Boycott the Olympics?

Should we boycott the China Olympics, or at least the opening ceremonies, because of China’s oppression of Tibet and other human rights violations? Lots of people now are calling for a boycott, including some athletes who believe that competing while breathing China’s polluted air will hurt them. Read this (which argued that Olympic boycotts HAVE been effective in this past) and this (arguing that the China Olympics are going to be a mess anyway).

While being utterly opposed to China’s policies–I still insist on calling it COMMUNIST China, which it still is despite its exploiting free market tactics to gain worldwide economic power, the capitalist phase being a pre-requisite according to Marxism for true socialism–my instinct is to oppose a boycott of the Olympics, though I’m not sure why. What do you think?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I can understand the concerns of the athletes. One of my nieces attempted to teach for a couple years in an industrial city in China, and had to come home after a few months, because her health was breaking down.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I can understand the concerns of the athletes. One of my nieces attempted to teach for a couple years in an industrial city in China, and had to come home after a few months, because her health was breaking down.

  • Kyralessa

    Yes, definitely. That way the boycott will fall on the shoulders of athletes who have worked hard their entire lives for this moment, while not costing us ordinary Americans anything.

    If we didn’t have the Olympics so handy, what would we have to do for a boycott? Stop buying products Made in China? *gasp*

  • Kyralessa

    Yes, definitely. That way the boycott will fall on the shoulders of athletes who have worked hard their entire lives for this moment, while not costing us ordinary Americans anything.

    If we didn’t have the Olympics so handy, what would we have to do for a boycott? Stop buying products Made in China? *gasp*

  • http://www.sarcasmagorical.com Brant

    I’m not sure whether or not to support a boycott, but it doesn’t make sense to me to boycott the opening ceremony and still participate in the rest of it. A half-hearted boycott would be openly stating exactly what our current stance on China is – we have profound ethical problems with them, but we don’t want to push very hard because we’ll lose our benefits from them (cheap products/trade, the part of the Olympics that matter, etc). In other words, it would reveal us to be far more concerned about ourselves than about any ethical concerns.

  • http://www.sarcasmagorical.com Brant

    I’m not sure whether or not to support a boycott, but it doesn’t make sense to me to boycott the opening ceremony and still participate in the rest of it. A half-hearted boycott would be openly stating exactly what our current stance on China is – we have profound ethical problems with them, but we don’t want to push very hard because we’ll lose our benefits from them (cheap products/trade, the part of the Olympics that matter, etc). In other words, it would reveal us to be far more concerned about ourselves than about any ethical concerns.

  • Richard Lewer

    Boycotting the opening would send a message without hurting the athletes. This is something almost all of the countries could agree to.The Chinese are sensitive to “losing face.”

    One of our students from Lutheran High has spent years in serious training for the diving event. Why should he be punished?

  • Richard Lewer

    Boycotting the opening would send a message without hurting the athletes. This is something almost all of the countries could agree to.The Chinese are sensitive to “losing face.”

    One of our students from Lutheran High has spent years in serious training for the diving event. Why should he be punished?

  • http://www.e-citizen.tv/wordpress/langswitch_lang/en/ Tom

    About boycotting the Olympic Games, i’m not sure it will do any good…On the contrary it will upset the Chinese People who will only understand what the Party will tell to understand…
    We’d better go as the OG are a great means to directly communicate with the Chinese People without the communist filter.

  • http://www.e-citizen.tv/wordpress/langswitch_lang/en/ Tom

    About boycotting the Olympic Games, i’m not sure it will do any good…On the contrary it will upset the Chinese People who will only understand what the Party will tell to understand…
    We’d better go as the OG are a great means to directly communicate with the Chinese People without the communist filter.

  • http://castingoutnines.wordpress.com Robert Talbert

    Absolutely do NOT boycott. The best remedy for the Communist regime in China is to expose it to as much international scrutiny as possible. Having your country visited by free people all over the world has a way of making your government behave itself.

    I was in China in 2004 and already the excitement of having the Olympics was electric. China has made some impressive strides towards being a more open and friendly society just because the Olympics have been coming, and the people are very excited about finally being in some sense part of the world community. And having happy people who desire freedom is a pretty good way to end up with a free society.

  • http://castingoutnines.wordpress.com Robert Talbert

    Absolutely do NOT boycott. The best remedy for the Communist regime in China is to expose it to as much international scrutiny as possible. Having your country visited by free people all over the world has a way of making your government behave itself.

    I was in China in 2004 and already the excitement of having the Olympics was electric. China has made some impressive strides towards being a more open and friendly society just because the Olympics have been coming, and the people are very excited about finally being in some sense part of the world community. And having happy people who desire freedom is a pretty good way to end up with a free society.

  • S Bauer

        I doubt that even going there as participants in the Games is going to communicate anything to the Chinese people other than what their government wants them to hear. The message they will get is that their government’s policies and activities are acceptable to the rest of us. And that is probably true. Why? Because China means big bucks and big bucks makes anything acceptable in the eyes of the world.
        I like the idea of moving the Olympics to a different location. That would allow the athletes to compete, the world to watch, and the Chinese government to explain this to its people. There is also a boycott method that wouldn’t harm the athletes and put pressure on the groups big enough to put pressure on China. The citizens of the world should boycott the companies that are sponsoring and funding the Chinese games. Don’t watch the Games. Avoid those companies that are doing business with China and benefiting from its totalitarian regime. Of course, that would mean we would have to do the sacrificing, not the athletes. Like that will ever happen.

  • S Bauer

        I doubt that even going there as participants in the Games is going to communicate anything to the Chinese people other than what their government wants them to hear. The message they will get is that their government’s policies and activities are acceptable to the rest of us. And that is probably true. Why? Because China means big bucks and big bucks makes anything acceptable in the eyes of the world.
        I like the idea of moving the Olympics to a different location. That would allow the athletes to compete, the world to watch, and the Chinese government to explain this to its people. There is also a boycott method that wouldn’t harm the athletes and put pressure on the groups big enough to put pressure on China. The citizens of the world should boycott the companies that are sponsoring and funding the Chinese games. Don’t watch the Games. Avoid those companies that are doing business with China and benefiting from its totalitarian regime. Of course, that would mean we would have to do the sacrificing, not the athletes. Like that will ever happen.

  • David Thompson

    I have not made a decision on whether or not it is wise to boycott (part or all of the Olympics), but here is perhaps something worth considering: We don’t boycott because it will necessarily work (though we hope it does), but because it is our way of saying “you are wrong and I will not be a part of it.”

  • David Thompson

    I have not made a decision on whether or not it is wise to boycott (part or all of the Olympics), but here is perhaps something worth considering: We don’t boycott because it will necessarily work (though we hope it does), but because it is our way of saying “you are wrong and I will not be a part of it.”

  • Don S

    I think it would be very silly to boycott the Olympics now. When Carter boycotted the 1980 Soviet Union Olympics, at least there was a justification that it was in response to the recent invasion of Afghanistan. In this case, the Tibet situation has been going on for years. It flares up from time to time, but it’s not like it’s a brand new crisis. We have known that China is a communist oppressive country for decades. If we were not going to be willing to participate in Olympics sited in China, we should have announced our intention to boycott when the site was selected 8 or so years ago. Besides, what goes around comes around. Remember 1984, when the Olympics were held in L.A. and the Soviet Union boycotted because of 1980. So what was really accomplished?

    I also don’t understand conflating the issues of political oppression and pollution. That just causes confusion as to the whole purpose of the boycott. If athletes don’t want to participate because of fear of health damage that is their perogative, but that has nothing to do with China’s political policies. Mixed messages are seldom effective.

  • Don S

    I think it would be very silly to boycott the Olympics now. When Carter boycotted the 1980 Soviet Union Olympics, at least there was a justification that it was in response to the recent invasion of Afghanistan. In this case, the Tibet situation has been going on for years. It flares up from time to time, but it’s not like it’s a brand new crisis. We have known that China is a communist oppressive country for decades. If we were not going to be willing to participate in Olympics sited in China, we should have announced our intention to boycott when the site was selected 8 or so years ago. Besides, what goes around comes around. Remember 1984, when the Olympics were held in L.A. and the Soviet Union boycotted because of 1980. So what was really accomplished?

    I also don’t understand conflating the issues of political oppression and pollution. That just causes confusion as to the whole purpose of the boycott. If athletes don’t want to participate because of fear of health damage that is their perogative, but that has nothing to do with China’s political policies. Mixed messages are seldom effective.

  • The Jones

    I just want to say that while China is an oppressive and totalitarian regime, I really don’t think it’s Communist. After Mao died, and the Gang of Four was finally put down in favor of Deng Xiaoping’s regime, all the crazy class system, Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward, communes, and economic controls started to erode to nothing. Deng Xiaoping started the new style of Chinese Marxism (which is not really Marxism). It basically says whatever works from experience, do it. Or in the words of Xiaoping, “I don’t care if it’s a black cat or a white cat, it’s a good cat if it catches mice.”

    “Catching mice” for the P.R. of China comes down to making China strong. Marxism does not make China strong, Capitalism does. Relinquishing government control and weakening the CCP would not make China strong, for as far as they are concerned, the CCP IS China. China will not give away Tibet because the surrender of territory will not make China stronger. China wants a space program because it will make China stronger. China wants the Olympics because it will increase China’s prestige and make China stronger. China is in it for China. It is not in it for Marxism or for global revolution, or for the workers. Ideology is dead, but China is rising.

    China is totalitarian, no doubt about it. But Communist? Hardly. Dictators and oppressive regimes will be bad whether they bother writing a manifesto or not.

    Boycott the Olympics? It might be a good idea. But honestly, I want to see my cousin (Daniel Lincoln) run the 3,000m Steeplechase and wave a big American flag in the faces of the Chinese elite. So selfishly, I’ll vote no, don’t boycott.

  • The Jones

    I just want to say that while China is an oppressive and totalitarian regime, I really don’t think it’s Communist. After Mao died, and the Gang of Four was finally put down in favor of Deng Xiaoping’s regime, all the crazy class system, Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward, communes, and economic controls started to erode to nothing. Deng Xiaoping started the new style of Chinese Marxism (which is not really Marxism). It basically says whatever works from experience, do it. Or in the words of Xiaoping, “I don’t care if it’s a black cat or a white cat, it’s a good cat if it catches mice.”

    “Catching mice” for the P.R. of China comes down to making China strong. Marxism does not make China strong, Capitalism does. Relinquishing government control and weakening the CCP would not make China strong, for as far as they are concerned, the CCP IS China. China will not give away Tibet because the surrender of territory will not make China stronger. China wants a space program because it will make China stronger. China wants the Olympics because it will increase China’s prestige and make China stronger. China is in it for China. It is not in it for Marxism or for global revolution, or for the workers. Ideology is dead, but China is rising.

    China is totalitarian, no doubt about it. But Communist? Hardly. Dictators and oppressive regimes will be bad whether they bother writing a manifesto or not.

    Boycott the Olympics? It might be a good idea. But honestly, I want to see my cousin (Daniel Lincoln) run the 3,000m Steeplechase and wave a big American flag in the faces of the Chinese elite. So selfishly, I’ll vote no, don’t boycott.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    China is run by the Chinese Communist Party, so it is indeed communist. In terms of Marxist economics, the problem with the other attempts at communism, including Mao’s, is that it tried to jump right from feudalism to socialism without the intermediate stage of capitalism. For Marx, you cannot skip a stage of the dialectic! What China is trying to do is different than traditional Marxism, though, in that it is trying to have a CCP supervised phase of capitalism, rather than the kind that has to have a revolution to destroy it. But read the Chinese Marxist theoreticians. The danger to us is that it may be an approach to communism that actually works.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    China is run by the Chinese Communist Party, so it is indeed communist. In terms of Marxist economics, the problem with the other attempts at communism, including Mao’s, is that it tried to jump right from feudalism to socialism without the intermediate stage of capitalism. For Marx, you cannot skip a stage of the dialectic! What China is trying to do is different than traditional Marxism, though, in that it is trying to have a CCP supervised phase of capitalism, rather than the kind that has to have a revolution to destroy it. But read the Chinese Marxist theoreticians. The danger to us is that it may be an approach to communism that actually works.

  • David Thompson

    Here is the Family Research Council’s latest commentary on China: “The U.S. State Department must have selective hearing when it comes to defending the victims of Chinese oppression. No sooner had the Tibetans clashed with Chinese government than Secretary Condoleezza Rice intervened, calling for an end to the violence that killed 19 people this month. While it may be fashionable to defend the Dalai Lama, Rice has shown no interest in offering the same aid to persecuted Christians in China, where the brutality and torture grows more severe by the day. In February alone, dozens more were arrested, including 11 children. A new report by Freedom House rates the regime among the bottom dwellers on civil liberties at a time when the State Department rewarded China by downgrading its threat as a human rights violator in its latest report–despite outlining several instances of ‘extrajudicial killings, torture, coerced confessions, the use of forced labor, and arbitrary deprivation of life.’ As Doug Bandow writes in today’s American Spectator, the West cannot afford to be complacent about China. Yet four months after FRC and members of Congress contacted the State Department about helping to free imprisoned church leaders, complacency continues to be the official policy of this administration.”

  • David Thompson

    Here is the Family Research Council’s latest commentary on China: “The U.S. State Department must have selective hearing when it comes to defending the victims of Chinese oppression. No sooner had the Tibetans clashed with Chinese government than Secretary Condoleezza Rice intervened, calling for an end to the violence that killed 19 people this month. While it may be fashionable to defend the Dalai Lama, Rice has shown no interest in offering the same aid to persecuted Christians in China, where the brutality and torture grows more severe by the day. In February alone, dozens more were arrested, including 11 children. A new report by Freedom House rates the regime among the bottom dwellers on civil liberties at a time when the State Department rewarded China by downgrading its threat as a human rights violator in its latest report–despite outlining several instances of ‘extrajudicial killings, torture, coerced confessions, the use of forced labor, and arbitrary deprivation of life.’ As Doug Bandow writes in today’s American Spectator, the West cannot afford to be complacent about China. Yet four months after FRC and members of Congress contacted the State Department about helping to free imprisoned church leaders, complacency continues to be the official policy of this administration.”

  • fwsonnek

    The olympics will expose average chinese to the outside world more than usual. I am almost always opposed to boycotts in most forms. better to dialog, and debate, and build bridges and engage the other side.

    The boycott mentality is at one with the dems and republicans who think they are so utterly at odds with each other.

    always best to start by looking for points of solid agreement and therefore an opening to dialog with someone you are opposed to. instead we look for points of disagreement. which may be only 10% of the points to consider…

  • fwsonnek

    The olympics will expose average chinese to the outside world more than usual. I am almost always opposed to boycotts in most forms. better to dialog, and debate, and build bridges and engage the other side.

    The boycott mentality is at one with the dems and republicans who think they are so utterly at odds with each other.

    always best to start by looking for points of solid agreement and therefore an opening to dialog with someone you are opposed to. instead we look for points of disagreement. which may be only 10% of the points to consider…

  • Anon

    Absolutely boycott the Olympics. Press the IOC to relocate the 2008 summer games to the previous summer site, if the facilities are still intact. If the IOC still wants to reward the Red Guards terrorist organization which oppresses China, Tibet, Uighuria and Manchuria, then the free countries can have their own games at a place of their choosing, the athletes and sponsors will appreciate it.

    They are very good at suppressing information and dissent. The Chinese will not be exposed to freedom by the games. The athletes and tourists are going to be muzzled, and our team’s leadership has gone along with that.

  • Anon

    Absolutely boycott the Olympics. Press the IOC to relocate the 2008 summer games to the previous summer site, if the facilities are still intact. If the IOC still wants to reward the Red Guards terrorist organization which oppresses China, Tibet, Uighuria and Manchuria, then the free countries can have their own games at a place of their choosing, the athletes and sponsors will appreciate it.

    They are very good at suppressing information and dissent. The Chinese will not be exposed to freedom by the games. The athletes and tourists are going to be muzzled, and our team’s leadership has gone along with that.

  • Bruce

    I wonder if the Olympics are worth the candle, anymore. Would it be possible, should a boycott actually be deemed of value, to even rouse the masses to take an interest?

  • Bruce

    I wonder if the Olympics are worth the candle, anymore. Would it be possible, should a boycott actually be deemed of value, to even rouse the masses to take an interest?

  • Kirk

    Instead of boycotting, we should give our athletes “Free Tibet!” uniforms.

  • Kirk

    Instead of boycotting, we should give our athletes “Free Tibet!” uniforms.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    I’m not sure what a boycott would accomplish, honestly, but nor do I think that letting the Olympics proceed as normal would send a message to the average Chinese person. I can only imagine that they’ll see it as an international stamp of approval.

    But I also agree (I think) with David Thompson (@12) and Don S (@9) and others that the debate over the boycott points to a larger problem: we don’t really care what China does. They can repress various cultures, suppress various ideologies and freedoms, and outright kill people, and we in the United States don’t care, because they send us cheap goods. Any message sent by a boycott would be drowned out by the message sent by our dollars, which is why I’m dubious of a boycott.

    I’m slightly disappointed by arguments on behalf of the athletes who’ve worked so hard to get this far. Should we assume that they only care about themselves and their glory? Might they also not care about the goings-on in China, and sending a message to its people and government?

    Finally, I know we’ve had this discussion before, Dr. Veith, but I feel that arguing that China is Communist (it certainly isn’t lowercase-C communist) is akin to arguing that America is a democracy. Yes, there are similarities between our form of government and an actual, pure democracy, but we’ve plainly done something different. Why is it not enough to say that China is totalitarian or repressive? Is there some extra connotation to the word “Communist” that you wish to apply to China?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    I’m not sure what a boycott would accomplish, honestly, but nor do I think that letting the Olympics proceed as normal would send a message to the average Chinese person. I can only imagine that they’ll see it as an international stamp of approval.

    But I also agree (I think) with David Thompson (@12) and Don S (@9) and others that the debate over the boycott points to a larger problem: we don’t really care what China does. They can repress various cultures, suppress various ideologies and freedoms, and outright kill people, and we in the United States don’t care, because they send us cheap goods. Any message sent by a boycott would be drowned out by the message sent by our dollars, which is why I’m dubious of a boycott.

    I’m slightly disappointed by arguments on behalf of the athletes who’ve worked so hard to get this far. Should we assume that they only care about themselves and their glory? Might they also not care about the goings-on in China, and sending a message to its people and government?

    Finally, I know we’ve had this discussion before, Dr. Veith, but I feel that arguing that China is Communist (it certainly isn’t lowercase-C communist) is akin to arguing that America is a democracy. Yes, there are similarities between our form of government and an actual, pure democracy, but we’ve plainly done something different. Why is it not enough to say that China is totalitarian or repressive? Is there some extra connotation to the word “Communist” that you wish to apply to China?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’ll accept the parallel, tODD. We aren’t a pure democracy like the Greeks had–something that didn’t work very well–but it is still legitimate to call our system a democracy. Similarly, Chinese communists have changed the old Soviet model into something that works better, but it’s certainly still legitimate to call it communism.

    I mean, the one political party that is permitted and that continues to rule is the Communist party! The Chinese call themselves communist. Marx still provides the official worldview and ideology. Why do you say the Chinese are wrong in claiming that they do, in fact, adhere to communism? Why do you not want to use the term?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’ll accept the parallel, tODD. We aren’t a pure democracy like the Greeks had–something that didn’t work very well–but it is still legitimate to call our system a democracy. Similarly, Chinese communists have changed the old Soviet model into something that works better, but it’s certainly still legitimate to call it communism.

    I mean, the one political party that is permitted and that continues to rule is the Communist party! The Chinese call themselves communist. Marx still provides the official worldview and ideology. Why do you say the Chinese are wrong in claiming that they do, in fact, adhere to communism? Why do you not want to use the term?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Veith (@18), my point was that we’re not really a democracy, even if we have some democratic ideals (and even if we have a Democratic Party that may be in power from time to time). In casual conversation we may refer to our government as a democracy, but if anyone presses the point, someone will invariably point out that we have a democratic republic or some similarly qualified term (Wikipedia calls it a “federal presidential constitutional republic”).

    It’s in the same vein that I object to calling Chinese “Communist”, absent any qualifiers. Is it some kind of “capitalist Communist”? Perhaps. Or is it a “post-Marxist Communist” state? Okay. But to claim that it is merely “Communist” is to oversimplify or possibly confuse.

    And I find appeals to totalitarian nomenclature to have limited appeal (remember the German Democratic Republic?). Most Communist Parties ruled over states that were not themselves (yet) communist, the idea being that the Party would lead the way to that ideal system from the extant, socialist one. Yeah. Except that none ever reached that state, shockingly.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Veith (@18), my point was that we’re not really a democracy, even if we have some democratic ideals (and even if we have a Democratic Party that may be in power from time to time). In casual conversation we may refer to our government as a democracy, but if anyone presses the point, someone will invariably point out that we have a democratic republic or some similarly qualified term (Wikipedia calls it a “federal presidential constitutional republic”).

    It’s in the same vein that I object to calling Chinese “Communist”, absent any qualifiers. Is it some kind of “capitalist Communist”? Perhaps. Or is it a “post-Marxist Communist” state? Okay. But to claim that it is merely “Communist” is to oversimplify or possibly confuse.

    And I find appeals to totalitarian nomenclature to have limited appeal (remember the German Democratic Republic?). Most Communist Parties ruled over states that were not themselves (yet) communist, the idea being that the Party would lead the way to that ideal system from the extant, socialist one. Yeah. Except that none ever reached that state, shockingly.

  • Danielle Rush

    The hypocricy of the Western nations is amazing. The U.S. and some other countries are considering boycotting the Olympics over China’s treatment of Tibet. Yet at the same time, two nations – Iraq and Afghanitstan – are dealing with the military occupation of their nations by the U.S.

    Is there something wrong with this picture?

  • Danielle Rush

    The hypocricy of the Western nations is amazing. The U.S. and some other countries are considering boycotting the Olympics over China’s treatment of Tibet. Yet at the same time, two nations – Iraq and Afghanitstan – are dealing with the military occupation of their nations by the U.S.

    Is there something wrong with this picture?

  • Don S

    Danielle @ 20 — There’s something wrong with your picture of this picture.

  • Don S

    Danielle @ 20 — There’s something wrong with your picture of this picture.

  • Kyralessa

    Since nobody heard me, I’ll repeat myself, but in a more direct way:

    It’s not fair to punish athletes by boycotting the Olympics. Many of them have worked their entire lives in order to compete in the Olympic Games. If we *really* want to do something about China, then sure, a boycott is a great idea; but the boycott should come from *us*. Look at the stuff on the store shelves. Does it say “Made in China”? Then put it back.

    If we *really* want to have an effect on China and its human rights record, then we should *all* be willing to engage in a boycott, and not try to get some hard-working athletes to do it for us while the rest of us sit back and enjoy our inexpensive China-made goods.

  • Kyralessa

    Since nobody heard me, I’ll repeat myself, but in a more direct way:

    It’s not fair to punish athletes by boycotting the Olympics. Many of them have worked their entire lives in order to compete in the Olympic Games. If we *really* want to do something about China, then sure, a boycott is a great idea; but the boycott should come from *us*. Look at the stuff on the store shelves. Does it say “Made in China”? Then put it back.

    If we *really* want to have an effect on China and its human rights record, then we should *all* be willing to engage in a boycott, and not try to get some hard-working athletes to do it for us while the rest of us sit back and enjoy our inexpensive China-made goods.


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