Wednesday, August 13, 2008

China's Grand Olympic Charade

As I follow the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their extravagant splendor, I cannot help but think that they are predicated upon a massive fraud; specifically, that China has "emerged" as a great nation worthy of our respect and admiration. While the games themselves are spectacular, they are built upon the brute force of an authoritarian regime desperate to show both its people and the world that it deserves its grip on China. This regime has literally spared no expense, including billions of dollars spent upon the games, the literal shutting down of an entire city to alleviate its notorious smog and what can only be described as an outright sadistic and militaristic training program for its athletes. These games are built upon a mountain of human abnegation and for the sole purpose of telling the world that the system that enforces this abnegation offers great achievements and can be trusted as a friend.

Yet as Brandon Byrd at Noodlefood observes, the Chinese system cannot be trusted. Writing about how a minor scandal involving a Milli Vanilli-esq lip-syncing episode at the opening ceremonies has degenerated into the ruling regime's outright censorship of any negative talk about the affair, Boyd writes:

Why China faked the ceremony and why they oppressively censor online comments is essentially the same reason: the Chinese regime is nationalist. At root, the opening ceremonies were meant to be a nationalistic demonstration of a nation's power on the world stage, showing how Chinese competence could produce a magnificent ceremony. That is, it was viewed by Party members (who had the power to shape the final form of the ceremony) as an expression of political prowess. It was China's coming out party, and nothing could blemish its reputation – not even an orthodontic travesty or a flat note here or there. Any expression of weakness or failure is an indication of national failure, of China's inability to succeed. The state, the people, the NATION must look good at any cost, even if it means engaging in deceptive behavior that manipulates children (who may or may not have known about the lip-synching at the time of the performance); even if it means selecting potential Olympic gymnasts at the age of three... even if it means placing stringent government controls on what can and cannot be said through electronic media.
The problem the Chinese face with such fraud is that it depends upon our willful acceptance of it; it demands that we shrug it all off and pretend that the games are worth it. Yet the games are not worth it; no sport is worth slavery, censorship and oppression.

The good news is that unlike the Nazi Olympic games of 1936, which were a propaganda triumph of a state hurtling toward brutal totalitarianism, the China of the 2008 games is far more mixed. In many regards, the Chinese people enjoy more freedom of action than we do in America; for example, Chinese businessmen, insomuch as they are productive and don't elicit the attention of the ruling party, are free to produce without constraint. What China lacks is an understanding of the principle of individual rights and the rule of law; any freedom that the Chinese do enjoy is the product of whim and can be taken away just as easily as it can be given. Just ask any of the thousands of Beijing businessmen whose businesses were shuttered so China can host smog-free games.

So while China may not be totalitarian like it was under Mao, it is still very much a nationalist dictatorship; it has changed only in terms of degree and not so much in terms of essentials. The West must not be coy about it. As China works feverishly to present its face to the world, we must see though the pancake makeup and lip-synced little girls. We must see Chinese oppression, caprice and avarice for what it is--and treat it accordingly.


Fred said...

Well said, Nick!

- Fred Seiler

Ed said...

Yes, well said, Nick. Add to all that the fact that to build the Bird's Nest and the hotels and all the Olympic facilities, the government simply demolished people's homes, and declared all the laborers persona non grata. The political needle that defines China keeps wavering between fascist and template communist. Meanwhile, the news media, especially the American news media, is simply gaga and just glad to be there -- avoiding making any really serious critical observations about the country and the Olympics.
Ed Cline

shahnawaz said...

excellent ayn rand would have said"they are like a dusfunctional family trying to put a reputable front."
also, your identification that the freedoms the chinese r enjoying r based on their govt's whim and not principle understanding of rights and rule of law should silence once and for all.all those who r dazzled by the alleged chinese coming of age.thanks

Tim said...

The Economist has an excellent series of articles regarding the Chinese Olympic "successes" in its most recent print edition. In short, the newspaper rightfully points out that any hopes that one may have had about the Olympic games advancing the cause of freedom in China have been dashed, as the event has been a stunning example of authoritarianism and arbitrary rule at work. I'm also interested to see how the Chinese markets cope with essentially 2-3 weeks of trade shutdown.

Ryan Alger said...

Great Post.

China is very much a mixed bag at this point; but if you look at overall trends, it tends to bode well for the future of the country. But China has many more hurdles to overcome; not just politically, but culturally.

China is still laced with strong elements of racism and an almost fascist-like nationalism. China is in a very primitive stage of collectivism. Political freedom is not enough; the philosophical base must be strong.

Of course, things can change fast; Japan has radically changed since World War II, perhaps China will do the same (though even Japan still has problems with their older ideologies.)

Brandon Byrd said...

"Well said, Nick!" indeed!

Needless to say, I'm in total agreement with you. I just have one minor point of correction: it's "Brandon Byrd" over at Noodlefood, not "Boyd". Although that is one of the more plausible misspellings of my last name that I've come across. :-)

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Whoops . . . me and my clumsy fingers!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Your post is why I am boycotting the Olympics. Although it is a personal action and has not political meaning, I just cannot bear to support this charade in any way at all.

Your essay reminds me of an Essay I read in the 1970's. It was called "The Monument Builders." I cannot recall what Rand book it was published in, but I would like to get a hold of a copy for my son to read.

The Olympics are just another such "monument," purchased at the price of the freedom and happiness of ordinary Chinese subjects.


Rory said...

"As I follow the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their extravagant splendor, I cannot help but think that they are predicated upon a massive fraud; specifically, that China has "emerged" as a great nation worthy of our respect and admiration."

This is exactly what I've been trying to say to my friends, when they ask why I'm so critical of the Beijing Olympics.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Also found this article from Psychology Today: