My roommate asked me what I think about Tibet because “there has been a lot of talk online,” he says. I went to Carrefour the other day, and no, there were no protesters. Inside? Packed with my favorite Chinese consumers picking up cellphones, TVs, detergent, and maybe some French cheese? The China buzz is particularly high as of late. Everyone and their mother is weighing in on human rights, boycotts, the Olympics, China’s Youth and China bashing. If you want a real mind-bending experience, read some of the comments on the articles, linked above, and you will realize that there are some seriously extreme Chinese and “Westerners” alike.
Below, a brief article I wrote for the International Politics and Economics (IPE) Department newsletter back home at Middlebury:
Ryan Kellett ’09.5
“We hope you are able to boycott French Supermarket Carrefour at least on 1 May, to deliver, by the empty Carrefour that day, one message to the western world: Chinese shouldn’t be humiliated! Chinese people shouldn’t be insulted!” (via Shanghaiist) In response to a week’s worth of unrelenting foreign criticism in the media, this message spread by cell phone to thousands of young people across Mainland China.
Just a week earlier, Hillary Clinton proposed that President Bush boycott the Olympic opening ceremonies: “…I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. …I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government.”
And from two very different boycott proposals, one gathers just how far apart the “West” and China stand. The West cannot keep the human rights and Olympic spheres separate. And China, nor its citizens, can take the harsh journalistic criticism in a moment of great national pride. Tibet is caught in the middle. Foreign journalists want to enter Tibet. China wants foreigners out. Han-Chinese loathe the Dalai Lama. Westerners praise him with Nobel Prizes and Congressional Gold Medals.
Where is the common ground? Both sides think it is all about them. In reality, the Olympics are not final exam for China. Nationalism can take better forms than protests outside Carrefour. And battling human rights abuses is a long-term commitment, not just a stump speech. It is time to knock pride and politics down a notch on all sides.