Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beijing's Olympic Village is like Chinese Kindergarten

China's controlling and paternalistic conceit extend into the Olympic Village journalism centers. Reporters have discovered restrictions to accessing "scores of Web pages -- among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown of the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC's Chinese language news, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse." [#]

What a surprise. Or not. Who really believed Chinese government would allow free access for reporters? Not this girl. Free access to information - well heck, freedom itself - is just not part of the cultural DNA in China.

I've observed first hand the level of conditioning required to convince otherwise bright Chinese citizens that perhaps the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests didn't really happen. And if something did occur, no one was hurt. I swear, I heard this view several times when I was in China in 2004 accompanying twelve american 9th graders on a cultural exchange tour. We visited lots schools and met with students.

By visiting schools I could see the conditioning starts early. Kindergarten-aged children leave their homes to live on school grounds the entire week and visit their families on weekends. The children spend two or three years in this routine and then return home to live and attend day school. The program enables the school (government) to have the huge influence on the patterning and conditioning of Chinese children in their most formative years.

The message: Don't think as an individual. You are one of many. Each of you has your place. Trust your superiors to take care of you and know what is best for you.

China 2004  - kindergarten

China 2004 - kindergarteners

It isn't a big surprise the Olympic Village reporters are experiencing limits to access of information. It is a conceit of the Chinese government that they know what is best for their citizens and will misdirect the rest of the world to ensure they maintain their high level of control.

Essentially the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee president are saying: Oh gosh, we didn't promise free access to information. We promised freedom to publish. That is not the same as free access. You misunderstood. Perhaps you should pay closer attention. [#]


China 2004 - a high school


Chris said...

Excellent post Jeanine. I heard about this the other day and wasn't surprised in the least.

I really thought the IOC had to jump through a lot of intellectual hoops to justify awarding the Olympics to Beijing in the first place but the whole "well, freedom to publish is what we promised you, not freedom to information" is horrible. Provided China doesn't have another Tiananmen Square incident, they'll get universally good coverage for hosting the Olympics and won't have any pressure put on them to change.

I really wish our political leaders here (from both parties) cared more for protecting this right both here and abroad. If George Bush said that the US would withdraw from the Olympics unless the firewall was lifted and reporters had freedom of information, it could have done a lot of good. I'd like to say that there would be one thing in his legacy he could be proud of.


Jeanine Anderson said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Chris.
A friend asked me if I would travel in China again. I don't think so. I don't want to spend dollars there and I don't have hope of influencing change at an individual level. That was a naive and idealistic goal I had before I went.