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NYT: China’s Inside Game

Author: April Rabkin
July 2, 2008

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Last week, amid continuing calls from activists in Europe and the United States to boycott the Olympics to protest China’s record on human rights, came a rare rebuke from the International Olympic Committee. The committee expressed disappointment with a speech in which Tibet’s Communist Party leader used the occasion of an Olympic torch ceremony to denounce the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

What the committee and the rest of the world don’t realize is how little China cares what they think. Here in Beijing, the Olympic Games are primarily for domestic consumption, justifying the government’s new global power to its own people.

My neighbor’s 12-year-old son has seen half a dozen movies starring the five balloon-headed Olympic mascots: Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini. He has been reminded of the Olympics every day at school and on the street by billboards depicting the masses as a gray ocean converging like a wave to lift up a red-uniformed basketball player making a layup. He listens to Olympic tunes — one of which sounds like a drill sergeant singing along to carousel music.

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