(CNN) -- As the Olympic torch makes its way westward through London, Paris and San Francisco on its way to Beijing, it has been attracting well-financed, organized protests representing various single-issue groups that normally do not even work together.
L. Ling-chi Wang: "Humility and compassion, not hypocrisy and self-righteousness, is what is needed."
Among these groups are various factions of the Free Tibet movement, the groups against genocide in Darfur, global warming, Burma's military dictatorship, job loss in the U.S., and such diverse groups as the Falun Gong and Taiwan independence activists.
The Beijing Olympics is a godsend for these groups because it affords them the opportunity to disrupt the torch relay.
The media, as usual, have seized the opportunity to pour fuel onto the fire. Politicians are tripping over each other in their eagerness to condemn China, to call for boycotts, and to claim the high moral ground, even though the United States has been treated as a rogue state worldwide because of our invasion of Iraq, and our unlawful detention, torture, rendition, etc.
Sadly, most Americans know little about international issues and for that matter, China, as demonstrated by the conspicuous absence of information regarding historical context and complexity. Instead, the media, politicians and organized groups prefer to use only sound bites and, frequently, disinformation to perpetuate ignorance, instill fear, and incite racial hostility, or worse, hatred toward China.
What they do know is this: Just about everything they use and wear daily comes from China. Even the new section of the San Francisco Bay Bridge is being made in Shanghai.
What they also don't know is how Chinese in China are viewing and preparing for the Olympics in August. Not since the 10-year nightmare of the Cultural Revolution have the Chinese been more dedicated to and collectively mobilized for a national project: to host the first Olympics in China.
This project aspires to engage the world and to incentivize further reform in China. More than 200 million Chinese, for example, are learning English and the torch relay will be greeted by all China's provinces and major cities before reaching Beijing.
China, like many countries in the world, including the U.S., has problems. It has much to learn from the rest of the world. For example, China has yet to learn how to understand and treat its minorities -- such as Tibetans, Uighurs, Muslims, Hmongs -- as equals.
In this respect, they are not that different from us. We are still learning how to treat minorities such as Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, Chinese-Americans and others as equals.
Humility and compassion, not hypocrisy and self-righteousness, is what is needed.
I am not opposed to free speech and legitimate protests against China's wrongdoings. However, I am opposed to using the Olympics to demonize China and its people and disruptive, confrontational, and violent tactics. Such actions have the effect of desecrating the Olympics and humiliating and insulting the people of China. No good can come of them.
Protests and confrontations along the torch route may even incite Chinese xenophobia and nationalism and result in decisions to retreat from its increased openness to and engagement with the West.
If this should happen, it will be a major setback for the 1.3 billion people in China and for world peace and prosperity.
L. Ling-chi Wang is professor emeritus of Asian American & Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend