Thugs and goons. Thugs and goons. Thugs and goons. Thugs and goons.
Take that.And that. (feeling a bit cowed yet?)
Well, their intimidation tactics worked. Here's my new official line:
Soundtrack courtesy of Monty Python. Don't want to piss anybody off, eh?
Saw history today right out in my face, waving flags, noisy feet forward. Sure, it wasn't Ground Zero, Archduke Ferdinand-level history -- I won't get a book deal just for surviving it, but dear readers, I saw history nonetheless.
It started innocently enough -- I went to a Seoul Writer's club meeting near City Hall. . . but on my way over there, I noticed what looked like a new trend in fashion accessories: red capes with yellow stars on them.
On second glance, I realized what they were: Chinese flags. The Olympic Torch came through downtown Seoul on Sunday afternoon, starting at Olympic Park (where I lived in 2003) and ending in Jongno, by City Hall (where I live now.) You may have heard some rumours about protestors hectoring the Chinese Olympic Torch Relay -- over in Paris and London they caused a fair bit of embarrassment, and San Francisco bent so far backwards to avoid turmoil and embarrassment (and a pissed off exporter of cheap plastic toys, clothing, and shoes), that it wasn't so much a relay as a game of hide-and-seek.
Starting a fifteen minute walk from City Hall, the boosters came out in Red.
And the riot police buses came out, too.
I don't know where they got so many, huuuuuge flags (I know I took my wall-sized flag out of the suitcase when my luggage was overweight at the airport), but they were literally everywhere.
Recently, Chinese news sources and netizens have responded to protests and criticism with hurt outrage: the Western Media wants to sabotage our party; like ants at our Olym-picnic, those biased Western journalists want to ruin our fun! And meanwhile, back home, the propaganderthals in charge of the media are playing up the us-vs.-them narrative to stoke nationalistic rage.
(One of my students saw this picture and said, "Are we in Korea?")
Meanwhile, anyone who suggests that this kind of hurt-pride defensiveness is less than the best possible way to respond to the attack, is thrown, nay, hurled up against the wall, gored on the spike of nationalistic pride, slaughtered as a scapegoat: a Chinese student at Duke University had her picture and her parents' address in China published on the internet (scroll down after the link to see a youtube clip, and read the poison on the Chinese comment board, too). She was attacked on the net (and her parents house was vandalized) for stepping between a group of Chinese boosters and Tibetan protesters having a holler at each other, and trying to suggest that, in the spirit of free speech, the Chinese boosters ought to stop shouting down their pro-Tibetters. (She should have sided unthinkingly with her fellow Chinese and found something heavy to use as a weapon -- anything short of that proves she hates China and might be a spy, it seems).
Giant flag. Big as my classroom. And blurry. Moving quickly as they shook it.
Things are ugly back in the mainland, too, and even paralympic athlete Jin Jing, who protected the torch from protesters in Paris and became a hero to the Chinese nationalists, couldn't talk them out of their "Boycott Carrefour" fervour -- instead, they turned on her, too. It must feel pretty lonely to be ostracized by a 1.3 billion strong nation -- the most I've ever been ostracized by is an elementary school class of twenty-six.
(metal detector to enter the main seating area)
There's a new strategy in play with this [debacle] torch relay: it started in Australia, and will rear its head, no doubt, through the rest of the torch relay.
On Sunday, 6000 mostly young Chinese, probably overseas exchange students, descended upon the torch trail in force, wielding huge flags (big enough indeed to block a Tibetan flag from view), waving them, and chanting pro-China, pro-Beijing Olympic slogans loudly (loud enough to drown out any protesters, in fact).
This kind of a preemptive napalm-strike strategy works, insofar as it drowns out any voice of dissent in an ocean of unison, marching in lockstep, chanting in time, and they might have needed it: South Korea has its own grudges with China, including a historical grudge about the kingdom of Goguryeo, and (the big one) the Chinese policy of sending captured North Korean refugees back to North Korea (to near-certain torture and incarceration in a death camp). In fact, a North Korean protestor tried to jump in front of the relay route and set himself on fire in protest.
Here are some pictures I took, making a strong case for my need for a better camera.
I wasn't getting closer to the scrum than that. Robert "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," Capa I ain't.
What you can't see is the torch actually moving along the column of gray-shirted police officers.
More pictures better than mine are here. (like this one: highly recommended link)
So many flags.
As far as I could tell, the basic goal of the Red Army Escorts was to haul any protester to the ground as fast as possible, hopefully before any media outlets pointed their cameras.
This Tibet protester was beaten down in the lobby of four-star Seoul Plaza Hotel -- I'm told the crowd is chanting, among other things, "Apologize" and "beat him to death," as the police surround him.
Bullying and intimidation, friends. When you don't want to listen to criticism, making a fist and snarling "shut the hell up" will do. It was kind of disgusting.
The Olympic spirit is dead to me.
(begin sarcasm) But you don't have to believe my account: take it from the Chinese media! (end sarcasm)
I mean, with this extra Nazi-twist, the western media IS piling it on pretty thick, but you're not winning any sympathy from me when stuff like this happens:
More video. Watch them fast, before the Chinese government demands they be taken down, and the news agencies (naturally) comply.
More pictures, courtesy of Stafford, and Smokehard via the Marmot's hole -- the downtown area where I was. . . with a better camera than mine. From Stafford: the biggest Tibetan flag scrum I personally witnessed (video here) was about ten meters over from where this picture of loyalists was taken.
Also from Stafford:-- just repeat the party line, louder than the dissenters. Effective strategy for their purpose.
See what the Chinese media are saying. And a letter written by Chinese students from M.I.T. -- worth reading (summary: give us a break; we're still a developing country. If you're still developing, why are you hosting the Olympics? Why jump onstage if you don't know your lines yet?)
8000 Seoul police came out to keep order.
The lump of red in the middle of the picture are Chinese flags thrown up to mask a bunch of Tibetan flags that had just appeared. Before the police got there, all the Tibet protesters had been hauled to the ground, overwhelmed by rabid China-boosters.
Vehicle escorts: a big bus gives protesters another obstacle to get around, and increases the chance they'll be intercepted before they can reach the torch.Coke led the procession in a shiny float. Write a letter to Coke and tell them you won't buy more Coke products until they withdraw their sponsorship of the Olympics.
Ditto for Samsung.
In the hotel lobby again.
The ugly, disrespectful (to Korea, to Korea's police force, and to Korea's laws about freedom of expression), disruptive behaviour of China's own citizens in Seoul and other cities is more embarrassing to China than any protest could be.
Some of the facts in this video montage are off base -- it's not a policeman stabbed, but a journalist hit by a projectile in the picture of the guy in green bleeding from the head, and I can't vouch for the text that goes with the footage in the other countries. . . but just look at the footage!
The Propaganda Olympics will go on -- really, whether they go smoothly or tank doesn't even matter to China anymore. Either they go badly, and China can use the embarrassment to stoke the "West hates us" resentment for their propaganda purposes -- a powerful, angry country full of rabid nationalists is just perfect if China decides to go expansionist, or the Olympics go well, and China can use it to strut and preen, declaring they're "arrived" as a major world player, and fuel the nationalism that way.
Last word goes to this kid: a sign held by a college-age student with big old glasses, standing quietly (but confidently: he has 1.3 billion brothers and sisters standing behind him).
It reads: "Respect the Olympic Spirit,
All men -- are brothers!
Interfere with China's internal affairs,
Annihilate -- in the far distance."
Somehow the first and last two lines don't quite match, eh? And how does the threat of annihilation fit with the proclaimed wish for a peaceful torch relay? Dunno.
Not that I was going to ask him: don't care to be wrestled to the ground and sat upon by 6000 angry China-boosters. Yup. The intimidation worked.