this is the title of the cover story of the German (paper) edition of DER SPIEGEL magazine, likening the Chinese government to the evil master of Mordor, made famous by the movie trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel. SPIEGEL’s online edition has kept up with continuous news coverage about the protests in Tibet, the Chinese crackdown, and the events surrounding the Olympic torch relay. Yesterday, an informative article analyzed the conviction of 34-year-old dissident Hu Jia, who was just sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for openly questioning the bright and cheerful image that China tried to present at the Olympic Games. He had declared that China “has no elections, no religious freedom, no independent courts and no independent trade unions.” It is a country, he writes, “in which an effective secret police maintains torture and oppression, and one in which the government even engages in the violation of human rights and is not prepared to comply with international obligations.” His prison term confirms how right he is.
Summarizing the history of why the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Games to Beijing, the article claims that back in 2001 the “overwhelming majority of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the US House of Representatives was opposed to Beijing being awarded the games, arguing that the number of human rights violations in China was ‘abhorrent’.” As part of the deal, the Chinese government promised to improve these conditions, and agreed to clean up the air. However, in practice nothing has changed since 2001; people suspect of anti-government opinions can be detained for weeks or even years in government-run farms and psychiatric clinics, re-education and labor camps, prisons and “legal schools” — without court orders. Party propaganda withholds or distorts news of such incidents, highlighting instead the new-found economic success that instills nationalistic pride in China’s younger generation. A strong anti-Western sentiment, remembering European imperialism and historical events such as the Opium War (1840 – 1842) bubbles up on the Internet: “They once used cannons,” one blogger writes angrily on the popular Web portal sina.com. “Now they show up with their democracy and human rights slogans.”
“Their” democracy. Of course, this is correct. The Chinese people have yet to experience what democracy means. After more than 2000 years of imperial rule, China became a republic in 1912 with the help of Sun Yat-sen. Warlords and military leaders kept struggling for political power and essentially maintained the former dictatorial methods. A civil war between followers of the nationalist Kuomintang party and the Chinese Communist Party which lasted almost 25 years ended with Mao ZeDong proclaiming the establishment of The People’s Republic of China. Little has changed since then in terms of human rights and liberties.
After massive protests against the torch relay in London and Paris, San Francisco is getting ready today to allow free expression of opinion while hoping to prevent violence. Will there be more of the elite special forces units of the Chinese military, who made protesters in London take off T-shirts with perceived anti-Chinese slogans? “There’s no way people like that should be allowed on our streets,” Damian Hockney of London’s Metropolitan Police stated in a local paper — and still, they were. After all, the Chinese have a lot of money.