I think this excellent bit of blogging settles what are now looking like shoddy accusations against Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen over her recent victory. There have certainly been doping scandals in Chinese athletics in the past, as there have been in UK, US, Australian and European athletics. What's missing is the general assumption that an exceptional victory must be down to drugs.
While other athletes are individuated by audiences and commentators, you get a general sense that Team China is regarded as a kind of multi-sport borg: an agglomeration of pure power with arms to throw things and legs to run with. I noticed during the diving yesterday that 'The Chinese' was a trending term on twitter: Messrs Daley and Waterfield weren't beaten by Cao Yuan and Zhang Yuanquan; they were overcome by an entity known as 'the Chinese' - not the indivuduals, not the country or its citizens but the entire ethnic group. We know Ye Shiwen's name mainly because she broke a world record and had allegations made against her. Maybe the thinking here was that a bit of the tentacle broke off and that it should be subjected to scientific analysis.
Perhaps this is partly down to the fact that China stresses its athletes representative capacity more than other nations; that it takes them away from their parents at a young age and sequestors them in camps. Nonetheless, individual athletes are as famous in China as they are here. Indeed, some, like the tennis player Li Na, are famous for bucking the system. Anyway, that's no reason for us to be doubling down on the yellow hordes meme. Sometimes I think people are vaguely hoping that the entire Chinese team will suddenly keel over and die from the common cold, like the aliens in war of the worlds.
London Organizing Committee Chairman Sebastian Coe says tickets are being distributed to soldiers and others to fill those seats. He said no one would object to free tickets for public servants.
The idea of ‘military service schools’ may be a cheap way for British politicians to use the popularity of the armed forces as a substitute for actual policy, but it did imply that there would be some intellectual activity involved on the part of the personnel theoretically recruited to perform this task. The idea that the military should be used to ‘fill seats’ takes the whole military substitution ethic one stage further, though it does imply a human presence. It doesn’t sound like a bad gig either, but if I was a squaddie I would still be worried about the forthcoming and inevitable calls for the military to ‘fill holes in the road’, ‘improve cavity wall insulation’ ‘become flood barriers’ and kindred static tasks.
For those buffoons who don’t think there was enough empire in the opening ceremonies, and for non-buffoons who don’t think that, here’s a fascinating ramble linking Danny Boyle with Francis Younghusband, administerer of imperial punishment beatings to the Tibetans turned old-age new-age mystic. In this latter capacity he was the inspiration for Parry’s setting of Blake’s Jerusalem, which Boyle used as the Olympic anthem.
Chris at the Virtual Stoa covered much the same ground last week. Briefly, Younghusband founded something called the Fight For Right as a kind of transcendental ginger group, whose advocacy of World War One as a polytheistic jihad attracted an unstable combination of jingoists, and shall-we-say spiritually oriented progressives. It didn’t last; but while it did, the setting of Jerusalem was written for it. When Fight For Right disintegrated, Jerusalem was thriftily turned over to the Suffragists and went from there to its current status as theme tune of general progressivity.
And to complete the circle, the opening ceremony specifically referred to the Accrington Pals. (scroll down to page 22).
I'm going to tell you all a secret. You have to have a very special and pure heart to see it, but, if you go to the ancient tree in the middle of the Tsinghua university campus, and touch it, and really believe, you will be transported from this world to another.
When you come out, one of the first things you'll notice is that Tsinghua, instead of being full of fuerdai (2nd generation rich) boasting about their companies and how they wouldn't marry a girl who isn't a virgin, but they'd fuck her, is made up of pure-hearted students dedicated to the country. They wear long robes and are deeply interested in Confucianism, like so many other young people in this wonderful land.
But beyond the campus walls, you'll see even more splendid things. For instance, the country is run by dedicated meritocrats, who call upon the wisdom of the past to guide them in their long-term goals for the good of all. In this land, corruption is a rare and wicked canker, and cadres are shining examples that inspire the common merchants and farmers to put aside their ill-thoughts.
Whereas in our world one rises to the top in the Party through scheming, bribery, patronage, and the ruthless use of power to crush your enemies, in the other world it's an impartial and disinterested series of assessments and examinations. Wise viziers explain the operations of the process to those who might doubt it, increasing their respect tenfold for the great minds that established such a process. Strangely, in this world talent is also passed, like midichlorians, through the blood, which is why such a remarkable number of those chosen through this meritocratic scheme are the children of existing memebrs of the elite.
It sounds like a wonderful dimension. I'm just wondering how often Daniel Bell visits ours.
Qidong is an urban area just to the north of Shanghai on the northern side of the Yangtze estuary. So it’s wealthy by Chinese standards, but not that wealthy: back in 2009 its government was caught out in a hilariously crude exercise in box ticking, CPC style.
Of course, it’s also very near a first tier city. Think of it as Oakland to Shanghai’s San Francisco. It’s the kind of area that would welcome a Japanese paper mill as a contribution to economic development, but also the kind of area that has a population with the technological resources and bedrock awareness of environmental issues such that it would be capable of organizing against said paper mill’s plans to build a pipeline dumping its waste in the sea: the point I’m making about technological resources is that Qidong is a fully urbanized area and, while the figures are all over the place with a maximum bound of around 100,000, the protest that resulted was too large to be organized by word of mouth. I mean it’s not a 'village' thing, a matter of communication between extended families who know each other, people in the shame shithole factory, neighbours who had been evicted from their farmland or same-dialect groups of migrants.
There was, therefore, a plan here, to connect strangers. Protestors applied for permits (and were turned down) stylized the protest in appropriately ‘appeal to the emperor’ terms -
We firmly support CCP leadership. Chairman Mao taught us to pursuit fair, efficient and sustainable development, Deng Xiaoping taught us to stick to sustainable development. Hu Jintao taught us to have a scientific outlook of development. Local government officials, didn’t you learn these?
- and produced and circulated suitably modern agitprop material (via offbeat China).
Communist dudes! Mao! WTF!
The local government made strenuous efforts to use social media against its opponents. But when the time came for the meat to hit the street, there was a pretty good turnout, with the cops responding with something that looks more like kettling or at least something that looked more like a display of rather than an application of force. But the numbers seemed to be too much for them: around 1000 people stormed and sacked the local government offices and the mayor was mobbed when he tried to speak to his people, losing his shirt in the process.
Rough music then, and I for one am in favour of the debagging of mayors. Apart from anything, they look funnier that way. Also: it got results. The pipeline project was cancelled (well, maybe: Oji Paper, the company concerned, insist that it’s just a delay).
The disaffected segment of the Sinosphere is usually pretty firmly behind local uprisings, but the denouement of the Qidong affair has split opinion on lines that will be familiar to students of insurrection and dictatorship generally. Militant fans of the whole thing extend the ‘they started it’ argument perhaps beyond its immediate utility, while well heeled liberals are a bit alarmed by an outbreak of political violence near a place where they go to for business meetings rather than out there in shitkicker county. Anyway, you have an ongoing public, non-state dialectic.
Current reports allege that Qidong is now on total communications lockdown, that the PAP has arrived in force, and that, as a result, the hospitals are full of blunt force trauma injuries. This may be true. It may be be part of the propaganda war between the government, its opponents, and now different segments of the opposition. All of these things may be true. At any rate, I think we have an indicator that ruler-subject relations may be entering a new phase.
There's a touching article here [in Chinese] on the reading out of the names of the dead after the Beijing rainstorm. "The departed are also citizens, and their names are joined with the city." I've written about this before, but the shift from mourning en masse to commemoration of individuals is important. The dead are much easier to dismiss in large numbers.
This is part of what's made the Wenzhou high speed rail crash, and these Beijing storms, far more potent than the 2008 earthquake was in terms of criticism of the government. The number of dead is small enough to be comprehensible and to give individual stories bite, so the "in the face of great suffering, great compassion" government line doesn't get any hold. They've also been far closer to places that matter, whereas Wenchuan pretty much just devastated a backwater stretch of countryside. And, of course, Weibo was not a thing in 2008, whereas now it has, according to a report I just read but can't find, 88 percent penetration among 20-somethings.
The Daily Mail is a racist paper, of course - it regularly kills positive stories when they turn out to involve black people, for instance, as Flat Earth News documents. But it's rare that they're so blatant about it.
This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.
Almost, if not every, shot in the next sequence included an ethnic minority performer. The BBC presenter Hazel Irvine gushed about the importance of grime music (a form of awful electronic music popular among black youths) to east London. This multicultural equality agenda was so staged it was painful to watch.
I haven't read anything that made me want to punch the writer in the face that much for a while. Boyle's show seems to have pissed off the right people, at any rate. And isn't that what being English is all about?
What first impressed me about the use of Sir Paul McCartney last night was that Danny Boyle employed him in the role of chucker out. Hey Jude was a classic pub emptier way back when and there was Sir Paul going round turning up the lights and taking the ashtrays away.
I’m obviously a bit dated here, but ISTR Mr Boyle used to live the post-student dream in Hulme a few years before I did and I was rather chuffed by him telling the world that we used to drink in the same pubs. The Olympics gets a lot better when it’s all about you, which was why the evening’s caperings went down so well overall.
The Olympics, of course, have a long and troubling history with protest and dissent. The Games have mostly been hostile to them. Showing in other parts of London right now are two productions of a much more modest scale, each of which speaks to this. One is a documentary called Salute, which tells not only of black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were banned from the Olympic movement for raising fists on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but also of the white Australian silver medalist, Peter Norman, who got similar treatment for wearing a badge, in solidarity with Smith and Carlos, because he objected to the treatment of Aborigines in his own country. (Smith and Carlos served as pallbearers at Norman's funeral in 2006.)
... Somewhere in the cacophony of last night, during what might have been the world's largest Twitter storm, this nugget emerged: Hey Jude was No. 1 on the charts the day Smith and Carlos raised their fists -- and that single's B-side was Revolution.
I’m not convinced by the article’s general thesis that the opening ceremony highlighted the role of protest and dissent as a deliberate contrast to Beijing. I thought the response to Beijing was to make it deliberately both inclusive and parochial and let the rest of the world make what it wanted of the thing. But then I remembered the lyrics to Revolution:
From Perry Anderson's essay on Nehru in the current LRB:
Undeterred, the Naga leaders declared independence a day before Britain transferred power to India. Congress paid no attention. Phizo continued to tramp villages, increasing support among the tribes. In March 1952, he met Nehru in Delhi. Beside himself at Phizo’s positions, Nehru – ‘hammering the table with clenched fists’ – exclaimed: ‘Whether heavens fall or India goes into pieces and blood runs red in the country, whether I am here or anyone else, Nagas will not be allowed to be independent.’ A year later, accompanied by his daughter, he arrived on an official visit as prime minister at Kohima, in the centre of Naga country, in the company of the Burmese Premier U Nu. Petitioners were brushed aside. Whereupon, when he strode into the local stadium to address a public meeting, the audience got up and walked out, smacking their bottoms at him in a gesture of Naga contempt.
I suppose it's too late to incorporate this into the Olympic opening ceremony somehow.