2008 showed up China’s many sides. The whole world had its eyes on the country for the August Olympic Games and caught more than a glimpse of the booming country’s deeply rooted problems.
All year, the whole world had its eyes on China, which hosted the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing
The idyllic calm of the Himalayas was disturbed in mid-March, sending aftershocks across the world.
At first, Tibetan monks gathered peacefully on the roof of the world and called for the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
But peaceful protests soon turned into violent clashes between Tibetans and Han Chinese, who make up about 90 percent of China’s total population. The Dalai Lama’s insistence that there should be no violence went unheeded.
At least 80 suspected deaths
Eager to quell the unrest ahead of the Chinese Olympics, Beijing deployed more police to the area. There were reports of shots being fired. On March 17, the Dalai Lama spoke out from his Indian exile, saying that the situation had become really “tense.”
“It seems to be that deaths or killings occurred in different locations,” he said. ”The Tibetan side is determined and the Chinese side is equally determined -- that means the result is killing.”
The protests spread to three neighbouring provinces. Some independent journalists were barred from Tibet. The Tibetan government-in-exile reported there had been at least 80 deaths and the Dalai Lama spoke of cultural ethnic genocide.
A dark shadow on Olympic torch relay
Pro-Tibet protests cast a shadow on the carefully organised Olympic torch relay as the flame made its way from Athens to Beijing.
Heavy criticism was directed at the Chinese elite units that protected the flame from going out at several stops and treated demonstrators heavy-handedly. Beijing came under fire from across the world.
But before the torch relay was over, nature put a damper on the Olympic preparations and the enthusiasm in China for the Games.
Earthquake devastates Sichuan
On May 12, an earthquake of magnitude 7.9 on the Richter scale devastated part of the central Chinese province of Sichuan.
70,000 people died and over six million were left without a roof over their heads. Reluctantly, the Chinese government allowed international aid workers into the country.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao promised help to the survivors: “Our most important task is to save lives. We have to use every minute. Even if there is just a tiny hope of saving people we have to do everything for it.”
Olympics to boost China’s image
This was important not only for the earthquake-hit region but also for the Olympic Games. These were China’s chance to prove itself to the world and boost its image. President Hu Jintao was full of confidence at the inauguration ceremony on August 8 in Beijing, when he declared the 29th Olympic Games of the modern era open.
And China did prove itself with its sporting achievements, winning 51 gold medals and getting more than the United States for the first time ever.
Fading of the Olympic spirit
Since the Games, however, the Olympic spirit has faded a little. Although restrictions on foreign journalists were relaxed for the Games, press freedom does not exist by any stretch of the imagination.
Websites, which criticise the regime and were accessible during the Games, were blocked again at the beginning of December.
Several dissidents have been arrested; others have even been executed -- drawing criticism from human rights activists all over the world.
The Tibet talks seem to have come to a dead end. The Dalai Lama has expressed his disappointment about the rounds before and after the Games. He continues to call for autonomy, not for independence. After much debate, the Tibetan community in exile decided to support this stance.
China-Taiwan relations on the up
As this eventful year comes to an end, there is some good news coming out of China. Non-stop flights between Taiwan and China are scheduled to begin. After decades of hostility, the two sides are drawing closer again.
China has threatened Taiwan, which it regards as a rogue province, with violence in the past.
The newly-elected Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has put the emphasis on dialogue rather than on confrontation. The flights are one step in this direction.