Joanna Lumley and China

2008-05-01 00:00

Men get more handsome as they grow older. I base my belief on personal experience. Not that I would consider myself handsome even now. But when I look at photographs of myself from 40 years ago I wince. What a wimp! What a nerd! What a hairstyle! Now I have no hair. My face is creased with lines. Yet there is definitely, in my view, an improvement.

Whereas with women it is different. Women of my acquaintance look at photos of themselves from 40 years ago and yearn for those firm boobs, that unlined face and that flat tummy of their early 20s (they conveniently forget the battle with pimples). No woman thinks she has improved in her looks.

So it was a surprise to see Joanna Lumley on the television the other day — Joanna Lumley of the Avengers of so long ago, Joanna Lumley of the long, slim legs, Joanna Lumley of the golden voice. It was snowing in England so we didn’t see her legs this time around, but her face is as beautiful as ever and her voice just as golden.

And she was still chasing baddies, in a sort of way. She was speaking in support of the protesters seeking to extinguish the Olympic torch as it made its way through London to its eventual destination in Beijing. “Just as world opinion and sanctions eventually helped free Nelson Mandela and crush apartheid,” she said, “if we care enough and keep on making our voices heard we may end the tyranny of the current regime in China.”

Never having given the matter much thought until then, I found myself agreeing with her. There was Britain, supposedly a champion of democracy and human rights, cheering on the Olympic torch, symbol of international peace and friendship and co-operation, on its way to China where no democracy has dawned, where no one yet has apologised for Tiananmen Square, that China which has raped and destroyed the precious heritage of Tibet and which refuses to speak with that most peaceful of men, the Dalai Lama.

The length of the previous sentence is an indication of my new-found indignation. My indignation grew as I realised that the figures in blue running alongside and around the bearer of the torch were not British but Chinese bully boys protecting the torch as if it were their property. “Has Britain no pride in its sovereignty?” I asked myself, “Must it surrender its protection of the right to protest to those at whom the protests are aimed? Is it not responsible for security within its own borders?”

There was Gordon Brown, stern critic of Robert Mugabe, condemning the protesters for jeopardising Britain's good relations with the Chinese dictators.

Now, I am no fan of Mad Bad Bob. Hero he might have been 30 years ago, but the Matabeleland massacres by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade quickly revealed his true qualities, long before the land grab started. In his dotage, he has become an unbalanced and evil man, ready to impoverish and spill the blood of his countrymen rather than surrender power.

But mad and bad as he is, he is a mere apprentice of dictatorship compared with the current Chinese regime. Why then did the nations of the world agree to hold the Olympic Games there at all? Why is Brown so quick to condemn the Zimbabwean government and so eager to clasp to his bosom in friendship the Chinese? Is it because Zimbabwe has nothing material to offer the big nations, while China offers both opportunity for trade and a threat to Western economies?

The Olympic Games in China in 2008 is surely reminiscent of the 1936 Olympic Games in Adolf Hitler’s Berlin. At that time some considered boycotting the games rather than appearing to support the emerging racism of the Nazi party which had recently assumed power. But “should politics be allowed to interfere with sport?” argued those who opposed the boycott. And no doubt many would argue the same today.

It is, however, not just a matter of sport. Hosting the Olympic Games is not about sport but about prestige and money. It gives the host nation a huge platform to boost its country and it garners for the host country a huge injection of funds.

So should the games ever have been awarded to China? No doubt there are arguments both ways. Assisting China to become part of the global economy must in the long term force China to liberalise its government. Being friends with China means that perhaps China will care about world opinion. Yet surely there must be a middle line? Surely those who value justice, democracy, fairness, those who hate bullying and oppression, must make it clear to the rulers of China that their ways are hateful to good men and women?

So if it helps to extinguish the Olympic torch, to show that what the torch symbolises has been prostituted by the Chinese occupation of Tibet, all strength to the protesters. And I swear that I hold these views not just because I have been bewitched by Lumley’s still beautiful appearance.

• Ron Nicolson is a retired academic and clergyman with time on his hands to watch daytime television.

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