Saturday, March 15, 2008

Interesting Times

I really wish I could have been in Beijing this week. My San Diego Padres played the dreaded Dodgers in the first MLB game ever played in China (for the record, it was a tie - typical for a spring training game, which this essentially was). I would have loved to have seen a 棒球赛 in Beijing. I'd have been there with my Caminiti jersey and Tony Gwynn cap, cheering on my team.

As it is, I probably won't get back to Beijing until this summer for the Olympics. I'm going with a good friend who is sort of an Olympics junkie; we already have our plane tickets, hotel reservations and events. It's something I have to see, the latest transformation of what was once funky Beijing to...well, whatever it will be. In my book I described it as looking like the set of some bad, big-budget science fiction movie.


That's just one piece of it, of course, the part that's China's leaders building their showcase to China's aspirations: to be a great power, to once and for all retire the last hundred and fifty years of history, when China was a victim, the "sick man of Asia."

But you know what they say about what comes along with great power. Great big pains in the ass. International scrutiny. Massive protests in Tibet, the biggest in 50 years, that began with Buddhist monks protesting restrictions on the practice of their religion and have escalated to Tibetans attacking Han Chinese and Chinese security forces now pouring into Lhasa. I direct you all to the Peking Duck, where you'll find a comprehensive post on the situation and a fascinating discussion by Americans, Europeans and Chinese from around the globe. Just about every shade of opinion is represented there.

I found one overseas Chinese' sentiments particularly poignant. He talks of the dream of a modern, multi-ethnic China, how he'd contributed to Tibetan students' funds, and how now, he feels betrayed by the explosion of ethnic violence, by seeing Han Chinese "ethnically cleansed" from Lhasa.

I don't exactly want to laugh. I think he is sincere and well-meaning. I more want to say, "Hey, welcome to the Imperialist Club!"

I'll meet you in the library for a cigar and a whiskey.

This is what happens. Those "ethnic minorities" just don't appreciate your enlightened attempts to bring civilization to their "backward, medieval, superstition-ridden society." Oddly enough, they don't like becoming minorities in their own country.

I know, it's tough to understand. Manifest destiny can be a bitch.

Another sentiment running through this discussion thread, expressed by some seriously pissed-off Chinese: Restore order. Send in massive force. Take an example from America and treat the protesters as terrorists. Shoot the bastards. And fuck the Olympics.

This last notion I found particularly interesting. The Chinese government has put so much stake into these Games. The Games will demonstrate to the world that China is a modern superpower, harmonious, friendly and formidable. But the Games draw attention to China's failures as well. Everyone with a grievance knows that with all attention focused on China, it's a chance to air their issues on the world stage, right next to the pageantry and prowess.

As for ordinary Chinese, I wouldn't presume to speak for their sentiments with any certainty. I'm guessing that a majority are proud of their country and excited about what the Olympics represent for China. I figure a sizable minority think there are far better things to do with the however many millions of Renmin Bi it's cost to put on this show. And then there are those who would rather "kill the chicken to frighten the monkey" and restore order at all costs, and if that means risking the Olympics, so be it.

It's going to be an interesting summer.

Update: Padres beat the Dodgers, 6-3, in the second and final game in Beijing.

Update 2: Good summary from Time Magazine, and protests spread to provinces outside Tibet.

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