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Olympic Games With Chinese Tendencies


Fri, Jul 27th, 2001
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Monday, July 23, 2001

If you havent heard by now, China will host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The country has been working for the last 10 years to get the games believing that the international spectacle will give China the prestige it rightly deserves on the world stage.

I was in Beijing in April 1993, just a few days after the Olympic Committee had been in the city to review Chinas bid for the 2000 Olympics.

In fact, we rode into the city from the airport on the same freeway that had been unveiled specially so that International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranchs motorcade could be the first to ride on its surface.

Our taxi was also the only vehicle on the road the day I arrived. At the time I imagined that the government had yet to give the official edict to the masses that it was alright to use it. It was an eerie feeling, all this road and no traffic.

The billboards and banners were still up in English.

A MORE OPEN CHINA AWAITS THE 2000 OLYM-PICS read one huge banner near the Ring Road.

My initial reaction to this was that something might have been lost in the translation from the Chinese. But I took the view that the banner was living proof that things had been less than open in the Middle Kingdom until that point in time.

The spectre of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 4, 1989 still hung over the city and the vision of the Peoples Liberation Army storming unarmed students was still too vivid a memory for the rest of the world to forget. Consequently, Sydney was awarded the 2000 games. To add insult to injury, the British Olympic Committee cast the deciding vote for Sydney, which didnt go unnoticed by the Chinese.

First the British started the Opium Wars, took Hong Kong as war reparations, and now, nearly 100 years later was preventing China its rightful due on the world stage.

China took revenge in the following months when a few major infrastructural contracts with British firms were unceremoniously cancelled.

The debate about whether China should get the 2008 games revolved around two competing concepts: award China the games so as to encourage an opening up of the country; or, do not award China the games because of their past record on human rights.

In this instance, the Olympic Committee chose the reward carrot over the punishment stick.

This whole argument has been lost on most Chinese people, who are experiencing unprecedented freedom because of the economic reforms that have been implemented in the country. When the west comes visiting in 2008, they will find a whole lot of capitalists willing to take their hard earned Yuans - I mean dollars.

But no matter what happens in 2008, Chinese reality will fall far short of Western expectations. In building for the games, China will open itself up for criticism by the mere fact that they will have to destroy parts of their more than 3000 year old city to build the requisite Olympic facilities. Hundred year old hotungs, cul-de-sac courtyards, will be raised, and families will be dislocated as the wrecking ball and pile driver destroy parts of the old city. China has always built new civilizations on top of the ruins of old ones, and this public works project will prove to be no exception.

And no doubt during the games themselves, China will screw up by displaying the thuggish police behavior that they have become noted.

The Tiananman Massacre, Chinas oppressive occupation of Tibet, and its maltreatment of religious group Falun Gong are just the most obvious examples of how China exercises its control over people.

No doubt during the games some Falun Gong-er will start chanting in Tienanman and, with thousands of Olympic visitors watching, a Chinese security guard will start clubbing the poor pilgrim senseless.

There will be pageantry - no other country can put 20,000 four foot pigtailed girls somersaulting in formation on view. There will be fireworks - the country that invented gunpowder will put on a pyrotechnic display like no Westerner has ever seen in their lives.

And there will be opportunities for all kinds of cross-cultural exchanges. Chinese cabbies are already learning English and, no doubt, people will be asked to stop spitting in public and throwing their chicken bones on the floors of restaurants.

I am glad China got the games. Not for any of the political carrot and stick reasons mentioned previously.

No, I wanted them to get the games because of Old One Hundred Names, the Wangs, and the Chows, the Leungs and the Mas. For you John Doe and you Joe Smoe and for you every Chinaman.

Hey, these Games are for you!

By John Torgrimson

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