Note: This was written by Michael at World-China Bridges, cross-posted here.
I thought there is a new democracy fatigue, but Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” quoting what he called “a well-known fund manager in Beijing,” thought “there is now an Olympics fatigue.”He wrote at the Far Eastern Economic Review:
What we see today is nothing like the spontaneous jubilation that swept the entire country the night the award was announced in July 2001. Then, millions of people in Beijing surged through streets, yelling, crying, and high-fiving, blaring car horns and waving Chinese flags….Today, no permitted gathering in public is unrehearsed, and joy is expressed on cue. The Olympics are definitely not the galvanizing force they once appeared to be.
What happened to China in the interim? The Communist Party has employed mass-mobilization techniques and reimposed strict social controls, the hallmarks of totalitarian governance, in order to stage the Olympic extravaganza. Along the way the cadres have worn out the people they are leading. As a well-known fund manger in Beijing told me in late June, “There is now an Olympics fatigue.” My wife and I traveled around China’s coastal cities in June and last month, and we were surprised by how little enthusiasm for the Games we saw, even in Beijing.
This is all good and fair statement of China from a western perspective as well as those of some Chinese. But here comes the nonsense:
We did not meet people who were genuinely jazzed about the Games—until we went to Hong Kong. China’s Special Administrative Region appears genuinely proud to host the Olympic equestrian events. Of course, the residents of the former British colony did not experience communist rule there and are, as a consequence, less cynical than their mainland compatriots.
If Chang, as he started out in the article, just wanted to convince his western audience that not all Chinese have overwhelmingly supported the Games, he can easily do so, and we can all readily agree with him. But to suggest that only those Chinese people in Hong Kong, as contrasted to their mainland compatriots, are genuinely jazzed about the Games because they did not experience communist rule is just totally unreasonable and dead wrong.
Though the Chinese government and state media have tried to lead the world to believe that the Chinese people have overwhelmingly supported this Olympics, it is a sure bet, without even traveling around China as Chang did, that some segments of the Chinese society have misgivings about one or another aspect of the way that this Olympics has been organized or just simply uninterested in the Games. I worked in Beijing for more than a year until recently, and in quite a number of times my taxi drivers complained to me about how too much money being spent on the Games while social programs for senior and ordinary citizens were neglected. Just few days before the games, a Beijing resident, as representative of many others, revealed in 奥运会前一个北京市民的感受how his normal life had been deeply affected by the hosting of the Games. In addition, “a trickle of Chinese,” as Nicholas Kristof recently observed, “have applied to hold protests, even though they know that they are more likely to end up in jail than in a ‘protest zone’.”
But judging from his article, it is obvious that Chang’s real purpose was not in educating his readers about existence of voices of dissent in Chinese population on the Beijing Olympics. As a matter of fact, it would be simply absurd to assume or believe that some 1.5 billion Chinese would share the same sentiment or enthusiasm for the Games. For in any country and any society, even in what we label totalitarian ones, there naturally exist voices of dissent; the difference is only that voices of dissent are more often and more loudly and publicly expressed in democratic countries than in non-democratic ones. China is non-democratic, but voices of dissent have nonetheless always existed.Deng Xiaoping’s twice-purge by Mao Zedong due to policy difference was an illustrative example of how voices of dissent can exist even at the highest level of the Chinese leadership. They may be suppressed or hidden from our view, but if we fail to take notice of them, it reflects more about our inability to grasp inner dynamics of Chinese society and politics than the true nature of the said topic.
What Chang, as someone who predicted the coming collapse of China, was really interested was once again to call into his western readers’ attention to the evilness of Chinese communism and the shaky foundation of this regime despite of the glory of its hosting Beijing Olympics. He dismissed opinion surveys by organizations done in China as “inherently unreliable on sensitive topics” as they are strictly controlled by the Chinese government. Yet, he quoted a middle-aged Beijing resident as saying: “The Olympics are for the government. We ordinary Chinese still have to earn a living.” One may have to wonder, if large-scale opinion surveys are unreliable to assess public sentiments in China, how much more reliable could Chang’s individual anecdotes be?
What disqualifies Chang as an objective analyst on China, at least I would so judge, is his claim that he and his wife did not meet people who were genuinely jazzed about the Games until they went to Hong Kong. For otherwise, how could it be possible that Chang traveled around China’s coastal cities in June and July and then could not even find a single Mainland Chinese who was genuinely jazzed about the Games? If this already sounds ridiculous, his justification was even more so. He said: “Of course, the residents of the former British colony did not experience communist rule there and are, as a consequence, less cynical than their mainland compatriots.” That is, Chang was saying that Hong Kong Chinese can be genuinely jazzed about the Games because of the absence of communist rule there, while mainland Chinese are cynical because they are the ones being ruled by communism. Just as it is unreasonable why Chang did not get to meet a single mainland Chinese who was genuinely jazzed about the Games, it is also unreasonable why Chang did not get to meet a Hong Kong resident who had no enthusiasm or even was cynical about the Games.
This is no denying that China’s excessive and aggressive redneck security measures drove a lot of people, both Chinese and foreign, nuts and have caused a dip in the public’s interest in the Games. In particular, the government’s sweep of migrant workers and other ‘undesirables’ from the host city, first back to home provinces and then later to the outskirts of Beijing, is inhuman and should be denounced. But if Chang had talked to more than a few Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong residents, he should have been able to uncover a variety of sentiments existing in both regions and not fall into the dichotomy of communist –ruled mainland China and non-communist-ruled Hong Kong. Or else, Chang was too obsessed with the evil Chinese communism and the coming collapse of China that he failed to be objective even before he visited China, and not surprisingly, he saw what he had wanted to find in China.
But even then, Olympics fatigue is not even a new concept, and that means it has little to do with communism itself. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Jim Scehrr said he sensed it in Turin in 2006 following the 2004 Athens Games: “There was so much buildup to Athens and so many concerns about security and facilities (that) when we got to Torino we felt like we were playing catch-up and trying to get the public interested in the Games.” If there is indeed now an Olympics fatigue in China, it is a fatigue with Chinese characteristics but at the same time sharing commonalities with what has gone before and what is likely to come elsewhere. If Chang had read my new democracy fatigue article, I would gladly recommend him to write about new Olympics fatigue with Chinese characteristics, instead of Olympics fatigue.
Charles Liu says
Frankly the only Olympics fatigue I’ve experienced seems to be caused by anti-Communism. And I’m not even a Communist.
I for one is quite missing the screaming headlines about Beijing’s air pollution. Every since the opening ceremony, the silence on this issue is deafening. Where is the day-to-day comparison shots and “pollution” chart?
Charles Liu says
Wukong, the fashionable reports right now, in light of the fact they can breath, is “what will the air be like after Olympics is over (and we are gone)?”
S.K. Cheung says
It seems you (or this Michael person) are drawing conclusions that the author didn’t intend. He said he didn’t meet any Beijingers who are stoked about the Games; he didn’t say all Beijingers are against the Games. Unless you were with him during his travels, can you categorically deny his statement. Similarly, he said he met people in HK who were stoked; he didn’t say all HKers were stoked.
As you (or Michael) suggest, I’m sure the “truth” is somewhere between those extremes. But why always assume the most negative interpretation, especially of authors you tend to disagree with?
When the Winter Olympic Games were awarded to Vancouver in 2003, I was ECSTATIC. EXCITED. THRILLED. In the interim, I, too, have become fatigued with the prospect of living in the city where the 21st Winter Olympic Games will be hosted. No longer do I look forward to it. But there’s no communism to blame, so how do you explain the change in my attitude?
S.K. Cheung says
I don’t think communism has anything to do with it. As with many big events, often the anticipation and lead-up overshadow the real thing…especially when the build-up lasts 7 years. Tough to stay stoked about anything for that long. On the bright side, you’ve got 18 months to get your mojo back for your Olympics.
S.K. Cheng, glad that you also think commuism itself has nothing to do with Olympics fatigue and that the “truth” is somewhere between the extremes. But with all this simple truth outthere for anyone to findout, don’t you think it is too convenient and coincident for Chang, having traveled in Beijing and coastal cities in both June and July, but yet didn’t meet any Chinese there who are stoked about the Games until he went to HK, and then explained all this away as because HK residents not experienced communist rule? Did he at all intend to meet any mainland Chinese who are stoked about the Games? If he did, I can only understand that he was incompetent; if he did not, then please don’t come back here and tell the American public and other westerners as though he had done all the field work and that was all he could find in China, so as to keep westerners ignorant. By the way, in case you don’t know, he is the frequent guest of Lou Bobbs, whose understanding about China is nothing but communism and communism.
S.K. Cheung says
this guy Chang wrote his personal observation; it wasn’t a dispassionate dissertation of the collective Chinese mindset regarding the games. If he didn’t meet any excited Beijingers, that statement ought to carry as much weight as any individual anecdote should. To attribute more significance to it than that would be unnecessary.
To question whether he “intended” to meet any Chinese who were stoked would be to deny him the benefit of the doubt regarding his having kept an open mind; not sure if that’s fair.
Now, his theory of degrees of stoked-ness being related to communism I don’t agree with, but the guy’s entitled to his opinion, is he not? Just as you are free to disagree with him, as you have.
As for Lou Dobbs, the only time I see him is when Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert are making fun of him, so I can’t say his opinions have much bearing on my consciousness.
Gordan Chang still shows his face writing “anything?” This guy has less credibility than those Georgia guys who did the fake Bigfoot.
To S.K. Cheung:
My strong reaction to Chang’s “Olympics fatigue” arises from his linking of stoked-ness to communism and everything goes from there. To be exact, I am not much concerned whether he kept an open mind as that he is too obssesed with evil Chinese communism and the coming collapse of China that it is all he can see in China. No one knows eaxctly where China is heading, and maybe I indeed have assumed the most negative interpretation of him, but Chang has had a record of exclusively focusing on the dark side of China for years.
I agree that any individual anecdote should carry weight for our understanding of things, but he started dismissing opinion surveys done in China as inherently unreliable before I put a doubt on his individual anecdotes that happened to present only negative attitudes of the Chinese toward the Games. Wouldn’t that be fair? Now, i am not even dismissing the existence of such negative attitudes in China; I am just little puzzled why he only encountered negative attitudes after extensive traveling in mainland China, but then suddently encountered positive attitudes when he went to HK, even when in both regions negative and positive attitudes co-exist. I would be even fine with him if he had leaved out the HK part.
Anyone is entitled to his or her opinon, but there is a limitation in this freedom even in America, such as when it begins to misinform the public.
S.K. Cheung says
I agree with the impetus for your “strong reaction”. I couldn’t tell Chang from a hole in the wall, so this one piece to me was not all that significant nor objectionable; but if you have a history of following his work, and on the basis of that history have concluded that he harbours unfair biases, that is fair enough. You recognize your resultant biases against his points of view, and I applaud you for it; not everyone has your degree of self-awareness.
I think if he was reporting on the 6 o’clock news, then this piece clearly fails to make the grade for telling all sides of the story. But he seems more like a columnist, and I think for an op-ed piece he can be granted a bit more latitude. After all, he is entitled to his opinion, no more so but also no less so than you or me. I agree freedom of speech has its limitations, but on the basis of this piece alone, i don’t think he is flirting with the boundaries of acceptability.
To S.K. Cheung,
Fair enough. As a columnist, Chang can be granted a bit more latitude than if he were reporting on the 6 o’clock news. I guess that is also why we oftentimes react strongly to op-ed pieces, for they are not only opinioned, but also oftentimes contain oversimplified or even outrageous statements if one happens to disagree with him or her. Still, Chang’s career has assumed a role bigger than merely a columnist. He is often crowned as a China expert when he appears on Lou Dobbs’ show and elsewhere. If this piece were to have been written by just a columnist, I might as well have ignored it or simply just laughed over it. But I do believe an “expert” has a responsibility to tell all sides of the story as the reporter on the 6 o’clock news has.
In any case, thanks for this conversation. It helps clear my head a bit. Would it be ok with you (and others) that I post these comments back to my site so that readers there can also read them?
S.K. Cheung says
very polite of you to ask. No problem by me; I’m sure Fool’s Mountain doesn’t mind. I’m relatively new to China blogs, and almost exclusively on FM now. You’re at World-China Bridges, is that right? I’m always interested in finding venues for conversation on China with reasonable people like you, for I have much to learn on China.
Thanks for the positive response, Cheung. I also think Fool’s Mountain would not mind. So I would post the comments back to my blog at World-China Bridges. I am also very new to China blogs and blogging in general. I want to learn more about China and the China debate through blogging, and honestly at this point I am still learning and try to keep up. Just hope my blog will become a useful and interesting venue for understanding China 🙂