Monday, August 11, 2008

Regrets About the Pomp and Circumstance

Regrets About the Pomp and Circumstance
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 11, 2008

Everyone is happy that Republic of China weightlifter Chen Wei-ling won an Olympic bronze medal. At the same time reports have emerged that Taiwan cheerleading team members Yang Hui-ju and Li Kun-lin were forced to return to Taiwan on the same plane on which they departed. According to media reports, on opening day five westerners were arrested in Tiananmen Square protesting human rights in Tibet. Sporadic incidents such as these will of course not interfere with the smooth progress of the Olympic Games. But in view of the spectacle of the opening ceremony, these episodes of "crisis management" were nevertheless a source of regret.

No one can deny that the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic opening ceremony left the world with jaws agape. It allowed the world to witness the "rise of a great nation." That rise is not merely economic. It is scientific and technological, cultural, creative, and represents a comprehensive national strength. Such scenes were unprecedented in the history of the Olympics. The next host will have a hard time surpassing them. Rumor has it London, the next host of the Olympics, is already feeling the pressure. In other words, when it comes to demonstrating the power a great nation, Beijing has already succeeded. In terms of international public relations, Beijing has received a positive assessment from much of the world media. Unfortunately, when it comes to tolerating dissent, the Beijing authorities still cannot let go. Although China has already arisen, it is still one step behind in embracing universal values.

How much harm could Yang Hui-lin and Li Kun-ling, the Taiwan cheerleading team members repatriated to Taiwan, have done? On Taiwan, they are merely a couple of mavericks. Their political influence is minimal. They organized a trip to Beijing to cheer for the Chinese Taipei Olympic Team. If they behave inappropriately, they are the ones who will be criticized, not the Beijing Olympic organizers. Besides, they were probably merely going there as cheerleaders. To make a big deal of it by returning them to Taiwan, has perversely turned them into heroes. DPP politicians fell over each other receiving them at the airport. The photo op was too much to resist.

One day the Beijing authorities will realize that when mavericks such as Yang Hui-ju and Li Kun-lin go to Beijing to say and do certain things, they are engaging in free expression. When people lie down on Tiananmen Square to protest human rights issues, and are neither harassed nor removed, but allowed to peacefully express their opinions, that will be the moment when democracy has arisen in China. All year around people protest in front of the White House and the Capitol Building. We all have grown accustomed to it. Most of the time the media doesn't even cover it. Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei is often very lively. People no longer think protests are a big deal. But in Beijing this sort of interference with personal expression, paradoxically allows protesters to make something out of nothing. The five westerners who lay down on Tiananmen Square pretending to be dead for less than 10 minutes, received global media coverage. Beijing lost points on its human rights record, for no reason. Isn't this losing proposition clear enough?

This relates to another feeling of ours about the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. Internationally-famed director Zhang Yimou choreographed the opening ceremony. Three dimensional light shows plus an string of pyrotechnics, allowed Zhang full visual expression. Few people will decline to give this feast for the eyes a giant thumbs up. It used the universal language to introduce the world to Chinese culture. It proclaimed the Confucian tradition of "celebrating the arrival of friends from afar." It conspicuously stressed the Chinese values of "he" or harmony. These motives deserve affirmation. Unfortunately the momentum is temporary. It lacks a humanistic spirit. It mobilized a 2,000 drummer welcome, an 800 person living billboard, and over 3,000 persons to symbolize the disciples of Confucius. These formations allowed people to see the collective, but submerged the individual. Many people praised the disciplined uniformity. What was missing was public sounds of excitement.

The most vital legacy ancient Greek civilization bequeathed the modern world is statues with many different postures. The legacy ancient Chinese civilization bequeathed the modern world is terracotta warriors and horses arrayed in military formation. Movie director Zhang Yimou brought this formation to life in his film, "Hero." He reintroduced it in the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. Whether this collectivist aesthetic, ought to be the main theme of Chinese culture is debatable.

Beijing has successfully used the Beijing Olympics to display its national strength to the world. The Beijing Olympics will probably end successfully as well. When it reaps its Olympic success, Beijing might also want to think about whether it wants to be a formidable power, or a benevolent power. Beijing has already achieved the former. It could do more to achieve the latter.










Anonymous said...

Indeed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was unprecedented in the Olympics history which demonstrated the creativity, ingenuity and richness of the Chinese people and culture.

The organisers deserve the highest accolade for their efforts.

Regarding freedom of expression, certain expressions which runs contrary to what the government had stood are tolerated.

This can be easily attested from their television programmmes such as Tiger Talk on Phoenix TV which showed some participants criticising government policies, emotionally AND 'constructively'.

However, certain issues are sensitive which would be harmless elsewhere but VERY different in the mainland.

The liberal camp might regard that promoting "Free Tibet" movement is innocuous, the conservatives would argue that such demonstration might escalate into bigger problems.

On the other hand, preventing such demonstration is also to protect these demonstrators from the fanatics.

Anonymous said...

In my view, the Chinese government is not ready for such openness and most important of all, the Chinese people are still not ready for it yet.

It's not been easy for Taiwan either.

Lastly, I agree that the two individuals should be allowed to enter the mainland and enjoy their time there. Who knows they might change their mindset and attitude towards the mainland authorities after the Games.