The Chinese American Olympic Identity

Zhang Ziyi said back in July, “I don’t know why people are so negative.”

It was before the games even started, around the time of the Tibetan protests. Before the cuter 9-year-old miming the ugly 7-year-old, the 14-year-old girl gymnast(s), the fake digital fireworks, the BSOD (I don’t think the latter 2 were a big deal) – and before the spectacular opening cermonies that showed every other nation on the planet that they could never pull off anything like that without Communism.

Point taken.

Anyway, I sensed the similar sentiment in fellow Chinese Americans in the area. And I have read a few blogs lately that have complained about anti-Chinese news coverage – which uncovered the aforementioned, and a few more.

“It’s an old brand of nationalism that has been revived now that China is a major player in the world,” said Richard Baum, a professor of political science at the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies. “Everyone loves a winner. There’s a huge diaspora that had no reason to feel proud for the last 100 years. Most of them, I suspect, identify with Beijing’s coming-out party.”

Chinese immigrants worldwide have supported China despite the fact that many fled their homeland during its most repressive periods, from the Cultural Revolution to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, to seek better lives. (There are about 400,000 people in Los Angeles County who are either Chinese or part Chinese, according to the U.S. Census).

And I guess I should clarify (disclaim) right here that I am not really a Chinese American. Maybe in bloodline alone, but truth be told – I could not identify with the excitement some of my old college classmates had about their motherland being this year’s Summer Games host. Right, so it’s not my motherland. I was reminded this morning of that as I finished reading an article on reuters (emphasis added):

The baseball park played host to a couple of politically tinged thrillers which went down to the wire. It was a good day for communism: Cuba beat the United States 5-4 and rookies China defeated Taiwan 8-7.

The match-ups perhaps meant more to the political underdogs. In Havana, Cubans crammed around TV sets late in the night, and work stopped in Taipei as enthralled locals watched events unfold.

“It’s just like in history,” said Mao Ai-fen, a government employee in Taiwan. “Last night we lost to (former coloniser) Japan and today we lost to the Communist bandits.”

And so. It was a good day for Communism.

Mao Ai-fen’s quote gave me that sort of sting because my entire life I’ve identified myself as Taiwanese American. My motherland has been occupied by Portuguese traders, Dutch traders, Japan and China. So in reality, it’s hard to defend, much less be proud of a country represented by a government that has directly threatened and killed my people – even if it means supporting my bloodline.

So there you have it – I have a hard time identifying with the people complaining of the negative coverage. Or those expressing a blind allegiance to the fact that these Olympics are a chance to make Chinese people everywhere “look good” for some reason. It seems to me that when you live in Los Angeles or any other major, multi-cultural city, somehow you’re in an act of 24/7 diplomacy. You know, to me – that is just buying into the Communist ideal itself of blending ethnocentric pride with nationalism, while turning a blind eye to the people that are presently ruled under it, oppressed by it.

And I hate to say I told you so. We thought that it would be good for the Chinese people; that they might benefit from the influx of tourism. Instead, 1.25 million people got evicted from their homes for the “good of the country” and received a mere third of what it costs to buy a new apartment:

…the Yu family and their neighbors are left to wait, worry and appeal for sympathy.

‘We hung pictures of the leaders because we want to show that we love the Communist Party,’ said Yu Changsheng, 45, one of the shop’s owners. ‘Since I’m Chinese, I love China. I hope the Olympics will be hosted successfully.’

And the above quote almost just brought me to tears. I want to shout, “Don’t buy into it, it’s not for the good of the country – they don’t care about you! Don’t buy into the nationalism! It’s crap! See? Look at me! I hate Bush!! In fact, we all do!! We are still American and proud!!”

On closer examination, I can see the anti-Chinese coverage, such as this piece in the Chicago Sun-Times on women’s gymnastics, which actually quantifies the Chinese as evil and Americans as good. Yes, it’s simplistic if not racist. It reeks a bit of “take that” in Round 2 of a game of “Retribution: Sore Losers.” (That is, from the viewpoint of the journalists’, not the athletes’.) And that’s not even taking into account He Kexin’s tie-breaker over Liukin’s in the uneven bars – isn’t she 14, again? But the piece sounded even nationalistic. Wait, nationalistic? That sounds a little bit familiar, like a value out of some foreign government system. So let’s watch ourselves, there.

At the same time, all journalists who are reporting on the Olympics are in China right now – make sense? Therefore they’re subjected to the rules of that government presently, and are enjoying have been beguiled into lesser freedoms-of-the-press than they’ve been promised, much less are used to. You know, I can see why I would be a pissed off, biased journalist, too. And I would go so far as to say that the Chinese government almost did this to themselves, by going back on their promises. And the IOC is at fault for not having the balls to contest anything the Chinese have conned them into overlooking. Maybe it is hard to deliver unbiased coverage when the journalists’ ideals of covering the games in China has been spoiled, that the rose-colored lenses have been lifted.

I actually went to a BBQ over the weekend and got to catch up with a schoolmate, a civil engineer, who is currently working overseas in Vietnam. A couple years ago, he had left his job in China, where he was contracting for his company on building one of many Olympic facilities. It turned out that his company was hired as merely a front to feign “fair competition,” when in actuality the Chinese government had hired completely different Chinese, government-run and inefficient companies to manage the construction. He made his reports, which were just left on the higher-ups’ desks – and when things weren’t going according to schedule, they would try to place blame on him, but they couldn’t. He had already warned them in the reports that they never read. He left his job in China because of all the political backlogging making his work meaningless.

Maybe things are better than they were before in China. But “better” as far as political freedoms or merely economic ones? These things are never completely separate. Does this mean that they can’t get better and that we should just take what we can get?

If Americans can hate Bush and not be considered un-American (finally) … can the Chinese hate the Communist government and still be Chinese? Hopefully yes. But the main difference is that the American government infrastructure allows and protects for that dissent while the one ruling China punishes for any hint of dissent. They pay off earthquake survivors and jail protesters in blatant acts of entrapment. What boggles my mind is, I do not see any reason to defend their conduct. Why did our parents emigrate to America from the first place? To have access to better opportunity if not escape oppression? Again, hopefully yes. So wouldn’t it then follow that we should care more about the people back in the homeland over the image that the government is trying so hard to portray – if not all-out fake – by snuffing out whatever dissent that surfaces?

You cannot be a peaceful country without dealing with your past. China is not only not dealing with its past – they’re covering it up and continuing to do more of the same.

Things are NOT peachy over there. This doesn’t mean that Chinese blood or people are worth any less – it just means that the majority of our people are ruled by an oppressive government. The only way to change that is to recognize it first.