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The spell of the Games masks the critical questions | theage.com.au | and a book review

12 Aug

Yes, I like so many at one level sat back and enjoyed the spectacle of the Beijing Opening Ceremony, as indeed one might. Even if there was a bit of high tech trickery with those 29 marching feet — we saw a preprepared digital version of the first 28 apparently — it was worth watching. However, in the cold light of Tuesday in Surry Hills articles like The spell of the Games masks the critical questions deserve to be read. Will such spectacular waste ever happen again?

THE Olympics have a strange power. While the Games are being played, much of the world appears spellbound, never more so than at the start of these Games. China’s Olympics are as much about announcing China’s place in the world as they are about fit young people running, swimming and jumping. Its opening ceremony was an astonishing display of no-expense-spared technical precision and choreography, paying homage to China’s history and proclaiming a bright future. It was watched by billions of television viewers, (almost 6 million in Australia) and cost tens of millions of dollars to produce.

Most of us are happy to sit back and enjoy it, basking in the success of Australian athletes and appreciating the performances of international stars. But, at the risk of being boring while Olympic fever is upon us: is this all a bit much? Was there not a sense during the spectacle that one of its drivers was an insistence this ceremony, and these Games, must be better, more expensive, more awe-inspiring than any before? Will London, which hosts the Games in 2012, now have to go one better or feel like a loser? Is this, really, what the Olympic movement is about?

The question of cost is being asked in China, although only by the brave. Bao Tong, a former senior Communist Party official who was jailed for seven years for his support of the Tiananmen Square student protesters and who has been under house arrest since his release, asked whether China could afford the Games. “There are at least 200 million people in China who still earn less than $US1 a day and you (the Government) are splurging all that money and mobilising everyone to hold a fancy Olympics,” he told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post

For “tens of millions” read “billions” — whether US or UK usage is followed…

Then too see The destruction of old Beijing: Going, gone from The Economist.

IN A few short years China’s Communists have used the excuse of the Olympic games to level the medieval city built by the great Ming emperor, Yongle. Beijing was long Asia’s ecumenical Rome, but its 2,500 or so religious sites are now reduced to a few dozen temples mainly for tourist consumption. The Communists have also destroyed Beijing’s social fabric, cutting through rich threads of community habit, shared memory and (what always infuriated them) subversive resistance to the madder impulses of higher authority. In different ways, these three books are superb guides to a Beijing that heart-wrenchingly is no more.

 The way it was (pic on right)

Jasper Becker highlights the breathtaking cynicism of this orgy of destruction; even the Cultural Relics Bureau formed a property-development company to pull down buildings in its charge. Yongle had used 200,000 convicts and press-ganged peasants for his project. Today a peasant-labour force of 1.3m has worked on 7,000-odd giant construction sites that have killed, in a hushed-up way, between 2,000 and 3,000 migrant workers a year. As for the city’s residents, Beijing’s average life expectancy is now well below the national average, thanks to smog and urban stress. So much for the promised clean, green “People’s Olympics”…

Which by a rather indirect route brings me to my first book review today: George Monbiot, Heat (Penguin pb edition 2007). As that reviewer says:

You can’t fault him for ambition…

The ultimate irony of Heat is that his prescription is probably the only one that can save this planet from the scourge of global warming, but that, as simple, direct and painless as it is, this prescription has about the same likelihood of actually coming about as a snowball’s chance in hell. Or, perhaps I should say, a snowball’s chance on Earth after Monbiot’s brave, well-researched, and ingenious ideas have been forgotten.

Young George really is a bright chap — and I say young George as he was three years old when I began my teaching career, which makes me feel what I am, a living fossil!

“I am not writing this book to confirm what you believe is true… As always, I seem destined to offend everyone.”

Another reviewer quotes that honest and provocative remark from Monbiot’s book and draws our attention to the website that accompanies the book. I am about to add that to the relevant box in the side bar here!

One of the great advantages of Heat is Chapter 2: “The Denial Industry”. It is devastating and thoroughly documented too. It should be read by everyone, really! What you then make of Monbiot’s proposals — and he is steadfastly “can do” I have to say — I will leave to you. It is rather beyond, to say the least, what is currently on the Rudd government’s agenda.

To get a taste of Chapter 2 look at Monbiot on the obviously rather dopey Melanie Phillips, as seen on the book’s website in Bluffers Corner. Melanie, Miranda — yes, the cap fits…

Go too to Monbiot.com:

Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it.
Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.

Better than a cold shower. And we had better get used to them too… If we’re lucky.

 

2 responses to “The spell of the Games masks the critical questions | theage.com.au | and a book review

  1. Davo

    August 13, 2008 at 3:46 am

    There is no “cost” to the concept of china. They can, it seems, lose 70,000 or so lives without blinking much. Depends on attrition and percentages.

     
 
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