashed ones in China, are offered the rights of free speech and demonstration, they didn’t celebrate Western democracy. Instead, they still talk through the old paradigm of Chinese nationalism.
On April 7th, when the Olympic torch in Paris encountered numerous French people waving Tibetan flags, when Chinese students saw the gigantic five rings handcuff flags hanging on the City Hall of Paris, when the mayor of Paris announced that he would give the Dalai Lama the title of honorable citizen, when the French president used the Olympic Games to threaten China to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, when a Chinese torch bearer – a beautiful Paralympian – was attacked by pro-Tibet protesters… When all this was happening, the French people didn’t believe that their President should send an apology letter to the Chinese torch bearer in order to ease the anger of Chinese nationalistic youth. Although Chinese youth are still swearing in cyberspace: no wonder people say French are low, no wonder they surrendered to the Nazi within weeks…we haven’t started to boycott yet… Before the torch relay, Chinese youth were discussing what to do, if an Olympic athlete carries a Tibet flag during the Games; after the torch relay, they suggested the Olympic Organizing Committee should by emergency insurance for all foreign athletes, particularly athletes from the West.
If theories of nationalism can be put into two categories: in post-colonial context for the sake of modernization, and in an emergency to defend territories, the post-911 American nationalism is surely the later. However, it is hard for me to apply any one to this recently manifested Chinese nationalism. Claiming contemporary China as a post-colonial context runs a danger of constructing imaginary self-victimization. Claiming China is in danger will attract laughter from scholars who promote the “China threat.” Everyone knows the political project of a “Free Tibet” is as unachievable as having an independent Northern Ireland. Then, why must the Chinese people still live with the humiliating memory of Western imperialist past and generously invest in nationalism?
Possibility 1: Moral economy: my humiliation in the past grants me the right to overreact in the present.
Possibility 2: Sexual desire: Splitism is pornography always works for Chinese mass. The French government didn’t know how well it works, so they received unexpected penetration. (The Olympic torch relay only attracted pro-Tibet indenpendence protestors, Chinese human rights activists (the 1989 student protestors in Tiananmen) barely show any interests to jump in the “Free Tibet” bandwagon, since they know splitism is an untouchable bottomline for most Chinese. If they still want to participate in politics under the banner of “for the sake of China,” they have to make the Olympic torch relay an exclusive show for Pro- Tibet independence activists).
I hoped this would be a lesson for the Western media. It demonstrates that they can’t draw a line between themselves and the Western imperialist past and simply assume that they can bully the Chinese government without lighting Chinese nationalism and end up making millions of frantic nationalists for the Chinese regime. I believe the French government has learned its lesson.
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