‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 51
“Coming from countries like Canada and Britain, the authors have the ability to appreciate coming second or third, even the necessity of it. There is true glory in silver and bronze.
Not if you are a citizen of China. Unless you achieve gold medal ranking, your accomplishments will disappear along with hundreds of thousands of other second and third place finishers. On Chinese television, if you win on a live broadcast, you are certain to be replayed over and over. If you or your team loses, a terse three sentences on the evening’s sports program will be all the glory you will receive.
An example of the obsession with coming first was seen after the 2004 Athens Olympics, when only gold-medal winners from mainland China were allowed the grace of celebrating their achievements in front of politicians and the public in Hong Kong. Silver and bronze medal winners had to be content with the warmth of family congratulations at home, out of the limelight. Only mere fractions of distance and milliseconds of time separate winners from losers. But in China the gulf between winners and loser is physical, spiritual, and huge.”
‘…the ability to appreciate coming second or third’ – or perhaps even fourth, which is where ‘we,’ the British, came in the Olympics. ‘We’ are of course celebrating, since though we had hoped to retain the third place slot we had held for much of the games, we were content to end up fourth. Best result in a century and so on.
But what is ‘we’? I am British, and I do feel a certain sense of pleasure that Britain has done so well at the Olympics. And I could get pugnacious about it, could point out that with ‘our’ population base, being 60 million or so, we won one gold per 3.15 million people, and that China, with its base of 1.6 billion, won one gold per 31 million. Does that make Britain ten times better than China?
Yet in the end I cannot really feel much sense of personal pride. I honor the achievement of the British athletes, just like I honor the victories of the Chinese athletes. But it does not really have anything to say about what Britain is, or how the world should view the nation. These victories are ultimately just personal events.
The cult of personal victory is fine; but the idea of national victory is dangerous and threatening. And it leads to great sacrifices, as so many of China’s almost-made-it athletes know. The pressure to win, to win gold, finally does more harm than good.
‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 52
“For China, coming first in major international competitions is almost a matter of life and death, and is comparable to a major military campaign. Liu Peng, President of the Chinese Olympic Committee, said in early 2007 that “Battle preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games are in a grave state. To the outside, we must display humble troops and keep a low profile, but inwardly we must plant grand ambition to scale great heights, and there can be absolutely no slackening.” Would words of actual war be any less bombastic? Would the call to arms be any less spiritually demanding?
The pursuit of titles is so dominant that it restricts the personal freedom of athletes. In late 2006 Liu Peng announced ‘In order to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, our country’s athletes, including celebrity athletes, are banned from participating in all kinds of social activities.’ In typical Chinese fashion, what was meant by “social activities” was not specified. And while media suggested the ruling was primarily aimed at sports stars who gave commercial endorsements to products, the vaguely worded nature of the statement meant it could be used to control athletes in the widest possible range of ways.
In China, trying counts for very little. All that matters is success, and the concept of the ‘noble failure’ is virtually non-existent. The ‘success at all costs’ attitude is at the root of many other social phenomena observable in China today. It is the reason behind the stock market frenzy, and the reason behind the fact that manufacturers are willing to sell low quality or dangerous goods just so that they can close the deal. It underlies China’s conspicuous consumption, and it explains why students are expected to seek financial success over personal satisfaction – and why the student who wants to be an artist or musician faces social derision.”