The world’s eyes will be on Beijing this month as it hosts the 2008 Summer
Olympic Games with the mantra, “One World, One Dream.” But for Kathy Xu, Sci
’99, this year’s Olympics will only serve to uphold the practices of a regime
whose human rights record has inspired talk of boycotts—the loudest since the
1980 Olympics in Moscow when 62 countries, including Canada, skipped the
Xu said the Olympics should be about something more than athleticism.
“It’s not just about how fast you can run or how far you can jump,” she said.
“I think having [China] hosting the Olympics is the exact opposite of what the
Olympics claim to promote.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been
criticized by human rights groups worldwide for turning a blind eye to China’s
support of the governments of Sudan and Zimbabwe and its treatment of Tibetans,
Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities.
Xu, who moved to Kingston from Beijing in 1992, is a practitioner of Falun
Gong, a spiritual practice with roots in Buddhism and Confucianism. Also known
as Falun Dafa, the practice—similar to Tai Chi—was founded in 1992 and has since
grown to more than 70 million members in China, according to a government
In April 1999, 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners protested peacefully at the
Communist Party headquarters in Beijing after members were beaten and arrested
in Tianjin. The government responded by launching a propaganda campaign against
Falun Gong. In Beijing alone, 850,000 members were arrested, though many were
Now, two-thirds of all reported torture victims in China are Falun Gong
practitioners, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur. Its members
are forbidden to enter the country and are banned from Olympic events.
Xu said she embraced Falun Gong shortly after her mother, who had been
teaching Tai Chi in Kingston, used it as rehabilitation following a car accident
She said Falun Gong members in China became government targets because the
practice promotes independent thought.
“Religious groups have their own beliefs and are not so easily manipulated by
the Communist party,” she said. “The government … have particular hostility
against people who have faith.”
In July 2006, former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour
co-authored a report with Toronto lawyer David Matas investigating live organ
harvesting of Falun Gong members in China. The report uncovered evidence of
healthy Falun Gong practitioners in forced labour camps and prisons who had
organs removed before being killed and cremated.
Kilgour, a fellow at the Queen’s Centre for the School of Democracy Studies,
told the Journal in a phone interview that Falun Gong members are oppressed
because of the movement’s immense popularity and non-violent values.
“They were twice as numerous as the Communist Party by 1999 … [government
persecution] was part of a jealousy or paranoia,” he said. “They were absolutely
non-political until persecution began and they have values of truth, compassion
and forbearance. Truth was at the opposite end from the people running the party
Kilgour said the 1999 silent protest kick-started the widespread persecution.
The international community should use the Olympics to make a statement against
the Chinese government’s human rights record, he said.
“The only thing the international community can do is not to go the opening
ceremonies,” he said. “I’m proud that [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] isn’t
going. … It’s a gesture, I know, but at least it doesn’t penalize our athletes
as a boycott would do.”
Kilgour said U.S. President George W. Bush missed the
opportunity to pressure China when he readily accepted an invitation to the
“As I understand it, [Bush] didn’t hesitate a nanosecond,” he said. “If he
had said, ‘I’d like to come but we’ll see what happens with the human rights
situation in the next year,’ he would have at least used a bit of leverage.”
In a speech to the Washington D.C. Rotary Club on
July 23, e-mailed to the Journal two days before its delivery, Kilgour said the
Olympics’ core values aren’t in line with China’s human rights practices.
“The Olympic Charter itself speaks about ‘respect for universal fundamental
ethical principles.’ Does this not ring increasingly hollow as the rest of the
world adjusts to worsening practices of China’s party-state as the Games
Consumers should question the Games’ major sponsors, whose silence implies
acquiescence with China’s human rights record, he said, adding that the IOC’s separation of sport and politics isn’t plausible.
“For the party-state in China, it has everything to do with politics and its
quest for legitimacy at home and abroad.”
Kevin Koo, ArtSci ’09, is a Falun Gong practitioner and a member of the
Queen’s Falun Gong club. A former national-level field hockey player, Koo gave
up his national team roster spot to spend more time raising awareness for Falun
Gong victims, undertaking a cycling trip from the Chinese consulate in Toronto
to Capitol Hill, a distance of more than 900 kilometres.
Koo said sport and politics would be separate in an ideal world, but not
during this year’s Games.
“The difference is that persecution is going on here that’s not totally
political,” he said. “Everyone’s witnessed that genocide is happening in the
country that’s hosting the Olympics. … How can a country that advocates killing
people hold an event that’s about having a union of everyone together?”
Koo said the Olympics likely won’t help alert the West to what’s going on in
“I think the Olympics should be helping, but the blockade of information is
stopping it,” he said.
The Beijing Olympics will embolden the Chinese government to continue
oppressing Falun Gong practitioners and other groups, Koo said.
“The Olympics is one of the grandest events of our time. If they get to hold
it while they’re persecuting people I think they’ll feel like they can do
whatever they want now,” he said, adding that he’s not sure whether boycotting
the Games would be effective.
Others believe a boycott would do little good.
J.D. Burnes, ArtSci ’10, is travelling to Beijing
with the Canadian archery team. He dismissed negative views about boycotting the
Games—such as those of figure skater Elvis Stojko, a two-time silver medallist,
who said in May that Canadian athletes should “think twice” about attending.
“I don’t think [Stojko] would have said those same words had he not won his
medals beforehand,” Burnes said. “Nothing has ever been achieved by boycotting
the Olympics and I don’t think anything ever will.”
Burnes, who said he’s looking forward to learning about other cultures and
representing Canada in Beijing, said sports and politics should not be
“People should … try to leave the politics behind for this one month every
four years, because that’s what the whole Games is about. It’s about leaving
those issues behind and competing in fair play and representing your country in
the best way possible.”
Dr. Andrew Pipe, a member of the Queen’s Board of Trustees and Medical
Director at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Minto Prevention and
Rehabilitation Centre, has been a physician for Canada’s men’s basketball team
since 1978 and will be on hand in Beijing for his eighth Olympics.
Pipe was the physician for the team when Canada boycotted the Moscow Games in
1980. He said boycotts aren’t effective.
“My experience with boycotts is very personal and very tangible from an
Olympic perspective … I can only say that the decision to boycott [in 1980] was
very short-sighted, very inappropriate, and—I would argue—a wrong decision,” he
said. “It’s very easy to make athletes pawns in these Games.
Pipe, who has travelled to China a couple of times in the past few months,
said the Olympics will be a positive event for China.
“They are immensely proud that their country’s hosting these Games, but also
look at them as an opportunity to learn about other societies and cultures,” he
China has been seeing positive changes over the past 25 to 30 years, and the
Olympics could accelerate that process, Pipe said.
“I can understand how a first-time visitor to China will see certain
situations and see them as being onerous or forbidding, but I think overall the
impact of the games will be positive,” he said.
But for Xu, China’s human rights abuses are too widespread to be ignored. She
said the Beijing Olympics will send China the wrong message.
“Things are not getting better, and they won’t get better before or after