Friday, August 8, 2008

The Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and China

I just spent the last few hours watching the opening
ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing. To say that the ceremonies were impressive is a massive understatement. I am awed-I don’t think I’ve ever watched anything on TV or anywhere else and just repeatedly said, “Oh cool,” or “No way,” or “Holy Cow”. Plus a few other unprintable, but complimentary, things. Of course, no city or country has ever spent as many resources, both cash and otherwise, on the ceremonies as the Chinese did. I read that the figure was something like USD$100 million. With that kind of cash, it’s no wonder that the ceremonies were spectacular.

But the fact that Beijing and China got the Olympics leaves me somewhat uneasy. I mean, something like 500,000 Chinese people are in prison for political crimes or dissension. A round-up of ‘undesirables’ happened in the last few weeks to get rid of some of the unattractive aspects of China’s society in Beijing. Pollution is a major problem because they seemingly have no emissions laws. And I have to wonder, how much of the ceremonies’ accoutrements were paid for through the use of slave, prison and child labor? Add generalized human rights abuses, plus the issue of Tibetan independence from China, and suddenly the lavish displays of the ceremonies seem to be a case of smoke and mirrors-sort of like hiding the dirty socks under the bed during an open house.

The Chinese nation comprises one quarter of humanity and their economic might can no longer be ignored--they’re a major player on the world stage. The fact that their influence worldwide will only grow makes it vital that the west and the east find some way to get along.

I wonder how long it will take the people of China to demand that their government act in a socially responsible manner. I’m not sure if it will ever happen. At least not in my lifetime.

But other things have happened during my lifetime, like the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union, that I hadn’t expected either. The former Soviet Union and all of its former countries are still struggling to create identities and places for themselves in the world. From what I hear and read (and you can’t believe everything you hear and read), the former USSR is like the Wild West, a pretty well lawless land with sporadic attempts at lawfulness. I doubt if the former USSR will sort itself out for at least another hundred years.

But there’s a difference between the Americas (the US and Canada in particular) and the basically new independent states of the former USSR. Americans and Canadians (not including the aboriginal peoples) came here to start new lives and initiate new ways of thinking: being independent of thought and movement. People who came here wanted more than they could ever dream of in Europe in the 1600s--after all, if you weren’t in the upper classes, you were out of luck. So the people who originally came to America and Canada were more…motivated to succeed in a hostile environment than their brethren in Europe who stayed where they were. The immigrants who came here worked hard and the smart ones were financially successful, without having to have a title.

The peoples of the former USSR were basically peasants in a feudal system before communism came along. Do what you’re told and don’t argue. Keep your head down. And with communism it was just more of the same. Do as you’re told, don’t argue, don’t draw any attention to yourself. So, unlike Canada and the US, they have little experience in governing themselves and little experience in having to work hard to get ahead--because with feudalism and communism, there was no way to get ahead.

Europeans learned from their American and Canadian cousins and were able to gradually change their institutions to reflect and meet the needs of the general populace. Even exceeding the social policies in America and Canada. Once the French Revolution turned bloody and horrific, the royalty of other European countries realized that they would have to change or the same thing would happen to them.

So America, Canada and Western Europe were able to slowly morph into societies where individuality was not suppressed and where people were not forced into servitude to people who had more power and money.

The former USSR has not had the benefit of this slow morphing--they were dumped into a system of government they didn’t understand and they are still fighting their way through the morass.

Back to China. China loosened the strings on its economy, what, 10-15 years ago? They had the Iron Rice Bowl before that which they discontinued. I think the Chinese government knows that they can’t just dump their country into democracy without a long adjustment period. I hope.

I hope that as they become more familiar and more comfortable with the workings of a market-based economy, they will realize that trying to hold onto power, which is an astronomically expensive proposition, is not good economics. Imprisoning people is expensive. Keeping Tibet under their thumb is expensive. These things are not benefiting them. These things are like albatrosses around the economic and social neck of China.

I think and hope the Chinese government is performing a massive social engineering experiment to turn feudalistic peasants into independent, thinking, dynamic people. People who don’t rely on their overlord, emperor or government to tell them what to do, how to do it and why to do it. How to think.

And after watching those thousands of drummers beating their drums and performing their movements in synchronicity, I know that the Chinese are a freakishly (and I mean this in the most flattering way) organized people. They’re like the Germans of a new ancient world.

I want communism and human rights abuses to stop in China. I want Tibet to have freedom from oppression. And maybe, just maybe, they’re moving in that direction. Just really, reaaally slowly.

Confucius said, “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

I hope the progress doesn’t stop.

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