Underpants of Olympic flame

2008-04-14 00:00

If I were the Chinese bureaucrat responsible for guarding the sacred Olympic flame, the place I’d worry about most is Australia. It was there, just before the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, that a student pretending to be an Olympic athlete ran up to the mayor of Sydney and presented him with an “Olympic torch” consisting of burning underpants in a can nailed on top of a chair leg. He was gone before they realised it was not the real thing. His intention was to mock this pathetic neo-pagan ceremony that was originally invented by the Nazis to spice up the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

The 1936 Olympics was Nazi Germany’s coming-out party, so Hitler’s people arranged for 3 442 racially pure Aryan runners to do a relay race with an “Olympic torch” along the 3 442-kilometre route from the Temple of Hera on Mount Olympus to the stadium in Berlin.

This year’s Olympic Games were supposed to be communist China’s coming-out party, and the route is even more ambitious: 21 countries on all six inhabited continents. But that includes Australia, and I really wouldn’t send the torch there if I wanted to preserve China’s dignity. As England is the spiritual homeland of irony, so is Australia the world capital of mockery, and by the time the torch gets there (if it ever does) the Australians are going to feel challenged.

The bar will have been set quite high by the time the torch reaches Canberra. After the propaganda triumphs for the “free Tibet” movement in London, Paris and San Francisco, the rain of humiliations for the Chinese regime may ease off for a while. But after Dar es Salaam, Muscat and Islamabad, where they don’t care much about Tibet, comes New Delhi, where some people care a great deal. There will be a lot of Tibetans in New Delhi, so the run there, if it happens, may resemble a low-intensity war. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta may be quiet, but then comes Canberra, where Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already said that the blue tracksuited Chinese thugs who have jogged alongside the torch bearers to fend off protesters will not be allowed to operate.

It has become a nightmare for the poor, doomed Chinese bureaucrats who set this thing up. For the moment, they are brazening it out. “The Olympic flame belongs to the people around the world,” said Wang Hui, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee, “so the behaviour of a few separatists will not gain sympathy and will cause strong criticism and is doomed to fail.”

Never mind the silly torch, and the equally bizarre three-layer cake that is the actual Olympics Games of today. (An international athletics competition on the bottom, an orgy of nationalist self-congratulation in the middle and a sickly-sweet pantomime of international love and brotherhood on the top.) What’s actually colliding here are two irreconcilable views of the world.

For almost all Chinese, the turmoil in Tibet is a threat to national unity. Only in the past century have Tibet and the Turkish-speaking Muslim province of Sinkiang come to be seen as a necessary part of that national unity, but they are now. Chinese propaganda insists that the local people support that consensus, but it makes no difference if they don’t. They have to stay, because national unity is at stake. For almost everybody else, China and Tibet is obviously a colonial relationship, and it’s perfectly natural for the Tibetans to seek independence. They won’t get it this time round, and they may never get it, but why would you be surprised that they try?

Foreign governments will never support Tibet’s independence, because they depend on China’s trade and they value “stability” in China above all else. Foreign individuals are under no such constraints, and the interminable, multi-national Tour of the Torch is giving them a lot of opportunities to show their feelings. It isn’t “anti-Chinese”, just pro-Tibetan, but there will be much anger and many hurt feelings by the time this is done.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.