The Parallels Between China's Olympics and Our Political Conventions

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Mr. Wasserstrom, a Professor of History at U.C. Irvine, is the author of China’s Brave New World (2007) and the forthcoming Global Shanghai, 1850-2010.

When the media spotlight shifted instantaneously from Beijing to Denver last week, it was easy to focus on things that the Olympics and the Democratic Convention had in common as spectacles, especially since each ended with a big party in a stadium where rock music played and fireworks exploded. But if there's a real American sequel to the Beijing Games, it's the Republican Convention underway in St. Paul.

It’s true that in Denver one big story involved long-term rivals working together to achieve a new goal. This is definitely an Olympian theme in the era of “Dream Teams” made up of members of competing NBA squads.

Beijing-Denver similarities pale, however, when placed beside the deeper links between China's first Olympics and the latest GOP Convention. Consider these:

The Role of Natural Disasters. The Olympics themselves went ahead as scheduled, but China’s leaders had to alter some features of the torch run due to the massive Sichuan earthquake, so as not to seem inappropriately celebratory at a tragic moment. This brings to mind the last minute alterations to the St. Paul schedule inspired by the hurricane.

Historical Revisionism. For those familiar with China’s modern history, it was deeply ironic to see leaders of the once fiercely anti-Confucian Communist Party look on approvingly as Confucius was quoted and honored during the opening ceremonies. But we’re now seeing something just as drenched in irony: the GOP presenting itself as the party that stands for women’s rights.

Extending Control. China’s leaders saw hosting the Games as a way to buttress their legitimacy. And they used the opening ceremony to encourage people to concentrate on only the good things their Party had done for the country, which explains why on 08/08/08 audiences were reminded of China’s impressive new space program but not the 1989 Beijing Massacre that put an end to the Tiananmen protests. Similarly, the GOP is striving now to emphasize accomplishments and gloss over stigmatic events like the Abu Ghraib scandal as it struggles to keep control of the White House.

For this last reason in particular, the true political sequel to the Olympics is the St. Paul Convention.

Americans trying to understand the international reaction to the three big spectacles that have followed each other in quick succession, like the opening legs of a relay race, would also do well to keep something else in mind. Many people in other lands see the organizations currently in power in the United States and in China as having an important feature in common, even though only one will have to win in a post-spectacle national election to stay in power. Namely, the American Republican Party, like China's Communist Party, is widely seen as having demonstrated a disturbing tendency to take a dangerously unilateral approach to foreign policy of late.

We should not be surprised then if outside of the United States a lot of people watching the spectacle in St. Paul are secretly hoping the same thing as so many Democrats. That it will prove less successful than the Beijing Games were, in the sense of doing less than that extravaganza did to increase the odds that the same organization that now controls a big powerful country will continue to do so for at least a few more years.

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Rich DiSilvio - 9/6/2008

Mr. Wasserstrom, you make an analogy that I and many others have also made about Obama's Grecian Hollywood spectacle, yet you draw the wrong conclusions.

You paint the Republicans as being primitive male-dominated apes that do not stand up for women's rights yet you miss the most obvious...namely Condi Rice. Is she not a female? Does she not have an extremely high position in the Republican party? Is she not black? Hence, all the Left's complaints of suppressing gender or race by the Republicans is hogwash, and only reveals bias.

Let's be honest, the Obama spectacle had many historic precedents that must be addressed, but they must not be based on bias but rather historical facts.

First: The Greek Temple columns were supposed to elicit the notion that Obama is not only for restoring democracy but creating a new democracy based upon his single and blaring mantra of CHANGE! However, Obama's idea of passive foreign policy, during a hostile moment in US history, would indeed make America like Athens. Namely, the elitist philosophical Athenians (much like the Ivy League Obamas) did fall to the savage Spartan warriors (much like radical Jihadists). On another disturbing and symbolic level, the Grecian pagan temple, which was for worshipping false gods, is very appropriately akin to the mislead Democrats that worship their false god Obama. So, yes, this imagery was indeed powerful for those with historical vision.

Second: The Athenian democracy, although lauded by many historians, never managed to be an effective regime and did not last as long as the highly organized and effective Roman Republic. And that America's Republican Party often mirrors the strength and resolve of the Roman Republic, which our very Founders chose over the weak Greek democracy, makes their agenda of strength and resolve the ideal choice for America, at least for those who can truly see through Obama's Hollywood Grecian spectacle or for any avid reader of history that truly understands the real truth behind the Grecian facade at the DNC. Here again, Obama clearly, and not surprisingly, got it all wrong. If he knew anything about the United States Constitution he would know that no where does it mention the word "democracy", after the flawed Greek model, but it does mention that we are a Republic, which was clearly modeled after the strong and pragmatic Roman Republic.

As for China, again you miss the point. You say it is "deeply ironic" that the tyrannical Chinese leaders allowed the readings of Confucius. Although it most certainly is ironic superficially you miss the underlying motivation. China does have an agenda, one that they make no secret of, and that is domination. First, they intend to recapture their lost territory, such as Taiwan, and then all other Asian countries. And lastly they intend to confront America itself. By China dominating our commercial infrastructure with its countless products and trades in addition to being America's biggest loan provider they are managing to squeeze the life out of us in a very silent but deadly fashion. I strongly suggest the book "China: The Gathering Threat" by Constantine C. Menges to everyone here if they have not read it already.

If you and the Democrats are so worried about how the world views us I implore all of you to stop and analyze how we, as Americans and the world leader of liberty, must view the world. If European nations remain passive and weak and allowed monsters like Saddam to engage in aggression, like they allowed Hitler's aggression, then we Americans must step in. Strong Democrats of the past like FDR did so, therefore my perspective is not colored by party lines but focuses on facts. If America sees it through to enable Iraq to become a democratic nation the ramifications would be extremely positive and to our long term advantage. To allow China or Russia (who already showed their aggression with Georgia) to take over nations that could be our allies only weakens our stance in the global community and causes our allies to feel safer under those powerful regimes, even if they deplore their tyrannical leadership. Hence, our allies will side with the ones that can protect them the most and benefit their economies the most. Therefore, by being passive and losing one nation after another to our enemies we erode our stance, integrity, reputation, and alliances... and eventually we'll lose our way of life.

So, yes, America does have much to confront in the next four years, and a rookie like Obama (with a knack for showmanship, radical friendships, no proven record of executive-like achievements, and only a desire to write autobiographies rather than about important issues) has no place in this slick, volatile, and very deadly arena of world affairs.

You talk about sending a bad impression to the rest of the world! Well, there you have it...an ObamaNation would literally be an AbomiNation.