As I said, I didn’t pay much attention to Olympics. So until I started watching it, did some questions come up to me. Now China is before the eyes of the world. This is the chance for China to express herself. How will China express it? For me, I am always looking for individual expression. I am looking for powerful individuals who are able to achieve the height of their arts (arts in the generalized sense) in a culture. I think that is the real thing that can indicate whether a culture is prospering. I heard of the great economic development in China. But I haven’t heard many great individuals making great cultural contribution to the world. I feel if China wants to take this chance to show off, I would like to see if China is currently culturally rich and beautiful. That is my standard: looking at the percentage of the population who are able to make themselves in term of art of life, or on average how much percentage of potential can individuals develop in a certain culture. If we say in America, individuals on average can develop 3 percent of their potentials, in China it is probably only 0.03 percent. I wasn’t really in touch with China these years. So I hope maybe Olympics can be a good window for me to look into that. (Or maybe Olympics is not such a window.)
I was stunned by the opening from the very beginning. It is really beautiful, artistic, and very poetic. I always feel Hong Kong and Taiwan are places that really understand the essential beauty of traditional Chinese culture, and also able to express it in the modern forms. I am very glad to see that mainland China is able to do that as well. (In the past, I had refused to go to all kinds of festivals showing off so-called beautiful traditional Chinese culture, knowing people there don’t really understand the essence of Chinese culture and they just want to show off their national pride. There are a lot of that kind of galas here in New York, like those in Radio City. ) Surely China had a very rich tradition, and its vast diverse geographic area and culture have the great power of original invention, as evidenced by our past history during which we independently invented a whole different system of culture outside the western system (language, painting, martial arts, literature, music…). This is something I am always very proud of. I always believe that this power of original imagination is still within China. China still has that potential. This potential just needs to be released. And in this modern world, as human history has advanced to our current time, for Chinese culture to grow historically, to reinvent itself, the key to release that potential is to empower the individuals. Never underestimate the potential of individual human beings and the power when those individuals work together. If China is able to handle this successfully, I am quite confident that the level of China’s contribution to the world in term of arts and ways of life for mankind will be again at the same level we had in the past.
I was looking for the high art that can be on the same level as the poetry of the Tang and Song Dynasties. I always hope China can again have so many great poets springing up as we had in the Tang and Song Dynasties. I am afraid we are far from that yet, probably not even able to match our current economic status (which I also think is far from satifactory). If the Olympics opening is treated as an art, we probably can see it as a great individual achievement of the director Zhang Yimou. He is always very good at making very beautiful images (although I have a friend saying Zhang is not a good story teller).
As the opening showed off the greatness of Chinese traditional culture, however, the current China is in no way to match her past glory. I certainly take that as a shame. It is a shame of the modern Chinese. We should be ashamed of not being able to match our ancestors’ achievement. If you keep saying our ancestors had the four great inventions and they were a great contribution to the mankind, then this question needs to be asked: what did we, the modern Chinese, invent and contribute to the world? (As far as I know, in the software world, most contribution is from US. Some from Europe and Japan. Even Korea has some contribution in the web2.0 field. Chinese contribution is very miserably almost nothing. This is my personal impression. Correct me if I am wrong.) If Olympics is a show off, I guess it is a show off of shame. That is why I always feel it is not the time to show off. I wonder whether the eagerness to show off so early reflects that the task of releasing individuality is far from accomplishment. Where are the individual voices? Where are the great individuals we once had in the Tang and Song Dynasties? (Not to mislead the reader, I have to point out that even those great individuals in the Tang and Song Dynasties were still suppressed individuals.) However, this show off seem to be useful in one way: at least it made the westerners know of China’s past, as it certainly surprised many people as they found out about the ancient China.
I watched the opening with many Americans. I tried to avoid watching it with Americans because I could expect all those ignorant and arrogant comments regarding China coming up. I just didn’t want to be in that cloud of ugliness. But they have a very huge flat screen. And they are an atheist group and claim to have a great emphasis on humanism. So I guessed there would not be many of that kind of comments. But still they came up very often during the watching. I already knew exactly what they were going to say. They were just exactly the same things that you can read on news these days and what you can hear people talking when they talk about China. Yes, it is exactly the same kind of comments. You know how stupid it is. This tells me something of the current average consciousness of US as a whole. This is the kind of consciousness that make wars, not peace. (How I wish there are more people who are able to experience their own deeper inner peace and love through their individual pursuit of their arts of life!) I cannot help but wonder if this is the same kind of aggressive mindset that savaged the world for the past few hundred of years (what Noam Chomsky called “European … running the world by savagery and barbarism” http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20080718.htm ). I might be making too much connection here. When Chinese talk about Americans, the same kind of ignorance and arrogance come up as well. (I am not making comparative study here. I just want America to be better, recognizing obstacles in its own path of growth.) Again, as I have said many times before, culture communication at the bottom level between people (instead of between states) is very important to our future. It is a lot more fun that way, and a lot more beautiful. Can you imagine that future? People are always beautiful.
Later a friend said that the opening is dazzling, fantastic, but at the same terrifying. I asked him why? He said that thinking China is going to be our enemy is terrifying. This kind of mood is later echoed on Meet the Press by Tom Brokaw. (To his credit, Paulson who Brokaw interviewed answered the question very well: “those that think that we need to contain or counter China’s economic growth, or that we should be concerned that they’re going to overtake us are worried about the wrong thing, that the best thing that could happen to the United States would have China continue to grow and continue to progress and continue to reform. And the worst thing that could happen would be for China to seriously stumble. And so, again, I looked at what I saw there at the stadium as a symbol of all of the progress China has made as they’re attempting to do something that is really breathtakingly difficult, to move a billion people from a developing country to a developed country. And, you know, we push them all the time to move quicker, to open up quicker, to expand, you know, human liberties quicker and, and, and so on. But I think it’s easier for us to, to, to have impact with them if we recognize how far they’ve come and we engage with them on that basis …. Not just in terms of the economic situation of the people in China, but some of the freedoms now that they enjoy, and their access to information and their access–ability to move around. And so they’re on the right path. And so the question is, how do we get them to move quicker to open up? And I think the answer there is, is engagement.” The original script is at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26123239/page/3/ ) (You can see the interesting syndication between the press and the mass in US. The press seems to be picking up voice from the people. But people’s voices were already framed by the press and became sort of reality. It is cycle of illusion and ignorance.) What puzzled me really is why America has to make enemy, always looking for enemy. Where is that mindset coming from? Why not make friends? If America, the most powerful country on earth that has the most leisure to do so, doesn’t have the vision and determination to make friends, who else can (afford to) have? Unfortunately, in my judgment, neither of the nominees of the two major political parties has the vision and determination to make friends instead of enemy in the world. Smart as they might be, they compromise.
My criticism of America and the west (and China) might be harsh. (However, I wish it is harsh enough to break the thick ignorance.) But every culture has its starting point, and thus limitation. They can only complete themselves by learning from each other. This is true for us as individuals. It is the same for countries. In our time, the whole world is increasingly becoming one country. However, people’s consciousness hasn’t given to this concept of one country. We are already one country! One world, one dream! I like what China has picked as the theme of this Olympics game. As we become one country, we have to work together to solve common problems facing mankind and build our prosperity together. And finally, let the cultural communication and learning happen in a peaceful way instead of violent way as we had done in the past.
I feel that if people want to discuss China they need to at least know a little of China’s thread of stories, know where China came from, and have that as the basis of discussion.
In case you missed, another sentence they picked is a quote from Confucius: isn’t it pleasant that there are friends coming from far away. I like this pick very much.
On a side note, now the number 8 becomes the mainstream lucky number for Chinese is a little surprise for me. And they can be so obsessed with it. (Olympic opening is 08:08pm 08/08/2008). If I remember correctly, 8 is a lucky number only in Cantonese culture because in Cantonese it sounds very similar to the character of making a fortune. In the 80s, because Canton (Guangdong province) lead the country in economic reform and foreign trade, many people imitate Cantonese way of speaking. At that time, the orthodox mainstream culture felt it as a pollution of the standard mainstream language, the mandarin. It is interesting that 20 years later, the whole country is Cantonesized. Now number 8 becomes officially the lucky number of China!
To me, however, it stands as a symbol, that China is currently all about Development and accumulating experiences of development, as I said in the post Development and Environment. It is the triumph of commerce and trade culture over traditional agriculture culture.