[Letter to the editor]Behind Olympic glitzDespite torrential snowstorms and massive transportation delays in the world’s most populous nation, I managed to circumvent severe traffic congestion on my recent tour of Beijing.
It was my second visit to the Chinese capital and I yearned to view the Olympic structures in person. Although they were all blocked off from public access, I was able to get close enough for a memory that will last a lifetime.
On this, my second trip to Beijing, I was astounded by the enormity of construction and development that has taken place. Three years ago, the streets of Beijing were mostly littered with debris, construction was still just beginning and it just didn’t feel like a modern metropolis to have been crowned to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Now, however, Beijing has transformed itself in a mere few years into one of the most dynamic and vivacious cities in the world. The subway is tremendously efficient and its public bus system is surprisingly well organized, given the vast population of bicycles, private cars and pedestrians.
And most importantly, Beijingers have expressed to me their unmitigated willingness to learn English and fully embrace globalization.
Overshadowed by towering skyscrapers and brilliantly designed futuristic buildings is a conspicuous absence that remains vital to China’s modernization: an unfettered, objective media. For instance, as I attempted to see a film near Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s primary shopping districts, I was told that during the Lunar New Year period, foreign films will be drastically limited to promote unity and Chinese culture.
That, to me, is a telltale sign of censorship in which the government mandates what is allowed to be shown instead of giving freedom to movie theaters and adhering to basic principles of supply and demand.
Another example of the sheer dominance of government-sponsored media programs can easily be glimpsed through the lineup of television channels offered at the hotel where I stayed.
Nearly every channel is owned and operated by CCTV, China’s state-owned media network, and scant, if any, coverage was given to the gathering Chinese dumpling crisis in Japan or the ongoing protests taking place in rural and urban cities near politically sensitive construction sites.
Indeed, on the surface, Beijing gives one the impression of magnificence and delight in its swift transformation.
But behind the glittering new hotels and an embarrassment of luxury goods purveyors hides one of the most unequal societies on earth. Although I, too, marveled at the lavishness of the Olympic buildings, I hope that China’s leaders pay as much attention to common folks as they do to stimulating the English education, strengthening its military and erecting concrete-and-steel eye candy.
Dennis Yang, English teacher, Gimhae Foreign Language High School