Writing on his blog (translated by HKU’s China Media Project), Tsinghua University professor and prominent social critic Sun Liping argues that the 2008 Beijing Olympics profoundly changed the course of Chinese politics, for the worse.
Sun, who was once Xi Jinping’s PhD advisor, harks back to the early 2000s, which saw a flood of “information openness” following the failed SARS coverup and the brief flourishing of press freedom that it engendered.
But then, without explanation, the new administration lowered its banners and muffled its drums. It studied the ways of North Korea. Control and stability preservation (维稳) become the salient priority, and this approach was relentless.
The primary cause of this focus on stability above all else? The Beijing Olympics.
The highly cautious attitude [of the leadership] in facing such a grand event of this kind profoundly impacted China’s historical path even afterward. The Olympics marked the beginning, it can be said, of the ascendance of the stability preservation regime in China. Looking back now, it might be that the Olympics were something we did that we ought not to have done.
With the successful hosting of the [Beijing] Olympic Games, the psychology of caution [that had emerged in the years ahead of the Games] transmuted into a fantasy of a national system concentrating forces to do great things. It was against this backdrop that the failure of power became more and more severe. As big money meant bigger influence an attitude of wantonness prevailed, and the national system fostered and encouraged the arbitrary and capricious use of power.
When stability becomes society’s driving goal “whatever abuse of power you commit can be justified in the name of stability preservation.”
Read Sun’s essay in its entirety at the China Media Project.