Everyone has the same image stored away somewhere in their head: a multitude of bright and unknown flags ring a stadium packed to half capacity and focused on some mid-level functionary who gives a less-than-impassioned speech about unity and humanity dubbed into English (for me, at least), all while packs of svelte, toned and spandex clad athletes parade their home colors around a circular track. While these symbols may not actually represent the Olympics (I admit to not watching it for some time), they are symbols for something much bigger than a sporting event. There is a reason why millions of people travel thousand of miles and hundreds of millions more tune into their local TV stations, and it’s not the sports.

If you don’t believe me, go look at a high-school track meet. Only the parents and participants are there. Even if you count all the people who watch just to see perfectly sculpted butts and breasts in form-fitting outfits, you only have maybe 10 percent of all the people who watch the Olympics. There is no heightened Super Bowl/World Cup/World Series drama, yet people from all over the world actually sit down to bask in the glory of synchronized diving, race walking or that sport where you throw stones on the ice and then use brooms to scrape the ice really fast, among other ridiculous contests.

Although it’s perhaps overly sentimental, I think that people like to see all the countries getting together for something other than war or economic subjugation. Maybe it is the idea of humanity as a whole being the fastest, jumpiest, best broom-pushing humanity it can be.

With that idea in mind, who gave the 2008 Olympics to Beijing? With the exception of an infamous few dictatorships, I can’t think of a central government that more openly and proudly defies the spirit of the Olympics. Has anyone forgotten about Tiananmen Square? I won’t go as far as saying that hosting the Olympics in China is like giving it to Sudan – just Sudan’s best friend. The Chinese government is a system of almost absolute oppression and tyranny for more than one-sixth of the planet’s population. The press is dominated and controlled by a single-party system that squelches opposition by imprisoning and murdering those who would dare oppose the Communist Party.

My point is not to aggrandize the occidental world. To be sure, I am a staunch critic of my native and oligarchic and capital-centered government. However, China is a far cry from anything resembling communism, democracy or some other representative form of government. It relies on military might, propaganda and fear to control swaths of the impoverished, trampling underfoot dissension and individual rights.

The latest testament to this modern-day travesty is the current struggle for autonomy in Tibet. The Chinese government’s only response, per usual, is sending in troops to quell any dispute. The Tibet people, like other people groups, have the right to rule themselves. China’s reply: the Americas were founded upon slavery and native destruction, Canada should hold a Quebec referendum and Europe is an entire horde of imperialists, so they should all pipe down. While all of these arguments have extreme merit, how do the wrongs of the rest of the world legitimize the infringement of the natural rights of the Tibetan people? China’s claim that its heavy-handed response, which basically amounts to a campaign of terror against political activists and the use of troops against civilians, is deemed necessary due to the influence of the Dalai clique. This is like saying that, in addition to your nice, elderly grandmother baking pies and watching “The Price is Right,” she is also an assassin and arsonist. This analogy falls short, however, because the Dalai Lama is more peaceful and kind than your grandmother.

What I’m trying to say is this: when the Olympics are on, tune your TV to BBC and maybe write a letter for the release of political prisoners. The Olympics are a test for China, to see if it truly can be accepted as an economically developed, respectable and free country. In my opinion, it has already failed that test. Its current actions amount to nothing less than nationalistic murder and cultural assimilation, and that shouldn’t be glazed over even though Michael Phelps is dreamy in his competition suit.

Burnett is a member ofthe class of 2010.

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