Sunday, August 10, 2008

Childlike Wonder

Friday night I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with childlike wonder, and perhaps a little uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. The ceremonies, impressive and poignant in their beauty, symmetry, scale, and sophistication, also provoked concern over the magnitude of what is happening "behind" the Great Wall of China. The dynamics of a totalitarian regime mixed with a capitalist economy are, well, yet to be fully seen. Perhaps the ceremony was just a foretaste of what is to come. Is modern day China what you get when you arm an authoritarian state with the vast wealth and resources that capitalism brings? How does our new global economy respond to China if it is rapidly gaining the economic foothold to thumb its nose at human rights concerns? Do we care more about market engagement than human rights? Is our engagement in the market China's best hope for reversal of its human rights record?

Our very own Professor Farmer recently returned from her sabbatical in China. She enjoyed observing the culture and would love to share her thoughts. Look for a brown bag lunch with Professor Farmer on campus this fall, hosted by the Federalist Society. Perhaps we can engage in some lively and thoughtful discussion about China and how to respond, in light of all that may emerge during the games.

Would we have been better off to send an unequivocal message to China by boycotting the Olympics? Is that fair to our athletes who train so hard for years on end? Is it better to send our athletes and spectators to China, with hope that they can take with them a message of liberty to the people behind the Great Wall? Is China affected by our presence, or are we too impressed by China to make an impact?

Interestingly, Christianity is on the rise in China through the house church movement and in spite of the government's persecution. Penn State's own Philip Jenkins has written extensively on global Christianity, and notes that China's increasing disaffection with communism has tracked with its "healthy Christian growth."

In America we know how closely the pursuit of religious freedom was tied to liberty at our nation's founding, and continues today. The very first amendment to the Constitution, the first article of the Bill of Rights, addressed religious freedom before it even mentioned freedom of speech, or the press, or assembly. We can only hope that Christianity's growth and eventually religious freedom will also lead to liberty and human rights protections for the Chinese people.


Beth Farmer said...

Having returned to Penn State from Beijing a few weeks ago (I lived less than a mile from the Bird's Nest) the tone of the opening ceremony struck me as deliberately chosen not to unsettle anyone's tummy - this was no aggressive display of military might, no strutting soldiers in the arena, but a festival of art and culture. Designed, I think, to remind the world of 5000 years of history that China believes is forgotten in the west and convey national pride, but not menace. Emails from young Chinese friends are giddy. They were immersed in a narrative of 100 years of humiliation and this may contribute positively to the strategy of 'reform and opening up' that China has been pursuing for 30 years.

Behind the wall that worries Alison is a vigorous market economy, although there are still many state owned enterprises and administrative monopolies. I saw small businesses - 1 family shows, really - jumping into the market everywhere I travelled. But, it would be a mistake to understate the challenges or to romanticize the poverty. You cannot see the real Wall from space, by the way, but it is visible as your plane descends into Beijing after 14 hours of flight over the pole.

My experience of worship in China was mixed and worth another post if I get the slightest encouragement from any gentle readers.

Finally, China is vast and diverse - but you knew that. If you want to see a tiny slice, see and Digital cameras are a wonderful invention.

Anonymous said...

I'd be fascinated to hear about your "experience of worship."