Japan from the inside out

The Olympics and the ugly side of the Chinese

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love of country has never implied for me an unawareness of its shortcomings or a hatred of other nations….In a world in which sovereignty must exist, some kind of identification with that sovereignty is also necessary: too rigid a national identity has its dangers, but so does too loose a one. The first results in aggression toward and denigration of others; the second in society’s disintegration from within, which can then provoke authoritarian attempts at repair.
– Theodore Dalrymple

HERE IS A SUPERB opinion piece about China and the Olympics written by an ethnic Chinese. Called “Why the Games Bring Out the Ugly Side of the Chinese“, it appeared in The Age, an Australian newspaper, and was brought to my attention by the poster who goes by the name of Get A Job Son.

The author was born in Sydney to parents originally from Hong Kong and Indonesia. He is now in the United States studying law.

Here’s how it starts:

The slogan for the Beijing Olympics is “One World, One Dream”. It is plastered in huge print on billboards across China, but no one can tell me which “one dream” it is that we are all supposed to be chasing. And as the nation fires up its Games preparations, it’s also starting to look less like we all come from the same “one world”.

Because he’s Chinese, he’s rooting for the home team:

I want China to win the most gold medals. I want Chinese brands sold in American department stores.

His enthusiasm is tempered by Chinese behavior, however:

But in the past six months, Chinese nationalism has started to scare me….I am disappointed that many Chinese people seem to have abandoned the Olympic spirit in the name of patriotism. I am disappointed that they are claiming sole ownership of these Games as theirs alone to organise as they please so they can prove how far they have come.

Given the inherent, millenia-old nationalism of the Chinese, this should not be surprising.

GAJS thought this part worthy of note:

What scares me — in addition to a mob mentality in a country of 1.3 billion people — is that I think at least part of this mentality comes from refusing to be the white man’s lackey, from wanting to emerge triumphantly from oppression, from a need to say, “I told you so” to former imperial powers. It scares me because I think it comes from a place not so different from where conversations with my own friends sometimes end up, a place in which young people want not only to deconstruct the mainstream but fight it as well.

GAJS also thought the substitution of Korea for China in the above might help elucidate their attitude toward the Japanese. (I would add the Chinese attitude toward the Japanese as well; both countries are deliberately incorporating anti-Japanese attitudes into the identity of the nation-states they are still in the process of creating.)

If I were to quibble with the author about the piece, it would be about the underlying sentiment here:

With less than two weeks to go, the Olympics no longer feel as if they are about nations coming together, leaving their baggage behind, and competing on a level playing field; they seem more about just us Chinese coming together, and dramatically showing ourselves why we are so great and strong.

It’s not just the Chinese, it’s everyone who’s ever hosted an Olympics or major international sporting event. Recall the “Daehan-minguk” chants and red t-shirts in South Korea during the World Cup, for example.

The same is true regardless of the scale. I caught by accident a scene broadcast on CNN of a small group of young men obnoxiously chanting USA! USA! as they marched down the street in Atlanta during the 1988 Olympics. That was just as unpleasant to watch as the other examples.

Forget the helium-filled platitudes about overcoming borders and internationalism. Besides, I suspect the only people who get a real sense of internationalism in action are some of the athletes themselves. Rather, for the rest of us, these events tend to awaken and encourage nationalism rather than sublimate it. How could they not? The athletes are wearing national uniforms when they compete, and tables are kept showing national medal totals. Why would anyone expect anything else to happen?

The Olympics, the World Cup, and other similar events have the potential to bring out the ugly side of us all.

UPDATE: Here’s some bad news for anyone who thought that China could act responsibly and keep its word during the games:

Communist officials have outraged the International Olympic Committee and the world’s media by barring unfettered access to the internet – reneging on a key pre-Games promise to open China’s doors to the world.

One advantage to being the “flower in the center of the world” is that you get to define reality:

Beijing officials insisted the media had all the internet access they needed. “Our promise was that journalists would be able to use the internet for their work during the Olympic Games. So we have given them sufficient access to do that,” said Sun Weide, spokesman for the Olympic organising committee.

But that’s not how the ICO sees it:

Under the agreement between the IOC and Beijing Olympic organisers, the host country must provide the same access to reporters as in the previous Games in Athens and Sydney.

An IOC member weighs in:

Australian Olympic Committee president and IOC member John Coates said the about-face was surprising and disappointing as free access to the internet was “important for transparency, particularly during Games time”.

Why is he surprised at the inevitable?

There’s more to the story:

He said the internet issue appeared similar to China’s handling of the equestrian events. IOC president Jacques Rogge was informed one night by telephone that the events would not be held in Beijing but in Hong Kong because of quarantine issues with the horses.

Olympic television broadcasters in China for the Games said local police had prevented their film crews from recording in public areas.

Beijing officials have restricted live broadcasting from Tiananmen Square for official broadcasters to between 6am and 10am, and 9pm and 11pm. Only stand-ups are allowed at these times, and live interviews are banned at any time.

Beijing Games organisers have also banned aerial photography of Tiananmen Square, the starting point for the marathon.

Isn’t it time to start drawing conclusions?

If one chose to bet on form, the smart money would be on (1) The Chinese maintaining their position, (2) The possibility that the Chinese might come up with a few more “surprises”, and (3) The ineffective ex post facto bleating of the media.

Win, place, and show.

UPDATE 2: Here’s some excellent advice from Gordon Chang:

The solution…is not for foreigners to cower in the presence of angry Chinese. On the contrary, we should tell them to get over it. There is no point to legitimizing Beijing’s largely fabricated version of historical events. And we only deceive ourselves when we believe that the Chinese will develop a more “self-assured sense of nationhood” while their government continues to lie about their past.

Afterwords: Thanks again to both Mac and Get A Job Son for sending me this excellent material. I was happy to be able to present it to everyone. As it turned out, the timing was also excellent. Today was final exam day for the two university classes that I teach, and I was a judge at an English speech contest for high school students in the evening, so I didn’t have much time or energy left over for writing something myself.

15 Responses to “The Olympics and the ugly side of the Chinese”

  1. They should be called the Nationalism Olympics. You get the feelimng that if there are any protestors, foreign or domestic, protestiing for Tibet that what will be the greatest threat to the protestors? The Chinese security police or Chinese citizens?

    The rabid nationlism in China tells me that protestors better be more affraid of the Chinese population rather then the Chinese security forces.

  2. bender said

    The Olympics, the World Cup, and other similar events have the potential to bring out the ugly side of us all.

    I agree. Especially team sports. And then with individual sports, some of the athletes don’t look healthy at all. The marathon runners are too skinny and the aerobatics (was it called this?) girls seem underdeveloped.

  3. toranosuke said

    China and Korea need to put the past behind them, stop thinking of themselves as victims of imperialism, stop thinking of the US, UK, other Western nations, and Japan as being first and foremost imperialists, and need to adopt a new worldview. There’s nothing wrong with nationalism (patriotism), with being proud of who you are, with wanting your country to be greater, but it’s that “victim of imperialism” twist that tinges all that they do that is truly dangerous.

  4. […] eloquent and insightful Georgetown student who shared his thoughts with us, and the WordPress blog Ampotan where I discovered said […]

  5. Wahaha said

    One :

    Ever heard of essay “The_Japan_That_Can_Say_No” ?

    Ever heard of the crazy “shopping” by Japanese in USA in 1980s ?

    Two :

    Face the fact, US, West and Japan dont want to see a strong China. Chinese have a very clear mind of that, that is what the Georgetown student didnt realize.

    Three :

    There is human right issue in China, but it is not the reason West bashed China. Ever heard the Weng’an riot last month in China ? That is something all chinese care, while west didnt give a damn. It is foolish to bash a government while having no idea what the people under the govenment care most.

  6. bender said

    Face the fact, US, West and Japan dont want to see a strong China. Chinese have a very clear mind of that, that is what the Georgetown student didnt realize.

    I think you’re paranoid.

  7. Wahaha said

    No Bender,

    It is fact.

    US stopped selling Taiwan high tech once Taiwan allowed the direct fly from mainland to Taiwan.

  8. Wahaha said

    Dont be a alarmist knee jerk

    China and the progression of rights

    By Geoffrey Howe
    Ultimately China, the Chinese government and the Chinese people, will determine the level and scope of the rights and freedoms to be enjoyed. We in the West can support dialogue and offer encouragement. We can certainly continue to hold China to account for the promises it has made – and, in particular, the promise of the Beijing Olympics officials that the games would be “an opportunity to foster democracy, improve human rights, and integrate China with the rest of the world”. But equally, I believe, we have a duty to inform ourselves of what is actually happening in China – rather than relying on alarmist knee jerk reactions to China’s growing role – political as well as economic – on the international stage.

  9. bender said

    Have you ever been to the U.S.? Business folks are all excited about China’s recent economic rise. Ever wondered why many multi-national companies have their Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong and not Tokyo?

    China gets attention because it’s a world power. If you read the news carefully, you’ll see many articles that bash the U.S. and Japan senselessly. This is because of the same reason you see many critical articles on China. Compare this with articles on more smaller countries. Ever see articles about them?

    Get the picture?

  10. LB said

    Keane Shum (the authorof the Age article) himself is a perfect example of part of the problem: He is an Australian, of Chinese ancestry, yes, but born and raised in Australia, who still clings to the “I am Chinese and what happens to China happens to me” fallacy. He is not “Chinese”, he is Australian. Culture is not inherited through DNA or blood, but the Chinese seem to think it is. It is telling that in the Chinese language, a “Chinese-American” is expressed as a “Chinese with American citizenship” – the point being they are still “Chinese”, whereas to Americans the “Chinese” part is nothing more than an adjective to describe the background of the American in question. African-American, Chinese-American, Irish-American, they are all Americans. The Japanese understand this point far better, which is why Japanese-Americans are not “Nihonjin”, they are “Nikkei-Amerikajin”.

    This Olympics was about 100 years too soon for China.

  11. Wahaha said


    I live in US.

  12. Ken said

    Already world records of prohibitions.
    Hanging screen written, ‘Do your best, Japan’ : prohibited.
    Hoisting papers written, ‘Thank you Chaina’ : prohibited.
    Ribon to cheer revival after Sichuan earth quake : prohibited.
    But uglier guys set up a new record by broadcasiting rehearsal of opening show for the 1st time in Olympic history.
    Allied nations said, “That is a gentlemen’s agreement, isn’t it?”
    Korea said, “Do you dare to say it to us?”
    Japan said, “We are sorry.”

  13. toranosuke said

    Yes, I have heard of 「ノーと言える日本」, though I have not read it. I understand that the basic notion of it is that Japan can and should move ahead as a world power without continuing to be a US puppet under the San Francisco System, etc.

    But, while a similar argument can be made for Japan’s desire to prove itself as equal to the Western powers (see various events of the Meiji period, Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, imperialism of the first half of the 20th century, Washington Naval Conference…) I feel it doesn’t quite have the same tinge to it. Japan felt disrespected and unappreciated by the Western powers, and sought to join them.

    When Queen Victoria invited royals from all around the world to London for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, European royals were provided luxurious suites in royal palaces and the like, and were provided ornate carriages to take them to and fro. The Japanese Imperial Prince, by contrast, was considered equal not to the European royals but to the lesser “princes” of India, was given a hotel room, no guard or entourage, and was expected to walk to the balls and events.

    China, by contrast, it might be argued, did not wish to *join* the Western powers, but to have them recognize that China was not *a* power, but *the* power, and had been all along. They refused to send anyone to Victoria’s Jubilee, and historically has always refused to be seen as equal, let alone inferior, to any other nation. I must admit I am not nearly as knowledgeable about Communist China as I am about Imperial China, but I get the feeling that the core fundamental notions of Chinese identity have not changed; China continues, as it always has, to embrace a fabricated worldview in which it is, or deserves to be, top number one, the Flower at the Center of the World.

    In summary, though there are parallels between China’s and Japan’s interactions with the West over the last 150 years or so, and in their desires to be free of Western hegemony and/or influence, and to prove themselves as powers, I believe it is fair to say that China has far more unrealistic expectations about its place in the world, and so when reality bites, it hurts that much more.

  14. Ken said

    If the frustration to Chinese gov was directed to the Americans, it is ironical.
    I wish the US team is not shaken up by this murder.

    There seem more bursts than China reports according to internet.

  15. Ken said

    Daily Telegraph reported footprints of giant in opening ceremony was CG and Beijing Olympic authority admitted it.
    If so, the attendants of the ceremony might not understand the meaning of fire-works there.

    ‘Revolution praise song’ in the ceremony was lip sync.
    According to AP, it was because the girl who sang is judged as not cute enough for the ceremony.

    On the other hand, an exile doctor from Uyghur protested against Beijing Olympic and said China used Uyghur as experiment site for A-bomb so that more cancer and phisical handicap are breaking out.

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