Archive for Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympic display calls to mind historic sights, progress in China

August 14, 2008

Yep! I watched the whole thing - the entire opening Beijing 2008 Olympic ceremony as broadcast on television. And I was blown away by the size and scope of the show. The Olympic Stadium, henceforth called the "Bird's Nest" and the "Cube," the swimming facility, were new and spectacularly avant-garde; the fireworks were massive and beautiful; the artistic showmanship superlative; and last, but not least, the sheer number of people involved. Probably few of us have ever seen so many people acting in complete unison in one place.

This was the first time I'd paid much attention to telecasts from Tiananmen Square since the infamous suppression of protests there in 1989. Then, we watched students standing up to tanks and then saw many of the students go down under gunfire. Before that we saw the Red Guards of the so-called Cultural Revolution in Tiananmen Square in August 1966. This movement destroyed much of old China's cultural icons including museums, libraries and shrines. That scene was compelling and sad, and in stark contrast to the Olympic Opening Ceremonies which honored China's ancient cultural history.

Some of my early childhood was spent during the Korean War. (Excuse me - that's supposed to be the "Korean Conflict," but it looked a lot like a war to me.) Then, I remember worrying about Red China, which backed the North Koreans, and thought it an enemy to be feared forever.

I put our soldiers in my prayers and listened anxiously to the news on the radio. Our government had little contact with the government of China then and afterwards - even throughout the Vietnam War. China remained an isolated country eschewing contact with foreigners - especially American citizens.

I did know a fellow student from Shanghai. Her parents had been curators of the national garden there, and had left the city in exile as the Red China Communist forces had arrived. She didn't have much good to say about her former country's new government.

That began to change in 1971 when the U.S. Table Tennis team came into contact with Chinese table tennis players in Japan. Members of the team were invited to visit China for exhibition matches in April 1971 and went to China for a historic exhibition. The diplomatic ice began to thaw with what became known as ping-pong diplomacy leading to President Richard Nixon's historic visit in February 1972. Sports became the universal language accepted by both countries.

I always love seeing diplomacy begin with cultural exchanges of sports, arts, music and other non-threatening pastimes. I find this technique true also with individual contact.

When one gets to the place where he or she agrees with another about a neutral subject, then often that means a coming together or at least agreement on what to do about more emotional issues. If one has no contact with people of another country and culture, then building up hatred and/or fear of those people and their way of life becomes all too easy.

All the pyrotechnics and giant spectacles at the Beijing Olympic Ceremonies impressed me. But in the end, tears came to my eyes when the basketball giant Yao Ming and the nine-year-old boy who had survived the recent earthquake walked in the procession together.

The youngster had gotten himself out of the rubble of his school and returned to save two of his classmates because, he said, he was hall monitor and it was his duty to help. Yao Ming said that is what is important - people helping other people.

I agree, because when all is said and done, that is the most important thing any of us can do for our neighbors and ourselves.


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