Aug 06

(Letter) Handling Olympic protests in Beijing – a ‘test case’?

Written by es.nautilus on Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 at 9:55 pm
Filed under:Analysis, News | Tags:, , ,
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Four members of the activist group, Students for a Free Tibet, have staged a lamppost protest in Beijing, unfurling a banner that read, ‘One World, One Dream – Free Tibet’, as the Olympic torch relay entered its final stage in the host city on Wednesday 6 August. All four – two British and two American nationals, holding tourist visas – have been arrested and are currently in police custody. In their interviews with the BBC, parents of the two British protesters spoke of their pride and explained that they were otherwise not unduly concerned about their children’s safety. They added that following the arrests the British students had made direct contact with their respective families, confirming that they had been treated well in custody. It is believed that they will now be entered into the deportation process within the coming days, whilst human rights campaign groups, including Students for a Free Tibet, have claimed further protests will follow in the weeks ahead.


Following the fiascos in London, Paris and San Francisco, as the torch arrived in Hong Kong, it was said at the time that Hong Kong would be the only place in China where protests would be expected. Well now, two days before the Opening Ceremony, a protest was successfully pulled off at the heart of Beijing – if there is such a thing as a ‘test case’ in how Olympic protests are to be handled in the host city at these Games, then how this case pans out will be significant.

Reports so far suggest that things are moving in the right direction. The authorities in Beijing have set out guidelines and designated areas within the city outside the venues, where protests could be held. In this first case, the protesters clearly stepped ‘outside the line’, were duly arrested, and are expected to be deported. Whether the provisions on protests are adequate, fair or not, is a matter of opinion and can be subject to debate. However, as the protesters entered China through immigration, whatever reservations they might have had – to put it mildly – with China’s policies, laws, rules and regulations, they had in effect made a declaration that they would abide by them on their visits. (Otherwise they would not have been permitted entry legally, and they did come to the country through the proper, official channels.) Subsequently, they made the decision obviously to stage a high-profile protest beyond what was permissible under the regulations in force; therefore, they deserved to be treated for a material breach of the conditions of their leave to remain.

In the end, the protesters made their point, in a way which they believed was best, did their bit for the cause and values that they evidently upheld with the greatest vigour and commitment (not less making mum and dad really proud in the process); the authorities enforced their rules that had been set out in advance, in a way that is perfectly decisive, largely peaceful and generally respectable to all (or to most, if not to all). Surely, everybody’s winner then?

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38 Responses to “(Letter) Handling Olympic protests in Beijing – a ‘test case’?”

  1. wuming Says:

    The best hope is that Chinese security apparatus will gain some professionalism through the Olympics process. If the protests and such can be handled according to the law and with the minimal of fuss like this one seemed to be, then Chinese government will have everything to gain and nothing to loose.

    However, if there is a clash between Chinese and such protesters, then the situation can become extremely complex. I am not sure the security personnel will have enough experience to handle it.

  2. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    “However, if there is a clash between Chinese and such protesters, then the situation can become extremely complex. I am not sure the security personnel will have enough experience to handle it.”

    This is my worry too. I don’t have patience for this type of people. Get them on an airplane send them home and ban them from coming back to China for life.

  3. Charles Liu Says:

    I hope these 30-something British “students” will hang big flags for “Free Northern Ireland” during London Olympics.

    Same goes for the American protesters. I can’t help but notice the hypocrisy in protesting in China while ignoring the bloody ground we stand on. What about “Free Nativer America”? Doesn’t charity begin at home?

  4. Netizen K Says:

    Ya, China should have no-fly list like the US. Once you’re on, you’re a lifer.

    Back to these Free Tibet ignorant agitators, it’s said they have hijacked Dalai Lama’s agenda. His holiess has lost control because these Westerners have no sense of history and context, they are in for some feel-good PR stunts or get something on their resume. They don’t care about consequences.

    Dalai Lama often express his nostagia about Chairman Mao. Why? Because Mao gave him a good 17-point deal, great automony.

    But those CIA cold-warriors gave him unrealitistic promises and he turned against Mao. That led to rebellions and he had to fled to India. Then Nixon cut the legs from under Dalai Lama by ordering CIA to stop. These days his holiess desperately wants to but can’t go back to the 17-point deal. Water is under the bridge. The Chinese are no longer interested.

    Now these new know-nothing agitators want to stir things up. What’s the saying, they are not helping, instead they are harming things. I’m afraid this current automous region thing may go up in smoke as well if things go on endlessly. Who should be sorry then?

  5. jen Says:

    agreed – the Chinese authorities did a good job handling these protests. however, another test case is the Chinese group of homeowners that have been denied a permit to protest in the designated ares. i really wish the government would allow the official channels to actually work.

  6. greg Says:

    They’re being deported.

    “They disrupted public order and violated Chinese laws. Their period of stay in the country will hereby be cut short according to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Control of the Entry and Exit of Aliens,” the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

    The four, three men and one woman, had entered China on tourist visas.

    See the report below

  7. MutantJedi Says:

    @MoneyBall … tasering makes for dramatic video with all the convulsions and stuff. And the last thing the PR machine needs is a Vancouver Airport type taser death.

  8. my_mother Says:

    Hey es.nautilus,

    You forgot that this is not really a win win situation. I am sure the protesters scored a victory of sorts. Sure! they scored a bunch of “brownie points”. But, ain’t that a bit hollow? Maybe someone can tell me what they have really won?

    While he/she is at it, maybe we can all think about who came out the bigger winner? Yeah, this is one of the reasons why I am not the least bit worried about attention grab stunts like this — I do think it is entertaining though.

  9. ericxhj Says:


    The group of homeowners wanted to protest at the Tiananmen square… Which obviously is not one of the official protesting zones

  10. Smith Says:

    That is the beauty with Chinese gov:
    Gov speak about applying the law when they like, and break the law when they like.

    Now, they kick out foreigners because they did not respect the rules by expressing their idea in public with a few sign.

    But at the same time, millions of people get kick out of their flat with non fair non legal compensation and not much happen (even in Shanghai or Beijing), at the same time their is everywhere prostitution when it is officially forbidden, at the same time there is everywhere fake DVD when it is forbidden, at the same time some Chinese people asking company to respect the environment law of the government are put in house arrest (in Suzhou last year)

    In Chinese constitution it is written: “Chinese government protect and respect human right” when are we going to apply the basic law of china which is Chinese constitution?

    To: Charles Liu: if people show this kind of flag during London olympic not much will happen, people will look to them take a few pictures, and when they will be fed up they will go home.

    What is the big deal of some people showing a few sign expressing their idea? no big deal, you do not agree: go talk with them, you agree: be happy, you do not care: pass you way.

  11. Wukailong Says:

    This might anger some people:


  12. ericxhj Says:


  13. ericxhj Says:

    I saw huge number of officials and volunteers looking after all buildings of Beijing… How can those kids be able to climb that tall pole to hang “free to bed” without anyone noticed?…

    I would be very concerned about Olympics’ security, seeing those “kids” were able to do this near the bird nest…

  14. BMY Says:


    I agree what you are saying like people can just ignore the few signs. But how about if they put signs everywhere would be ignored as well? why ignore this one not ignore that one?

    “at the same time their is everywhere prostitution when it is officially forbidden, at the same time there is everywhere fake DVD when it is forbidden” are good questions but just like we ask a diffrent goverment “everywhere drugs when it is officially forbidden,at the same time there is street shooting everywhere when it is forbidden”. I think to pull of few signs or deport few people is much easier to stop street fake DVDs or drugs.

    “To: Charles Liu: if people show this kind of flag during London olympic not much will happen, people will look to them take a few pictures, and when they will be fed up they will go home.”

    There might be another outcome: the guy might be beaten up by few other guys who hold different belief. There were killings not long ago caused by the different belief somewhere in UK..(I am not saying there must be killings as I know things has changed. but there are possibility of fist fighting)

  15. yo Says:

    “I would be very concerned about Olympics’ security, seeing those “kids” were able to do this near the bird nest…”

    In all intents and purposes, they did their job. Those kids were there to make a PR stunt and not trying to blow themselves up in an attack. No harm no foul.

    Olympic security is always a big tasks to take. Excluding the jihadist elements against China(and if you are wondering, NBC News is reporting on it, we do have balance here), there are other wack jobs out there who want a piece of someone else at the games, like what happened in Munich. I think it would be great if the only disturbances that will happen in Beijing for the next two weeks will be from protesters staging stunts and nothing worse.

  16. Wukailong Says:

    Hasn’t this happened before? FLG people were going to China to show banners in 2000, and they were detained en masse. The police were harsh at times, but no violence were used as far as I remember. It’s not a new thing.

  17. Chops Says:

    There seems to be a double-standard for foreigners and locals who dare to protest.

    The Gang of Four (no pun intended) expects to be simply deported without fine or jail.

    What happens if a Chinese citizen did exactly the same thing?

  18. YangMeiChuJian Says:


    “What a big deal …”

    It is a big deal. They agree to abide by Chinese laws, rules and regulations when they applied the visa . They broke their promise. Does this behavior can be labeled as lying?

    Similar when you visit another family, you need to respect the customs in that family. If the family likes tidy and clean, then you should not wear your dirty shoes and walk in; otherwise don’t go and visit.

    Still remember some Kids put a similar disturbing sign somewhere in Sydney while the torch arrived in Australia, they were arrested.

  19. Charles Liu - wubaidang Says:

    YMCJ, climbing and endangering ancient relic, public facility, and disorderly conduct are crime in the West as well. Last month bunch of “spider-man” were arrested for climbing the Times building.

  20. pug_ster Says:

    I’m glad that Joey Cheek is complaining that he can’t get a visa to come to China otherwise he will make a scene.

  21. rory Says:

    @ Charles Liu:

    You’re not the first person to bring up Northern Ireland as an example of a UK equivalent to the Tibet problem in China. Although I don’t entirely agree with this, there are some interesting parallels:

    1) The British eventually gained political control over Northern Ireland through a series of ‘plantations’ in the 17th Century, where British citizens (mainly from Scotland) were given land confiscated from Irish locals.

    2) Although the presence of the British accelerated the economic growth of Northern Ireland, divisions remained between the Irish and the British settlers; it was this environment that led to the ‘Troubles’ and sectarian violence between paramilitary groups like the IRA and the UVF.

    There are two important points to take from this: first of all, despite the improvements in people’s quality of life that were seen under British rule, many Irish nationalists remain resentful towards the presence of the British in their country to this day.

    Secondly, a peaceful solution to the problem has only come about in the past few years. It has involved the creation of an autonomous regional government, with democratically representatives from both sides (even Sinn Féin, a political party long suspected to have close ties with the IRA) and backing from both the Irish and UK governments. Furthermore, I can guarantee you that if there was a referendum on independence that resulted in a ‘Yes’ vote, the UK government would not respond with violence. (In any case, this is more likely to happen in Scotland than in Northern Ireland. There are far more people who consider themselves ‘British’ in the latter than in the former.)

    I actually think that the Northern Ireland example is critical to understanding the position that many British people take regarding Tibet. We know about the mistakes that our government made in the past, and we’ve experienced the violence and suffering that has resulted some 300 years later. We understand that economic development and calls for stability and unity will not bring an end to feelings of resentment from those who believe they are oppressed. The similarities between the two situations may even have led to some misunderstandings: I think that many people in the UK believe that the Chinese government is deliberately encouraging Chinese people to move to Tibet in order to gain more control over the region, just as our government did in Ireland all those years ago.

    The main point that I’m trying to make is that, contrary to the opinion of many posters here and elsewhere, ‘Westerners’ do not support Tibet simply because we have been hoodwinked by the Dalai Lama, or because we go to bed each night praying for China’s collapse and demise. Some people genuinely feel that China is making mistakes that our own government has made in the past, and that we might have some useful advice to help them avoid further problems in the future. Is that arrogant? Yes, I suppose it is. But it doesn’t make it wrong.

    P.S. For the record, I am not in favour of full independence for Tibet. I studied at Edinburgh University, where one of the student protesters is from, and I was unimpressed with the Students for a Free Tibet movement. However, I do think that there’s a need for a serious debate in China on this matter; something that goes beyond the “Tibet has always been a part of China, since the Qing/Ming/insert dynasty here…” argument. At some point, China will have to move beyond shouting about how ignorant Westerners are and how horrible the violence in Lhasa was (and I agree, it was disgraceful) and actually think about why these things happened.

  22. EugeneZ Says:

    These parents for “students for a free tibet” obviously have set very low bar for being proud of their children’s accomplisment. I do not see what it is there that they should be proud of. What they did was cowardly, attention grabbing, petty, and pathetic. I just came back from visiting Bird Nest / Water Cube, where the mood was one of celebration, and I am going to check out Tiananmen square in the evening. The excitement is building up here on the ground.

  23. Smith Says:

    To BMY and YangMeiChuJian and everyone else 😛

    My point is that China is totally not a country rules by law.
    the Chinese constitution herself is not apply and no judge can make it apply (human right is protected by Chinese constitution)
    So many laws are broken in front of everybody (DVD, hookers, etc… it is not the same as in Europe where of course some rules are broken but not in front of the Police, and not by the government in front of everybody) and the government himself do not respect the laws (in Europe if one person from the government broke one law, he will have the same trouble as everyone else with the judge)

    Then sometime, the government say: “hey guys!! I myself do not respect the law, but I am going to arrest you according to X or Y law”

    Chinese gov like also to make some law that he know nobody respect… then they do nothing to make it apply, but one day if they want to annoy someone they can use this law only against him. for example: video sharing is only allowed in china for company own by the government, it means that they can close most of these website when they want… but do not do… and will close only the one who do not censor enough the content…. or in Shanghai you can officially share a flat only with your relative (not with flatmate, not with bf/gf) . The law is just bullshit, just a way to punish the people who you dislike and not make rules for everybody to respect.

    The Chinese government do many many rules, and make apply only the one which are convenient, the other is just for the Face in front of local Chinese or foreigners. and when some Chinese ask the law to be apply, they often get a lot of trouble from the government.

    So, all this story of law is just bullshit, they dislike banner, they arrest them and deport them… law is just an excuse.

    — China is not a country rules by Law.
    — Law is just an excuse for the government to do as it please them.
    — Many law are made to put everybody out of the law, then punish the one who displease you.
    — Many law are broken by the Chinese government and nobody can force them to respect the law.

    — Law should be rules made for all, apply to all (gov included)

    What Chinese gov and Chinese people should check:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_powers (only way to have an effective rules of law)

  24. Netizen K Says:

    Singapore government did it better. When it had some FLGoners protesting a few years ago, it totaled the bill of police work and got paid by the protesters before deporting them.

  25. yo Says:

    I think you have to qualify some of those statements more. I disagree with your DVD, prostitution, etc examples because a lot of it has to do with the police’s ability to enforce those crimes(e.g. manpower, time, etc).

    In addition, China is a country of laws which they do their best to enforce. However, you have the instances where the law is blatantly not followed (like an alleged criminal’s right to see his/her lawyer is denied). I’m aware of the slogan that china is not a country of laws, but it needs to be qualified to be fair IMO.

    My solution would be some form of separation of the legal system from the government(in most cases, it’s the local) or perhaps hire a democratically elected internal affairs rep. In addition, China should encourage and fund the education of more lawyers and judges. That’s something that I don’t hear a lot about, that the legal system does have a lack of talent.

  26. Bob Says:

    The lapse in security enforcement is appalling. I can understand if it happened in place far away from the main Olympic venues in Beijing, but this is simple inexcusable in light of China’s repeated vows to heighten the security measure.

    Heads must roll.

  27. Simon Ellington Says:

    “Free press” what bush means is the that a press which can be bought and manipulated to serve the corporate agenda because the Chinese press are controlled by the government. I do see the difference however bush thinks their is well you can try and pull the wool over the eyes of someone else. This is a united effort by the corporations of the west to bombard the Chinese with negative marketing which is really blackmail at this crucial time in Chinese history. There aim is for China to allow the western corporations access to the 1 Billion + untapped consumers so they can sell them their products and services.

    So many intelligence services agents under the guise of journalist in China spinning webs of subversion. Why the need ? well lets call it economics the western corporations want access to the Chinese population and all the nationalised sectors to be in private hands. They are doing their utmost to undermine and humiliate China while billions of us watch they are turning this prestigious sporting event by politicising it.

    What happened to the Sydney Olympics and the aborigines being unrecognised, mistreated, ghettoised and ignored of their rightful ancestral lands ? i will tell you its because western corporations own Australia just like South Africa only white might is right so shutup and dont fight for your rights ! Expect more serious trauma to be inflicted on the Chinese because these corporations will not stop until they get what they want. All these rich kids making protest have the time and the money to make themselves a name these egomaniacs while the rest of us work 9 to 5 and 7 days a week.

    The Chinese are the workhorse of the world and they can make almost anything so why would they allow money to go to western banks when they can provide all the needs of their consumers, pick up anything and read the reverse text “made in ?” yes CHINA ! Western corporations know the Chinese are modernising and developing at a fast rate and they see this as a threat because they dont want the Chinese making and selling all the things their countrymen want because they feel this is against DEMOCRACY and FREEDOM, how absurd. Bush didnt create FREEDOM neither has he a monopoly of this inalienable right go read your CONSTITUTION bush.

  28. Smith Says:

    To Yo and others:

    China is not a country with the rules of law:
    Many international study show that for example: study from the world bank (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldwide_Governance_Indicators china get around 42 for rules of law, when Germany get 94, max note is 100)
    If you lived before in Europe then you live now in china, it is obvious in the daily life.

    For: DVD, prostitution, satellite antenna, etc…
    Many Chinese say as Yo: “it has to do with the police’s ability to enforce those crimes(e.g. manpower, time, etc).”… come one: Chinese police walk by ten times a day and they can do anything ? Maybe I should start selling flag of Tibet… I am sure Police will find back suddenly his ability to close my shop. It is not a question of ability (or Chinese police is the worst ever police) but a question of will.

    DVD, prostititution and other are not a big deal for me:

    But, the main problems is :
    —That the government himself arrest barefoot lawyer, or other kind of people who ask the law to be respected.
    —That no judge can go against high rank party member (except if an even higher rank support him because he want for internal politic get rid of this guy)
    — Many people have their right unrespected (so many get kick out of their flat with unfair compensation) and they can not find justice. (it happen even in central of Shanghai)
    — The constitution of China is not even respected, and nobody can ask the government to respect it.
    — Many law are made to put nearly everybody out of law then the government do not make the law apply, and use this law only sometime to punish people they want to punish for other reason (same ex: video sharing website should officially all be own by government, it is not the case… thus if one of this website do not censore himself enough content that the gov dislike they will be close according to this law… and other people who censore more and are also out of the law will keep running their website)

  29. YangMeiChuJian Says:


    I would think it is radical and extreme to think that “China is not a country rules by Law…”. I would agree that China’s law system need to be reformed and law & order to be better enforced.

  30. FOARP Says:

    @Smith – I would not say that China is a country without rule of law, it is just that there are parts of the law which applied arbitrarily. Laws on intellectual property are usually respected where there is a contract between two parties, or in patent law, or where a reasonably-sized company infringes another company’s trademark, but there is no real enforcement of the law against true piracy. That the law can be avoided by those with influence is no surprise, I expect George Bush’s list of pardons to be particularly long next January, but the use by politicians of laws on ‘state secrets’ to persecute journalists who expose corruption, for example, shows a justice system in which ‘justice’ is hard to find.

  31. jen Says:


    Chinese who applied for a permit to protest in an approved zone was not only denied a permit but also arrested.

  32. yo Says:

    I’ll say it again, “China is not a country with the rule of law” IMO is a bumper sticker slogan that needs to be qualified. Your other examples on the bottom are over generalizations. In regards to your study, I take very little credence on studies that try to quantify something that is inherently subjective, like quantifying anger from a scale from 1 to 10.

    “If you lived before in Europe then you live now in china, it is obvious in the daily life.”
    I’m an American, and went to China recently, and it’s obvious to me they have laws.

    “Many Chinese say as Yo: “it has to do with the police’s ability to enforce those crimes(e.g. manpower, time, etc).”
    And your objection is what? All you did was reply with a hypothetical.

    No one here can say that the Chinese legal system doesn’t need reforming, but to overstate the problem doesn’t do anyone good, and IMO is counterproductive. You wouldn’t call a sick man a dead one.

    @ YangMeiChuJian and FOARP – I agree, and in FOARP case, you bring up a good point about the arbitrarily followed laws. A good amount comes from laws that were defined very vaguely. What are state secrets, what’s the definition? So another step the legal system can take is to hammer those laws out, make them clear, there should be no guess work.

  33. Old Tales Retold Says:

    I’m afraid I’ve been a tad lazy and not read all of this comments thread, so forgive me if I repeat things. I was struck, though, Rory’s comment # 21.

    This is something that is often missed when people criticize Western activists: these activists overwhelmingly come to activism related to China from leading activism on problems in their home countries first. Most of them are furious at Bush and many of them have been arrested at anti-corporate-globalization protests in the past. Whatever else they might be, they are not naive about what America or Europe stand for.

    This, of course, has its drawbacks, too. The activists have certain techniques that they have perfected at home that may or may not work in China.

    As some have commented, I hope this is a learning process on both sides. China can become comfortable with the “normality” of public protests, while Westerners can learn that China is not just another “problem” in a long line of “problems” to be resolved by the same old methods.

  34. Smith Says:

    To FOARP and Yo (an all as usually)

    The rule of law definition: from Thomas Paine (1776): “For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

    A country with the rule of law is a country where the law is above the people of the government.
    In China everybody know that many people of the government are above the law, and that many law can not be apply as they will cause problems to people from the government.
    Thus China is not a country with the rule of law.

    Of course, China has law, some are apply, some not.
    In china it is not anarchy… But it is not a country with the rule of law.
    It is a country with the rules of one party who use sometime the law as a way to keep the country running, and sometime who go himself against the law as a way for him to keep power.

    To take an Olympic image: let say that “a gold medal is the rule of law”, if someone get bronze medal (which is better than nothing) we will not say “he won the gold medal”, we can even say “he did not have a gold medal”. as I say china do not have a rule of law.

  35. yo Says:

    I disagree with your use of the “rule of law” definition according to Tom Paine’s personal opinion; I personally would stay away from using rhetoric as measuring tools. In addition, in your second paragraph, the criterion is vague such that it can be easily interrupted as claiming the U.S. is a country without the rule of law. Since I disagree with your “measuring stick” so to speak, I guess we have to agree to disagree.

  36. Smith Says:

    @ Yo

    I still think that a country where it is really important to have a “good relation with the government” like every company need to have in China is not a country with a rules of Law. In a country with a rule of law, you just need to obey the law and that is enough.
    A country who often put people in house arrest without trial (even the ex General Secretary of the Communist Party of China: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhao_Ziyang )

    In USA if gov break the law they will have problems, that why they something go to the limit (such as Guantanamo, but if one day the supreme court tell the gov that the USA law also apply to Guantanamo even if it is not USA soil, then the government will have to follow the law of the supreme court) in China no court is above the gov, and no court can question the central gov action.

    Furthermore China is a country in which the government do not even respect his own constitution (in which we can read: “the government respect and protect the human right”)… knowing that, hard for me to call China, a country with the rules of law.

    But I agree, according to my limited knowledge some part of China have the rules of law…. I think about Taiwan 😉

    But I think we will still only agree to disagree >_< Still not so bad 😛

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