There’s little doubt that the 2008 Beijing Olympics have become more a political affair galvanizing views of China between “Western bias” and “blind Chinese nationalism” than anything even remotely resembling a global, peace-celebrating sporting event.

Because of this, there’s been an endless barrage of reporting and blogging that has gone a long way to inciting these two opposing ends. So, it was with a bit of surprise and refreshment that I read Kai Pan‘s well-said “Utter Idiots and Why the United States Will Not Boycott the Beijing Olympics” at CNReviews.

Those on the polarized ends will never see eye-to-eye, nor do they care to. The battle has always been and will always be for those in the middle. I’d like to think I’m in the middle but unlike those on the ends, I think that’s exactly where I and the majority of people should remain. Yes, straddling the fence involves the fence being uncomfortably entrenched up my nether regions but I’ll deal. Why? Because the truth is–according to me, of course–that both sides are right and both sides are wrong. This has been the case and will unfortunately always be the case, and I’d very much prefer to associate myself with the “right” on both sides.

Perhaps,then, the reason I continue to be drawn into these debates is my idealistic–but childish–faith in the marketplace of ideas. I mean, if I know something and I don’t share it, who knows how many countless souls will be swayed into the abyss of ignorance, bias, prejudice, and greater idiocy? Ah, yes, how narcissistic of me but isn’t cherishing dissent in the presence of consent precisely the difference between Western ideals of democracy, freedom, and human rights, and the authoritarian “social harmony” of China?

But in addition to the wonderful ideal of passionate but reasoned discourse leading us all to enlightened decision-making and declared positions is the very practical notion of being practical. Trying to convince your mortal enemy that he or she is an idiot is like China trying to convince the Dalai Lama that he’s the incarnation of evil; it is a waste of time and there could be more productive things…

The article, in itself, is definitely worth the read, but it’s also got some solid and intelligent discussion going on in the comments.

Of particular note is a comment by Fool’s Mountain blogger, Tang Buxi:

I will say that I think language is one of the major obstacles, one of the major reasons for the irrational nature of a lot of debate. For most Chinese to post in English, they usually have to be extremely motivated. How many English-speakers out there, even the expats learning Chinese, have made a real effort to argue in Chinese on Chinese forums? Very few.

And who out there could possibly be “extremely motivated” about making a reasonable, moderate post? The only ones making that attempt to cross that language gap are those who happen to be extremely angry.

I think that’s why it’s incredibly important for those of us who see the “Chinese perspective” but don’t struggle with English to make our voices heard. It takes us little effort to repeat precisely what many moderate/reasonable/rational Chinese are saying, in English.


  1. I found this the other day at the back of a sofa in the FCC common room in Hong Kong. Not sure which media org., but I thought I’d take the liberty of sharing it here:

    Reporter Guidelines for Covering the Beijing Olympics.
    1) On arrival, set the scene by saying a few nice things about the infrastructure—the high rises and the multilane highways, the interchanges. Developmenty sort of stuff.
    2) Make an amusing, self-deprecating comment about your inability to speak or read the funny language they have in China. Play down the fact that you are dependent on a translator for quotes and newspaper reading. Never admit in print to getting story ideas or borrowing quotes from the China Daily.
    3) Get story ideas and borrow quotes from the China Daily. Make sure you do this discreetly. For background only.
    4) Now for reportage. After saying the nice things about the new buildings, get your translator to find a Beijing yam seller whose slum was knocked down to make way for the Olympic badminton hall. Do a few paras on him, and how all the money thrown at the Games is not helping the poor, and how terrible the huge income gap is. Make sure you write at least three times as much about the yam seller whose slum was pulled down as you do about all the new apartments, new metro lines, the growth in car ownership, the expanding health insurance and all the other good news about China that nobody in the west really wants to know about.
    5) Say how horrible the air in Beijing is, even if it isn’t on the days you are there. Everybody says Beijing air is horrible, so play along.
    6) The political bit. Interview a token party member, but reword him subtly to make it sound like he is just spouting the party line. Bend the translator’s words to fit—it’ll be rubbish English anyway. (Ditto in all quote treatment). Then find a “good” Chinese, one who is fluent in English, has lived in America or Britain, and is prodemocracy. Give them lots of space, let them sing. Martin Lee types, but preferably younger and female, for the mugshot. If you can get an interview with the Olympic artist, Ai-whatsisname, who is an anti-Commie quote machine, give him full throttle. Hopefully, he hasn’t been arrested yet.
    7) Moan about how boring, stage-managed and empty press conferences in China are. Do not mention that one reason why they are boring, stage-managed and empty is because many foreign correspondents cannot speak Chinese and therefore need everything interpreted, doubling the length of proceedings and making followups difficult. Say in your world-weariest tones how stilted and propagandist the papers are. Gloss over the fact that you can’t read them.

    Lastly, please remember: Chinese who love their country are called “nationalists.” Never use this word for Americans, French, Tibetans and other civilized peoples who love their country or territory. When demonstrators protest over Tibet they are acting in a heartfelt, spontaneous way, waving pretty flags you would be happy to see woven into your granny’s bedspread. When Chinese counter-demonstrate, they are always “bussed in,” the mood is “ugly”, and they are draped in intimidating red flags that can be made to look a bit Hitler Jugend-ish with the right kind of photo. (They probably did arrive in buses as this is the cheapest way of moving numbers of not-very-well-off people around, but you don’t need to prove the insinuation that the regime laid on the vehicles). Beijing is always a “regime,” by the way, and is not to be confused with western “governments.” (But: Hong Kong is an exception. Because it was under benign, enlightened British dictatorship for a long time, it cannot be a “regime.” “Regime” only applies to dictatorships in rubbish countries).
    That’s about it. Don’t be deceived by all that friendly smiling and optimism, that’s just a front. It’s your job, with your long 48 hours’ of experience of the Far East and your fluency in a language spoken by nearly 0.005% of the locals, to get under the radar and ferret out the truth. Did I mention how bad the air in Beijing is?

    BJ joker

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