You've got to give it to the Chinese, they know how to put on a show!! A spectacular opening ceremony and equally dazzling and epic closing ceremony wowed China and the World. Overseen by renowned director 'Zhang Yimou'; an 'artful','grand' and 'unparalleled' display captivated its audience, China's spectacle clearly signified the ambitions of a nation.
The ceremonies and the buildings showcased the heights of human capacity as well as the level of sophistication with which technology has reached in the 21st century. But in all of this dazzle, we must ask the question; can we separate art and the aesthetic from the moral? Many commentators on the 21st Century have noted how we live in an increasingly schizophrenic world, is this such an example? Can we appreciate the 'esthetic' knowing the circumstances from which it arrose? or should be shun this spectacle, and cynically denigrate this episode of human history? Thus, how should we think about the games?
The Chinese Olympics passed flawlessly thanks to; human rights abuses, the brute willpower and (what seemed like) unlimited financial means of an authoritarian state. Protests around the world ensued prior to and during the games commencement; the argument being that the Olympic Games and its audience had served to legitimise for China the means through which these games came to fruition, as well as the climate from which these games took place. This being a sad case of the end justifying the means. How could we celebrate these games and its grand ceremonies, when to do so; we vindicate, commend and at best only admonish the Chinese State; in turn fueling the internal propaganda accompanying the spectacle and strengthening it's 'Raison d'être'? Was there a better alternative? Perhaps to Shun the games in protest?
Here are some points for consideration:
In the past I've worked with a number of Chinese people and was always struck by the enthusiasm and conviction they displayed for their country, all seemingly assured that China would gain planetary hegemony in the years to come. Though we might argue in the west that such minds have fallen prey to repetitive propaganda and restrained freedoms relative to the west; we cannot ignore that a significant proportion of Chinese felt proud of their country and it's hosting of the games. As millions of Chinese lay glued to their TV, thousands upon thousands contributed to the organisation, performances and hosting in varying capacities. Though a top down approach, success resulted from the hard work of the Chinese people. Overall, it seems we have to acknowledge their allegiance and more significantly; we must acknowledge and commend the fruits of their labour (however misguided we feel they are).
We must also recognise there have been positive as well as the negative consequences for china. For example, Road, air transport and other infrastructures improved greatly for many parts of Beijing and beyond. World class sporting venues were erected of benefit to chinese athletics. The west learned more of China as China learned more of the West. Internet restrictions were laxed during the games in view of visiting journalists, though we must question whether this will last? The world drew focus on despicable human rights abuses in China, as well as ethnic divides among Han, Tibetan and Uyghur factions, will political good come of this? Up to 1.5 million Beijing citizens were evicted from their homes to facilitate construction, authorities initiated hidden and untold human rights abuses in Beijing to ensure the games were a success. Thousands of performers heavily drilled daily for up to 2 years in advance of the games, the mammoth cost of preparation being something they shall not easily forget. It is in times like these that the character of an authoritarian state is revealed to its citizens and to the rest of the world, we may feel saddened and helpless when it occurs but we can only but hope that change can result as a consequence. What seems clear is that we simply cannot predict or direct the unintended positive and negative outcomes which result from the Beijing games, whether the positive will outweigh the negative or vice-versa is a matter of time. To take an extreme and narrow view on this episode of history at this stage would be foolish and unwise.
Overall, what the West can do is to 'lead by example'. 'Acceptance' is key here. Let us acknowledge and commend the Beijing Games. That does 'not' mean we shouldn't cast a critical eye over precedings or that we should be affraid to issue deep concern and advice to the Chinese people; we simply need to work with the system as well as to challenge it. To do otherwise would fuel bitterness and anamosity towards the West from those who 'know no better'. We need to build bridges to affect change not direct distain and blanket criticism.
In all of this, an argument can be made that the games were a real triumph for sport itself. The world celebrating sport and prepared to dedicate so much time, energy and resources serves to emphasis that humanity can trump sport above economic considerations. China's economy wound down for the Olympic games as other values gained prominence. Though we must recognise the increasing economic ties and economic justification with hosting such games, the games and its athletes won the hearts and minds of countless million spectators. They provided 'in themselves' great joy for Chinese people and the world.
Given that I've explicated points for consideration in how we ought to think about the China games, lets return to and reiterate the central guiding question here; how can we appreciate art and the asthetic dimensions of life given the moral and cognitive dimensions to which they are bound? Paradoxically it seems, to dismiss the aesthetic dimension in such a case, 'is' to act schizophrenically. That is to say; to deny or paint our very senses, our innate appreciation for beauty; is to truly become internally turmoiled. It is in recognising our paradoxes that we reconcile our paradoxes. Our appreciation of art does not take away from our moral fibre or our reasoning. Let us feel one thing but to think and speak another, that is what it can be to be human afterall...
See article: 'China's Totalitarian Games' ; http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/08/24/chinas_totalitarian_games/
See article; 'The price of the Chinese Olympic Games'; http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-olympics26-2008aug26,0,4466878.story
See article; 'Beijing Olympics London 2012 handover blow to British pride.'
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/olympics/london2012/2614357/Beijing-Olympics-London-2012-handover-blow-to-British-pride.htmlCopyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.