[Viewpoint]China’s growing pains

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[Viewpoint]China’s growing pains

‘These are the happiest days of our 5,000-year history,” a Chinese friend of mine told me about the current feelings of the Chinese people. This is no surprise. On Sunday, China won eight gold medals in one day.

The country is being evaluated favorably for its hosting of the Olympics. Both former and current IOC chairmen said the operation is perfect.

Personally, I share the feeling. When I visited the final round of men’s archery group competition on Aug. 11, smiling volunteers stood ready to help spectators. There was one in attendance every 10 meters. To a Korean spectator, they spoke greetings in Korean.

The volunteers also carefully studied the players’ appearances, past records and strong points. Naturally, they answered spectators’ questions easily. And China has 1.7 million such volunteers.

And yet, there was a flaw. It may be belated, but I want to point out problems with the content and format of the opening ceremony.

Let’s take a look at the content of the program. It depicted the core philosophy of Confucius - the spirit of unity between heaven and man - by emphasizing its meaning. However, it was unpleasant to see that the depiction was similar to that of “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

Curse of the Golden Flower is a movie directed by Zhang Yimou, who also directed the opening ceremony for the Olympics. The movie’s themes were the excellence of China’s ancient civilization and the rise of contemporary China.

The themes could have been appropriate for the Chinese people as a patriotic text.

But I wonder whether or not the themes were really appropriate for the guests, players and government officials invited to the opening ceremony from around the world, as well as the viewers around the globe who watched the event on television.

The key principles for a Confucian family when greeting a guest are humility and manners. The Olympic opening program excessively promoted China’s ancient civilization and the power of contemporary China.

It is hard to avoid the criticism that the spirit of the Olympics - engagement, friendship and goodwill - was ignored.

As some experts have already pointed out, China ended up inviting guests from far away and telling them repeatedly about the greatness of China’s history and contemporary culture.

Another flaw is the lies. Chen Qigang, the music director for the opening ceremony, confessed that 7-year-old Yang Peiyi was the child who actually sang “Ode to the Motherland,” while Lin Miaoke, 9, lip-synched during the event.

The reason was appearances. “I took into account the image of the nation,” Chen said.

What’s shocking is the joint effort to conceal the truth. China Central Television interviewed Lin shortly after the opening ceremony.

CCTV, which was involved in the entire process before the opening event, probably knew that the girl had lip-synched. And yet, the host of the TV show asked Lin how she could be so calm on stage. Lin, without hesitation, also lied in her answer.

The director of the opening ceremony, high government officials and the state-run media even dragged a young girl into their organized deception.

Can everything be justified for the sake of the national interest? Shortly after Chen’s confession, criticism flooded Internet message boards that Zhang Yimou had cheated China and the world.

“The Chinese cheated in the Olympics, so they are capable of cheating in so much more,” one such message read.

The critical postings, however, were quickly deleted.

And there is another flaw. The spectators did not greet the South Korean national team with applause when they entered the opening ceremony because a Korean broadcaster had aired some scenes of the opening ceremony rehearsal before the event actually happened. This made headlines around the world, and Chinese Internet users agreed that they would not clap for the South Korean team. And they didn’t.

Did they not know that the Beijing Olympic Games’ slogan of “One World, One Dream” and its spirit of reconciliation and engagement would disappear when the applause vanished from the stadium?

Zhuangzi, an influential Chinese philosopher, taught that “what seems useless can, in fact, be very useful.” China may think values such as humility, harmony and reconciliation are not useful at this point in its great national leap.

However, China must remember Zhuangzi’s lesson.

The values that have guided it in the past are important in the present as well.


The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Jin Se-keun


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