The Beijing Olympics kicked off on February 4 with an opening ceremony of lavish choreography, fireworks, and high-tech visual displays evoking peace and harmony.
That same day in Ottawa, on the windswept, snow-packed ground across St. Patrick Street from the Chinese Embassy, a much more modest ceremony revealed what the spectacle in Beijing had artfully hidden.
At the climax of the ceremony, a life-size cut-out of Chinese President Xi Jinping was presented with a gold medal for genocide.
Standing on a stage of hay bales, Phil Kretzmar, master of ceremonies for the Opening Ceremony of the Genocide Games, told the crowd of over 50 people who gathered in the -11 degree cold: “Today is about showing our support for those who have suffered and who are suffering at the hands of the Chinese government.”
The ceremony was organized by a coalition of organizations representing groups victimized by the Chinese regime. The event highlighted the regime’s brutal campaign against the Uyghurs, often labelled a genocide, and the government’s continuing repression of Tibetans, its persecution of Falun Gong followers, its crackdown on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, and its harassment and incarceration of Chinese advocates for human rights.
As passing cars honked in support, the ceremony began with a march-in of the various groups carrying their flags. Then came the lighting of the Flame of Freedom, followed by personal testimony from individuals who had suffered at the hands of the Chinese regime. The climax arrived when a life-size cut-out of Chinese President Xi Jinping was presented with a gold medal for genocide.
“The lighting of the Olympic flame in Beijing cannot hide the fact that the Chinese government is committing what Canada’s Parliament has declared to be genocide against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities,” said Mehmet Toti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. “The Chinese regime is holding at least one million Uyghurs in detention centres and using many others as forced labour. It is breaking up our families, sterilizing our women, and systematically destroying our culture, our heritage, and the practice of Islam.”
On February 23, 2021, Canada’s Parliament voted 266-0 in favour of a motion stating that China’s actions against the Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang, formerly known as East Turkestan, constituted genocide.
The Uyghurs are far from the only group targeted by the Chinese state. Its campaign to destroy the culture and identity of Tibetans has persisted since 1950, when Chinese troops invaded Tibet. This campaign “continues at full force today,” said Samphe Lhalungpa, Chair of the Canada Tibet Committee. He cited a recent report by the Tibet Action Institute that authorities are separating Tibetan children from their parents, with three of every four Tibetan children forced into state-run boarding schools. Here they study primarily in Chinese, are prohibited from practicing their religion, and are subjected to Chinese Communist Party indoctrination.
At the ceremony, Tsewang Dhondup, whose words were translated by Llhalungpa, spoke of marching in a demonstration in his Tibetan hometown of Tehor shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When Chinese forces opened fire, Dhondup was shot twice, in the elbow and just above his kidney, as he tried to protect a fatally wounded 16-year-old monk. Dhondup removed his clothing to show the damage to his elbow and the scars on his abdomen.
Since 1999, the Chinese state has also relentlessly persecuted followers of the spiritual practice of Falun Gong. “Hundreds of thousands of followers of our peaceful spiritual practice have been sent to labour camps, been tortured, or killed so their organs can be used by China’s transplant industry.” said Kathy Gillis, a spokesperson for the Falun Gong Human Rights Group. In June 2019, an independent tribunal in London concluded that imprisoned Falun Gong adherents continued to be murdered by the Chinese regime for their organs.
Tina Zhang, formerly a high school teacher in Shanghai, said that instead of teaching the required propaganda against Falun Gong, “I told my students how my family benefited from Falun Gong and how the Chinese Communist Party was demonizing it.” In 2004, she was reported and sentenced to three years in prison.
Zhang said her husband, who had gone to Beijing in 2000 to appeal for justice for Falun Gong, was sent to a labour camp without trial. Her stepmother spent five years in prison and her elderly father was imprisoned for 10 years, undergoing torture and beatings, which left his hearing damaged. “These are not only my stories,” Zhang said, adding that similar experiences are common among Falun Gong practitioners.
The ceremony also highlighted the Chinese regime’s recent harsh measures to gain control over Hong Kong, which became a semi-autonomous special administrative region of China in 1999 after the United Kingdom gave up control of its former colony.
“The Beijing Olympics cannot sports-wash away the Chinese government’s brutal elimination of basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” said Aileen Caverley, Cofounder and Trustee of Hong Kong Watch.
Sheng Xue, Vice Chairperson of the Federation for a Democratic China, made it clear that all Chinese citizens lack basic freedoms and that advocates for human rights are regularly incarcerated.
“Chinese citizens cannot freely express their opinions, choose their religion, or even make a comment about the government on social media without fearing harassment, arrest, and imprisonment,” said Xue, who was one of the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square when the 1989 massacre by Chinese forces occurred.
There was no reaction to the ceremony from the Chinese embassy, a fortress-like stone building surrounded by high fences. The Chinese regime has repeatedly dismissed criticism of its record on human rights, while maintaining that such matters are an internal affair.
Chinese authorities say the detention centres in Xinjiang are vocational training facilities, according to the South China Morning Post, but have refused to open up the region to international investigators. In a clear move to counter criticism, Chinese officials chose Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a Uyghur cross-country skier from Xinjiang, as one of the two final Olympic torchbearers in the Beijing Games’ opening ceremony. While the Chinese regime seemed happy to deploy Yilamujiang for propaganda purposes, they appeared less willing to let her speak. According to the Globe and Mail, international journalists could not access her after her races, in an apparent violation of the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC, the governing body of the games).
The IOC’s Olympic Charter promotes social responsibility, the preservation of human dignity and “respect for fundamental ethical principles,” but the IOC still resisted pressure not to hold the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
When IOC President Thomas Bach was asked about the treatment of the Uyghurs, he replied that the IOC must be neutral and not comment on political issues or the universality of the games would be at risk.
Toti, of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, bristled at the suggestion China’s actions against the Uyghurs are simply politics. “Genocide is not a political dispute,” he said.
About the Author:
After careers in journalism and the federal public service, Paul McKeague is now retired. He writes, plays guitar and tennis, and protests against the Chinese government’s persecution of the Uyghurs every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in front of the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.