Beijing’s Olympics vs. Hitler’s Olympics
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 21, 2008
The whole world is talking about the Beijing Olympics, including Taiwan. Topics of discussion include: How good were the opening ceremony performances? Will the Olympics become an economic asset or economic liability for the Beijing government? Are the Beijing Olympics a clone of the Nazi Olympics? The answer depends on whom you ask.
The consensus is that: The Beijing Olympics weren’t merely a sporting event. They were a finely-honed public relations campaign, skillfully orchestrated by the mainland authorities. It may be an indicator of the Chinese mainland’s future direction.
Zhang Yimou’s opening ceremony provoked some lively controversy. Those who approved praised it as “an extravaganza.” Those who disapproved dismissed it as “just a bunch of people.” Interestingly enough, the West seemed to adopt an “Emperor’s New Clothes” position on Zhang Yimou’s “Tale of China.” They were afraid of accusations that they “didn’t understand the Orient.” But many Chinese netizens were offended and indignant at Zhang Yimou’s relentless depiction of the Chinese people as armies of ants. It is of course a simple matter to use computer animation to create armies of ants. But Zhang used thousands of live performers to create something little different from computer animation. This may be something China is good at. But it is also something some Chinese think is nothing to be proud of.
Forget everything else. The very fact that there is such a diversity of opinion about Zhang Yimou personally, and that opinions are so polarized, shows that China is very different from what many people assume and expect.
In fact, widely divergent evaluations of China did not begin with the Beijing Olympics. Over the past 20 years, some have said that China is a sleeping lion that has just been awakened, or a giant that is rising to its feet. Some have touted the “Coming Collapse of China” or the “China Threat.” Today Hu Jintao is in Beijing hosting the Olympic Games. Some have compared him to Adolf Hitler hosting the Olympic Games in Berlin. These two Olympics are separated by 72 years. Should such comments be seen as objective historical prophecy, or merely anticipatory schadenfreude?
Zhang Yimou has offered us a look at his hand scroll of China’s history. But what does the portion yet to be unrolled have in store? In any event, Hu Jintao is not the same as Hitler. The world of the 21st century is not the same as the world of the 1930s and 1940s. The Chinese people are not the same as the German people. In short, the Beijing Olympics are not the same as Hitler’s Nazi Olympics.
Hitler’s Third Reich perished before Germans even got a chance to reflect upon and to oppose Hitler. Today’s China, by contrast, has experienced the Cultural Revolution. Mainland Chinese know about the insanity of tyrants and the stupidity of mobs. They have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They recognize the dangers of secession. They experienced the June 4 Tiananmen Incident. They have had 19 years to reflect on it. Will China produce a Hitler? They are in substantial agreement about Mao Zedong’s mixed legacy. Will mainland Chinese again become Red Guards? Will they drown in a sea of blood? The answer is not necessarily. That is because Hitler and the German never got the chance to regret their choices. China by contrast, has.
Forget everything else. Just take a look at mainland Chinese netizens’ evaluation of Zhang Yimou’s opening ceremony, and you will know that they didn’t necessarily like Zhang Yimou’s ant-like depiction of China and the Chinese people. Some people think Hu Jintao’s Olympics is a clone of Hitler’s Olympics. These people will probably not be able to influence China’s domestic evolution. But they may be misled by their own schadenfreude.
For example, on Taiwan Lee Teng-hui touted “China’s Coming Collapse.” Abroad, he touted the “China Threat.” This was the primary basis for his “Avoid Haste, Be Patient” policy and his turn to Taiwan independence. But the positive changes on the Chinese mainland over the years have not been to Lee Teng-hui’s liking. Therefore observers on Taiwan must pay attention to the changes on the mainland. If they blindly equate the Chinese mainland with Hitler’s Germany, and allow themselves to be carried away by their own obsessions, they risk misleading themselves.
Returning to Zhang Yimou, the entire opening ceremony stressed one word, “harmony.” Thirty years ago, the Cultural Revolution denounced Confucius and praised Qin Shihuang. Now, 30 years later, the opening act in the Beijing Olympics was the grand procession of Confucian scholars. Three thousand Confucian scholars dressed in traditional robes and hats symbolized China’s mainstream Confucianist values. Beijing wants to use the Olympics to demonstrate to the outside world its peaceful development, and to demonstrate to the public at home its harmonious society. Of course, the outside world and domestic opinion may not follow Zhang Yimou’s script. But at the very least the Beijing Olympics theme of harmony is rather far removed from Hitler’s Olympics theme of militarism. The theme of Hitler’s Nazism was militarism. The theme of China’s reform and liberalization, by contrast, is humanity and the unleashing of human creativity.
In fact, mainland China’s peaceful development is a key variable for Taiwan. Beijing has not promised not to use force. Nevertheless, its overall trend has been toward “harmony.” In recent years, the two sides have moved toward “maintaining the status quo and creating a win-win scenario.” Beijing has gradually changed its thinking regarding the Taiwan Strait. Because if Beijing uses force against Taipei, it is bound to destroy internal and external harmony. The consequences would be unthinkable and unmanageable.
The Beijing Olympics and Hitler’s Olympics are not necessarily comparable. Probably no one in the world wants Beijing’s Olympics to become Hitler’s Nazi Olympics. More importantly, political leaders on Taiwan would not find it easy to establish cross-Strait relations with Beijing if the Beijing Olympics were anything like Hitler’s Nazi Olympics.