Leading article: In today's China, not all that glisters is gold

For all the Olympic euphoria, let's not forget Tiananmen Square

Share
Related Topics

The Beijing Olympics begin today with what China has promised will be an opening ceremony without precedent in scale and splendour. You may even be watching it as you read this. Ever since the city was controversially awarded the 2008 Games, the Chinese authorities have done their utmost to ensure that they would be a model of their kind – a showcase, not just for Beijing but for the new China.

There was no question that the venues would be completed in good time. There was no question either that they would be better and more distinctive than those hosted by other cities in recent years. In the quest for efficiency, the Olympics juggernaut flattened all before it, including some of the most picturesque quarters of old Beijing. Nor was the human factor left to chance; even ordinary members of this enormous city's population were drilled in acceptable ways to meet and greet.

For the next two weeks China will be open to the world – and yet not open. It will be open in the sense that many foreign dignitaries, but fewer than expected foreign tourists and sports-lovers, will be enjoying its lavish hospitality. It will be more open than perhaps the authorities had calculated: while many restrictions on foreign journalists were lifted for the whole of the Olympic year, censorship of the internet has now been partially lifted at the insistence of visiting reporters. Computer-literate Chinese with a smattering of a foreign language will have access, suddenly, to an infinitely wider world. And protest is being accommodated, within limits.

The face Beijing turns to the world will be one that encourages us to believe not just that China is a rising global power, but that its rise is a thoroughly benign development that presents no threat to anyone else. But the impression of openness – like so many other impressions China has been trying of late to foster – obscures a more complex, and often darker, reality.

The suppression of disturbances in Tibet earlier this year conveyed the message that Han domination of Tibet is non-negotiable. The British and other campaigners who hoisted a "Free Tibet" banner at the Bird's Nest stadium were summarily deported – a milder punishment than they might have faced in non-Olympic times. A bomb attack in Xinjiang has brought a predictable security crackdown. As for openness, access to certain Chinese-language internet sites are still blocked; and fraternisation between Chinese and visitors will be heavily circumscribed by security levels in Beijing. The special forces thugs sent to accompany the Olympic torch on its progress across continents afforded a glimpse of the methods a sensitive state employs.

China is still a one-party state, albeit a more relaxed and responsive one than 20 years ago. Dissent of many hues is punished, be it political, religious or ethical. Parents who protested about corruption after their children were killed in the Sichuan earthquake are among the latest victims. China sustains a Gulag every bit as extensive as that in the former Soviet Union.

Today's China has one of the fastest growing economies in the world; millions have escaped grinding poverty. It is undoubtedly an emerging superpower. But it is not, by any recognisable definition, a democracy, nor does it even hint of becoming one. This should put us on our guard. Between now and the closing ceremony on 24 August, Beijing has one aim above all other: to banish the 19-year-old ghosts of Tiananmen Square and replace them with the smiling visage of universal sportsmanship. Let's enjoy the Games, but also look beyond what China wants us to see.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable