While the majority of the Cornell population has enjoyed watching the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, others urge their fellow community members to boycott it as a protest against its host: China.
Kinen Kao ’22, co-president of the Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty at Cornell said that without action on the part of the International Olympic Committee to retract China’s licence to host what he termed “genocide olympics,” the last resort for activists has been asking people to not watch the Games.
One Cornell student from Hong Kong, who requested to remain anonymous for reasons of safety from political persecution, stated that for the current regime in China which allows limited freedom of information, big events like the Olympics become sites for showcasing national strength in the state propaganda cluster.
“So when you watch the Beijing Olympics, the [internet] algorithm cannot tell whether this is a neutral international event or state propaganda, and you’re bolstering the reachability of state propaganda,” the student said.
Kao expressed that refusal to watch the Winter Olympics is the bare minimum for Cornell students. He urged them to condemn the oppression of his hometown Hong Kong, where the Chinese government’s crackdown on civil liberties has affected his friends.
“I have sacrificed a lot for my hometown and for freedom. I won’t be able to return to my hometown for maybe my entire lifetime, so I think just asking people to not watch the Olympics is not that much of a sacrifice [for them],” Kao said.
Kao stated that not watching the Olympics, which were diplomatically boycotted by the Biden administration in December, serves as a signal of solidarity with the people of Hong Kong, Tibet and the Uyghur Muslims.
The anonymous student said he recognized the difficulty in getting people to pay attention to an issue taking place so far away.
“Many people are aware that something bad is happening in China somewhere, but that’s about all they know. That’s very natural, because it’s literally on the other side of the planet — why would they care?” the student said.
They added that attention from Ivy League students is crucial, since they can hold influential policy-making positions in the future.
Kao and the Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty have brought awareness to the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights violations since 2019, organizing rallies, pushing for Cornell to relinquish its academic collaboration with Peking University and placing political posters around campus –– many of which have been torn and burnt down.
Kao expressed that instead of discouragement, he feels motivated to continue his efforts from the backlash expressed by the supporters of the Chinese communist party.
“I hope they reflect on, for example, why they can’t go on Facebook or Instagram or even Google within China without a VPN, on why they cannot publicly criticize their leaders,” Kao said.
To others, such as the anonymous student, the act of tearing down posters demonstrates the very freedom that their fellows in China lack.
“Rather than opposing dissent abroad, I hope they can bring this sense of agency to China,” they said.
Samuel Kim, co-president of SPEAL, expressed that Cornell athletes competing in the Games can use their platform to raise awareness of the human rights abuses occurring in the country. He cited Olympic skater Evan Bates’ decrying of the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in 2021.
“The Chinese communist party is the biggest political party on earth, and the Chinese market is the largest unified economy: this compounds the difficulty activists face,” the anonymous student said.
Still, the student says they believe bringing attention to the issue is important. Aside from protest, they stated it is essential to forge intercultural interactions.
“If you just sanction, you cannot reach the people. Even with reporting, you are just scratching the surface,” the student said, adding that students should engage with people around them to humanize the cause.
These engagement efforts, they commented, would help bridge misunderstandings.
“Some posters at Cornell have the Chinese national flag on it: For Hong Kong activists it’s a symbol of oppression, while for many Chinese students it’s a national, quasi-religious symbol,” they stated. These differences in interpretation, he commented, can create hostilities.
Kao emphasized that their campaign against the Chinese Communist Party is not a racist attack against Chinese people.
“We are targeting the regime, it is in fact the regime that is racist,” he said. “It is committing genocide, which is pretty much the most extreme form of racism you can have.”
The anonymous student believes that, once Cornellians open themselves to outside perspectives and dialogue, they will welcome information that contradicts the Chinese government’s perspective. He cited alternative news sources that he believes conduct responsible reporting, such as Central News Agency and Radio Free Asia, the latter of which is funded by the American government.
They also believe that the youth should use online forums to better understand people across the world.
“If you want to understand Americans, you go to Reddit; similarly, go to Chinese forums, go to Taiwanese forums to see what people from there think,” they said.
The student cited Zhihu and Pincong as mainland Chinese forums, and PTT as the Taiwanese equivalent.
Kim noted that his organization regularly posts materials on their Instagram platform and aims to inspire more students to get involved.