I have a problem with China, I must admit upfront-and it has nothing to do with the fact that this blog has been blocked by the great firewall of China since June '07. in response to my posting of pictures from the Tianenmen Square Uprising. My basic problem with the People's Republic, and in particular, the Chinese Communist Party, is one of definitions: in a nominally communist system, the means of production are owned collectively, by all, through the State. This is clearly not the case in China. Likewise, in a capitalist economy, the means of production are privately owned, and decisions about location, production, and finance are the exclusive province of the owners-also, clearly, not the case in China. However, there is a third system-we have seen it before-that allows capital to operate privately, but exercises strict governmental control.
That, Street, is called fascism, in it's original, purest, sense.
So, can we stop calling China a communist country? They are not. They are a fascist nation, with all that implies.
It is without doubt that the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics was a spectacle of overwhelming proportions. The sheer scale, the coordination, the beauty...the sight of that field of cubes rising and falling, creating waves, shapes, and that recurring Chinese character for "Harmony".
The telling moment for me was at the end of the Cubes display, when first flowers, and then the people under the cubes emerged. That's right-that entire performance, executed with computer-like precision-was operated by people.
Like the Pharoahs with their Pyramids, it's quite amazing what can be accomplished with inexhaustible quantities of slave labor.
Then there was that symbol for harmony. Who could be opposed to harmony? Everyone on the same page, working together for the common good, no conflict, no dissent...
It's that last part that bothers me. Harmony implies a lack of dissent. Whereas, as one who believes deeply in democracy and personal freedom, I believe dissent, debate, and the free exchange of ideas to be absolutely necessary in a free society. I don't care if it is messy or "undignified". I like all the messiness that comes with the engagement of free peoples in the democratic process. I could do without the indignity of character assassination campaigns or government-sponsored propaganda-but if those are the price, distasteful as it may be, then it is a price I am willing to pay.
I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice democracy for harmony. Especially a harmony under the fascist dictatorship of China.
Many people have commented that this Olympiad represents a "coming out" party for China, and I agree, but I think it goes further than that. I think what we are seeing is the first flush of a new, rising superpower, moving on to the world stage. I would be willing to wager large coin that the leaders of China see it that way too; I am reminded of nothing so much as Berlin in 1936, when another rising, fascist, would-be superpower used the Olympics to make a statement about their self-image, and a larger statement about the role they intend to play in the world beyond the present.