Twofish's Blog

August 10, 2008

Two British articles about the Olympic opening ceremony

Filed under: china — Tags: , — twofish @ 5:10 am

Here is from the Daily Telegraph

And from Spiked Online

Alongside long-standing fears of the Easterner and his strange habits, there is a powerful element of Western self-doubt and even self-loathing in contemporary attitudes to China. In their alarm at China’s ‘obsession with winning’, sometimes gritty determination and demands for self-sacrifice to a ‘cause’ (gold, gold, gold), Western commentators and activists expose our own culture’s collapse of faith in single-minded human endeavour and our seeming unwillingness to rise above the mundane to do things awesome or historic. In the acres of tortured coverage of China’s ‘torture’ of its athletes, we can glimpse a key component of the West’s current confused approach to the Chinese: the new China reminds Western society of what it used to be like before it lost its cojones. The idea that tough training tramples on ‘basic human standards’ speaks to Western discomfort with self-sacrifice, with the idea that there is something bigger and better to which an individual might commit him or herself.


Some Western observers are so hostile to what we might call the ‘Olympian ideals’ of drive, zeal, aggression and the other stuff of the examined life that they see intensive training as ‘abuse’ and sport itself as effectively a form of torture. China is increasingly seen as ‘the Other’ precisely because it appears too Western: it is China’s ambition, growth, leaps forward – things that a more confident West might once have celebrated – which make it seem alien to Western observers who today prefer an all-must-have-prizes attitude over Olympian competition, carbon-counting over factory-building, and road tolls over road construction. Contemporary China-bashing is underpinned by a crisis of belief in the West in things such as elitism (the good kind), progress, growth and development.

It’s amusing reading that because the Daily Telegraph seems to show that sort of insecurity.

Yet suppose that, rather than westernising, China simply understands more coldly than we how the world now works. It has noticed that Westerners have become consumers and borrowers, and so it has become a producer and a saver. It has noticed that we live in a dream-world of our own films and computer games and celebrities, and it is happy to profit by furnishing the technological materials for these dreams. We play: it works: it wins.

Besides, the Olympic opening ceremony shows that China is now ready to glorify its own culture (not mentioning Communism, of course). “We Chinese invented writing and paper and printing and gunpowder and the compass,” it in effect told us yesterday, “and we spread our power by land and sea. We are exquisite, resourceful and unique.” “We are a high and ancient civilisation, growing in strength” was the message, conveyed with breath-taking elan. I bet the London Olympics in four years’ time will not dare tell Britain’s equivalent heroic stories.

It’s actually somewhat sad to read that, because there is no shortage of things that Great Britain can be proud of and can use in the 2012 Olympics.  Mother of Parliaments, creator of Common Law, creator of the language which I’m using to write this in, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Churchill’s “This was their finest hour” speech.  Sure there is plenty of things in British history that are embarrassing, just as there are in Chinese history.  But to be in a situation where you aren’t proud of some of the things that you’ve accomplished and to be not trying to use your history as both a warning and an inspration for the next generation, that is rather sad.

I suppose the crucial mistake is this:

I have in front of me a dispatch from The Spectator in August 1936: “Competent foreign residents here [Berlin] say that the German Government and people really do desire peace … and one has seen several things in this festival which suggest that Germany wants to impress her Olympic visitors not only with her efficiency … but also with her desire to be friendly.” “Harmony”, proclaimed the dominant Chinese character formed by the heaving choreography last night.

I am not predicting that, in three years’ time, the West will be at war with China. But I am pointing out the similarity of totalitarian political purpose. Youth! The future! Unity! National greatness! Cheering crowds, awed foreigners, dissent crushed! The Olympics offer all these things.

So basically any time anyone shows a bit of national pride and nationalism, the spector of totalitarianism and tyranny gets raised.  But that is a terrible, terrible mistake, because if nationalism is thought of as only the tool of totalitarianism and tyranny then only totalitarians and tyrants will be able to misuse nationalism, and nationalism is far too powerful a force to let that happen.  Nationalism is a tool, a power tool that can be used for horrible things, but it can also be used for great and glorious things.  If not for British nationalism and “King and Country”, Britain would have just given up after the Germans defeated the French, but instead Churchill went up to Parliament and offered nothing but “blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Sad if no one mentions that in London 2012.

1 Comment »

  1. There is a Chinese saying that wealth will not pass beyond the third generation. There are plenty of things that British people should be proud of, and very proud of indeed, for producing giants such as Newton, Darwin, Smith, and the list goes on. What is sad is that the rich kids have acquired bizarre tastes in showcasing rock stars and the double-decker bus instead to show the world a glimpse of the 2012 Games in London. The West is brainwashed by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s tittitaiment theory of running the society. The Chinese Communist Party uses tittitaiment to numb the mass’ quest for political participation but is never deluded to consume the opium it imported from Zbigniew.

    Zbigniew once gave a lunar rock of 1 gram to the Chinese to show the “good will” of the American people on behalf of the Carter Administration. The Chinese cut the rock apart, analyzed one half and kept the other half. Upon finding the concentration of Helium-3 in the rock, the Chinese decided to start its own lunar project. Hopefully they will move quick enough to bring some rocks back to return Zbigniew’s favor.

    Comment by Jian Feng — September 9, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

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