I see another of my top ten Olympic predictions (number four) has come true – a protestor at the games, Christina Chan, tried to unfurl a Tibetan flag. Security goons covered her with a drop cloth and, when she refused to leave, simply carried her away. This incident took place in Hong Kong, not China – so much for China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ bullshit. And shame on Hong Kong for allowing this suppression of free speech to take place. Shame indeed.
But there’s one Olympic prediction I did not make – a visiting tourist will get murdered. I did – and still do – expect activists visiting China to get badly beaten by the thuggish ‘security’ services, and maybe a few life-threatening injuries as a result of that. But an outright murder did not make it to my list. Perhaps it should have, for China is a violent society, though the muzzled Chinese press downplays the true extent of the murder and carnage that is played out every day across the nation.
Even so – for the most part – white guys get a pass. Sure, we’re fair game for pickpockets and swindlers, but murder is less common. That’s partly because all Chinese citizens know that murdering a foreigner is far more serious than murdering a Chinese person. The murder of a Chinese citizen can be hushed up, but not so when a white guy gets it. The police, to whom the death of a Chinese citizen would be nothing much to worry about, would be far more vigilant in tracking down the killer of an overseas visitor.
That, at least, is how it works within China.
But when a Chinese citizen is murdered outside China, the reaction is totally different. And the murder of the American in Beijing this weekend has set me to thinking of this contrast.
The victim’s name was Todd Bachman. His daughter, Elisabeth, is a former Olympian in volleyball, and she is married to the current coach of the US volleyball team. Todd Bachman was stabbed to death while visiting the Drum Tower in Beijing, and his wife was seriously injured. His killer was a Chinese citizen who has been named as Tang Yongming, 47, a native of China’s southeastern Zhejiang Province. Tang killed himself after the murder.
George W. Bush said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families… The United States government has offered to provide any assistance the family needs.” Clark Randt, the U.S. Ambassador, said the attack “appears to be a senseless act of violence.”
Andy Banachowski, head coach of the women's volleyball team at UCLA, where Elisabeth Bachman played, said “I am shocked and saddened by the news of the attack on Wiz (Elisabeth) Bachman’s parents, Todd and Barbara, in Bejiing.” The U.S. woman’s basketball coach, Anne Donovan, said “It’s just tragic.... I don’t know if there’s another word for it. We said a prayer for them in the locker room. I get goosebumps talking about it.”
U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said, “It is impossible to describe the depth of our sadness and shock in this tragic hour... Our delegation comes to the Games as a family, and when one member of our family suffers a loss, we all grieve with them.”
Xinhua mentioned the murder. But it was not covered on the national television news.
What would happen if the table were turned, if a Chinese citizen was murdered by an American citizen in similar circumstances?
I think it’s pretty clear.
For though the murder of a citizen within China seldom matters much, as I wrote below, when any harm befalls a Chinese citizen outside China, then China goes crazy. The case of Bu Luowei was not an isolated incident. Consider, for example, the case of Zhao Yan. She was a Chinese businesswoman on a trip to America. Coming across the border from Canada after a trip to the Niagara Falls, one of the border guards ordered her to stop for an inspection, under the belief that she was smuggling drugs. Refusing his order to stop, she ran away.
The officer involved chased her, tackled her and sprayed her with pepper spray.
This event caused a major wave of protest all across China. The then-foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, telephoned Colin Powell, at the time the US Secretary of State, expressing “China’s strong demand that the US side do serious and thorough investigation on Zhao Yan’s suffrage in terms of human rights in the United States, during her stay there, and punish hard the wrongdoers concerned.” [sic]
Chinese media jumped into the fray, saying that “There has been a long list of US law-enforcing departments’ brutal execution, willfully trampling upon human rights. Some of them.... despise law and human rights are obviously affected and driven by US hegemony mentality and arrogance…Justice and truth must be upheld and those who trample upon law and human rights must be punished. Zhao Yan’s tragedy reminds the US government of self-warning and self-discipline in human rights issue, and also tells the world that the United States has no right at all to criticize other countries." [sic]
The homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, also had to eat crow, a Chinese-American trade group lodged a protest, and Zhao Yan sued the US government for US$10 million.
All that, for a single incident of a woman getting manhandled by an overzealous security officer – a beating is bad, sure, but in the end it’s still something you recover from.
Imagine, then, the anger in which China would erupt if one of its citizens was murdered.
America’s reaction to harm befalling one of its citizens abroad – sorrow and concern. A sympathetic, measured response.
China’s reaction to harm befalling one of its citizens abroad – anger, finger-pointing, point-scoring and politicking. Bile and nationalism.
And - given that the American team was booed at the opening ceremony - I wonder how many Chinese citizens felt secretly glad it was an American who died?
Respect to Christina Chan for standing up for the oppressed people of Tibet. I urge others to follow where she leads -- 'T' for Tibet and 'X' for Xinjiang.