A gowned scholar strides slowly into a room, eyes downcast. Sinking to his knees, he places the backs of his hands upon the floor and gently taps his head on the ground three times. Wafer-thin porcelain cups are used to drink steaming green liquid, while singing birds fill the air with sound. A filial son cuts off part of his own leg to make a soup for his starving parents. Bearded officials gently wet the tip of their brush in blue-black ink and carefully calligraph their letters. Oriental culture is steeped in history and traditions that have been preserved, seemingly unchanged, for thousands of years. Yet despite this long history, they are eager to adopt many Western cultural norms that they deem “civilized.” The pursuit of wenming (civilized or cultured) is one being carried out by all Chinese, from the nouveau riche to fresh-off-the-farm migrant workers.
I recently hosted six foreign friends during the Olympic Games, who spent half their time in Beijing and half their time traveling to smaller cities in the interior. They were benignly shocked by the appearance of Beijing: clean, sleek, modern, and above all, green. It’s not a surprise considering how much the Chinese government spent on cleaning up the city before the Olympics, both in terms of money (planting trees, new subway lines, etc.) and politics (deporting beggars, migrant workers, etc.). When we got off the plane near Xi’an, they remarked, “this is more of what I was expecting when I came to China.”
In a new column here at The Hypermodern we pose a question and have our writers offer their disparate opinions on the issue. Of course we welcome opinions from our readers as well. This first question comes from the results of the Olympics and China’s dominant number of gold medals. But why the emphasis on bringing home the gold? Here are our thoughts, in no particular order.
A recent Asia Times article had a rather interesting take on the Olympic Games. Besides ranking countries by gold medals per capita (with China and the United States ranking 33rd and 47th respectively, and Jamaica a stunning 1st), it points out that while China is now the new Olympic powerhouse, China has an extremely inactive population. I’d like to expand on that.
There has been a lot of conjecture as to the fate of China’s most beloved star, and his result in one of the most anticipated medal races. You’ve heard the two most popular hypotheses: that Liu Xiang will repeat his gold-medal performance in Athens, or he will choke under the pressure of 1.3 billion people demanding that his lightning strike twice. But in an astonishing twist worthy of an O. Henry award, China’s prized hurdler has withdrawn from competition without crossing a single hurdle.
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.
Just as the Olympics strives to display the forefront of the world’s athletic development, it’s also quite illuminating to take a look at the Games in terms of strides made in media and communications. The Olympics is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, second only to the FIFA World Cup (and that record will certainly be challenged, if not utterly demolished, by the Beijing Games).
The coverage of sporting events tends to have different priorities than other entertainment media; aesthetic concerns often take a backseat to clarity (Leni Reifenstahl and NFL Films notwithstanding). So like a genre television show, the emphasis is on form, not content. And what can we say about the form of Olympic coverage?
The Bird’s Nest was opened this week for full rehearsals of the Olympic opening ceremonies. My cousin and I were lucky enough to score a pair of tickets. I won’t give anything away; if you want details about the ceremony before the big day, you can read any number of reports based on a video leaked by a Korean television channel.
Yesterday morning in Kunming, two buses exploded, killing two people and injuring fourteen. The attacks occurred on the same bus route, spaced sixty-five minutes apart, at 7:05 and 8:10 a.m. What’s clear is that the attacks were planned; what’s unclear is by whom and to what end.
I respectfully request that the Olympics leave China. Please take the Olympic flame back to Athens. Instead of bringing the joy, prosperity, and openness that was promised, the Games have brought us nothing but headache. Our lives have been made more complicated and wearying, so I make this appeal of behalf of foreigners in China, and not a few Chinese as well: Olympics go home.