Our Human Journey, Mandarin Gate, Chapter Ten

(In order to find his friend Lokesh, who has been imprisoned in a Tibetan internment camp, Inspector Shan has himself arrested for vandalism. He is now being introduced to the disease-ridden camp by Lokesh, starting with a makeshift infirmary that is being used as a secret temple)


Lokesh led Shan toward the nearest barracks, pausing at the warped planks of the stairs leading inside. “Ani Ama convinced them to set up a quarantine, said the soldiers could all get sick otherwise. They aren’t real guards, just police.” Shan and Lokesh well knew the thugs who ran China’s hard-labor prisons. “Like a practice prison. Not even any roll calls. They don’t realize the sick rotate in and out every few hours. The worst of those who are really sick are in the old bunkers in the back fields. From there it’s a short walk to the graveyard. They’re just carried out in wheelbarrows, five or six a day since the typhus started.”


I suppose there must be some people who can watch the Beijing Olympics and still muster the same spirit of pride and international harmony that most of us felt when viewing games of past decades. Not only can I not watch the current Olympics, when they are mentioned the images that spring into my mind are not of jubilant athletes but of Chinese prison camps such as that depicted in the above passage.

During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing tens of thousands of Chinese citizens were imprisoned because their government feared they might engage in protests before the international media. As terrible as this was, the media at least had some visibility over that repression. Today there is no transparency whatsoever beyond the empty grandstands. These games are just an extravagant stage production put on by political commissars. It is heartbreaking to see our media obediently playing by Beijing’s script, and even more disappointing to witness how well-known Western companies are making the entire process possible with their massive advertising spending.

What is happening in Beijing is the opposite of the unity, integrity and personal achievement that the Olympics traditionally stand for. We are just massaging the ego of the greatest abuser of human rights on the planet, joining in a spectacle aimed at drowning out human rights critics while convincing the world that Beijing represents the new paradigm of global leadership. The splashy, tightly-guarded games are surrounded by a billion muzzled victims, citizens in a stifling lockdown that is more politically than health driven—not to mention the new prisoners who have joined the million-plus Tibetans and Uyghurs already suffering in prisons and concentration camps in western China. Do the leaders of our government, media and business truly understand what they have dragged us into? They have made us complicit participants in a carefully orchestrated Chinese opera, premised on the servitude not only of its own citizens but also of all of us in the West who have empowered it. Until these Olympics are over we are all Tibetans and Uyghurs.

Eliot Pattison