Gentle Fudge
religion, politics, current events, and other fashionable dinner conversation.
Friday, August 22, 2008
It's There If You Look For It
Being raised with exposure to the Chinese culture while growing up in the Midwest is hard to explain to the average American. You don't really fit in either world. Especially when none of your family is Chinese. Except your cousins. Your half-Chinese cousins. While everyone else is either all Finnish or an American mix.
Try to buy fake Olympic merchandise... ?
"The police say it will destroy the reputation of the Olympics," said one vendor.
So the Beijing Olympics were a mix for me. The culture was as I remember from my childhood, visiting my grandparents. The respect, the culture toward foreigners, the 'strange' food. Giggling while watching anchors and reporters attempting to eat with chopsticks. And all the red. Everyone was talking about how polite the Chinese were. Of course. That's how you act. You respect your elders. You put others first. And -- if I dare say -- the government can and will make play nice to your visitors. They spent billions of dollars putting on this show. They have the people power to pull this off. If you do not follow along, you are expendable. Do not protest. Do not talk poorly about the government. Remember that. You are only one of a billion people. Remember that. After the earthquake, the government dished out paperwork to grieving parents, making them sign so the parents wouldn't investigate if there was shoddy workmanship in the schools that had collapsed. They also reminded parents that they could have another child, as the only one that they had had died. Their flesh and blood was, yes, replaceable, just like that.

I saw subtle (and not-so-subtle) propaganda in the imagery. There were posters around Tienanmen Square that got very little face time. I was able to see them a bit longer in design magazines that I subscribe to. It would take a little longer to explain to those unfamiliar to Chinese culture, where image, color, and tone all have meaning. But if you are familiar with Communism, you can pick up on some of the nuances. One article I would recommend is Party Games from Print Magazine, which describes Beijing's carefully calculated iconography, incorporating both ancient meaning with governmental propaganda. The main icon, the Dancing Beijing logo, is one such icon. It is taken from the second Chinese character for the city, jing (below left), which is often used shorthand for 'capital'. Beijing itself means literally 'North Capital' (bei = North, jing = Capital). The Dancing Beijing logo is made to look like a chop, or block, which is a seal. Governments use them to stamp official documents. I personally own one that my grandmother used to sign her paintings. Every artist had a chop made specially to signify his or her work and to prevent counterfeits. They are highly prized and not duplicated. They are still used today, from business to government work.

Also, religion is still not tolerated in this 'progressive,' modernizing city. Churches are driven underground. Tibetan monks are imprisoned and tortured. Buddhists practice... hesitantly. To a degree. And all without question of the infallible government. Big Brother knows best.

You can buy anything you want in China, especially on the black market. Even the police and government officials. Corruption is everywhere. There is question about the age of the Chinese girl gymnasts, which government workers could have can easily altered certificates and official papers. But if try to buy fake Olympic merchandise? Nope. "The police say it will destroy the reputation of the Olympics," said one vendor from the Print article.

The good side to the Olympics were the athletes. Pure, unadulterated sport. No background or superimposed banners for Nike or Adidas or Budweiser. Yeah, you still have to sit through commercials. And the opening ceremonies were done in the spectacle and grandeur that I expected (constantly interrupted by the freeking commercials). Artistry, imagery, music, ancient instrumentation, illuminating light, technology never seen before, everything incorporating all senses. Plus the elements of wind, water, fire, wood, metal... Holistic, that everything is interconnected. And reminding the world -- and the Chinese -- of the power of the human. The sheer mass. The largeness. One of many -- so very many --and yet, just one of many. And more subtle propaganda woven in here and there. You wouldn't see it if you weren't familiar with the history or culture of China. Proud history. Thousands of years. Luxurious costuming and fantastic attention to detail -- jewels, posture, makeup, facial expression. Then we incorporate the new with old, strength with weakness, power with control, chaos with order, balancing opposites without clashing. Americans have a terrible time of doing this. We tend to forget our past or forget to set time aside, remembering that the dishes can wait for tomorrow -- we want to leave it behind and just live in the future. We forget about today. China accepts its past and brings it forward, incorporating it into today.

Now if it would let its people forward instead of letting the few rule the many under an iron fist.

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posted by Sara @ 8:17 AM  
  • At 11:58 PM, Blogger Mickey said…

    Thanks for sharing.
    I try to see China in a balanced light, but I am never sure about the sources I read from.
    You are a source that I trust.

  • At 6:05 PM, Blogger Sara said…

    thx, PD.

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Name: Sara
Home: gypsy wanderer, United States
About Me: Those who know me find me stubborn, opinionated, open-minded, strong-willed, of some intelligence, and yet they still hang around.
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Love God. Love all. Serve both.

There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

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