A few days ago my five-year-old daughter asked me why I hung flags on the front porch. I had put them up on the night I heard 20,000 police troops had moved into the city of Lhasa in Tibet. I explained to her about the prayers printed on each panel and the belief that the sentiments are carried on the wind as the text fades in the weather. “So you’re wishing for peace?”. She liked this idea, though it wasn’t quite enough, in her world of absolutes everything happens for a reason, if we hoped for peace in Tibet, she concluded there must be a war. “Well not exactly”. I went on to give her a short version of the Chinese claim to Tibet, the occupation in the 1950s and a very toned down synopsis of the Cultural Revolution. “If the Tibetans don’t want the Chinese there, shouldn’t they just leave, can’t we make them leave.?” Now I was in deep water, I’m trying to give her balanced information and the situation is complicated, but I could explain that it would be a VERY BAD idea for the US government, or anyone else to try to force the Chinese government do anything, much less give up that highly disputed territory. I told her that the Tibetan people have been gathering to protest the situation but it was a very dangerous thing for them to do. “Oh, it’s just like Chipmunk and Bear!” I had no idea what Lucy was talking about, but she went on to tell me a story she’d been reading at school…
“Well Bear was the biggest animal in the forest and Chipmunk was the smallest. Bear liked to be a bully and would frighten the other animals. ‘I’m Bear and I can do whatever I want'”. Lucy indulged me by doing the voices for the story too, which was pretty fantastic. “So one day, Chipmunk said to him, ‘if you’re so smart and so strong, stop the sun from coming up’. ‘Of course I can do that Bear replied’. But, of course he couldn’t do that, and the next morning, the sun came up, just like it always does, and all the animals, who’d been afraid, laughed at him.”
I was stunned and delighted to hear this story, it did fit the situation well, and I loved that she was able to frame current events into allegory, something she didn’t get from me or her dad, but what a great skill! The end was a bit up in the air, but hey, she’s five, I’ll cut her some slack. Now that we’re witnessing unprecedented protests as the Olympic torch makes sputtering trek across the globe, Lucy’s plan makes more sense. China may suppress and deny public dismay within their own country, but this time they can’t ignore world wide disapproval of tyranny, and violations of basic human rights.
There is a popular argument that the games should transcend politics, but at their very foundation the games are rooted in democracy where any man could participate and leave celebrated as a true hero. Today, the official site declares in the mission statement, “The Games have always brought people together in peace to respect universal moral principles”. By it’s very actions China blatantly disregards this imperative. The protesters who seek to disrupt the torch are not violating a symbol of peace, but shouting in proxy for the voices who can not be heard.
The flags on our porch are a small gesture, but I’m seeing more and more of them around town and I’m comforted to know that for a little while someone is listening, the world press is watching and perhaps the Tibetans will know they are not alone in the forest at all.