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Where Are We Headed?

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Red Flag

I still remember that night seven years ago. It was 7 July. My college classmates and I were on the campus grounds, cheering wildly after hearing the good news from Moscow: China would host the 29th Olympic Games.

We couldn’t help crying (young men that we were); after all, we failed to bag the hosting chores in 1993.

We relived the same euphoria three months ago. I even jumped and pumped my fist in the air like a lunatic, while I watched the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremonies in front of a giant screen. Many of us look at the recent Olympics as China’s coming-out party or, as the American Times Weekly puts it, a “dawn of a new dynasty.”

The 29th Olympiad brought us glory, joy, better understanding of other cultures, tolerance for different beliefs, and friendship. The mainland, without a doubt, wanted to put its best foot forward. So it was no surprise that through the recent Summer Games, Beijing put on display the charms of Chinese culture and what the new economic powerhouse has achieved in the last 30 years. It was a chance to show the real China to the world; although I have to admit, Beijing is not exactly an accurate representation of the whole country.

Now that all the cheering and the merrymaking had ended, it’s time for us to reflect on our future in the post-Olympic era.

On the day of the Chinese traditional Mid-Autumn Festival, my friend and I visited an exhibit at the Beijing Capital Museum. To say that I was awed by the pieces of artifact on display would be an understatement. The past 5,000 years show that the Chinese people have created a brilliant civilization; one that still evolves and grows up to now. So I asked myself why did we lose ourselves under the big guns and sharp swords of Western colonizers?

I realized that while we have built a unique material civilization, we have failed to establish an institutional civilization. We have yet to put in place a set of self-innovating systems.

It’s still everybody’s guess whether or not both local and foreign visitors would come to see and admire the “Bird’s Nest”(the National Stadium), the ”Water Cube” (the National Swimming Center) and other magnificent buildings left after the Games. It would be a pity if these structures, or material civilization, are all that could be gained from the Olympics. It would be a huge loss for China. Think about the Qin Dynasty, the first unified kingdom in Chinese history. Its great wall was torn down by its people. Or, when visitors stroll around the ancient Colosseum, how many will recall the Roman empire’s glorious past?

August 8, 2008 (though believed to bring luck and prosperity) does not, in any way, mean the emergence of a new power. (This assertion would probably upset some nationalists.) If we fail to seize the opportunity to promote both political and institutional reforms and innovations, then the Olympiad will have lost its deeper meaning. It would be nothing more than a competition for gold medals among different countries. And their participation would have nothing to do with their people.

Right during the Paralympic Games in Beijing, the Sanlu toxic milk scandal broke out. The disaster could have been contained sooner, but there was a lack of a transparent monitoring mechanism and the corporation involved is suspected of colluding with the government to conceal the truth from the public. Western-style democracy may not be necessarily suited to China, but we have to admit we could use a little more transparency and a free press. If the public can openly participate in matters that directly affect them, then corruption could be reduced and institutional weaknesses could be addressed, even without the “one person, one vote” cornerstone of Western democracy. Then we will have not just an economic miracle, but an institutional civilization—one that will ensure sustainable economic development and the people’s welfare.

But the sad truth is that after 30 years of reform, some of our public servants are more preoccupied with keeping their black gauze cap (official title) instead of serving the interest of the people.

Where is China headed after the pomp and the pageantry of the games? Authorities will further develop the economy to attain and solidify its political legitimacy, while its control on society will remain tight as ever. That’s what the future looks like. It appears that our government has learned much when the KMT lost its hold of the mainland. It also wants to avoid the old disastrous road taken by the former Soviet Union.

How can we revive the prosperity we had during the Han and Tang Dynasties and even overcome the “colonizers” of the past without institutional innovations and establishing a harmonious civil society? That is the problem.

Print ed: 11/08


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