Reflective by nature, I was fairly ambivalent about the Olympics in China. I rationalized into temporary abeyance my loathing for their fairly atrocious human rights record by thinking that it was an opportunity for the Chinese people to feel proud of their achievements, to celebrate their advances. And in the economic realm, China has achieved much, as anyone who has studied Chinese history or even read The Good Earth can attest. (By the bye you can forget the Cuba parallels here. In Cuba, infant was never on the menu due to famine. Cuba has been brought into the third world not out of it.)
I watched the opening ceremonies which were impressive and quaint, shocked at the co-ordination of thousands of performers. But maybe that's just it. Where other countries would have used the magic of hydraulics, they used people. With the drums pounding, it was reminiscent of the Sherwood Anderson story about the belt. People as machines. But that thought came later, later as I found out that the actual young singer had been deemed too "ugly" to perform. Later, when the single-minded pursuit of Olympic medals was apparent, when remarkably youthful gymnasts, some of whom had not seen their parents in a year, skirted legality, when table tennis was not a game. Later when two elderly ladies filed for a protest permit and were arrested, when others engaging in the same faux pas were sent to labor camps.
It was then that I realized that the Olympic face of China was just the face of the caged tiger. I, too, had been guilty of relativism. It was an impression heightened by Edwin Cody's fine piece in the Washington Post on how the Olympics may have strengthened the hand of the totalitarian State. One has to wonder. It is a consideration those who choose Olympic venues would do well to keep in mind.