The biggest threat to the success of the Beijing
Olympics this coming August is China itself. Come August, the world will see
China for what it truly is, many for the first time.
Although China's human rights record, environmental issues, and recent export
scandals are both widely reported and known, it will be the theatrical acumen
of the Communist Party that will be the surprise actor in the coming Olympics.
For those of us who have lived in China, coughing up black boogers is not only
commonplace, we have even come to appreciate the orchestra of throat-clearing
that comes with the rising sun in most Chinese cities. Beijing
will be polluted for a long time to come, and the athletes from around the
world who have any doubts about this immutable fact will achieve clarity soon
China has promised all sorts of things for these Olympics – not only that they
will be "green," which the world is now
realizing will not come true, but also that freedom will be allowed to blossom
alongside the specially crossbred flowers Beijing
is preparing for the welcoming ceremony. Again, those of us who live here laughed
heartily at that. If anything, Beijing will crack down harder than ever before,
as many of us said when we first heard of this promise.
And so it is. Undesirables spanning the gamut of anti-China sentiment are being
round up and imprisoned, deported, or executed. Uighurs, Tibetans, cultists,
dogs barking too loudly, spitting old men, cranky old women: anyone or thing
that might spoil the party is being put away safely until the Olympics are over.
Internet is spottier than ever, with all manner of sites being interrupted
or completely blocked. We here are used to it and have a variety of tools to
get around the feeble Great Firewall, but for all those "unique visitors"
this summer, it might be disconcerting to find blogs, photos, and videos blocked.
But this isn't surprising. That visa fees and rejection rates have risen brings
a yawn and a weary grumble. That journalists – unlucky or foolish enough to
have to register with the PSB
– are being followed and listened to makes me chuckle.
What will really be interesting is the world's reaction to the show the communists
put on. Will the world focus on the cover-ups
as facts emerge? Or the red herring of massive development? When people
really get a gander at the crude but effective methods the CCP uses to keep
this country in check – and keep a party going – then the world will truly understand
how far China has to go before it can become a leader on the world stage.
Which China will the world see? The Dragon, emerging from a slumber to spread
its wings over the planet, or the Snake, vainly preening and puffing itself
up for a crowd of ferrets?
China is a complex country with more contradictions than you can shake a stick
at. Chinese have cultivated hospitality for thousands of years; there is a poem
describing almost every aspect of a guest's visit. Yet China today is crude
and still very racist after years of anti-everybody communist propaganda.
The Chinese political machine does not appreciate these idiosyncrasies. For
foreigners coming to visit during the Olympics – the ultimate PR for a nation
– only the dragon may take the stage. As far as the communists are concerned,
the world may only view the China they present, just as during the Great Leap
Forward, when foreigners were led to model villages with fat, red-cheeked Chinese
peasants while people starved to death in the next valley.
What China has always failed to realize is that the world is a forgiving and
loving place as well. Not every hairy foreigner is a devil intent on rapine
and villainy. The world would appreciate nothing more than a bit of honesty,
a bit of courage. The man who lies when all know the truth is considered weak
and insecure. The man who admits to his failings receives a hand more often
than a kick.
China throughout history has failed to learn this lesson. Foreigners were and
still are treated to a spectacle of China that has little or no connection to
reality. It is not only laughable, but insulting. Does the Chinese government
really believe the world is that stupid? Are the Chinese still locked in the
ancient and ridiculous belief that outsiders are dogs incapable of understanding
the speech at the high court?
In my experience, yes, some are.
One small example is the time I strolled from my home outside of Chengdu and
saw that the river near my home had turned neon blue. I live near a flower-manufacturing
base, beautiful and peaceful but not without its disadvantages. Runoff from
chemicals used to enhance color turns the river neon every so often.
I walked past a group of old men fishing contentedly in the glowing river and
asked, "Hey fellows, catch anything?" They grunted a no. I said, "Man
that river looks strange, huh?" They grunted a yes. One of them turned
to me and said, "It's the pollution from the violets." I said, "Oh,"
then another yelled out, "China has no pollution. You laowai [essentially
the n-word in this context] talk too much."
Now all you never-been-to-China types might see that as an isolated incident.
Wrong. Not only is it commonplace, but that conversation can be extended all
the way to dialogues between Chinese
and foreign diplomats. I can't go up to one of my neighbors and say, "What
the hell is wrong with you? The river is neon, for God's sake."
Can't do that with the Chinese. They're sensitive. You have to talk around the
issue. Maybe offer a cigarette first.
And so Olympic trainers from around the world are sneaking into China
and taking their own measurements of Beijing's air to confirm what any local
could have confirmed with a simple hock-and-spit. And so the American
team will consider masks but probably not wear them to avoid offending the
All this trickery and so much more could be avoided if China would just join
us on the world's stage as both the glorious dragon it is and the lowly snake
it and all of us are, at some
point or another.
A bit of honesty, a bit of courage, and so many problems are brushed away like
so much chaff.