Teng Biao is a Chinese human rights lawyer and Grove human rights scholar at Hunter College.
In 1935, a “Committee on Fair Play in Sports” questioned Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1936 Summer Olympics. The American Olympic Committee responded that politics should not be mixed with sports and supported the Berlin Olympics. The choice and endorsement of the Berlin Olympics were widely criticized for becoming a “propaganda bonanza” for Hitler.
A similar question arose when Beijing prepared to host the 2008 Games. To build Olympic infrastructure and “clean up” the city, the regime bulldozed homes and forcefully evicted people. Citizens who objected were detained, and some were tortured; journalists who told the truth were imprisoned. My friend Hu Jia and I published an article called “The Real China and the Olympics,” after which Hu Jia was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to 3½ years in prison. My license to practice law was canceled, my passport was confiscated, and I was kidnapped from a sidewalk by plainclothes police who detained and tortured me. Others who signed an open letter organized by Liu Xiaobo (who later won the Nobel Peace Prize) and Ding Zilin proposing that Beijing’s Olympics slogan be revised to “One World, One Dream, Equal Human Rights” were detained or imprisoned.
The show went forward as programmed. More than 80 heads of state attended. International corporations rolled out commercials. No country boycotted, even as tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience stood mute in prison and rights lawyers, like me, were held under house arrest.
I lived near the Badaling Expressway, where a cycling race was scheduled. Residents of my building could use their ID cards to apply for permission to watch the race. But when I inserted my card into the large pile of applicants’ IDs, the police spotted it and weeded me out for “social stability.”
An athlete named Fang Zheng, who had lost both legs when a tank ran over them at the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, was also barred from competing in the 1994 Paralympic Games and others since. The regime judged his presence might remind people of the massacre.
Few outside China recognized that Beijing’s promise of improvements in the rule of law and human rights was standard double talk: Since 1949, China’s Constitution has guaranteed basic freedoms, and the regime has signed many international human rights documents to deflect foreign criticism, not to advance rights. In 1997, Beijing promised no change in Hong Kong for 50 years, but brought brutal change after less than 25 years.
Beijing won the right to host the 2022 Olympics in 2015, the same year it cracked down on lawyers and activists across China. Since then, it has detained journalists; harassed and attacked activists and dissidents even outside China’s borders; shut down nongovernmental organizations; demolished Christian churches, Tibetan temples and Muslim mosques; persecuted, sometimes to death, believers in Falun Gong; and sharply increased its control of media, the Internet, universities and publishers. In late 2019, it concealed the covid-19 outbreak by jailing and silencing whistleblowers and citizen journalists.
In 2008, Ronan and Mia Farrow called the Beijing Summer Games the “Genocide Olympics“ because the Chinese regime was an accomplice in the Darfur massacre. The 2022 Beijing Games will have even stronger credentials for the genocide label, which the U.S. State Department has recently applied. Leaked official documents make clear that the Chinese Communist Party has systematically rounded up millions of Uighurs and Kazakhs into concentration camps in Xinjiang since 2017. There are credible reports of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture, forced sterilizations, coerced marriage to Han people, and separation of children from parents.
Since 2009, more than 150 Tibetans have self-immolated, calling for basic freedom and for the Dalai Lama to be allowed to return. The regime has sent a reported 500,000 Tibetans into forced-labor camps. The CCP has also stopped the teaching of Mongolian language in schools in Inner Mongolia.
Everyone, Han and non-Han, is subject to a high-tech surveillance system: facial, voice and gait recognition, data prediction, DNA collection and an Internet firewall. President Xi Jinping has centralized power, promoted a cult of personality and arranged a cancellation of term limits that could make him dictator for life.
In October, I met with the International Olympic Committee as part of a delegation that represented more than 160 human rights organizations. We were given the same response Olympic officials once gave to justify the Nazi Games — that politics and sport should be kept apart. But what about the Olympics’ own stated principles?
If the IOC is determined to keep its Games in Beijing, the world should organize a “Clean Olympics” elsewhere. It would be wrong to deprive hard-working athletes of the opportunity to perform on the world stage. But to give the honor of hosting the Olympic Games not once but twice to a dictatorial regime that is committing genocide and assaulting human dignity would bring disgrace to the Olympic movement and display total contempt for human rights.