An ancient civilization, rich in culture and steeped in corruption. Elaborate etiquette surrounds the gold panoply of cruel rulers hidden safely behind rings of high walls, while gangs of laborers work outside under the blazing hot sun. Perfumed maidens with elaborate coiffures secured with jade sway gently as they dance to the tune of plucked instruments. Spry old men perform fabulous feats of strength and defeat enemies with lightning speed. If you look at the way popular culture views ancient China (and to a certain extent, modern China), you’ll see these images alive and well. They are part of the myth of Orientalism. But the West is not the only group with preconceptions that may be far from reality. In China, there exists a corresponding myth of the West—the idea of xifang.
I am an Olympics junkie.
Normally I am utterly apathetic towards sports; I don’t seriously follow or watch any major professional or college sports. But every four years (and to a lesser extent, every two years in between) you’ll find me glued to the television screen. And not just for the big ticket events, like China versus the United States in basketball, or the thrilling races at the Water Cube. No, tell me that Hungary is facing off against Brazil in women’s handball, or that Colombia is contesting China for the men’s 62kg weightlifting gold, and I’ll tune in. By the closing ceremonies, I’ll probably have watched more than 150 hours of Olympic coverage.
Chinese nationalism is a living fire that burns in the hearts of China’s citizens. And, like any fire, it can be unpredictable. Many in the West feel as if China’s nationalistic pride is state-directed and controlled. Protests and demonstrations are seen as either government directed or fueled by misinformation from state-controlled media. This is, like many monolithic views of “the sleeping giant,” a fundamentally oversimplified view. Chinese nationalistic pride has taken on a life of its own, and it is difficult to predict where it will lead the country.
Let’s see… right now we’ve got a global food crisis; two wars and a primary race that might never end, not to mention dropping home prices in the U.S.; a farcical election in Zimbabwe; continuing plight in the Congo; and, the media staple: drama surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
Let’s say, hypothetically, we run all these stories in a serious international magazine, what should our lead be? The editors at The Economist, faced with that question, chose a story about Chinese nationalism. But what to put on the cover? I know! What says “Chinese nationalism” better than an angry cartoon dragon? But don’t make him too angry, that would be demeaning.
The China-Tibet Olympics commotion depresses.
We all knew CCTV was a joke. Now we are disappointed to learn that the BBC has a political agenda as well, joining what Mick Hume of The Times calls the newest Olympic sport—”China bashing.” No Pulitzers for this mess. CNN will win the gold medal in “China bashing” for mislabeling Nepalese crackdown pictures as Chinese (the single most effective Chinese propaganda tool in years—good job CNN!); the BBC will have to settle for the silver for their coverage of the London Olympic relay.