China for a long time has been the humongous communist country; where everything fake is manufactured, where freedom, like English, is a rare commodity and where Maoism is venerated by the day and capitalism at night.
To the rest of the world, China was that foreign place run like one gigantic boarding school, in which praising God is illegal while shunned by the sane.
Conversely as of last Friday, all the good news seems to be coming out of China; courtesy of a well calculated bid, and preparations to stage the most expensive colourful Olympic Games - in the 112 year long history.
For the first time, China’s charm offensive has literally wooed the world; including long time arch-rival the USA, as President Bush was literary eating out of President Hu Jintao’s hands.
The artistic success at the wonder that is the Bird’s Nest, the main venue for the Olympics in Beijing, comes after a tumultuous period in which anyone with a bone to pick against China, took the opportunity to do so.
As the Olympic torch symbolically wound its way around the world; China avoided any possible embarrassment.
Tibet and Dalai Lama often hogged the limelight away from the torch which was regularly interrupted by pro-Tibet and anti-China establishment protesters, to the chagrin of the usually stern faced members of the Communist Party.
For the first time, China is eager to belong to the world; to demonstrate her financial and architectural superiority, her organizational abilities, while show-casing Chinese culture to the world.
“For a lot of foreigners, the only image of China comes from old movies that make us look poor and pathetic,” Ci Lei, 29, who watched the pageantry on a large-screen television at an upscale downtown bar, told the New York Times.
“Now look at us. We showed the world we can build new subways and beautiful modern buildings. The Olympics will redefine the way people see us.” Ci Lei and her country mates will be glad to know that all their efforts have put paid to the rest of the world.
Timothy Kalyegira, a columnist with a Ugandan daily currently covering the games in Beijing narrates his observation; “Entebbe International Airport has five departing gates. Dubai International Airport has 50 gates. Beijing International Airport has 70 gates.
If our small Entebbe airport can cover a third of Entebbe town, with Beijing we are talking about an airport building complex nearly the size of Kampala city. Just the airport.”
According to the China Daily, “Beijing airport was tested to its full Thursday, the eve of Olympic Games, and came out with flying colors. The number of flights it handled was phenomenal: 1,300. But perhaps its greater test was handling more than 300 Olympic-related flights, which carried VIP guests, including heads of state. Altogether, the airport is expected to receive 80 state leaders, and handle 160 chartered and 1,000 business flights during the Games.”
The transformation of Beijing into an Olympic city cost a staggering estimated $43 billion, which went into building roads, stadiums, parks and subway lines in trying to transform Beijing into an Olympic city.
Equally lavish spending went to into the opening ceremonies; costing tens of millions of dollars and involved 15,000 performers inside the latticed shell of the Bird’s Nest, the city’s impressive new National Stadium.
Emotion was high, as Friday’s Opening Ceremony not only officially started the Summer Games but was a symbolic expression of a nation consolidating its place as a global super-power.
“They want those leaders to confirm the fact that China has returned to great power, prominence in the world,” said David Zweig, a political analyst at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“They really want to say to the people of China that we, the Communist party of China, have done a great job.”
The Newsweek, summed up the event in a solemn way, “Just as Washington’s adventure in Iraq today symbolizes the beginning of the decline of U.S. influence around the world—despite its military might—so will China’s hosting of these Olympics be seen as a sign that it has arrived as a global power, despite its tarnished human rights record.”
These games herald a new beginning of China’s role in the world, mainly because China has decided that this is its time. It is not a surprise that the prelude to the games was a carefully choreographed multi-sectoral push throughout the country, and especially in terms of China’s image.
From controlling pollution to changing Beijing’s skyline with new majestic and revolutionary designs, China’s leaders took the opportunity with both hands. Richard William’s of The Guardian UK sounded more like an excited tourist telling his children about his travels, other than a journalist reporting a story.
“When darkness had fallen the show began at precisely 8 o’clock with a clap of thunder from 2,008 tightly ranked fou drums. These traditional instruments, the shape and size of laundry baskets, were lit from inside, the lights sequenced by computer, and played by robed dancer-drummers flailing illuminated sticks”
All however is not a bed of roses for the ordinary Chinese as there is a flipside to this glory. A Washington Post article states that, “over 1.25 million people have been forced to move because of Olympic construction; it was estimated that the figure would reach 1.5 million by the end of 2007.
No formal resettlement scheme is in place for the over 400,000 migrants who have had their dwelling places demolished.”
The Time Magazine summed it up well. “The run-up to the games had epic story lines — China investing $40 billion to build the needed infrastructure, reeling from a catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan province in May, struggling right up to Friday to diminish Beijing’s stubborn smog.
China’s detentions of political activists, its crackdown on uprisings in Tibet and its economic ties to Sudan — home of the war-torn Darfur region — fueled relentless criticisms from human rights groups and calls for an Olympic boycott.”
But all is well that ends well. As we speak, the Beijing Olympic Games are well under way, and in a way, everybody, including the Chinese and everyone watching the games behind their TV screens all over the world, is over the moon over Beijing, and for once will not mind enjoying a genuine product of China.