Tuesday, April 08, 2008  
International: Cartoon Mascot for a Free Tibet

:: Posted by BK @ 4/08/2008 02:19:00 a.m.

One of the cartoon mascots devised for the Beijing Olympics, Yingying the Tibetan Antelope, has been co-opted by activists trying to bring attention to the situation in Tibet. The re-focused character, named Yingsel, is blogging and being used in posters and online campaigns, including this Pacman-like videogame. Greg Beneteau of the University of Guelph's Ontarion student newspaper, has a nice overview:

China's Flame of Shame

Forget boycotts – human rights activists say they welcome the upcoming Beijing Olympics as an opportunity to get under China's skin.

"As an organization, we believe the Olympics are an opportunity for different movements to voice their opposition to the Chinese government; that's been clear since China was awarded the Olympics back in 2001," said Kyla Mendoza, an Ottawa organizer for the New York-based Students for a Free Tibet.

With only four months until the start of the summer games - whose slogan is "One World, One Dream," – groups like SFT have accepted the reality that participating countries are not likely to boycott China for its poor human rights record or support for countries like Sudan and Myanmar.

Instead, they've begun ratcheting up the PR pressure on Beijing, using the various photo ops and symbols that make the Olympics so memorable as leverage in their campaigns. (See photos)

Even before the violent protests and subsequent police crackdown in Tibet took centre stage in the media, Mendoza said, the Canadian branch of SFT was organizing campaigns inside China, unveiling "Free Tibet" banners at high-profile locations like the Great Wall of China and the base camp of Mount Everest.

"Basically, Beijing wants to try and to open themselves up to the world as much as possible but control their image to the world, too," he explained. "We want to show that if you open yourself up for the Olympics, you have to air your dirty laundry."

Arguably the most enduring symbol of the games, the Olympic torch has also become an important instrument for expressing dissent.

Last week, the torch was lit at its traditional starting point of Olympia, Greece and transported to Beijing, marking the start of the relay that will see it travel to all five continents before returning return to China in time for the opening ceremonies on August 8th, according the official relay website.

It's also supposed to travel to Mt. Everest and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa sometime in June, raising fears of further violence and prompting calls to the IOC to have it bypass the area. "If you bring the Olympic torch through these Tibetan villages, you're basically inciting further violence and giving China another excuse to crack down," claims Tsering Lama, National Organizer for SFT.

In order to draw attention to what Tsering calls a "humanitarian crisis" in Tibet, clever SFT artists converted Beijing's torch relay logo into a graphic of a silhouetted police officer beating a protester.

Logos aside, the torch hand-off ceremony at the Acropolis in Athens was an embarrassing symbol for China, as three members of the international group Reporters Without Borders stormed the field with a banner depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

Three members of the group, including Secretary-General Robert Ménard, were arrested by Greek authorities and are currently out on bail.

World leaders decried the interruption of what was supposed to be a sporting ceremony, by supporters insisted the move had greater purpose. "The Olympic flame may be sacred but human rights are even more so," Reporters Without Borders stated in a press release following the arrests.

"We could not let the Chinese government take the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic human rights situation in China with less than five months to go to the start of the Olympic games."

The organization, which has national offices in Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, says it was protesting the imprisonment of Chinese cyber-dissidents and the continuing ban on reporting inside Tibet.

Even the market-oriented Olympic mascots haven't escaped controversy. At a faux news conference this week, SFT announced that one the five mascots of the Beijing Oympics, an endangered Tibetan antelope named Yingying, had "defected" in response to China's development in the region, which environmentalist claim is degrading the antelope's habitat atop the Tibetan plateau.

"I've defected from the Olympic team because I can no longer stand being used as a puppet to cover up China's destruction of my homeland," the cartoon character said in a press release sent out by SFT.

Instead, the yellow critter has apparently changed her name to Yingsel and now operates a blog, part of her efforts to "use the Olympics to turn the tables on China."

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Blogger sgt_crusher999 said...

Hey Brian,

Thanks for the exposure. Keep reading the Ontarion for more art and comics-related tomfoolery!

Greg Beneteau

Monday, June 9, 2008 at 12:45:00 p.m. EDT  

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