This article appeared in Business to Business Magazine this week. It will serve as a wake-up call for some, an "Amen" moment for others..
Don't ever forget the 'real' China
August 11, 2008
My old editor - the man who taught me the ropes of how to run a magazine - kept his favorite photograph on his office door. He was kind of a contrarion - someone who took a bit of glee tweaking the establishment, no matter where that establishment may be or who it might be, and regardless of whether it providing his paycheck. (Note to my publisher: sound like anyone you know?)
You've all seen the image - the 1989 photograph of a lone Chinese citizen standing in front of four Red Army tanks, on their way to crush the Tiananmen Square pro-liberty demonstrations. But too many of us seem to have forgotten it, the icon that truly captures what the Chinese system is all about.
This past Friday evening, while my colleagues in the mainstream press were doing their best to replace that image with the techno-glamour and high-tech pageantry of Beijing's opening ceremonies, I'll never embrace China's 2008 PR blitz known as the XXIX Olympiad with that photograph in the image gallery of my mind.
I couldn't help but be impressed with Beijing's opening ceremonies, a series of occurrences that no doubt are among the most impressive and elaborate in recent Olympic memory. But a wealthy Communist dictatorship (don't forget, that's exactly what it is) that rules the lives of a fifth of the world's population can accomplish the most awe-inspiring of spectacles when it wants to. And there is no better motivation to do so when the Olympics come to town. (Is it any wonder that Jacques Rogge's arrogance can seep through a high-def TV screen from 3,000 miles away?)
But to me, what was truly memorable about Friday's ceremony was when 53 Chinese children entered the stadium carrying the Chinese flag. NBC's talking heads, reading from the copy provided to them by the Games' PR staff, explained the children represent China's 53 ethnic groups. Then, when the children passed the flag to Red Army soldiers, who sharply sent it up a flagpole, NBC's so-called China analyst said we had just witnessed a "profound" moment. Apparently, the passing of the Chinese flag from the children to the soldiers represented the fact that the state is the guardian, protector and provider of the Chinese people, i.e., that the state takes care of its people.
Now, that's exactly what the Tiananmen Square demonstrators were thinking during their peaceful demonstration more than 19 years ago. The prevailing thought at that time was, no matter how long the demonstrations went on, the Chinese military would never fire on its own people. But we all found out differently, no one more so than the Chinese people. This same communist entity - represented by the army this NBC analyst says now cares and provides for its charges - over the course of a few days, would massacre between 200 and 3,000 people (that's the other thing about a Communist dictatorship; you can never really find out the whole truth.)
Like many of you, I'm going to enjoy the Olympics over the coming days. I'm going to rejoice in each and every American victory and accomplishment. But no matter how many reports you read from Beijing; no matter how many blogs you peruse about how proud the Chinese people are of their nation; no matter how many commentators like Bob Costas opine that we better get used to hearing the Chinese national anthem because they're going to win a ton of gold; don't forget this one simple fact - Red China is a totalitarian system not significantly different than the one which Ronald Reagan and the United States defeated not long ago, the USSR. These games are no different in pageantry than the ones which Jimmy Carter boycotted in 1980, the Moscow Games.
In a global, high-tech, information-when-we-want-it age, the differences between nations can seem minor. But don't allow the images and sounds you see for the next two weeks to replace that poignant, 1989 image, for that is the real China. And all the pageantry in the world will never obscure it.