I really shouldn’t be blogging right now (6 more pages of papers to write what?!), but I really felt like I had to share this article. My own nationalistic feelings about my homeland, uh, diminished a lot over the last few years, especially due to my work in the summer of 2006 with the Open Net Initiative. I’ve gotten in some pretty ugly debates over the Chinese Students Association’s listserv at Harvard (really the only occasion in which I participate in the organization at all!), often on the anti-nationalist side. But when it comes to the 2008 Olympics, I can’t help but disagree with the common opinion among most of the liberal friends and academics I really respect.
I just don’t think boycotting, at least the way people are currently talking about it, is the answer at all.
Rebecca MacKinnon, the always-amazing former CNN bureau chief in Beijing who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through Berkman, seems to think the same thing, and I’m sure her reaction is much more thought out than mine. She’s been posting a series of blog posts and news articles on her daily linkthink that all point to various aspects of this, and a lot of them are really worth reading (not to mention they make me feel a lot less insecure/guilty about my initial reaction to the liberal reaction!) Unfortunately, I’ve only been skimming through them lately, which is why I initially missed this article.
Why I will Carry the Olympic Torch is by a Chinese-American lesbian feminist living in San Francisco, and I can’t agree with it more.
“Many of my conversations were with elderly survivors of civil war and revolution who have endured immense human suffering, from deprivation and humiliation to torture and death. Almost every one of them had family members or friends who had committed suicide before or during the Cultural Revolution that ended three decades ago. Yet, nearly all told me that they believe China is changing for the better and they are hopeful that Chinese society will continue to become more open.”
Hope. That’s the keyword here that’s causing this rift. For many Chinese nationals, this Olympics is an event about hope–hope that China will become a better country not just economically, but as a nation progressing in all ways. The generation that is currently in power, the Chinese baby-boom generation, has almost certainly lived through the Cultural Revolution and the cultural memory of the Japanese occupation and the Chinese civil war are fresh in the minds of the people as well. The frustration and anger that many of the Chinese bloggers have with the American portrayal of the situation is, I think, one of a child that has already improved his grades from an F to a B- but is still being admonished for not being good enough. And yes, I definitely agree that China is still failing at many things (sometimes spectacularly), but if the Western world doesn’t give it a pat on the back to encourage this direction of change, I’m worried that there will be some kind of reversion out of resentment rather than an increased drive to improve.
If you disagree, I’d love to know. But I think that I, too, would proudly carry the Olympic torch if I were given the chance.