We'll Always Have Smoke

Sorry it's taken me all day to get to the USA Basketball political clam-up. Ziller's post has the clip, and some relevant links. I'm not making excuses for anyone here, just reminding people what it's taken to prompt Olympic activism in the past. Sure, there's money, and shadows, and pressure, but in these times, it's awfully easy to back down, slink away, or leave others wondering why they'd expected anything more in the first place.




Honestly, I'm just not that surprised that this fell by the wayside. There's a big difference between a "genocide is bad" PSA and this:

I come not to excuse Team USA, or damn them. Merely to ask, what the fuck did you expect? For them to go above and beyond past precedent? For something that's only barely related to them? Regardless of whether not today's superstars can be bought or sold, Darfur is exactly the kind of thing that actual politicians and people of influence hedge on all the time. Whether or not the world's biggest NBA market is at stake.

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At 8/04/2008 5:10 PM, Blogger Browny said...

"Regardless of whether not today's superstars can be bought or sold, Darfur is exactly the kind of thing that actual politicians and people of influence hedge on all the time."

Amen. The one number rule armchair activism is stay home and blog about what someone else should do

At 8/04/2008 7:42 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

I haven't studied the Jesse Owens phenomenon. From a bare ass bones understanding of the situation then; the greatness of his moment was that the notion of German (white) superiority was debunked on a world stage, right in front of The Man himself. One clear difference between Germany and the US in those days has grown significantly over time and that is that even in the 1930's, with Jim Crow and active segregation in full effect, a black man could represent America. In another few years you would have the Folkway people compiling recordings and recording American music themselves, and doing its best to judge according to the music rather then calling one form American music and another form race music. I don't know how many Americans took pride in the fact that a black man had beaten a German but there were many Americans who took pride in an American beating a German. Consensus building in the US was very different then that which was formed by Hitler and was the model for Nazism. I don't recall any conversation in which Jesse Owens was credited with bringing down Hitler's regime. It seems to me that while Owens was making a statement of humanity in Nazi Germany, some of those issues, which made said Germany inhumane, existed in an institutional form in America as well. His victory in Germany was probably more relevant to America, in the long run, then in Germany.

The issues which brought attention to Mexico City and the black gloves are even more unknown to me. This site has at its nexus a discussion of black culture in America and I think it pretty clear that the statement being made during those Olympics were toward America and for Americans experiencing a distinctively black life in America. It was certainly a gesture that had little meaning in Mexico and I can't see it being directed to any other nation. Again, Americans were making statements to fellow Americans.

The China situation is very different and speaks much to American success. Any statement made in Beijing would not be a criticism of anything Americans are directly creating. It is not even directly caused by the host nation. I lived in China for nearly two years which informed me of a paradox of Chinese Culture which, to my mind, would not be expressed well by the athletes people are hoping will speak out. The Chinese don't need to create false concentration camps with which to fool the athletes. China has created a false strata of luxury which is all the athletes will have had time or inclination to see. If the athletes have been to Darfur then I doubt very much they have seen the ways in which China has played a part in it. These athletes, unlike Owens and Walker, have no experience with the oppression they might be speaking out against.

The USA Basketball team is exactly the group most easily controlled by China. They are personally enriched by that market. When Jesse Owens made his "statement" or Walker and company made theirs in Mexico City, they did so as expressions of self-empowerment. The Redeem Team stands only to lose power by making any statements against China. The men representing America in basketball are some of the least oppressed folk on the planet. They have personal wealth, they can vote, and they are physically protected by body-guards. For Owens and Walker, life went on after the Olympics. For LeBron and Kobe, their whole life is an Olympics-like pageant.

Even Mohamed Ali, in his political activism, was fighting as much for himself as for anyone else. He did not want to go to war in Vietnam. He knew he would be a target of both the Vietcong and some crazy soldier on his side, maybe a paranoid race-supremacist captain in the Marine Corp would have seen the elimination of this uppity boxer as an act of patriotism. Who knows, but Ali was not interested in putting his life on the line and instead "spoke truth to power". As far as anyone here is concerned, the Redeem Team is power. If anybody wants to see a statement made regarding China, Darfur, or any other oppressive situation, look to the people being oppressed. From my experience, and I can't speak to what is happening in Darfur, those being oppressed in China are so far out in the hinterland that events on the coast will be left unaffected by their protests.

At 8/04/2008 7:57 PM, Blogger Etchasketchist said...

What I expect of them is to at least encourage their fans to become more aware of the situation and to educate themselves and to put pressure on their congressperson to take action. Is that so hard? Embracing apathy and "just-do-your-jobism" is just poor citizenship. I get it, but I'm unimpressed. You don't have to criticize China or make a big to-do. But you also don't have to put out this "let's not talk about this unpleasantness, basketball is more important than genocide"-vibe. Representing your country is about more than just putting up more points than the Argentines and snatching gold medal chains. We're supposed to be a nation of free speech and human rights and not backing down to a bunch of commies. C'mon Carmelo, represent!

At 8/04/2008 9:25 PM, Blogger Sons of Big Daddy Drew said...

I must be in the wrong place.

The pictures make sense.

At 8/04/2008 10:24 PM, Blogger T. said...

Having spent a great deal of my working life at least around China and for the last 2 years actually in China, I think I have a different perspective than most.

The question that immediately springs to mind is what purpose would any protest or statement have? Unfortunately, for better or worse, China (as a nation - and also as a collective people) tends to really lack the ability to really be introspective and self-analytical. So any attempts to change or call attention to anything the nation might be doing wrong only serves to bring up the most defensive and thin skinned of reactions.

Not to sound all new-agey, but change here really has to come from within. Anyone who spends any amount of time here is overly familar with the phrase "X hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." Jack Cafferty calling the Chinese thugs and murderers "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." Sharon Stone saying the Sichuan earthquake was karma "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." The Free T!bet protesters trying to grab the torch "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." The Beastie Boys meeting with the Dalai Lama "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." Kung Fu Panda "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people" (True! there was some crazy professor who wrote an editorial that it should be boycotted. Luckily saner people prevailed and said he was crazy).

I tend to think that any statements by athletes will not only be ineffective, but will backfire and raise the populace here to a stir of nationalistic fury. You have to understand that most Chinese don't understand why they have been attacked so often and vigourously over the last 4 years - and they start writing blogs or articles or editorials talking about jealousy over the rise of China on the world stage and the state of the economy (sounding frighteningly like the "they hate us for our freedom" talk I've heard from my own country the last 8 years).

A statement by Kobe or LeBron would only serve to raise hackles around here.

So what is the solution? How to make a difference while people suffer in Darfur? Man, if I had an answer, I wouldn't be posting on blogs - but I do know that a statement by an athlete really isn't the case. You think some PLA General at Norelco really cares what Kobe says?

(2 facts I learned last night - Andrei Kirilenko goes by "Andy" and he's about as bad at pool as I am)

At 8/04/2008 10:25 PM, Blogger T. said...

isn't really the SOLUTION.

At 8/04/2008 10:30 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Was hoping you'd chime in, T.

Ziller and I were earlier discussing the possibly sinister meeting Colangelo held, which came right after LeBron's "I'll raise awareness" remarks. Regardless of how I feel about Colangelo's politics, it's entirely possible he told them something to the effect of what you're saying. It's a complicated situation, bringing in China is itself (as the post was supposed to show) less than straightforward, there's no easy slogan, it's not obviously the business of Team USA, and IT'S IN CHINA.

I guess boycotting the Olympics would've been the principled thing to do, but again, isn't that a draconian standard to hold athletes to?

At 8/04/2008 10:31 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

The games are in China, I mean. Not the genocide.

At 8/04/2008 10:51 PM, Blogger T. said...

Boycotts only serve to hurt the athletes. I truly believe that.

One thing which people are missing out on is the way these games are being sold here and with the uber-defensive stance that's been going around with the government mouthpieces, you half get the feeling that a good number of people wouldn't really care if foriegn atheletes showed up or not. There's a bad case of "if you don't want to play by our rules, we'll take our ball and go home"

Aside from local corruption, my main criticism about living in China is the utter thin-skinned national psyche. Shoot, as an American, we've been taking crap about our culture, politicians, politics, sports, national idenitity, etc. FOREVER. It just rolls off our backs nowadays. If the Chinese people and government could just learn to do that, everything - and I mean everything - would be a lot easier in my life.

To point to examples from the past, all the statements from Spielberg, Mia Farrow, etc. have not lead to one tiny bit of introspection here at all. No significant amount of the population has said "hey, wait a minute, what ARE we doing supplying weapons to the janjaweed?" or "maybe the east turkmenistans have something to say?" - nope, all we get is "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people" and "X is attacking China because they're jealous of China's place in the world."

I really wish I had a simple solution, but global politik is not going to be solved in the comments section of a basketball blog.

At 8/04/2008 11:23 PM, Blogger the listless bourgeois said...

deron said "there's a time and place for everything. and this isn't the time for that." and unpopular though the notion rings the spirit that is the olympics feels to me like one of celebration, of athletic prowess and national pride. not nitpicking (no matter how large or atrocious it is the nit that is to be picked).

maybe as suggested hitler used olympic berlin to futher fan flames fascist. but what's that mean? 1 man the mein kampf architect rallies a nation. he did that before those games and he did it after. the olympics and life--what you make of it, it becomes. if 1 tries to make it a stage of protest, a national platform to voice views, the chinese hand will come down, inevitable, the only power in the world that can quiet the loud of the web. doesn't mean a protestor shouldn't try and do what he does. but on 8/8 should he be talking tibet, holding posters and placards?

the games come around once every 4. is it pretentious/is it an unbearably grand sweeping under the rug/a big fake smile if we just try to enjoy it? to compete without weapons of destruction mass, just minimal traces of steroids or something of the sort. war for rings and not for oil. is it microcosm-like shit? or perhaps universe parallel where things are prettily harmonious. a break from reality, like television, like books, like the arts, like ... sports.

can we escape without shame? there's a time and place for everything. this isn't the time, place for that. in his words. in my opinion.

At 8/04/2008 11:32 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

An honest question: do we want athletes to speak out, or at least try to raise some awareness about China's human rights record, because it's the right/moral thing to do? Or because we think it will be effective in some way? To me, it seems like a moral question, and I hope that at least someone on that team has enough of a conscience to say "What is happening is not right." As for effectiveness... I often wonder whether any athlete has the clout at this point to really move public opinion. This isn't even the same as 10 years ago, let alone 40, when the entire United States was aware of Mohamed Ali's stance re. Vietnam (also, R. Lobstah, great point about athletes' Olympic stands having more to do with their own countries' politics). Today, there are just too many available sources of media, and people can always find one that isn't talking about so and so's politics.

One of the most frightening accurate depictions of the modern media that I've read was a story by George Saunders in the book In Persuasion Nation. Not to go all plot summary, but the gist of it was a satire based on one character (the character, not the actor) in a tv show, who tried to make sense of the show changing around him, becoming more crass and less concerned with any kind of kindness. It sounds a bit preachy/curmudgeonly, and it probably is, but one bit that really stuck out to me was that the character of the tv wife continually entreated her husband to "not be a downer" and not to "dwell on all of the terrible things happening in the world" (paraphrased), as the burned corpses of children kept appearing in their front yard, which morphed from time to time into a battlefield (it's a weird story).

And I think that people are like that, or if not people in general, many people in the US are. It's easier to not be upset, and, given our media climate - you just don't have to be upset. It's very easy to change the channel to something easier. So if Kobe speaks out, or Lebron signs Ira Newble's letter, it's a moral victory, but what does it do? People will just change the channel. For me, that doesn't change anything, because I see it as a moral issue, and maybe a few people will actually begin to open their eyes. But I agree with T. and Lobstah on this one, because it seems like any real change will have to come from China, which is in soemthing of an industrializing-nation toddlerhood, or maybe early teenager state, where you want the physical benefits of adulthood without the responsibilities.

At 8/05/2008 1:26 AM, Blogger Sons of Big Daddy Drew said...


Do you really believe boycotts only serve to hurt the athletes? I mean, you have much more experience with the Chinese people and psyche than I do, but I'd view a boycott--or any serious problem with these games--as major egg on the face of China. The Chinese view these Olympics as their "Hello World" moment, and if the entire free world were to get up and say, "what you're doing is wrong and we won't stand for it," don't you think we might see some change? Or would the Chinese just retreat to their "they're jealous" rhetoric?

Yes, a boycott would be devastating to the thousands of athletes who have worked so hard for so many years, and I'm by no means endorsing one as the best course of action here. I'm just saying it could prove to be effective.

Oh, and any reason for the "T!bet" spelling? Would that word get censored otherwise?

At 8/05/2008 1:47 AM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

I want to second T.'s motion.

The Chinese are very thin skinned. I remember comments regarding some Japanese businessmen who had hired some hookers in Guagzhou or some other southern city. You can go to business meetings in China and fill up on a banquette meal, bai jou and beer while these girls sort of float around the edges like cosmic debris that everyone knows will come crashing on some dicks sooner or later. Cigarettes are smoked as expressions of manhood, the nicotine secondary. Each plate is meant to impress with its exotic source; shark fin, turtle, frog's legs all cooked in one of the 5 traditional sauces with a twist provided by the regional palette. Everyone gets drunk and the girls are expected to deal with the erectile dysfunction this implies. There is hate fucking and then there is hate flirting. Both happen all the time.

These are all part of the treat businessmen feed their guests in China. Middling Communist Party bureaucrats have lost their jobs due to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this sort of courting ritual. Put the story of the Japanese businessmen into the context of the sort of things the Chinese expect of their hookers, coupled with whatever in Japanese culture inspires bukakee, and you have an international incident. China literally was incensed that some businessmen made a spectacle of themselves (no details given, only that tthey had behaved rudely with the hookers) in Guangzhou by behaving with them as they might with hookers in Japan. Considering the hate for Japan that has been fomented by the government and one hears a very different take on the intentions of the Japanese business men from the general population. The sort of responses varied from
"they should know that this insults the Chinese People" (as if every act should be considered on the backdrop of what would the Chinese People like) to "If I had one day to live I would get a gun and shoot as many Japanese as I can find". I had college graduates tell me a Chinese king had conquered parts of Europe. They meant Ghangis Kahn and for their purposes he is Chinese (even though his dynasty was expelled "had lost the mandate of heaven" because they were foreign conquerors).

The Chinese have a different sense of history and culture then we do. Taiwan houses a much more "Chinese" culture then the Mainland because Mao never got around to lobotomizing that island and yet mainlanders consider their culture to be authentically Chinese. Thats not to say a culture doesn't change and remain a legitimate heir but they are not willing to even concede that anything was lost unless it was to the Japanese during the War or to the Western Powers during the Opium Wars. The scholars, the books, the architecture lost to the Chinese and to the world because of Mao is incalculable and it seems that the greatest part of the inheritence that managed to survive is the sense of Zhong Guo. They are the Middle Kingdom or Central Country. As much as we criticize ourselves for cultural-centerism, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen the Chinese brand of centerism. It is this which makes it nearly impossible to illicit self criticism from Chinese folk about their country and when you couple this with their sense of face saving they manage to avoid criticism unless its the opening of arteries for a purge of those being criticized.

The Chinese people view this Olympics as the rebirth of Chinese regional hegemony and of taking their rightful place in the world. It is meant to glorify their recent accomplishments and LeBron James is supposed to make an effective political statement about human rights in this environment?

At 8/05/2008 2:17 AM, Blogger T. said...

Sons of Big Daddy Drew - There is no such thing as "egg on their face" - well, that's not quite true. But dollars to donuts, the vast majority (I'm willing to say 90-95%) would view a boycott of China as part of a vast conspiracy to tear down China but of those 90-95% very very few people would sit down and try to figure out why. Instead, there would be months and years of rightous indignation - and any of that boycotting countrie's business interests in China (Mcds, Nike, Gm, P&G - US; Carrefour - France; adidas - Germany, etc. etc.) would find them selves the focus of boycotts, riots, store demolishing and looting on a scale that would make the Detriot Race riots or the Rodney King riots in LA look like recess at Grace Miller Elementary.

In my opinion, a boycott would only further drive the Chinese sense of victimization and would never ever lead to any sort of self-reflection. If there was a mass boycott, the cry would go up "They're trying to ruin OUR games" NOT "Why are they trying to ruin our games?" While boycotts are trying to reach the second reaction, there's no way it would ever get beyond the first.

The issue is that you're all looking at this from a Western perspective where you can embarass the government into a change of a course of action. Here, people view criticism of the government and criticism of the people as identical. So when you say the Chinese Communist Party is a bunch of murdering thugs - in some sense, it does "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" because it IS taken personally by a large percentage of people.

If y'all (meaning the commentators) are really interested, there's a few really great websites out there in English that provide, in my opinion, a balanced view of China. Both the good and bad sides - danwei.org and zonaeuropa.com are great places to start.

Now, I hope that R.Lobstah and my comments here haven't painted China with a one-sided brush. I do very much like living here - China for all its faults is a fascinating place to live and in my industry its the only place globally that is growing. It's also interesting to live in the middle of a city and nation that is on the cusp of something. The teenager analogy is apt - something is always happening here. When I was home, things were comfortable, clean, the air was breatheable, I could read all the websites I wanted - but nothing ever felt like it was happening. But nothing is static around here, and I think the China of 2008 will bear scant resemblence to the China of 2010. And the hope is the national psyche descriptions contianed with R.Lobstah and mine's comments will cease to be accurate or relevant in the next 10-20 years.

At 8/05/2008 2:20 AM, Blogger T. said...

The T!bet spelling is kind of a joking referene to the Net Nanny/Great Firewall. While freedarko itself is not likely to end up on the censor list, blogspot often is and isn't, depending on what time of the year it is. It's also somewhat of an internet meme amongst English writing bloggers in China, but in a "hey, it's a joke, but hahah, it could be serious in the matter of seconds"

At 8/05/2008 4:06 AM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

I, again, second T.

In China you're never quite comfortable enough to pass for complacent. Europeans like to scoff at our work ethic and comment about how much Americans work while they enjoy life. Its not really a days work in China if it didn't last 12 hours. The day to day aggression is many times higher and buyer beware is ingrained in the people. You can go to a Carrafour (sp?), which had the first Western-Style return policy in China and still see people inspecting fruits and vegis in a way you'll never see in the States. I like to call China the Wild, Wild East. They have the technology of the future while going through their industrial revolution in fast forward. I just don't buy that industrialization and consumer culture lead to anything like the human rights we enjoy here in the States. I could be wrong, of course. I'm just not sold on the idea that a culture whose face saving instinct is so closely tied to national pride in a system that gives all the freedom you might imagine, so long as its not political freedom, can endure the self analysis required to enact Western Human Rights. Again, I don't see it as my problem. They have every right to their culture and as long as we don't let our country degrade to a point where China could dictate to us how our systems should look (and they would if they could) I don't really have a problem with the option of visiting totally fucked up places where the people and their mentality blow my mind.

At 8/05/2008 10:18 AM, Blogger avery said...

... here's a piece Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote for the L.A. Times back in May about why he boycotted the Olympics in '68, and his response to Smith and Carlos raising their fists at the podium...Kareem's overall statement is that the 2008 Olympics shouldn't be boycotted, b/c the dialogue needs to continue w/ the Chinese.


At 8/05/2008 11:06 AM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

T. and R. Lobstah - thanks! this discussion is totally fascinating; you've helped put a lot of things into context for me.

leave it the freedarko comments section to give me a better picture of international relations than the posts at most political blogs do.

At 8/05/2008 11:18 AM, Blogger D Keane said...

Thanks for the perspective of what's going on in China.
A question I think to consider in all of this, that's been alluded to in a lot of the comments: to what audience would protesting members of Team USA be sending a message? The experience of T and R Lobstah suggests that Chinese audience would not be receptive to such a message, and that it would even be very counterproductive.
My guess would be that a global audience (and here I mostly have in mind Europe) would see any such protest as an example of American arrogance and two-facedness, and only reinforce the racially-tinged resentment that American basketball players seem to face in the international game. (But this could be oversensitive basketball patriotism on my part.)
An subset of the American audience _might_ be able to take something from some form of protest.
I'm guessing that most of us here are disturbed by the special place that NBA atheletes and Team USA have in American public discourse: any amount of racially-coded putdowns of them is seen as protected and legitimate due to how much money athletes make. To paraphrase the citation in the Kareen piece, athletes, especially Black ones, are still "performing animals;" granted, most of us would gladly perform like that for the paycheck, but the fact remains that the black athlete is still a largely dehumanized figure--importantly, one that isn't perceived as such by a huge majority of people.
My point in this rambling is that a large subset of the American audience (of various political identifications) would be prone to see it as spoiled whining, but some might be impressed and pause to reconsider their take on USA Basketball, that tattooed blind spot on American patriotism.
I also think it's worth remembering that, at least to my recollection, Darfur initally got a bit more play on the Right wing. While this I'm sure this isn't unrelated to anti-Muslim sentiment, it might suggest that some people might be surprisingly receptive to such a protest.
Whether it would be worth offending China, and the personal/financial risk it would be to players (who I don't think have any more moral obligations than the rest of us), seems doubtful.
(Sorry to be so long-winded. Go Bulls.)

At 8/05/2008 11:20 AM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

from the end of the Kareem article:

"The fact that the NBA brought in China’s Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue and Mengke Bateer has increased NBA fans in China – and when the Chinese people are exposed to America through basketball, we become more human to them, less a threat."

T./R. Lobstah: do you think this is actually true? based on what you guys have said, I would think that importing Chinese players, at least as a side-effect, would play into their nationalist sentiments. do the fans mostly watch NBA games just to see how well individual Chinese players perform? and if so, does this make them totally FD or totally un-FD?

At 8/05/2008 11:24 AM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

"their nationalist sentiments" = the Chinese people's, not the players' -- big difference

At 8/05/2008 11:28 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...


At 8/05/2008 12:46 PM, OpenID tasmaniandad said...

We can be unsurprised by their silence and yet still disappointed, right? Just like I'm disappointed in our politicians, just like I'm disappointed in myself.

Anyway: T and Lobstah, aren't there options other than boycott, raised fist, etc -- options that aren't as heavy-handed, not so susceptible to "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people"? It's not just a choice between pie-in-the-face and blithe silence. What if, for example, a player said something like "The situation in Darfur is terrible, and it's up to all of us to help bring about change. We need to make sure our governments don't support this genocidal regime." Or whatever. Sure, tame and kinda lame, and I'm not saying it would actually accomplish anything. But it seems better than just "The Olympics are about fast runners and bouncy balls."

At 8/05/2008 1:23 PM, Blogger Sons of Big Daddy Drew said...

I second--third?--Bernard's thanks to T. and R. Lobstah for their unique perspective. T., I see what you're saying, and, again, you have a lot more knowledge of this situation than I do. And your description of the reaction of the Chinese people to a boycott sounds pretty accurate.

But I'd ask you--or any interested party--this (and I'm genuinely curious, not knowing too much about it myself): do you think the Western boycott of the 1980 Olympics had any effect (besides inspiring a counter-boycott four years later)? By no means am I saying the boycott led directly to the downfall of the Soviet Union: that'd just be silly, and we all know that there were many, many, many other factors at work. (I cannot stress the "many" enough.) I'm just saying that a decade after the boycott, the Iron Curtain was no more. So...?

At 8/05/2008 3:22 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

This for Big Daddy's comment (I'll opine on other comments when I have more time). The Soviets and their puppets boycotted LA in 84. It didn't bring us down, so I'd say these methods are more situational then anything. Carter initiated the boycot and one could rationally argue that it was an election gambit seeing that the Revolution in Iran, the Soviet move into Afganistan, and the OPEC embargo his foreign policies were heavily criticized. So, again, the political statement was made for a home audiance.

At 8/05/2008 3:29 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

the above comment serves notice that posting from a PDA makes for an even more poorly constructed expression then those written on home computers.

I jumped from the 84 olympics to the 80 olympics without a decent transition. Hope you all infered my intention.

At 8/05/2008 5:46 PM, Blogger Carter Blanchard said...

I'm kinda surprised no one's mentioned South Africa yet. Not to say that China's in exactly the same position that they were, but this general sentiment that the opinions and actions of our athletes can have no impact on the global consensus or real world events seems patently false.

I guess I'm just kind of surprised that no one here has challenged Lobstah's "only the oppressed can speak for themselves" assertion yet.

At 8/05/2008 6:23 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

CB--Actually, my point with the original post was to show just how removed the athletes are from this situation. Especially since China's involvement isn't so straightforward. For me, it's not so much that athletes can't make a difference, but that other instances of athletes protesting/standing for something have been much more direct in nature—and had a lot more directly related to the athletes. That's the precedent.

At 8/05/2008 6:36 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

I remember an article from about a year ago about Wang Zhizhi, I think on ESPN. It talked about his career path as seen in the eyes of the Chinese establishment. To the Chinese, a player owes his skill to the nation seeing that they trained him, gave him the opportunity to play, and released him to play in the NBA. When Wang made his way to the states he went through a sort of metaphysical transformation in which he saw an opportunity for independence. Family issues, his career arch in the NBA (partly fueled by soft power reasoning of NBA teams who want to stay on the PRCs good side), and homesickness led him back to China, caotoaing, and begging to be allowed back into China and earn his right to play again. Seeing that members of the Chinese National Team are also members of China's Army, there was military service included in the penalty. It was a modified work- behavioral modification camp. Again, I am not being critical of the Chinese government. Wang Zhizhi had the option of ignoring that tug homeward and could have made some sort of living playing ball in the West. He chose the route of penance.

I find these events anecdotal. They speak both to the Chinese Government's attitude towards empowered individuals as well as the Chinese individual's expectations. I didn't have Chinese government officials explain and argue the government's position. I was having these discussions with college educated, management level members of the system who had no membership in the party and so no position in the government. To these people, the situation with Wang Zhizhi was as natural as my understanding of freedom of religion is.

Obviously you are asking if there are good options other then raising a fist or boycotting the games. I think there are but I don't think the athletes would be involved nor would they like us to implement them. Confucius said, "To put the Country in order I must first put my province in order. To have order in the province I must first put order in my village. To put order in my village I must first have order in my family. To have order in my family I must first put myself in order that I might know the true tones of my heart." I paraphrase from Ezra Pound's translation of what is commonly called the Doctrine of the Mean but which Pound, I think, more intuitively understood to be The Unwobbly Pivot. I think this idea has a strong relationship to what my comments spoke to earlier which was that the protests in Olympic venues were directed at the home audience. The problem with China is that it has become powerful very quickly and it feeds into a aboriginal chauvinism that is coupled with illiberal policies, both domestically and internationally. The Chinese don't view the policies as illiberal and they enjoy the benefits of this rise to power, so they are the wrong audience. It is America and Americans that aught to be made aware of who and what they are dealing with when it comes to China. It is too often that people think that rich people everywhere think, feel and act the same while the poor the world over are sympathetic to each other. Its just not the case. We are seeing the effects of Chinese ascendancy. Its called "the state of our economy". We need to stop buying products manufactured in China. It sends a message to corporations, to China, to our government and to local businesses through out our nation.

I would be one of the last people on this blog to suggest protectionist policies by the government. I think protectionism should be an individual choice, not state mandated. How likely is this scenario? Personally I think we could change course and become a producer rather then only service oriented. We see some shift in that regard already with policy criticism that pushes for domestic drilling and alternative energy. The fact is that we have enacted so many labor laws that we cannot afford to hire Americans is a problem but I don't know how they can remain intact while the economy escapes to countries with less controlled labor practices. As it is we send our money to China. China gets powerful and it won't be long before Imperial expectations by the Chinese government become onerous in the face of our expectations of individual rights and freedom. I know many people on this site see American Imperialism as a great evil and there is no question that we have participated in errors of judgment. At America's core is a system which replies to the protestations of the majority and protects the rights of minorities. China does not have this and is not interesting in it.

Not very FD but then, when do my comments ever qualify for that tag?

Um... Kevin Love me some Suan La Fen.

At 8/05/2008 6:52 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

The Afrikaners were involved in anti-Apartheid many years, decades even, before Bruce Springsteen. South Africa was a very different country then China. Much smaller, far less self-sufficient, much less tied to the world economy, much smaller military, had no nukes, was a minority ruling over an oppressed majority, and the ruling class itself was culturally familiar to those protesting against it.

Its not that the oppressed can only speak for themselves. Its that whoever it is that will be liberating the oppressed need to be spoken to by folk they can understand. The Slave Trade was ended at a time when it was as profitable for the British as it had ever been. It wasn't black slaves that managed to convince the Brits to end their practices. Sure, Aquainus and others represented their people very eloquently and with great force but the British people themselves were the people who managed to get other Brits to stop slaving and mobilized the Royal Navy to close down the slave trade centers in Africa.

At 8/05/2008 11:02 PM, Blogger T. said...

@ bernard snowy - While what Kareem said might be correct, its really hard to make generalizations about a population of 1.4 billion. What might be true for urbanized more Western oriented cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing won't necessarily make sense for other cities or the countryside. I don't really think watching NBA basketball makes them view the US as more human at all. It's just entertainment.

As to the Chinese players question - we have to seperate general population and real basketball fans here. A super large percentage of the NBA viewers here only tune in to watch Yao and Yi - and they're not really NBA fans (yet). If you frequent clutchfans.net (the rockets forums) they get labelled "YOF" - Yao only fans. But amongst real NBA fans and real basketball players - the favorite player list really tends to mirror the one in the US as well - Kobe, KG, LBJ, Iverson, etc. It's remarkably similar, except that Kobe isn't really hated here.

tasmanidad - I think statements like that have already been made. If you check YouTube for stuff like aidstillrequired, you can also find out some of the Chinese response - search for Kobe's PSA. And see the really ugly side of Chinese nationalism in the comments section - note that Kobe makes ZERO mention of China in his PSA, and yet the comments are still filled with frothing-at-mouth Chinese nationalism.

Just to correct one thing from R. Lobstah - not every member of the Chinese national team is in the PLA - only players from the Bayi Rockets are army members. So Wang is (and had a military passport) but guys like Yao, Yi or Chen Jianhua are not. The Wang story is so amazingly complex, I don't think the ESPN article captured everything, but its difficult to do so.

Here's really what I'm thinking would be the best solution - it shouldn't be foreign players leading the charge to change. Foriegners can't bring pressure to bear in China. How well do Americans react to overseas critcism? Well, as poorly as we react, it's a lot worse here.

Change has be led by someone who has influence here in China. It's unfair to expect Yao or Liu Xiang to speak out while their career is still going on, but I'm holding out hope that Yao with his connections to Deke and TMac will be the first to lead to self-inspection. However, I don't really see this being reality.

Just anecdotally, this could also backfire. Just a little glimpse into the nationalism going on here in recent years.

The torch relay controversy really kicked into high gear when in Paris a protestor tried to grab the torch from an para-athlete, a woman named Jin Jing who was carrying the torch while being pushed in a wheelchair. When the photos and news came out, the outrage was immediate and big calls came out to boycott France and especially Carrefour (which is a giant supermarket chain, sort of a cross between Costco and a regular supermarket). There were actually riots and mass calls for boycotts going around the country. Jin Jing came out and said "let's think a bit more rationally about this - a protest isn't really necessary and if we boycott Carrefour, we're only hurting Chinese employees and products" - and when she made that plea for calm, the internets turned against her, calling her a traitor.

At 8/06/2008 11:56 AM, Blogger M said...

The athletes with the ear of the public, need to use the national spotlight for good. What are they afraid of...real respect?


At 8/06/2008 12:45 PM, Blogger mdesus said...

minor point verified by friend with knowledge: South Africa had nukes. They were dismantled when majority rule came, but South Africa is the only country in the world to have successfully built nukes, and then terminated its weapons program. Same dude said they had exactly six nukes.

At 8/06/2008 12:59 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Thanks to T. and mdesus for the correction of some of my facts. The points still stand, I believe, even if I need to wash some egg out of my beard.

Uh... Jason Kidd meet bench. Bench meet Jason Kidd. Hold hands. Be friends. Keep quiet.

At 8/06/2008 2:21 PM, Blogger Kazu said...

I think there is an analogy that we all need to consider here: The South African Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Apartheid did not end because the white south Africans realized that what they were doing was wrong. It ended because of external pressure from the international community in the way of boycotts and disinvestment. It's a sad fact that in the world today, money speaks louder than morals. If you can impact a country or corporations' bottom line, then you can really make some changes.

Organizing a boycott of Chinese made goods is a little more complicated because of China's role in the global economy, but maybe that's where a guy like Kobe or Lebron can have an impact. Lebron obviously has a tight connection to Nike, as other athletes do to tons of other corporations that have strong business ties to China. That creates potential for some real change, but also the danger for the athlete losing his endorsements.

On a personal level, I hate that athletes and celebrities are apolitical as they are. I think they have a responsibility to speak out when they're getting paid millions by a company who makes billions by doing business with a country like China. Because I do believe that Lebron making Darfur an issue during the Olympics can have an impact. But then again, who am I to ask him to possibly sacrifice his $100 million contract? It's complicated.

At 8/06/2008 2:37 PM, Blogger Kazu said...

My bad, I didn't realize anyone had already brought up S Africa. I hadn't read the entire thread.

At 8/06/2008 6:11 PM, Blogger MODI said...

"Even Ali, in his political activism, was fighting as much for himself as for anyone else. He did not want to go to war in Vietnam. He knew he would be a target of both the Vietcong and some crazy soldier on his side..."

I don't believe that this is accurate. Ali could have had a cushy post doing boxing exhibitions. He refused out of genuine principle. Now how much that principle was or was not influenced by Elijah Muhammed might be up for debate, but the most selfish deal would have been to join the army.

Anyway, good discussion here. We could argue how much an athlete or any activist can or cannot make a difference, but we all know that silence will ensure it.

At 8/07/2008 11:52 AM, Blogger Samu said...

d keane,
as an European, I wouldn't mind an American athlete stepping up, trying to raise awareness. These are important issues (to me, at least). It's difficult to think of a proper way to do so, though.
My perception is that there are lot of problems in America which also should be taken care of, but I really don't see it as arrogance to try to end genocide.

At 8/07/2008 1:58 PM, Blogger Pongo Pygmaeus said...

@ Samu, I think the European-American relationship is different enough from the Chinese-American relationship that it's hard to think of them similarly. It's the difference between David Beckham criticizing our involvement in Iraq and Yao doing the same. As has been shown above, China is in a whole different situation idealistically than the rest of us.

The big difference is that China's not a democracy. I'm not exactly trying to make any political statement, but the main point is that we've grown up thinking that anyone has a right to express his or her opinions, everyone has equal say, and everyone's thoughts are important to the development of our nation. China's grown up believing that their one leader has final say, and his opinion is the only one that matters. And especially now that this ideology has led them to such a rapid rise on the global scale they're even less likely to turn their heads from the hand that feeds them.

But that's where I think there's a vulnerability to protest. And obviously I don't know near enough about this and please do correct me if I'm wrong because this is out of pure interest; but wouldn't a boycott, if not only enrage China, also keep them from becoming the power they want to be? If this is "their" Olympics, their "unveiling" as a global super-power and it doesn't go off successfully, doesn't that failure go with the nation? I'm not saying we need to completely disgrace China, but it seems like the only way they would be receptive of protest is if they're knocked off their perch (not to insinuate that Chinese are arrogant. after all, who's more arrogant than Americans). Of course this is also running the risk that they would perceive themselves as being "too good" to host multi-national events with worthless countries like the USA.


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