A Little Post-Games Analysis

Last week, we handed out five medals for media handling of the Games, and now we're following with a different sort of list, which flags both shortcomings as well as accomplishments.

1) Yellow Card for over-generalization and reinforcing stereotypes: to Thomas Friedman for "Melting Pot Meets Great Wall." Though the Olympics could be seen as a "teachable moment," with both the U.S. and China having things to learn from the other, Friedman essentializes both countries here, arguing that the US is diverse while China is focused and goal-driven. Moreover, the jumping off point for Friedman's piece is his observation that "the Russian team all looks Russian...the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them." Not only is this a neat bit of selective viewing (what does the New Zealand team look like? The British?), but it overlooks the fact that China is actually enormously diverse (particularly historically), even if Friedman can't "see" it by watching the opening ceremony. Friedman's essentializing impulse is further illustrated by a gaffe in this paragraph, preserved in the original but edited in syndication--at the Times, part of Friedman's intro reads "the African team all looks African"; in syndication, it became "the African teams all look African." Not only do all Chinese people not look alike, but Africa is actually not a nation.

2) Medal for humor: Xujun Eberlein at Inside-Out China translates several Olympic jokes from Chinese. Though she was concerned that jokes-in-translation are rarely as funny as the original, these manage to make the leap.

3) A medal for quick-off-the-start post-Olympics analysis to YaleGlobal for their on-going series. Part II of the series, "China's Olympic Run" ("With the Games over, the Communist Party loses a convenient excuse for every hardship"), was written by Pallavi Aiyar, who we previously interviewed about her new book.

4) Yellow Card to China Beat, for having neglected to ever mention Jocelyn Ford as one of "our women in China." Ford, a freelance journalist working in China, was previously Beijing bureau chief (2002-2006) and Tokyo bureau chief (1994-2000) for Marketplace and blogs regularly for Science Friday. Check out this fabulous short video at the Boston Globe documenting her visit to a farming village to chat about the Olympics with regular Chinese.

5) Own Goal: To China for blocking iTunes, as though it would be more damage to the regime for athletes to hear Tibet-related songs than for it to get criticized for such a ham-handed bit of censorship.


“同一个世界,同一个梦想”还是 “同会异梦”?

“One World, One Dream” or “One Game, Different Dreams”?

This piece was originally posted at Policy Innovations and has been reprinted here with permission of the author.

By James Farrer

A "silver medal" for the Beijing Olympics from the Japanese media

Mo Bangfu, a Chinese columnist writing for the liberal Asahi Shimbun, used his weekly column the day before the closing ceremonies to award the Beijing Olympics a symbolic "silver medal" for its overall organization (Aug. 23, 2008, p. B3). Despite accusations of fakery, the opening ceremonies and the Olympic volunteers both deserve "gold medals," as do the ordinary Beijing residents and migrant workers who had to put up with massive everyday inconveniences.

The government, however, deserves a "disqualification" for not allowing any demonstrations in the designated demonstration areas, for restricting the access of normal citizens to the Olympic venues, and also "poor marks" for the large numbers of empty seats at events. As a whole, Mo suggests, the Beijing Olympics deserve a "silver medal," perhaps summing up the generally positive appraisal of some of the more liberal media voices in Japan. Conservative papers, however, gave the Beijing Olympics much lower marks.

Seeing the Olympics as a watershed event, Japanese commentators have speculated about a "post-Olympic" China, and their prognoses are generally darker than the more optimistic views in the U.S. media. Influenced by Japan's own postwar experience, columnists ask whether the Beijing Olympics will serve the purpose of integrating China into global society, in the same way achieved by the former Axis powers in the postwar Rome, Tokyo, and Munich Olympics, and later by Seoul in 1988. Most answer negatively. Despite a consensus "silver medal" for a brilliant (if somewhat flawed) show, the Olympics were regarded as a political failure by most Japanese commentators, at least when judged by democratic norms. More darkly, some conservative papers suggest, the Olympics should be seen as a great "success" for the legitimacy of authoritarian rule in China.

In a front-page summary of the impact of the Olympics on China, the conservative Sankei Shimbun suggested that the Olympics were a celebration of dictatorship and the effectiveness of totalitarian government, "a celebration turning its back on democratization" (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 1). The article suggests that the Beijing Olympics should be compared to neither the 1964 Tokyo Olympics nor the 1988 Seoul Olympics, both of which led to greater democratization and the integration of Japan and Korea into the club of democratic states. Rather, the editors conclude, China's Olympics may in retrospect look more like the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which signaled political isolation and the internal disintegration of the Soviet Union. Like many conservative voices in Japan, the Sankei emphasizes the fragile state of the Chinese economy, predicting much bigger troubles, even a "hard landing" for China's "bubble economy" (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 1, "After the Olympics: a mountain of problems for China's economy").

Even the more liberal Asahi Shimbun described the opening ceremony as a "political show for the party leadership," (Aug. 9, 2008, p. 2) pointing to the important role played by Communist Party leaders in every public event leading up to the Olympics. The article claims that in every city passed through on the torch relay, the first torch bearer was always the local Party secretary. As the Games opened, Asahi guest columnist and liberal academic Fujiwara Koichi judged Zhang Yimou's elaborate opening ceremony as a "vacuous" political exercise. He writes, "It's a sad sight to see this brilliant director expending his talents on this exaggerated display of tradition and political propaganda."

Despite the emptiness of its political slogans, Fujiwara continues, it was important that the world participated in the Games in order to build bridges with the Chinese people, who can bring about real change in their government (Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24, 2008, p. 27, "Vacuous, but engagement is important"). The closing Olympic editorial in the Asahi Shimbun, although more moderate in tone, also called for political reform in China and asked the Chinese state to give some substance to the "One World, One Dream" motto by joining the global society in the fight against global warming (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 3 "Make steps toward political reform").

Much of this criticism mirrors the English-language media, but there are some differences. Japanese media reports seem at the same time more critical and less condescending than their U.S. counterparts. Japanese seem to expect more of their giant neighbor but are also far more fearful and skeptical of it. This dynamic is especially evident in the profound mistrust in Japan's mainstream media toward Chinese political leadership and the insistence by some conservative Japanese commentators that China is headed for a severe economic downturn. These pessimistic economic predictions are significant if only because Japan is the largest foreign investor in China, which is now Japan's largest export market. Of course, Japan's reports also say a great deal about Japan's own obsessions, including concerns about Japan's declining vitality and status in comparison with its increasingly powerful and affluent "neighboring country" (a term frequently used in Japanese media).

"One World, One Dream" or "One Games, Different Dreams"?

The motto of the Chinese Olympics was "One World, One Dream" (tongyige shijie, tongyige mengxiang). But it might be more appropriate to have named the Olympics after another expression, "one bed, different dreams" (tongchuang yimeng), a Chinese idiom used to refer to two people sharing a bed but dreaming different dreams. Looking at the hypernationalist coverage of the Olympics in the United States and China, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky describes "parallel games," in which Americans and Chinese were essentially watching their own teams perform in highly selective national media coverage. But this "one games, different dreams" phenomenon is not limited to the hypernationalistic U.S. and Chinese media. Japan's media also focused almost exclusively on the events that featured participation by Japanese athletes.

The Olympics seen on Japanese television were fundamentally Japan's Olympics. Just as the Olympics seen by Americans and Chinese were fundamentally nationalist versions of the same global event. It seems that even small countries are not immune to Olympic nationalism. A report in the New York Times documents the "gold medal fever" in several countries around the world, including Mongolia, India, Indonesia, and Jamaica. Of course, some of the superstar accomplishments—such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt breaking records—were truly global media events, but for most viewers in the world, including those in Japan, this Olympics was a case of "same games, different dreams," in a televised experience characterized by highly selective media nationalism.

Can fulfilling the "100 year dream" mean an end to "100 years of national humiliation"?

It's clear from the nationalist narratives and folkloric themes of the opening and closing ceremonies that the "dream" that concerned the Beijing Olympic organizers was not a generic dream of "one world" but rather the much more specific dream of China's place in that world. This "one hundred year dream" of a Chinese Olympics is tied to another story of a "hundred years of national humiliation," a story in which China interprets its modern history as an underdog struggle against foreign aggression, beginning with the Opium Wars and punctuated by a series of invasions.

In what might signal an important revision of this story of national revival, state media giant Xinhua's reporting narrates the Olympics as the culmination of 30 years of "reform and opening," suggesting that 1978 be recognized as the new key turning point in Chinese history, in a new narrative of Chinese history based not on the mythology of national humiliation and resistance but on a myth of national self-renewal and openness to the world. If this story sticks, it signals a constructive revision of Chinese national identity.

Mirroring this official story, the New York Times suggests that China's newly won confidence might represent the beginning of the end of a pattern of "aggrieved nationalism" based on the story of national humiliation. The Times article cites the positive and welcoming attitude of Beijingers toward foreign visitors as evidence that the Olympics bestowed a new confidence on China that can lead to the diminishment of China's aggrieved nationalism. The article quotes Fudan University Professor Shen Dingli, who suggests that the success of the Olympics will allow China to become a "normal country" that can more objectively view its strengths and its weaknesses.

The sense of grievance at the base of Chinese nationalism may be hard to overcome. Media in Japan, which is undoubtedly the country most closely associated with China's "century of humiliation" and also the most common target of China's nationalist grievances, seemed to show a much greater skepticism about the potential for Chinese people to use the Olympics to overcome the politics of national humiliation.

Despite the positive spin surrounding the Games, Japanese media tended to interpret the nationalist imagery of the opening ceremonies and China's single-minded pursuit of Olympic gold as yet more signs of China's potent mix of populist nationalism and authoritarianism. Japan's conservative newspapers interpreted China's Olympic-fueled nationalism as a useful strategy for solidifying political control and legitimating political dictatorship by the Chinese Communist Party.

The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's most widely circulated daily, suggested that problems such as a slowing economy, declining real estate prices, and greater income inequality will necessitate a resort to hard-line political tactics (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 2 "A return to the hard line"). Not all Japanese commentators were so pessimistic. One Asahi commentary suggested that the relatively neutral and normal diplomatic exchanges between China and Japan could be the sign of a new "adult relationship" (Aug. 24, 2008, p. 4, "The sprouting of an 'adult relationship' between China and Japan").

It is troubling that mainstream media in the one nation that could do the most to help China overcome its "aggrieved nationalism" seem the least optimistic about this possibility. American media have been quicker to embrace 1978 as the new starting point for contemporary Chinese history, with the Olympics as a 30th anniversary celebration of the opening and reform that began that year.

Faking the Olympics

"Fakery" was perhaps the most unfortunate theme of the Beijing Olympics. An editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun reflected on Chinese Olympic "fakes," such as the use of computer-generated imagery and voice-overs in the opening ceremony, suggesting that, like the obsession with winning gold medals, these practices also reflect the methods of a totalitarian government in which ends justify means (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 3, "As the festival ends, the real trials begin"). Even the more liberal media suggested that the Chinese were "trying too hard," resulting in a less than authentic celebration of the Olympic spirit.

As in the West, Japanese media also reported on Chinese media censorship, but with some twists that were not common in U.S. reporting. The Asahi's coverage of media censorship focused not only on censorship but also on the concrete methods of Chinese authorities in constructing an approved Olympic message. Reporters from Xinhua and CCTV dominated the Chinese corps, with very few slots remaining for local and regional Chinese media. Some well-known investigative reporters were simply told not to work during the Olympics. The Chinese state wanted no independent media scoops in this Olympics. The worry expressed in these stories is that Chinese popular attitudes are easily manipulated by a still-powerful state which is able to micromanage media messages ("Chinese domestic media restrictions" Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15, 2008, p. 2; "Chinese media" Aug. 25, 2008, evening, p. 1).

This emphasis on the state construction of media messages may sound exaggerated in China's Internet age, but Hong Kong–based media expert Rebecca MacKinnon makes a related cautionary point in her discussion in the Wall Street Journal of Internet reporting during the Games. While Internet sources might be expected to provide different perspectives on the Olympics, unauthorized critical comments about sensitive Olympic topics were quickly removed from the Internet. At the same time, media reports from official agencies were released quickly. The point of Chinese censorship now is less to stop the flow of sensitive news than to shape a dominant message.

Japanese papers also contrasted the rhetoric of "harmony" in the Chinese media with the "reality" of ongoing troubles in the Western regions of China and problems faced by ordinary residents on the day after the closing ceremonies. An Asahi article entitled "'Successful' Olympics, a different reality" (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 2) described the continuing repression of the Tibetan and Uighur minorities, as well as restrictions on the movement of ordinary Beijing citizens. The Yomiuri also reported on the Beijingers' ironic appropriation of the political slogan "harmonious society" through the creation of a new verb "to be harmonized" to describe situations in which people are forced to move their homes or otherwise sacrifice their self-interests for state-imposed goals such as the Olympics ("Increasing Patriotism" Aug. 25, 2008, p. 4).

Although not always negative, Japanese editorial voices in general seem unconvinced of Chinese sincerity and thus especially sensitive to stories of Chinese "fakes." While the Western media frequently reported on the "friendliness" of the Beijing residents, Japanese media reported on better "manners" (such as waiting in line), implying that these improvements in public behavior, like improvements in air quality, might not last beyond the state-sponsored spectacle of the Olympics. Man-made good weather and manipulated positive media coverage are all represented as troubling signs of a neighbor that is "trying too hard" and is thus untrustworthy.

It might surprise Western critics to read Japanese commentators positioning themselves as champions of democracy and individualism in China, but this focus on Chinese "fakery" and "collectivism" can also be seen as part of Japan's long history of positioning itself as a modern enlightened nation in a Western-dominated global society. Ironically, Japanese criticisms of Chinese fakery, authoritarianism, and collectivism closely resemble Western criticism of Japanese "copying" and a state-dominated "Japan Inc." during its rapid growth period of the 1970s and '80s. These obsessions tell us as much as about Japanese sensitivities as about the state of Chinese society. Indeed, one of the questions Japanese commentators ask is whether Tokyo really has an authentic vision for the 2016 Olympic bid, or more broadly, whether Japan has any viable vision for its future at all.

"One World" (revisited): Flexible Olympic citizenship

One story covered on the front page of all major Japanese dailies the day after the closing ceremonies was a tribute to the Japanese background of Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru, who was awarded the gold medal for the marathon during the closing ceremonies. Wanjiru began his serious training as a high school student in Japan, and thus could be hailed by the Japanese media as a Japanese success story as well as a Kenyan success story. In a similar fashion, Japanese media also hailed the success of the Japanese coach Imura Masayo, who led China's synchronized swimmers to a bronze medal—the team's first.

Japanese and Western media have provided numerous stories of mobile athletes and coaches swapping national affiliations all over the world. America's silver medal in volleyball was led by China's former star player Lang Ping, who was wildly cheered by Chinese fans. Russia's bronze medal–winning women's basketball team was led by American, and naturalized Russian citizen, Becky Hammon. Georgia's beach volleyball team hailed from Brazil. America's women's gymnastic coach Liang Chow hailed from the host city of Beijing. Fans are getting used to the mobility of athletic careers.

Extensive media coverage of these mobile sports figures belies the nationalist mythology that most media reporting exalts (including Japanese media). The cross-border movements of Olympic athletes and coaches are a better expression of the fluid conditions of modern transnational citizenship than the hard nationalism of mainstream media coverage. And despite the simple-minded nationalism of sports coverage, audiences throughout the world have also became willing to embrace the forms of "flexible citizenship"—as anthropologist Aihwa Ong calls them—exhibited by mobile athletic stars. As more athletes and coaches cross borders, perhaps the hypernationalism of sports will be undermined by the multinational self-representations of the athletes themselves, offering a much more progressive vision of a true "one world" that allows individuals to pursue their cross-border dreams regardless of their place of birth.

"One Dream" (revisited): Olympic Eros

When asked about the Beijing opening ceremony, Tokyo's conservative governor Ishihara Shintaro, who is not known for circumspection, said: "I suppose it's a happy occasion, something you can be proud of. But it was also like passing around the same Chinese dish for three people. It was a bit boring and too long" (Asahi Shimbun, August 19, 2008, p. 32, "The words of the mayor").

Ishihara may have been one of the few in Japan who were underwhelmed by the beauty of the opening ceremonies, which he labeled "mass games." Such inopportune comments can be taken as further evidence of his disregard for global public opinion, including a statement on the same day that visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine by the Tokyo governor also would have no effect on the Olympic bid. His well-known nationalist rhetoric aside, when describing his response to the sporting events Ishihara also revealed his more literary side: "Actually, [sports] are not about Logos, or language, but the world of Eros. They are about physical beauty."

Although Ishihara's comments about "Logos" seemed directed at Zhang Yimou's highly textual imagery in the opening ceremonies (based on the metaphor of a scroll and the advent of printing), Ishihara's larger point seems to refute his casual dismissal of the opening ceremony as "boring." After all, it was the extraordinary visceral beauty of the opening and closing ceremonies, rather than their simplistic narratives, that made the Games such a huge success in the eyes of the global audience, including the thrilled NHK announcers. And it was the vicarious ecstasy of the athletic performances experienced on high definition television that inspired such large global audiences. Discussions of the physical beauty of the athletes themselves were also one of the most non-nationalistic global discourses on the Internet. Eroticism, in its more direct sense, was also part of the experience of the Games for many athletes, who apparently engaged in a great deal of cross-national bed hopping. For some, at least, the private experience of the Olympics was not at all a case of "one bed, different dreams," but rather of the victory of Eros over Logos.

To return then to idea of "one dream," when Ishihara suggests that the Olympics involve a fundamentally aesthetic vision, perhaps he should also remind himself that the fact that the Chinese state was willing to spend seven years and $40 billion on an essentially aesthetic experience is itself a reassuringly peaceful expression of a shared human dream. Perhaps the legacy of the Beijing Olympics will be primarily aesthetic, not political, and that's not a bad legacy (especially, as Thomas Friedman points out, when compared to the legacy of America's past seven years).

Whether Beijing's expensive spectacle of Olympian Eros was purchased at the cost of other more fundamental human needs is obviously debatable within China. But whether Tokyo can offer an equally compelling alternative vision for 2016 remains doubtful for most Japanese. When asked whether the ceremonies in Beijing gave him any ideas for Tokyo's bid, the mayor said, "Not really, we want to do something totally different, if given the chance." What that difference will be is still unclear to most Japanese.

Tokyo is obviously a great global city, with the best urban infrastructure, public safety, and global cuisine in the world. It is deserving of a second Olympics, but it is also deserving of more progressive global representations from its media and politicians. Ishihara is clever, charismatic, and quotable, and clearly a relief from the leaden boredom of most Japanese political voices, but with such a figure at the helm, Tokyo's Olympic bid faces an uphill battle for global recognition.

James Farrer is associate professor of sociology at Sophia University in Tokyo. He is the author of Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai (University of Chicago Press).


Olympic Echoes

The echoes of the Beijing Olympics have been soundly drowned out, at least in US medialand, by the Democratic Convention. Even so, there's still a lot of good and interesting coverage and reflections on the Beijing spectacle. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. For a variety of takes on the closing ceremony, see Danwei's wrap-up.

2. In case you missed them, here are Xinhua's pictures of a sweaty President Bush chatting with the eventual gold medalists in women's beach volleyball.

3. Mary Beard at TLS wrote two recent pieces on the Olympics that may be of interest--both written from a classicist's perspective, the first beginning from the premise of how London will possibly live up to Beijing's show, while the second a tongue-in-cheek reflection on Greek Olympic traditions.

4. For those tracking superstitions in 2008 (like the earthquake premonitions and the Olympic harbingers of doom), Shanghaiist is keeping up on connections between the earthquake and the Chinese medal count.

5. After all the mentions in the media over the last few weeks of the massive mobilization of humans necessary for the Olympic performances (a mobilization made possible, commentators implied or sometimes said, because China is an autocratic regime), Jamie Metzl of the Asia Society urges in FEER that liberal democracies need to go toe-to-toe with Beijing's technocrats and prove that liberal democracies can also put on a good show. (Is that the acrid smell of Cold War in the air?) At openDemocracy, Kerry Brown argues that the Olympics have already changed China in ways that matter. For a nuanced discussion of this notion of "changing" China, take a listen to Louisa Lim's Monday report.


The KMT Backstroke

Now that the Beijing Olympiad has reached its glorious conclusion, people in Taiwan are starting to turn their attentions back to the home front. The Olympics did not go very well for Taiwan, which ended up winning only 4 bronze medals, its worst result in 20 years. Even the baseball team could only mange a fifth-place finish, including a shocking 8-7 loss to China in extra innings. One of the few bright spots was the competitive spirit of athletes like Su Li-wen 蘇麗文, who fought to the bitter end while losing her bronze medal match by a single point in extra time, despite having suffered a painful injury. The dedication that these men and women displayed is particularly impressive in light of the fact that they are not permitted to compete in their country's name, but rather under the odd moniker of "Chinese Taipei" (中華台北).

On the domestic front, things look grim as well. The stock market has plummeted, real wages are declining, exports are in a tailspin, and GDP estimates continue to be revised downwards. About the only things going up are unemployment and prices. These are worldwide problems, and the KMT government has numerous experts who are working on solutions. At the same time, however, the KMT also seems to be devoting considerable effort to restoring its ideological hegemony, attacking its enemies, promoting party loyalists cronies, and pursuing a pro-China agenda.

One prominent example of the first phenomenon concerns the controversy over the proposed renaming of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, which was the subject of a post on this website in January 2008. At a recent Cabinet meeting, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan 劉兆玄 instructed the Executive Yuan to withdraw the former DPP government's request to abolish the Organic Statue of the CKS Memorial Hall (國立中正紀念堂管理處組織條例廢止案), while also approving the abolition of the Organic Statute of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (國立台灣民主紀念館組織規程), thereby condemning the latter name to the dustbin of history and signifying the imminent return of hero worship of the former dictator. As for the issue of whether to restore the inscription 大中至正 on the Hall's entry arch, Minister of Education Cheng Jei-cheng 鄭瑞城 said that this would be discussed in a series of public forums.

Another sign of the revival of KMT ideology may be found in reports that the armed forces plan to reinstate the singing of "I Love China" (我愛中華), which features a line about "5,000 years since the nation was founded" (開國五千年), at evening assemblies of soldiers stationed at all military bases.

Efforts at purging DPP-appointed officials (拔綠官) are also continuing apace, including the effective demotion of Executive Yuan Deputy Secretary-General Chen Mei-ling 陳美伶, and the dismissal of Parris Chang (張旭成) as representative to Bahrain. Perhaps even more striking are the unrelenting attempts to convict former president Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 of corruption, which have included the declassification of secret documents relating to Chen's use of the state affairs fund (國務機要費), a decision that may impact national interests. More recently, the KMT government has launched a wide-ranging investigation of Chen and his relatives on charges of laundering excess campaign funds. Such allegations have shocked, disappointed, and broken the hearts of many DPP supporters, but their legal implications remain unclear (Like the U.S., Taiwan has only recently begun to address the problem of campaign finance reform, and current laws contain numerous loopholes).

There is no doubt that the rooting out of corruption is an essential element of any democracy. Chen has admitted that he and his wife made mistakes, and both have withdrawn from the DPP. If he or members of his family have in fact broken the law, they should face justice for their actions. Nonetheless, one cannot help but wonder if the current anti-Chen campaign is motivated by more than concerns over corruption, and might also constitute a means of currying favor with pan-blue hardliners while also diverting attention from the new government's problems. Moreover, the tone of some attacks on Chen, his relatives, and even his acquaintances has at times taken on a chilling and even vindictive tenor, which suggests that some KMT leaders have never forgiven the son of a tenant farmer for snatching away the power that they had been groomed to assume. All this, combined with the above-mentioned weeding out of former DPP officials, seems to be sending a clear message to any Taiwanese elites who might have doubts about professing their loyalty to the new government.

It also remains to be seen how diligent the KMT will be about tackling irregularities in its own ranks. For example, despite President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九's promises of clean government, the KMT-dominated parliament has so far failed to pass any significant legislation related to this issue, and has continued to obstruct the passage of so-called "sunshine laws" (陽光法案). Another thorny problem involves charges of dual citizenship among KMT elites, the most prominent being Legislator Diane Lee (李慶安), who has been accused of holding U.S. citizenship while serving in a number of elected offices. Nearly six months have passed since Next Magazine (壹週刊) broke the story, but the Legislative Yuan has yet to divulge any details of its ongoing investigation, while the Central Election Commission seems unable to reach any consensus on how to deal with the issue.

Eyebrows has also been raised over the decision by Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-pin 郝龍斌 (son of former Premier Hau Pei-tsun 郝柏村) to appoint Sean Lien 連勝文 (son of former Premier and Vice President Lien Chan 連戰) to serve as an EasyCard board member. Qualifications aside, the younger Lien's reported monthly salary of NT$300,000 seems particularly galling to recent college graduates, many of whom are starting at jobs paying only NT$25,000 a month. Hau's decision prompted the Apple Daily (蘋果日報) to issue a scathing editorial, which included the observation that "The specter of the old KMT has been haunting the land since even before the Ghost Month" (老國民黨幽靈早在鬼月之前,就已經四處作怪).

Of greatest concern to many Taiwanese, however, is the new government's pro-China stance. While the current "low key", "practical", and "rational" approach to questions of national identity has gone a long way towards reducing tensions, the long-term benefits and costs for Taiwan remain to be seen. While the Cross-Strait atmosphere has improved, direct flights have as yet failed to result in large groups of Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan (visitor numbers average 212 per day, and are dropping). Moreover, Beijing has yet to agree to direct cargo flights, and continues to deploy hundreds of missiles aimed at the island.

On the diplomatic front, the government has decided not to apply for full UN membership this year (as either the "Republic of China" or "Taiwan"), opting instead to seek "meaningful participation" in the august organization's auxiliary associations. Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prepared a proposal for the General Assembly asking it to support "the fundamental rights of the 23 million people of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate meaningfully in the activities of the United Nations specialized agencies". The main goal of these efforts seems to be joining the WHO, but prospects seem dim indeed, especially since Wang Yi 王毅, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, indicated that China would never accept Taiwan becoming a member of that organization, but would look instead into forming an international network to share data with Taiwan in cases of disease outbreaks. More recently, in spite of Ma's calls for a "diplomatic truce", in an August 18 letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese Ambassador to the UN Wang Guangya 王光亞 stated that, "Taiwan is not a sovereign state. The claim by a very few countries that specialized agencies should allow the Taiwan region to 'participate' in their activities under the 'principle of universality' is unfounded", essentially splashing ice-cold water on the KMT plan. The government's next course of action is unclear.

It also seems significant that key allies such as the Vatican, Haiti, Guatemala, Paraguay, Panama and the Dominican Republic have chosen not to cosponsor the above-mentioned resolution. The actions of these allies are understandable, however, as some have begun to wonder whether the new government's position includes the possibilty of dual recognition, a point that Ma has been at pains to deny. Other allies have reached a different conclusion, as can be seen in the decision by the Dominican Republic to refer to the delegation led by Ma on his state visit as "China, Taiwan". This did not seem to raise concerns among Taiwan's new crop of diplomats and National Security Council officials, however, who argued that according to the 1992 Consensus (九二共識) Taiwan could be referred to as China, since each side had agreed to its own definition of the term (一中各表). The trend of renaming Taiwan is now spreading to countries like Australia and Thailand, both of which have referred to the nation as "Chinese Taipei" on government websites.

Current trends have caused some concern in U.S. diplomatic circles, with recent reports indicating that officials who visited Taiwan earlier this month informed the KMT government of a "Two No's" (二不) position, namely no hinting that China has sovereignty over Taiwan and no acceptance of China having final say over Taiwan's participation in international organizations. This suggests that the U.S. government, once concerned about Chen's government upsetting the status quo, may now have similar worries about the Ma government.

Anxiety on the diplomatic front, combined with the restoration of the name "Chunghwa Post" (中華郵政), confusion over China's attempts to use the title "Taipei, China" (中國台北) for the Olympic team instead of "Chinese Taipei", and uncertainty over whether the new government will push for the purchase of the F-16 C/D fighter, have caused many to wonder about the KMT government's long-term intentions. For its part, KMT elites in favor of unification continue to visit China as often as they can, and some are said to be pushing for the new government to restore the Guidelines for National Unification (國家統一綱領). While the pace at which the KMT government will edge towards this goal remains to be seen, these issues may well continue to occupy worldwide attention for many months to come.


Reading Recommendations

The Olympics have ended, but the news continues. Here are a few of our favorite end-of-the-Olylmpics stories:

1. Danwei notes that last Friday, Google news searches for "China" (done via the Chinese language version of the search engine) returned no results.

2. In case you missed any Olympic highlights, check out Shanghaiist's nod to the ultra-brief Mime Olympics. They also ran a "report card" on the Beijing Olympics, loaded with links for recommended reading.

3. August 18-22, the comic strip Candorville skewered the holier than thou aspects of some human rights protests against China. Though while doing this, some panels do still effectively work in sharp criticisms of Beijing's policies.

4. A "Letter from Beijing" by Anthony Lane in The New Yorker on the first week at the Olympics.

5. At the Christian Science Monitor, former Beijing bureau chief Robert Marquand tells the story of Chiu Teng Hiok, China's "first Olympic hero," who played basketball for England at the 1924 Olympics and has, according to Marquand, been largely forgotten in Chinese sports history.

In Case You Missed It: Stephen MacKinnon's latest book on China's War with Japan

Reviewed by Nicole Barnes

Everyone’s attention this month has been on the Olympics, and rightly so, but August can also be a time to reflect on China’s War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45). Throughout the entire month of August 1938, Japanese planes bombarded Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party headquarters in the first provisional capital of Wuhan, a tri-city region in the central Yangzi river region in Hubei province. The fall of Wuhan after a protracted ten-month battle, on October 25th 1938, forced the government to move further inland to its second provisional capital, the city of Chongqing in Sichuan province. This gives us some perspective as we reflect upon the unprecedented success of the Beijing Olympics, 70 years after Japan seized China’s second capital city in one of modern history’s bloodiest wars (though they did try, Japanese bombers were never able to annihilate Chongqing).

Having already produced several excellent works on this war (too many to name, in fact, but one notable book is his co-edited volume, China at War), Stephen MacKinnon has put forth a very bold argument in his latest book, Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China, published this year by the University of California Press. MacKinnon asserts that those ten months in Wuhan—from January 11 to October 22, 1938—forever changed Chinese society in no less than four significant ways (listed here in no particular order).

First, the mass of refugees pouring westward from the besieged east coast caused a public health crisis, the creative responses to which led to the creation of a new kind of public health infrastructure and new ethic of responsibility to care for the wounded and sick, which MacKinnon argues served as the foundation of both the PRC and the ROC states’ health systems in mainland China and Taiwan, years after the war’s end. Previous estimates of wartime refugees have ranged from 3 to 90 million, but MacKinnon believes that there were over 100 million civilians fleeing the eastern war zone (p. 60), making this the single largest forced migration in Chinese history (the Taiping Rebellion of 1851-64 produced about 30 million). Although refugee relief efforts were more successful within the urban area of Wuhan than in the surrounding countryside, MacKinnon argues that the relief effort fostered a new definition of national community because it brought together people from all walks of life and both sides of the political spectrum, and incited the participation of state-run organizations, which for the first time worked in concert with private charities. Relief organizations managed to serve about half of this massive refugee population (so MacKinnon argues, though the one statistic he cites doesn’t back this ratio up), and sparked new interest in voluntary service, especially among the 100,000 student refugees in Wuhan.

The urgency of this refugee crisis brought about a second fundamental change in Chinese society, as the public gaze was turned toward economic development in areas that had previously been regarded as the cultural hinterland. Here MacKinnon’s argument gets a little fuzzy and it is unclear if he is referring to truly rural areas, or simply to the urban area of Wuhan in inland China. As Lee McIsaac has shown, when Shanghai urbanites got to Chongqing in late 1938, they looked down on Chongqing residents as country bumpkins, even though they lived in the cultural heartland of southwestern China (see “The City as Nation: Creating a Wartime Capital in Chongqing” in Joe Esherick’s edited volume, Remaking the Chinese City). It can be easily imagined that they saw Wuhan people in the same light, making MacKinnon’s argument that the cultural renaissance of Wuhan and the popularization of culture was achieved by the likes of authors Lao She, Wen Yiduo, and Guo Moruo, as well as other east-coast intellectuals who came in the refugee wave and stayed on, cleave a bit more than it should to the same cultural bias that Shanghailanders held against anyone who did not hail from their illustrious city.

MacKinnon also argues that Wuhan enjoyed the greatest press freedom ever to be seen in any Chinese capital city before or since. For a brief period in 1938, not a single journalist or editor was assassinated. This owed largely to the disorganization of the Nationalist power structure with the hasty move, and elsewhere MacKinnon argues that by the time the GMD got to Chongqing, the secret service of Dai Li became more oppressive (“The Tragedy of Wuhan, 1938” Modern Asian Studies 30.4 (1996): 931-43). But because of the power shake-up in Wuhan, military generals from the Baoding academy were able to gain an upper hand over Chiang’s favorites from Whampoa and put a clamp on Dai Li (p. 63). Nonetheless, the Guomindang immediately maneuvered for greater censorial power, and significantly refined its propaganda work while in Wuhan (p. 70).

Last but certainly not least, Wuhan’s ten-month hold-out against a concerted military assault changed Chinese, Japanese, and other foreign attitudes about the strength of the Chinese resistance. As Chinese armies fled for Wuhan, foreign reporters and observers doomed China for failure, but China’s unforeseen resilience in the battle for the central Yangzi valley changed their tune, and by the end of the siege even the fall of Wuhan could not quash the newfound optimism and an outpouring of international sympathy for China’s plight. In other words, although Japan won the military battle for Wuhan, China clearly won the spiritual and cultural battles, and the sympathetic reporting and images from Wuhan of the likes of Danish film director Joris Ivens, American journalist Agnes Smedley, and Hungarian photojournalist Robert Capa sealed international attention on China’s war.

MacKinnon also argues that both the Guomindang and the Communist Party failed to organize Wuhan’s students successfully, despite the students’ ardent desire to aid in the war effort. This comes as some surprise—wouldn’t a bloody war fought on your own soil against a seemingly ruthless enemy be the perfect opportunity for the government to harness young people’s energy for state-directed projects? Yet the Nationalists battled amongst themselves for control over some 100,000 student refugees, and when the ultra-conservative Minister of Education Chen Lifu won against the more radical Peng Wenkai, Chen immediately created the Three Peoples’ Principles Youth Corps. (sanminzhuyi qingniantuan 三民主義青年團, or Sanqing for short). Chiang Kai-shek quickly motivated to turn this group into more of a motor for party revitalization (with all of its leaders well beyond their youth) than an actual youth group, and some previously independent groups joined more out of a sense of coercion than loyalty to the Generalissimo’s request that all youth groups join this new, centrally-controlled one. Hence MacKinnon’s argument that the Nationalists’ actions did not represent inherent interest in the student movement.

The Communist failure was more obvious: wanting desperately to preserve the United Front, the CCP simply refused to organize any of the students on their own, satisfying themselves with a lame request that radical youth disband their more leftist organizations and join the Sanqing Youth Corps. Some youth groups that resisted were simply banned by the government. Yet despite the weakness of central Party direction, students were very much at the forefront of the refugee relief effort. They staffed refugee health clinics, organized patriotic marches, wrote and performed patriotic plays, and pasted patriotic slogans on fresh wall posters each day.

I do suspect that future research on wartime Chongqing might prove some of MacKinnon’s assertions about the singularity of Wuhan to be a bit overblown. Yeh Wen-hsin of UC Berkeley is currently researching journalism in wartime Chongqing, which might show that certain pockets of journalistic freedom existed in another provisional capital. The upcoming dissertation of UC Berkeley PhD student Edna Tow, on wartime bombing in Chongqing, might show that it was not only the experience of Wuhan that impacted China’s subsequent public health infrastructure. Although I will begin my in-country research next year, my dissertation on public health in wartime Chongqing may also be able to show similar long-term effects.

Nonetheless, this book is concisely written and very engaging, and MacKinnon deserves respect for going out on a limb to make forceful arguments about one of the central battles in China’s eight-year war against Japan: the ten-month siege of Wuhan.


Where have you gone, Hua Guofeng?

Let's face it: Hua Guofeng just never could get any respect. He's the former leader of China, but was sidelined by Deng Xiaoping and relegated to the ashbin of history: the triumph of mediocrity...the Gerry Ford of Chinese politics. His death last week was greeted with a chorus of "Who? He was still alive? No kidding. How's Liu Xiang's ankle?"

The great Han historian Sima Qian once wrote that a man's death could be as weighty as Mt. Tai or as light as a feather. Hua's death was eclipsed by the achilles tendon of a 20-something hurdler/professional product endorser.

Anyway, a quick round up of Hua remembrances, such as they are:

Blood and Treasure dismisses Hua as “Chairman Who?: The only Chinese leader to qualify as an answer in a pub quiz.”

Vincent Shih argues in support of the nepotism theory: Hua as Mao’s unacknowledged son.

The BBC gives a pretty straight-ahead timeline of Hua’s career, calling him “Mao’s loyal lieutenant.”

Mure Dickey writing in the Financial Times views Hua as an example of the ‘slavish sycophancy’ Mao sought in his subordinates, and includes an anecdote from the waning days of Hua’s rule when a young man looked up at a propaganda poster celebrating Mao's famous passing of the torch ("With you in charge, I can rest easy") and retorted: “With you in charge, I fart.”

No collection of Hua information would be complete without including Stefan Landsberger’s excellent collection of Hua Guofeng related prints at Stefan’s Chinese Propaganda Posters Pages. Black and White Cat has also put together some of Stefan’s posters into a Hua Guofeng montage.

In the NYT, Kenneth Lieberthal sums up Hua as “more a figure who was there when Chinese politics pivoted than himself being a pivotal figure.” Ouch. The Washington Post joins the, erm, fray calling Hua “an obscure functionary who briefly served as the handpicked successor to CCP chairman Mao Zedong.” Are you feeling the love? I know I am.

Joel Martinson at Danwei and the blog A shameful waste of madhouse time dig further into the Chinese reaction. Joel translates online commentary from Xinhuanet and excerpts from a short essay by Peking University law professor He Weifang while David Bandurski and Joseph Cheng at China Media Project offer an excellent overview of the coverage in the Chinese press.

Finally, The Guardian has perhaps the most complete and thoughtful obituary among the foreign media, arguing that while “Hua's account of his mandate from Mao looked extremely shaky, there was logic behind his elevation.” Logic further explored in this essay (shameless self-promotion alert) at Jottings from the Granite Studio.


The Great Convergence?*

China and America, according to much U.S. Olympic commentary, currently offer a study in contrasts. Not surprisingly, we’ve been hearing repeated references of late to the stark differences between our young land and their old one when it comes to religious freedom and press censorship. And we’ve seen some novel variations on the familiar U.S.-China contrasts theme, like an August 18 Los Angeles Times piece by Mary McNamar that focused on style. Our every-day-can-be-casual-Friday approach, she claimed, clearly differentiated the look of “laid-back,” gum-chewing U.S. competitors, a sockless Matt Lauer, and a shirt-sleeved George W. in sports fan mode from the look of their Chinese counterparts.

There definitely are many basic U.S.-China differences, including not just how our presidents dress and act (it’s tough to imagine the buttoned-down Hu Jintao hanging out with beach volleyball players), but more importantly how they’re chosen. Still, Americans should realize that, to international audiences, recent events could be read as revealing how much, not little, China and the U.S. have in common.

For this is a year when we keep showing up side-by-side in global rankings. Medal counts prove we’re in a league of our own as Olympic sports powers. We’re also neck and neck at the top of the pack in percentage of global manufacturing output (U.S. 17%, China 16%). And we share the top (or bottom) greenhouse gas emissions spot: they’re ahead overall, but on a per capita basis, we’re leading.

Returning to the Games, the Opening inspired many only-in-a-country-like-China comments. These stressed the number of performers (China’s so big), the synchronized movements (China’s so conformist), the echoes of Berlin 1936 (China’s so authoritarian), and the fakery (China’s people accept being lied to).

The PRC is likely the only country that could and would spend so much money on this kind of state-run extravaganza just now, and while there were some disturbingly authoritarian aspects to it. But the spectacle sometimes brought to mind Hollywood—the place where the phrase “and a cast of thousands” was coined. The choreography was sometimes more Busby Berkeley than Leni Riefenstahl. And a friend told me seeing those 2008 drummers made him think of a 2002 Hollywood production, “Drumline,” which also featured young men furiously keeping the beat.

It is true that revelations of White children pretending to be Native American ones would have caused more of a flap here than revelations that Han children pretended to be Tibetan and Uighurs on 08/08/08 did there. But a country whose past includes minstrel shows and Charlie Chan movies without ethnically Chinese leads shouldn’t be too smug. When it comes to the lip synching scandal, as McNamar notes in her piece, Chinese efforts to ensure that a song that sounded just so seemed to come out of the mouth of a girl who looked just right resonate disturbingly with our fetish for simulated physical perfection via plastic surgery.

As for populations that accept lies, while it would be foolish to suggest any kind of complete moral equivalency, this is another case of people in glass houses being careful about throwing stones. International audiences remember well our collective gullibility concerning the Bush Administration’s proof-deficient claims concerning Saddam Hussein WMDs and Al Qaeda ties.

One common assertion in U.S. commentary is that the Chinese press is much more controlled than is ours. That’s definitely true. But the view from outside could still be that NBC and its Chinese counterpart have pursued similar agendas.

The coverage has produced what Olympic historian David Wallechinsky aptly calls “parallel” Games. Chinese audiences see more footage of some sports than Americans and vice versa. And different ways of showing medal counts (NBC has focused on total medals, a fairly unilateralist approach, while CCTV, like much of the rest of the world, has focused on number of gold ones) allows each national group to believe they’re ahead. The networks are on the same page, though, when it comes to two things. Striving to keep the main storyline of the Beijing Games positive, and structuring their programs to play to an intensely patriotic domestic fan base.

The contrast between China’s long past and America’s short one is not even absolute. The People’s Republic, founded in 1949, is less than a century old. It’s a rapidly developing country mounting a big show in a city with striking buildings. This event is meant to convince skeptical outsiders that the country has put a traumatic era behind it and deserves to be treated with respect, not just dismissed as a renegade land that makes cheap, dangerous goods.

Much the same was true of the U.S. after the Civil War. Writing in the Boston Globe (August 26, 2007) last year, historian Stephen Mihm pointed out that in the 1800s to many Europeans it was not China but America that was viewed as a “fast-growing nation [with] a reputation for sacrificing standards to its pursuit of profit.” And one strategy for overcoming this reputation was to put on big shows, like the ambitious, controversial, problem-plagued but ultimately very memorable 1893 Chicago World’s Fair—held in the city that had just invented skyscrapers.

Proving we could pull off that spectacle, back when World’s Fairs generated enormous amounts of attention, helped show Europeans that America was a force to be reckoned with. And convinced some people across the Atlantic they had more in common with us than they’d realized.

A similar realization of commonality could be one useful after-effect of these Games, since big issues like global warming are best approached by people who can focus on what they have in common. It will only have that result, though, if we’re willing to discard the comfortable but often misleading notion that we’ll only see contrasts when gazing across the Pacific.

* This piece is being published simultaneously, under a different title, on the Huffington Post's Olympic page, which has previously run several pieces that I co-wrote with China Beat editor Kate Merkel-Hess and which continues to feature commentaries by other "China Beatniks" like Susan Brownell and friends of this blog like Monroe Price, co-editor of Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China.


Olympic Hurdles, Trials, Losses and Wins

As we go into the final laps of the long race to the Closing Ceremonies, here are five things worth reading (actually, four to read and one to watch) to put issues related to the Olympics (albeit sometimes vaguely) into novel perspectives.

1) Warren Cohen, a leading scholar of U.S.-China relations has a smart essay on the truthdig site that compares and contrasts the frameworks and details of books on the PRC by journalists, Philip Pan's Out of Mao's Shadow and Joshua Kurlantzick's China's Charm Offensive.

2) Speaking of Kurlantzick, whose book came out some time ago, he's got an interesting new piece out that looks at how differently some villagers view the Games than do urbanites of the sort that are usually the focus on Western media reports on "Chinese" attitudes toward the Olympics.

3) The always valuable Roland Soong site has an excellent collage of translations that bring to light the varied ways that Chinese athletic triumphs and tragedies are being discussed--and on the different reactions over time to Olympic successes by people with Chinese ancestral ties and sometimes PRC backgrounds who win or help win medals for other countries.

4) On the lighter side, Joel Stein offers readers of Time magazine some provocative suggestions on improving the Olympics. Here's a sample: "The first step is to eliminate all but one medal event per sport. You know why Michael Phelps won eight medals? Because they were all for doing the same thing. Turns out, he can swim fast when he does two laps and four laps--and when he's alone and when three other Americans go after him! You want multiple medals, do multiple sports. Phelps only gets two medals if he's the fastest swimmer and the best Taekwandoist."

5) What would a China Beat top five round-up be without a mention of a "Sexy Beijing" webisode? So here's a final suggestion of a place to turn, which lets you watch our favorite bilingual female Beijing-based broadcaster talking to experts and people on the street about Olympic issues associated with sports and gender.


Beijing Architecture: Part 2

By Eric Setzekorn

In the midst of the forest of new skyscrapers, a subtle change is occurring in Beijing architecture which may have more lasting importance than the soaring towers of the Central Business District. Outside the fourth ring road massive new apartment blocks are greatly increasing the average living space and comfort level of the growing middle class.

Built in record time by massive crews of migrant laborers the new complexes promise residents a more controlled and relaxed life , but the centralized, homogenous designs hinder the development of neighborhood feeling and community. The new developments allow the beneficiaries of China’s thirty years of rapid development to isolate themselves from urban crime, noise and pollution in gated communities removed from the majority of the population.

Construction site for massive new complex with over 30 cranes in operation.

The developments have been fueled by easy credit at rates often below the rate of inflation, the desire of city officials to leave tangible legacies, and real estate developers eager to tap into the booming wealth of Chinese professionals. The resulting scale of Beijing’s new communities is unrivalled in East Asia, with the possible exception of South Korea’s chaebol apartment blocks. Single developments can occupy up to a square kilometer, with average buildings up to twenty floors high. Located far from the major commercial areas in Chaoyang or the city center, massive underground parking garages extend up to three floors below ground. Residents are mostly young professionals with university educations and stable high-income jobs in technology, finance or service industries.

Compared to the cramped, five and six story brick apartment blocks built in the 1960s and 70s, the new areas are bright, airy and spotlessly clean. Large kitchens boast a full range of modern appliances and multiple bedrooms allow one-child families to have private rooms, often with a spare room available for visiting grandparents. With average prices ranging from $150,000 to $300,000 U.S. dollars, the quiet dignity of homeownership is relatively accessible and many buyers are in their mid to late 20’s. Although many analysts expect a post-Olympic slowdown, most buyers are confident the double-digit growth in property prices will continue for the foreseeable future.

New, wide roadways with separate bus lanes and elevated subway line.

While home ownership is undeniably a good thing for individual and society, and Beijing needs to continue new development projects to improve the quality of life for its citizens, there are multiple blind spots in the centralized pattern of Beijing’s urban architecture. Much of Beijing’s development program seems to have been copied wholesale from historical bad examples, such as Robert Moses's automobile-centered vision of New York or the hubris of Chicago’s Cabrini Green.

The popularity of grey tile and unfinished stone is practical given Beijing’s harsh environment but presents a rather gloomy, cold and foreboding appearance. Residents spend little time outside their apartments due to a lack of congenial open spaces such as parks or courtyards. Shopping for groceries normally involves a trip to a large shopping center, often a Carrefour with attached parking garage, which can be kilometers away. Due to the one-child policy and the career orientation of many young residents, children are few in number and seldom seen. Large numbers of private security guards in sometimes garish uniforms complete with tassels and braid occupy all entrances and patrol the grounds.

High-end housing development adjacent to elevated subway.

The overall effect is to create a highly structured, managed space with little variation or required social contact. Some of this effect can be blamed on 1950s zoning, which divided Beijing into large city blocks that not only make the city difficult to walk, but also increase traffic congestion and hinder small development of individual parcels of land in favor of large, square complexes stretching from street to street.

A deeper problem for Beijing is the rapidly growing social stratification that has accompanied the housing market expansion. New buildings are built by work gangs of unskilled laborers coming from the countryside who live eight to ten to a room on site until the project is completed. In these temporary structures, sanitation facilities are limited, bare bulbs provide lighting and the un-insulated metal or tents rely on weak space heaters in the winter months.

Mule haulers under elevated subway with local resident in background on roller blades .

View from northernmost subway stop in Beijing, Tiantongyuan on the new line 5, looking south at new developments all completed in last 3 years.

Meanwhile, many residents commute to work by car along wide, well designed highways or can take the modern, efficient metro service which has expanded rapidly into the wealthy northern suburbs. Older, normally working class areas of the city are forced to rely on the crowded and unreliable bus system. Very selective public and private schools have also boomed in these new areas as parents with sufficient income seek to provide their children with every advantage in gaining access to domestic and foreign universities. These schools boast fantastic computer and language facilities and in several cases cricket teams.

Open fields in north of Beijing with subway line already completed and ready for future expansion.

While every city wrestles with issues of growth and income distribution the sheer size, high rates of economic growth and the fact it is the national capital make Beijing an interesting test case for Chinese mega-city development. In the next twenty years, as the ratio of urban to rural population steadily increases, dozens of other Chinese cities will be confronted with similar problems of sustainable, equitable urban growth.


Handing Out Five Media Medals

Here is an admittedly quirky list of some pieces I've come across recently that seem medal-worthy. Not all deal with "big" topics. Isn't that fitting where the Games are concerned, though, since Olympic athletes don't just compete in globally popular sports (like soccer) but also in ones that have few practitioners and, shall we say, niche followings (like synchronized diving)?* This list focuses almost exclusively on Western and English language publications, so I hope readers will bring Chinese and other publications into the mix via their comments. And while I'd like to award medals to some China Beat pieces (they clearly deserve them), I won't. This isn't, after all, a Self-Promotion Saturday. I will, however, mention one China Beatnik before the list is done.

1. Gold medal for taking on the "collectivist" East versus "individualistic" West cliche: to John Pomfret for his excellent blog post that points out some flaws in, among other things, a recent David Brooks op-ed on the theme.

2. Gold medal for clarifying the different ways that medal counts can be tallied: to Ian Johnson for his article on the subject (and nice to see a title that puns on "Who's on First" without mentioning the name of China's President).

3. Gold medal for humor at the expense of television coverage cliches: to Andy Borowitz for his Huffington Post piece with a title that says it all (but read the whole thing anyway): "Athlete without Compelling Personal Drama Expelled from the Olympics."

4. Gold medal for coverage of a story that deserved more attention on two fronts (the fact that there was at one point a plan to include a segment on the Cultural Revolution in the Opening Ceremony, and the fact that even after Spielberg withdrew, international consultants played key roles in the spectacle): to Dipesh Gadher for his Guardian piece on Mark Fisher (and if you don't recognize this name, you'll realize after reading the piece why you should).

5. Gold medal (team category) for making a lot of use of an expert who could all too easily have gotten too little attention: to USA Today, People's Daily, the PBS NewsHour, Al Jazeera, and all sorts of other media outlets for their interviews with and quoting of Susan Brownell. Given her background as a China specialist working on sports, an athlete who had once competed in a Beijing track meet, a consultant to the IOC, someone who was in Beijing during the lead-up to the Games and is still there now, and the author of an important recent book on the Olympics, one might think that there was no difficulty factor involved in winning this particular medal. In fact, though, as recently as six months ago, even though commentary on the lead-up to the Games had kicked into high gear, she was rarely being sought out by the press. And I think that it is fair to say that in the past at least (here's where the difficulty factor comes in), there was a notable tendency for the most frequently quoted Western China specialists to be people who were based in disciplines other than hers (she's an anthropologist), were at institutions that had a different sort of profile and location than hers (she's based at the University of Missouri, St. Louis), and were, well, not to beat around the bush, men. If her break out as a media figure turns out to be part of a trend, it will be a welcome one.

*For better or worse, some of the most colorful of obscure Olympic events--from the "tug of war" that as I've pointed out elsewhere generated controversy during the London Games of 1908, to the "Live Pigeon Shooting" featured in the 1900 Paris Games, to the dueling pistols event that had competitors fire at dummies dressed in frock coats--are now a thing of the past. For a fascinating partial list of discontinued events, including the "two hands shot put," see this post at the website for Top End Sports.

Web-Based Resources for Learning Chinese

Back in May, we posted a list of recommended language and literature sites for students of Chinese. We pointed out that these five sites were only the tip of the iceberg; there are literally hundreds of other sites offering live Chinese lessons, interactive exercises, flashcards, and other learning tools and tips. Here are five more of our top picks among sites with significant free offerings for language learners:

1. The rich collection of goodies on Eric Peterson's Online Chinese Tools site includes Chinese dictionaries, file converters, a text annotator, a romanization converter, and a popular Chinese text reader program called DimSum.

2. The Chinese Language Center on the Yellowbridge website features what it calls the web's most comprehensive Chinese-English dictionary, along with an etymology explorer, Chinese flaschcards, memory games, and a text-to-speech converter.

3. Looking for language learning tips, reading suggestions, grammar help, or just a bit of moral support in your struggles with the Chinese language? With its large active membership and extensive archives of past postings, Chinese Forums is the leading discussion board for students of Chinese at every level. Topic areas include "Reading and Writing," "Grammar and Vocabulary," "Chinese Computing and Technology," "Studying in China," and many others.

4. The most advanced and user-friendly suite of dictionary tools is probably the award-winning reference site Xuezhongwen.net. In addition to a very flexible bilingual dictionary, the site offers Chinese text annotation and translation, radical tables, character flaschcards, character encoding converters, and pinyin & hanzi text entry tools.

5. Did you ever wonder how many characters you know, or wish you could have a textbook-style vocabulary list for that Chinese news article you're trying to read? The Clavis Sinica website, created by ChinaBeat contributor David Porter, offers a number of unique learning resources for students of Chinese. The site's comprehensive Language Toolbox includes the popular Chinese Character Test and Vocabulary Extractor tools. The Text and Audio Library features pre-sorted flashcard lists and large collections of graded and annotated Chinese texts (over 100 of them with accompanying mp3 audio) for reading practice by students at all levels.


Hand Grenades and Olympics

We intereviewed Lijia Zhang about her forthcoming book, Socialism is Great!, in early June. The piece below was originally published in The Guardian, where it received almost 400 comments before the paper closed comments for the story. Since then, it has been published in numerous other publications, including China Daily.

By Lijia Zhang

At my school, sports lessons included an exercise where we threw hand grenades (made from wood topped with metal to resemble the real thing) against a wall that stretched a red slogan with the reason for our militaristic "sport" – "exercise our bodies and protect our motherland." We feared that China might be invaded one day by the American imperialists or Soviet revisionists. Indeed, the whole West seemed holding evil intent towards us. Living in a closed country, we had little idea about the outside world.

I went to school in Nanjing in the early 70s, when the revolutionary fever of the Cultural Revolution was calming down. A few years earlier, my father was banished to the countryside for criticizing the government. My grandfather, a small-time grain dealer, had committed suicide – as he worried his not-so-politically-correct background would land him in trouble. These were the darkest times for my family as well for my our nation. Somehow the image of those dark days remain deeply imprinted on the Western mind, even though China has come a long way since then. Maybe the West is a little too keen to report the negative stories? Or perhaps, the West feels more comfortable hearing such stories?

That’s my impression, as a Chinese who has lived abroad and now writes for the Western media, based in Beijing. I had dreamt of becoming a journalist or a writer since hand grenade days. But my dream was shattered at the age of 16 when my mother dragged me from school to work at a state-owned missile factory. Only after I finally made my way to England did I dare to pursue my long-buried dream.

My journalistic career started with the Olympics. In 1993, on the night when the result of Olympic bidding was announced, I was at Tiananmen Square, reporting for the ABC (Australian) when the fountain went off – it must have been the biggest pre-mature ejaculation in history - as people thought China had won the bid. It was heart-breaking to interview the bitterly disappointed crowds. But China wasn’t really ready. The memory of the bloody crackdown in 1989 was still fresh.

I was also in Beijing eight years later when China did win the bid. In our neighbourhood, grannies spent the whole afternoon practice their dancing steps and their husband beating the drums and gongs. This time, they were not disappointed. The wild celebration, in the deafening noise of fire crackers, drums and gongs, laughter and ecstatic cries, went on the whole night. In a live interview with the BBC, I made the remarks: “In the ecstatic cries, I heard Chinese people’s longing for the recognition and respect from the world.”

I was just as happy as everyone else. Ever since the economic reforms, China has driven millions of people out of the poverty. An incredible feat in human history. As a child, I used to roast cicadas to eat to satisfy my craving for meat; now my 19-year-old nephew, a law university student in Nanjing, drives his own car. And people are now enjoying a great deal more personal freedom. As a rocket factory girl, I had to endure so many rules. I worked there for ten years without any promotion partly because of my naturally curly hair: my boss thought I wore a perm. Back then only those with bourgeois outlook would curl their hair. These days, young women curl their hair, shave off their hair or change the colours of their hair whenever they want.

In the past years, I have seen with my own eyes how the capital has been transformed. The state-of-art buildings, not just those Olympic buildings such as the ‘Bird Nest’ and the ‘Water Cubes’ – have popped up like mushrooms after a spring rain. Right now, Beijing, having undergone a face-lift, has never looked so beautiful, clean and quiet.

Huge effort and sacrifice has been made. Polluting factories around Beijing were shut down; construction work has been halted and cars taken off the road. These may be necessary measures to ensure the air quality. Other measures seem excessive: beggars, the homeless and migrants without documentations were driven out; while petitioners – those who try to bring their grievance to the higher authority - have been stopped from entering the capital. Potential trouble-makers are being monitored or under house arrest. Excessive. That’s always the way the authority adapts when dealing with uncertainty.

Beijing’s Olympics will be a big success because the majority of population, proud as Chinese are, want it to be, not just because the government wants to use Olympic success to gain legitimacy. Xia Fengzhi, a 67-year-old retired worker and a volunteer, told me how happy and excited he is about the games. “I want foreigners to see what has China achieved. We were called the ‘sick men of Asia. Now we are strong and rich enough to hold such a major international event,” he said.

No doubt, there’ll be plenty of negative stories in the foreign media, criticizing China’s human rights abuses, the lack of media freedom; the treatment of petitioners and the over-tight securities. Some Chinese have no access to the reports; other do but decide to diminish them as grumbles from the anti-China forces. In a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre, China ranks the first among 24 nations in their optimism about their country’s future, buoyed by the fast economic growth and the promise of Olympics. There’s another factor – the timing, I believe. The survey was conducted this spring, just after Tibet unrest and in the middle of the troubled torch relay when we witnessed a surge of nationalism in response to what many Chinese regarded as the ‘anti-China feeling’ in the west and ‘biased’ Tibet reports.

Personally, I have no problem with negative stories. But I also think it is wrong for the West to stand in a self-appointed high-moral ground to accuse China of this and that, especially when some of the accusations are not true. To take Tibet unrest as an example, what happened in Lhasa, in my view, was far more complicated than "the Chinese government’s ruthless crackdown of Tibetan protest." There was a peaceful protest but there was also a violent racial riot which I doubt would be tolerated in any country.

As a journalist, most of my stories criticize the government, which seems to have little idea about PR. Blessed with such domestic support and armed with the practiced skills in mass organization, the authority could have afforded to take a more relaxed approach. Why not make the Olympic games a really fun party – China’s big coming-out party? No need to cause so much interruption to the people’s lives. It would have been better to let the world to see China as it actual is.

And I can’t help but feeling there has been a missed opportunity on more important matters, too. Instead of trying to hide the problem, our leaders could have taken this as a good chance to address the real issues, cracking down on corruption, improving the rule of law, relaxing media control and opening the country further.

Don’t doubt our support for Beijing’s games. After all, the Olympics are meant to be the occasion to bring people with different views together. Secondly, it will provide a chance for China and the rest of the world to understand each other better. Although I can understand how China’s undemocratic political system and lack of transparency makes the West uneasy, especially compounded by the country’s rapid rise, I think much of the fear is generated by ignorance.
Today, the school kids enjoy far more sophisticated facilities than hand grenades. They know a lot more about the outside world, and so do their parents. I wonder if the Western kids and their parents know as much about China as we know about the West? If they did, would there be still the same fear? Maybe this Olympic games will bring us one step closer.


China: The Pessoptimist Nation

By William A. Callahan

China is the most optimistic nation in the world. 86 percent think that their country is headed in the right direction, up from 48 percent in 2002 according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey.

There are good reasons to be hopeful. 2008 is important not only because Beijing is hosting the Olympics. This year Chinese people are also celebrating thirty years of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform policy, whose double digit economic growth has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, and created a new middle class that is larger than most European countries.

But China’s nationalistic pride takes pessimistic forms too. Recent bumps in the road of China’s rise have produced fierce reactions from Chinese people. Rather than wondering why Tibetan people would protest Chinese rule, Han Chinese rallied against the "bias" of Westerners who criticized their country. Last year when Western companies recalled unsafe Chinese-made toys, opinion-makers in China called for apologies not just from toy companies, but also from Western media for staining China’s national image.

Chinese public opinion not only targets foreigners, but increasingly attacks other Chinese.

Grace Wang was physically threatened when she tried to mediate between Chinese and Tibetans at Duke University in the U.S. Her family back home in China was forced into hiding.

Wheelchair-bound Jin Jing became a hero in China when she resisted protestors during the Olympic Torch Relay in Paris. But she was vilified a few weeks later when she refused to support a popular boycott against the French hypermarket Carrefour.

By going against China’s raging internet opinion, these two women were both denounced as traitors. As the Olympic celebration has approached, violence against foreign critics and Chinese "traitors" has increased, moving from denunciations on the web to bullying on the streets.

How can we understand these radical shifts between celebration and protest? Rather than simply being "a land of contradictions," I think it is necessary to see how China’s sense of pride and sense of humiliation actually are joined at the hip.

While opinion in Western countries typically is polarized between left and right, in China it is usually the same people who are wildly optimistic one day, and deeply pessimistic the next. China’s "angry youth" who flare against foreign and domestic critics are also the most prosperous segment of Chinese society.

To put it simply, China is a pessoptimist nation.

These mixed feelings come from the party-state’s official patriotic education campaign that looks to both positive and negative stories. On the one hand, Chinese textbooks are not strange: they point to the glories of ancient civilization and recent economic success.

But patriotic education also includes a heavy dose of "national humiliation education" that narrates China’s modern history as a series of shameful defeats since the Opium War in 1840. Textbooks explain that a combination of "foreign aggression" and "corrupt traitors" are to blame for China’s troubled modern history. As recent events have shown, this dynamic of internal and external enemies continues to frame the common sense understanding of international politics in China.

The pessoptimist patriotic education campaign is not limited to textbooks or classrooms. National humiliation is a popular topic in feature films, museum exhibits, romance novels, pop songs, patriotic poems, specialist dictionaries, pictorials and commemorative stamps. Since 2001, China has even had an official National Humiliation Day, which it celebrates each September. A popular historical atlas is entitled "Maps of the Century of National Humiliation of Modern China."

The Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department thus has honed patriotic education into a multimedia campaign that ties patriotism very firmly to the party-state.

But it would be a mistake to conclude that pessoptimism is just propaganda used by the party elite to manipulate the people. These mixed feelings also grow out of a popular sense that China is coming into its own after over a century of being left out--and left behind. Rather than a rise and fall, Chinese people think that their country is--at last--experiencing a rise after a fall, a rejuvenation after a century of national humiliation.

Because Chinese people feel that their country is resuming its rightful place as a superpower at the center of the world, any criticism is seen as an obstacle to the PRC’s "inevitable rise." Although China’s leaders sound silly whenever they state that foreign critics have "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," there is a grain of truth in this complaint. This mix of entitlement and righteous anger is very strong in China.

Pessoptimistic nationalism is thus continually produced and consumed in China in a circular process that knits together urban elites and rural peasants, northerners and southerners, government officials and the new middle class.

Yet this aggressive nationalism it is not the only way of understanding China’s past, present and future. Actually, "national humiliation" only became a key education and propaganda theme in the 1990s as a way to make rebellious students feel more patriotic after the June 4th massacre. Unfortunately, this tactical method of dealing with the communist party’s legitimacy crisis has become China’s most successful propaganda campaign.

The party-state’s policy thus both feeds into and grows out of pessoptimist feelings among ordinary Chinese. Patriotic education and popular opinion are interwoven, just as pride and humiliation are intertwined. China’s domestic politics are inseparable from its foreign relations in a way that intimately binds together national security with nationalist insecurities.

Here China is certainly not alone. The line between domestic and international politics is blurring in most places. Other countries also use national humiliation themes to understand national history and foreign relations: Serbia, South Korea and occasionally Russia.

The rise of pessoptimism in China is important not because China is unique, but because it is big--and getting bigger all the time economically, politically and culturally.

It is crucial to understand that China’s pessoptimism is fundamentally unstable, producing shifting feelings, which at any time could spill over into mass movements that target domestic critics, foreigners and even the party-state itself.

While it is necessary to welcome China into the international community and encourage more moderate voices in Beijing, the most important thing to recognize is that China’s pessoptimist nationalism is out of anyone’s control. Even mundane economic twists can provoke extreme reactions: when the value of China’s investment in the Blackstone Group tanked last summer, an influential Chinese blogger sensationally blamed greedy Westerners for looting China much as their ancestors had during the Opium War.

As the Olympics are showing, China’s leaders are able to control many aspects of Chinese society--even the weather. But beyond long-term education and media reform (neither of which is forthcoming), China’s leaders can’t control popular feelings.

During the Olympics we are certainly seeing much genuine happiness and gracious hospitality from Chinese people. But since China also has a huge chip on its shoulder, we need to be prepared for a harsh popular reaction whenever China hits a bump on its rocky road of political and economic change.

Perhaps American satirist Stephen Colbert said it best when he described China as a 'frenemy"--at least that’s how pessoptimistic Chinese see the rest of the world.

William A. Callahan teaches Chinese politics at the University of Manchester (UK). For those in southern California, Callahan will be giving a presentation at USC's US-China Institute on September 4, 2008.