Now that the 2008 Olympic games are over as of today, closing ceremonies, parties, and celebrations are playing out not only in China but throughout much of the world. There have been millions of viewers and thousands of blogs commenting on the games at an amazing pace. This is probably the first time in decades that the Olympics has garnered this much attention.
With all of the excitement that comes with events like these, one can sometimes forget the world's more unpleasant events. Perhaps we should forget about them when such greatness is being made. Why let everyday inevitable tragedies spoil the show, right? Well, I'm not talking about the everyday tragedies during the Olympics, but those that will affect us from here through the rest of our lives. Tragedies that are slow to develop but immense in their implications. A better, more subtle word might be "disappointments".
When Beijing first committed to hosting the Olympics in 2001, they set out a very long list of priorities at home. There were rules to be followed by the IOC (International Olympic Committee), international "growing up" expectations that any country hosting the Olympics would instill. Sure, we all have our problems and faults, but China is a developing nation, one in which has a lot of problems and faults that sometimes cloud over (quite literally when speaking of the smog problem they have) their standing on the world stage.
Here are a few things China has done well over the past seven years:
1) Managed their economy in a way that has allowed a 10% growth rate year-over-year for more than a decade. Whatever way they are doing it, and if it will ultimately fail horribly in some future scenario, for now they are winners here. Just be warned that if the U.S. economy continues to sour, they may cash in on the trillion dollars worth of securities they've bought from us.
2) Hosted an extremely impressive Olympics, regardless of what is hidden behind all the walls they put up in Beijing beforehand. The opening ceremonies were spectacular, the games themselves went well and with little to no protesting (anyone protesting was immediately sent to re-education camps), and the closing ceremonies were just as spectacular (although this time some of it wasn't faked... supposedly). While they lack a lot of overall organizational and planning skills, as well as public etiquette rules that most of us take for granted (like waiting in lines), the games are a clear indication they are working on that deficiency.
3) Will soon become the next super-power of the world. How can that be a good thing you ask? While I firmly believe the U.S. to be the most important country in the world in terms of how we as a civilization have developed, there must be a balance. Right now there is little balance, with the U.S. pushing around governments (most of the time with good reason) and little to stop them if the situation gets out of hand (like Iraq). Let's just hope that balance doesn't tip too far towards China.
And here are a few things China has failed miserably at over the past seven years:
1) Human rights: "Humans have rights? When did they get those, and can we buy them back?" This is probably what most government members in China think. If one could just wave a magic wand at these kind of people and have them switch shoes with someone not so fortunate, how the world would probably be different... maybe.
2) Free speech: How to say "I hate you and your kind" without risk of being shot. Free speech, while a little more debatable than basic human rights, such as being able to live without fear of persecution, is a right that everyone in the world should have. Yet China has barred almost every protest, as well as heavily censored the internet, to ensure the Olympics are a tool the Chinese government can use to shape its citizens to their will.
3) Forged documents on a government level in order to allow clearly underage participants to win Gold medals at the Olympics. Even their parents lied (probably by threat of some sort if they didn't). I've been a teacher of 12, 13, and 14 year old students, and I can tell you some of those participants were not 16. China might be on the up when it comes to economics and a public that is now largely consumerist, but a government that has a long ways to go in order to be considered worthy of hosting any sort of International events, not to mention the Olympics.
4) Polluted their land so badly that it is only one step away from what a nuclear holocaust might have provided, but in a much slower and more costly process. Forget about drinking the tap water (a common problem in most developing nations). I also wouldn't expect the overall health of the population to be good, considering 1.3 billion industrialized people in an area the same size as the U.S. On the subject of population, China is in decline with their 'one-child-per-family' law. A necessary law overall, but may make life very difficult in a generation or two.
We have learned over the past couple of weeks that China is a force that is going to stay, and will only continue to grow on the world stage. It is a fascinating spectacle to watch really, especially with the opportunity I've had to live in China for a year and see it first-hand. I really hope that China develops an attitude that the U.S. was born from way back in 1776.
We must keep hope that one day humans will outgrow our more barbaric and selfish tendencies, at least to the point of not having to fear self-annihilation when things get interesting. Not that any sane species would ever build anything that would knowingly and willfully end up destroying itself with...