How China Sees The Torch Protests

Police officers apprehend a pro-Tibet demonstrator waving a Tibetan flag (right) as he tries to interrupt the Olympic torch parade while Chinese athlete Jin Jing (left, in wheelchair) guards the torch April 7, 2008, near the Eiffel tower in Paris. [Photo by Thibault Camus/AP/NPR]
Police officers apprehend a pro-Tibet demonstrator waving a Tibetan flag (right) as he tries to interrupt the Olympic torch parade while Chinese athlete Jin Jing (left, in wheelchair) guards the torch April 7, 2008, near the Eiffel tower in Paris. [Photo by Thibault Camus/AP/NPR]

I don’t have a fast or easy opinion about this image. Those familiar with my work and concerns know whose side I’ll take in any controversy involving a person with a disability. “WE are people, not metaphors” is one of my master tropes.  Jin Jing’s photo is a reminder that people, not symbols, are central to protests over Tibet and China. Beyond that, I’m still working through what this iconic image means to me.

NPR’s Louisa Lim tells the story of Chinese perceptions about it:

At 85,000 miles, the longest Olympic torch relay ever was supposed to be a victory lap showcasing China’s peaceful emergence on the world stage. Instead, it has become a public relations disaster, pitting protesters critical of Beijing’s human rights record against China’s loyal citizens. The journey of harmony has given way to a flame of shame.

But in China, the relay’s iconic image is of a wheelchair-bound Chinese fencer cradling the Olympic torch, her eyes shut. The photo, taken in Paris, shows the athlete shielding the torch from a pro-Tibet protester who tried to snatch it from her. That torchbearer, Jin Jing, has become a national heroine.

Hailed as a “smiling angel in a wheelchair” by the Xinhua news agency, Jin’s every move is now front-page news. Her description of how her pride and joy at carrying the flame was snatched away is an analogy for the prevailing mood in China. But many are also defiant. Listen/read more.

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