"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Riddle of The Dream

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 08/12/2008

The White Cloud Temple is one of Beijing’s oldest Taoist centres. According to legend, before entering the capital to found a new dynasty, each emperor had to pay homage there. The temple has a riddle: “There is a bridge but no water flows beneath, a window that cannot be opened, three monkeys but you cannot see their faces, a doorway that nobody passes through.” The riddle, expressed literally within the temple’s architectural features, is long forgotten by most in Beijing.

Now, as China celebrates hosting the 2008 Olympics, the riddle is reflected again in the capital’s Olympic architecture. There are hotels but nobody stays in them, press freedoms promised but the window is unopened, scheduled celebrations and anticipated tourists, but you cannot see their faces, and a vast, vacant airport that nobody passes through.

What is happening? After nearly half a decade of frenetic preparations for massive tourism with unprecedented infrastructure spending, it feels as if no one is bothering to attend. Or maybe they were just not invited.

“Welcome to Beijing” is the official slogan represented by the five fuwa, or lucky mascots, that have become as ubiquitous symbols as Mao Zedong’s profile was during the Cultural Revolution. But, despite the slogan, Beijing is not welcoming foreigners. Visas have been strictly controlled. Even work visas have been restricted.

Multinational corporations – whose investment commitment over three decades has transformed China from a poor to a rich nation – had prepared conferences, board meetings and activities in celebration of their joint success. Now, they have cancelled most activities, one after another, amid an environment of hyped-up security and “foreigner” paranoia. In private, the word “divestment” is heard in investment diversification discussions. No one expected 2008, the year that should herald the beginning of a new “China century”, to end up like this.

The capital is under lockdown. The 300,000 police and nearly 900,000 troops on alert around the capital hark back to an era when Mao called upon the people to dig shelters in anticipation of a Soviet attack from the north and a US invasion from Taiwan.

-Beijing , rather than opening itself as expected in a great debutante party, has instead become paranoid and introspective. It seems the only global value Beijing is sharing is a fear of terrorism, something with which US President George W. Bush can sympathise. No wonder he ingratiated himself with China by being the first head of state to agree to attend the opening ceremony.

There is one certainty amid this atmosphere of oppressive anticipation. The global media is having a field day. This is the easiest scoop of the century. Press freedoms that China had promised have all been rolled back. Journalists are restricted to competition venues and state-planned protest zones. Falun Gong, Darfur, global warming and disaffected Beijing residents (over 1 million people were removed from their homes in the capital to make way for all the sporting venues) could all come out of the woodwork.

Recently, Hong Kong journalists were involved in scuffles with police when covering people waiting in long lines to buy Olympic tickets. The images were beamed around the world, a sign of things to come. All the international media are waiting for an overreaction. It is as certain as China winning the table tennis gold medal that they will get exactly what they want.

Like the riddle at the White Cloud Temple, no one really understands what the Beijing Olympic Committee meant by the slogan “One World, One Dream”. What exactly is the “dream”? Peace? Hope? Freedom from fear of terrorism? It was never defined, but probably should have been a long time ago.

What is certain is that no one wants an uptight Olympics. It is supposed to be a fun event, after all. At least it will be for the international press.


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

Back to Top Print this article

Share this article