Cao Jingxing On The Chinese People During The Olympics

Enough of David Brooks, Tom Friedman et alia on the Beijing Olympics.  How about a Chinese opinion column instead?

(Ming Pao Monthly; no link)  The Chinese People During The Olympics.  By Cao Jingxing.  September 2008.

Whether you like China and whether you approve the staging of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, August 8 will eventually change the world that you live in and the relationship between China and the world.  Similarly, whether you like the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and whether you were disappointed or bemused by the inside stories such as the "lip-synching," everyone in the world who has watched this spectacle will recognized that the rise of China is an unalterable reality as long as China does not self-destruct.

This was the reason why American president George W. Bush took his whole family to go to Beijing to watch the opening ceremony and the events.  This is also the reason why the leaders of most of the major countries of the world came to Beijing.  They all came to attend the opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest Stadium.  In the hot and humid conditions, they fanned themselves with Chinese paper fans.  This scene was shown on television all around the world, and this was presented as a success for Beijing.  By this point, the powerful wave of anti-China sentiments in the western world after March is dashed into a few foams by the ecstasy over the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.

This is the first time that the Olympics has been successfully held in a socialist country ruled by a communist party.  The 1980 Moscow Olympics was boycotted by many countries after Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan.  When China won the right to host the Olympics on July 13, 2001, it had not sufficiently realized that all the opposition, hatred, jealousy, fear and contempt that will surface at the same time.

After the many woes of the Olympics torch relays around the world this spring, some people speculated whether the decision-makers in Zhongnanhai felt sorry about creating so much trouble for themselves.  But just like the great Wenchuan earthquake, China got over it.  During the 28 years between the unsuccessful Moscow Olympics to the Beijing Olympics today, the Soviet Union has disintegrated, the war in Afghanistan continues with the Americans being the principal actor and China has become unrecognizable but also unstoppable.

The Beijing Olympics concentrated all the anti-China forces together and they displayed their total power.  But in the end, they were just "so-so."  The French president Nicholas Sarkozy had been loose with this words, but he ultimately had to show up quite abashed in Beijing.  The international political reality is that America plus all its NATO allies cannot pacify Afghanistan and Iraq, they cannot stop the nuclear developments in Iran and they cannot stop Russia from flexing its military might to punish Georgia.  Meanwhile the world can only watch as China uses its own style (whether you like it or not) to become a new strong nation.

We don't even have to use the distant Tokyo Olympics or Seoul Olympics to predict what happens to post-Olympic China.  Even without the Olympics, this country of 1.3 billion people was becoming a country in the same class as the United States.  The gold medal list from the Olympics shows that there are only two truly strong sports nations -- USA and China.  The former strong sports nations including Japan, Russia, Germany, Italy and England can only compete with South Korea and Australia at the second tier level.

Of course, the number of gold medals does not represent the strength of a nation.  But a China which can host these Olympics so successfully and win so many gold medals has to be a country of formidable strength.  The significance of the Beijing Olympics is that it allowed most of the people in the world to see the real and modern China for the first time.  They need to re-think about how they will co-exist with China in the future.  Former Reagan special advisor Doug Bandow has realized: "China is heading towards global leadership.  The speed and distance by which China will travel depends on the people of China, and they cannot be dictated by observers outside of China."

Broadminded people like the chief writer Fareed Zakaria at Newsweek are beginning to discuss the challenge of the China model to the "American dream," just like the new American continent challenged the old European continent once up on a time.  The NBC coverage of the Beijing Olympics achieved television audience ratings that far exceeded expectations.  A recent public opinion showed that the majority of Americans agreed that Beijing should have hosted these Olympics and this is irrespective of their political party affiliations.  Of course, many of them are using MADE IN CHINA products on a daily basis.

The staging of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing has made the world come up with a new complete evaluation about the present and future of China.  At the same time, the Beijing Olympics is like a mirror which caused China to see itself more rationally and realistically about its image, position and reality in the world.

When Beijing obtained the rights to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001 after much hardship, many Chinese people thought that their country has finally been accepted in the family of nations.  This was to be a landmark for the acceptance of China by the international community.  The Chinese sincerely and warmly expected to embrace the world.  The choice of "One World, One Crea" reflects the simplicity and naïvété of the China.

As the Beijing Olympics came neared, China finally realized that the "one world" never existed" and the "one dream" was a pure fantasy.  You want to invite the whole world to your home to an exciting "party" and you are willing to do everything that you can to make them feel welcomed.  But someone wants to spit in your face.  And someone wants to break up your party.  So the Chinese people got angry.  At the same time, they woke up.

Particularly in the case of France, whom the Chinese people had believed to be the western country that liked China the most and was the most friendly to China.  China was willing to give the contracts for large nuclear powers and civilian airplanes to large French corporations.  But there came a new French president who reversed the course and he was especially hostile to China.  Even the French mainstream media and the politicians thought that it was à la mode to attack everything that China does.  They even hoped that China can be split up into pieces and become as chaotic as the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

That was when China finally realized that even though the reforms had gone on for 30 years with astounding changes, the mainstream western media will still call you a "dictatorial regime."  Even though you have joined the WTO and provided the rich nations with all sorts of products as well as trillions in capital, they will still consider you as a Communist alien species.  They will not let you have an easy Olympics.

Actually, the Chinese people are well aware of their shortcomings.  Over the years, their criticisms and condemnations of the flaws in their system and the corruption of their government officials were deeper and more thorough than western media.  This has become the main force in social development.  Nevertheless, the Chinese people will not tolerate the westerners to treat China that way.  This is particularly true of the younger generation of Chinese people who agree with the direction that China is taking today.  So they began to counter-attack.  For the first time, they showed the true might of China today.  They used an internationally understood 'language.'

China began to use "a tooth for a tooth," and Sarkozy of France immediately toned down.  Interestingly, the first and most effective way in which the western world felt the rage of China was not through the Chinese government or official media.  It was from the ordinary Chinese peole.  They went right at the Tibet independence forces, Sarkozy and others.  This is especially true for the generation born in the 1980's (now labeled as the Bird's Nest generation) who were the first to sound the "self-defensive counter-attack" to defend the Beijing Olympics.

The call to boycott Carrefour showed up in the mobile telephones and email boxes of everybody in less than half a day.  It was enough to discourage the international leaders who wanted to cause trouble for China.  It could be foreseen that if any Beijing Olympic sponsor should back out due to pressure from the opponents, it will be giving up the Chinese market now and forever.  Above all, the western media could not understand: "Why are those Chinese young people who understand the West the best and who accept western things also the most patriotic generation?"

In reality, the western media have never understood that it was not just the will of the Chinese government to host the Beijing Olympics.  It was the common hope of the ordinary Chinese citizens.  On the evening of July 13, 2001, millions of Beijing citizens went out into the streets to celebrate.  This was the reason why Jiang Zemin and others went up Tiananmen gate at the spur of the moment.  I have cited the words of Hong Kong Cable TV reporter Lavender Cheung from Tiananmen Square and Chang'an Boulevard many times.  Her words were even more fitting than mine (and I as doing live broadcast for Hong Kong television too):

As of this moment, the Beijing Olympics will become the Olympics for hundreds of millions of Chinese people.

The Beijing authorities said that they invested 300 billion RMB into the Olympics.  If we add the various "hidden" costs (such as the vast sums spent on security), the estimate could be as high as 500 billion RMB.  These are just a small proportion of what the people of China paid.  If you had been in Beijing or elsewhere in China, you can feel that almost everyone was bearing some kind of economic burden as a result of the inconveniences due to the Olympics.  A person in the Guilin tourist industry said that the Olympics led to fewer tourists and higher costs due to increased government supervision.  But they were still cheering for each Chinese gold medal and "they hope that business will recover one day because they have families to feed."

As for the little girl Yang Peiyi whose voice was heard on <Ode to the Motherland> during the opening ceremony, she did not care that another girl appeared on television because she was happy that her own voice was heard.  As another example, when the American Dream 8 team played the China, tickets were going at many times the face value.  A man from Sichuan saw an American university student looking for tickets in the rain and he gave away his own ticket for free.  My guess is that he wanted to leave a good impression for this American guest.  After the Olympics began, the Chinese people at each venue became very civilized and polite.  Beyond the "guidance" issued by the authorities, the more important reason was that nobody wanted to embarrass the Beijing Olympics in front of the whole world.

I believe that numerous Chinese people are willing to make efforts and sacrifices in order to have a successful Olympics.  They did many things that are not possible anywhere else in the world.  For example, given the scale of the Olympic opening ceremony, there must have been tens of thousands of people involved during the three years of preparation.  But there were no leaks to the outside world.  This showed the importance that they placed about their own participation.  There were also hundreds of thousand of migrant workers who built the facilities such as the Bird's Nest, the Airport Terminal and the highways.  There is a minimum chance of them being able to watch the Olympics.  There are also the millions of volunteers who could not even watch the live television broadcasts.  The Chinese government system may be able to mobilize the resources of the nation to guarantee a successful Olympics, but the true foundation of success is the popular support of China hosting the Olympics.

Some people have called 2008 the "Year of the Volunteers" in China.  This is not just about the Olympics, but the Wenchuan earthquake in May also raised the civic awareness of the Chinese people (especially the youth).  It was realized in the the numerous NGO's which rushed towards the Sichuan earthquake disaster zone.  These came as spontaneous actions by citizens as opposed to existing government operations.  This was a breakthrough within the existing system.

This may be the most important new issue for the ruling party in China.  The Chinese youth have the most civic awareness.  They can support various government policies (such as hosting the Olympics).  They can also tolerate or even endure certain improprieties of the rulers (such as the various mistakes during the Olympics like the chaos over the ticket sales and the invasiveness of the security procedures).  But they are increasingly less obedient to the orders from the system. They treat disaster relief and the Olympics as their personal projectx and they will take action based upon their own ideas.  This is perhaps the true significance of the Bird's Nest generation.

After the 2008 Beijing Olympics lowered its curtains, the Beijing authorities may go back to its traditional and stale practice of singing paeans while refusing to address the flaws, mistakes and corruption.  They may think that they can make superficial statements without any drastic changes to the system.  They may think that the Olympics was successful through the power of the government.  They may deliberately inhibit the inevitable development of a civic society in China.  Now that would be a betrayal of those Chinese folks who genuinely supported China to host the Olympics.

If the citizens of a society become disappointed with a government, if their support turns into doubt and contempt and if the tolerable becomes the intolerable, a social crisis ensues especially when there are economic troubles.

It is easy to to perceive the impact of the Beijing Olympics on the world.  The impact on the future changes in China is uncertain.  There will be many big changes in China after August 8.  The suspense is just how China will change.