Randy's Corner Deli Library

10 August 2008

The Chinese Can Never Manufacture A Decent Point Guard: On China, the Olympics and Freedom and their Future

We have to take note, it being start of the first full week of the "Beijing Olympics" (emphasis on "Beijing", by design) of the slaughtering today of the mens Chinese Basketball Team by Team USA 101-70.

Frankly, most of the players on the Chinese National Team looked very much like they walked off the night shift at my local Chinese restaurant with the notable exceptions of Messrs. Yao and Yi, both of whom had to come to the United States for the full personal fulfillment of their need for and excellence in playing basketball at its highest consistent levels. (I mean no mean-spirited offense to anyone.)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to experience the joy of "being there" for the game via the NBC website. The video is done in real-time, with no commercials and no announcer chit-chat and analysis we've come to expect from televised basketball here in the United States. So watching on my PC surround sound system was just like being there.

I have to say: if this is the first game they play, I would not want to be in the shoes of the remaining seven victim-teams who will be left by the side of the international basketball road to gold that has been paved by the young men of this year's US team and their coaches, who have done an obviously exceptional job of preparing them. They knew this game would be big, but could never understand how big it was in Beijing. It was to an American, a "playoff atmosphere". To a Chinese, nothing less than the honor of their nation at stake. And it was at stake on the floor of the gym.

Let there be no doubt that these are Beijing's coming out, as it were, as an "official" alternative to the capitalist road to gold. There is a reason why the "place" of the Olympics means more than the Olympics itself. What athletes? This is a big corporate sales job done by the Chinese Communist Party in cooperation with the world, including NBC. Witness the "partnership" between the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee and NBC, which paid through the nose for the privilege of broadcasting these Olympics for profit. Every remark, every utterance by anyone associated with the NBC Olympics announcing teams(s) is the result of being told to watch what they say about anything other than the sport, a posture which is in direct contradiction to how the sports have been in fact used: as a means to stir up nationalist pride, as the Chinese Communist Party has realized that it is bankrupt of any raison d'etre other than the assurance of the maintanance of its own power.

That an authoritarian regime, considered by many China-watchers to be without a purpose other than the maintenance of its own power and therefore existence, can make people truly happy - by giving or allowing its citizens all of the benefits and none of the responsibilities and consequences that come with Democracy - is not possible. It defies the human need for self-control that comes naturally with the first inkling of freedom, whatever its source. China is tasting economic freedom and likes it very much. Sooner or later, those same tastes that have developed for 7-Series BMWs will naturally wander into self-government.

Certainly China is in an explosive growth mode in every sense of the word. Economically, they are of vital import to the continued existence of the United States, and if not existentially then certainly economically. The biggest foreign policy issue that China faces at this point, is that of Taiwan, according to Richard Holbrooke in a recent article in "Foreign Affairs". The West is being relentless in hounding China for its human rights abuses, but will the West stop a potential invasion of China's biggest perceived foreign policy threat? Will we go to war with China over Taiwan in the name of Democracy? What is the US doing about the situation in Georgia? About Russia's sudden need to exhibit its military might in support of ethno-nationalist tension in Georgia among two areas that were not excited of life without "Mother Russia" when Georgia declared its independence in the 1990s after recognition of Kosovo, something the Russians did not encourage the United States to do for reasons that are now obvious. An independent Georgia is at stake. The answer on the latter issue is entirely dependent upon the willingness of the Bush administration to guard Democracy even if that means foregoing the help of Russia in denying Iran the atomic bomb.

We are seeing what ethnicity and nationalism mean in China and to the Kosovars, Georgians and Russians. China had, until 1949, been under the proverbial Western Whip (and, ever present, the very still-public, tragic and brutal Japanese one) for most of the past several hundred years. Now we are witness to what passes for "progress" a mere 42 years - a blink in the eye of "China-time" - after Mao's Cultural Revolution began (which wiped out China's entire "bourgeois element", in a sum, I am guessing, is in total of in excess of 50 million people; Mao himself is responsible for the deaths of 70 million people.). Now China is under its own whip, literally and figuratively.

So let us not delude ourselves at the type of people we are dealing with in China. They have a huge energy, but it can get put into some strange goings-on, as the experiment in Maoism showed the world. I think that a free people, a truly free people, will in the end come to a self-understanding that they are not, and take action accordingly. I am certain that some Chinese iconoclast has already thought these ideas.

I hope the struggle to open China to the West waged by Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Nixon starting in 1972 when the latter was the first President of the United States to visit "Red China" continues unabated under the next President. But that struggle to understand the Chinese mind and intermingling of economies cannot come between freedom of conscience and its people. The United States has, in my view, a rational foreign interest in keeping Taiwan a Democracy despite its inadequacies, real and perceived. Georgia is a different question.

We should not ever forget the main principle under which this nation was borne and to which we continue to this day to strive to achieve: that every individual is and should be entitled to the same basic human rights as any other. To deny individuality is to deny man's very existence.

The questions for the Chinese and American people might be shaped as: What is the price a people has to be willing to surrender its soul, its collective individuality? How much is it worth in exchange for having been given, as I noted before, all the financial and social benefits of Democracy and none of the responsibilities that a decent person would want, out of appreciation, to undertake for himself, grateful as he is to that "thing" that got that same people to be what and who it is: freedom.

Freedom of choice, freedom to meet to discuss alternative political structures, freedom to express one's religion - did you know that China actually has a "state" Chinese religion? - a constitutional protection over the contents of one's mind, so that it cannot be used against its owner in a criminal trial? Freedom of conscience. And all the other freedoms that Americans like me take for granted and are grateful for every day. Freedom is a fundamental human condition. The key is to control that condition in a way that does not unduly interfere with the very thing it is you are trying so hard to protect, to wit: freedom itself. The Chinese will, just as the Sunnis in Anbar, have an "awakening" and figure out that all the "order" and "prosperity" in the world will never bring a people true happiness who are unwilling to die for the ability to pursue it.

Let us not forget our own history: when this country was established, the question now under discussion was not resolved by even those renaissance men: the question of freedom for all that they, some would argue hypocritically, said they based the foundation of this country upon. This country went to war over it between 1861-65 and we have been struggling with the subject ever since. But no-one will say it was not worth dying over. It still is.

Imagine that you have a local police which goes through your garbage for signs of used feminine hygiene products to see if there is a baby on the way or not. Imagine someone scanning every email you send regardless of who you are as an individual. Imagine that you watch television that is propaganda, as we are witnessing and subjected to with these Olympics. Imagine a country that rounds people up and puts them in jail for attempting to organize democratic institutions or even a "club" and continues to do so even as the "Beijing Olympics" are taking place.

Imagine a country where the government cloaks itself with "notions of freedom" such as "elections" but which are cynically and knowingly used as a way for the present system to maintain itself as itself: a pseudo-communist authoritarian pseudo-capitalist system that will, in my longer view, ultimately fail. When the United States and the West are convinced of this in principle, we can act accordingly. And we are. The biggest internal problem facing China, according to Mr. Holbrooke, is how Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao will attempt to transfer power. Will the "masses" awaken and take control of themselves from their current domestic masters? Or will the parties be still high on the money that the Chinese Communist Party is putting in Average Chinese Yang's (no offense to anyone with that surname) bank account and the nationalist fervor of this moment in self-made international sunshine?

And while we are on the subject of the "Beijing Olympics" and sports in general, let us not forget the truly huge role played by the sport of table-tennis that preceded Mr. Nixon's historic trip in 1972. We discovered the fact China has great table-tennis players. But out of ALL those people, they do not have anything near even a single, one, decent point guard. Thankfully, there are some things in this world that are truly American. You can keep table tennis. Thank you.

Randy Shiner

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