It is time to heal from the colonial scars and look forwards.
slogan for the Beijing Olympics is "One World, One Dream". It is
plastered in huge print on billboards across China, but no one can tell
me which "one dream" it is that we are all supposed to be chasing. And
as the nation fires up its Games preparations, it's also starting to
look less like we all come from the same "one world".
am working in Beijing for the summer. More than anything else, this is
because I wanted to be here for the Olympics. I wanted to be a part of
what is supposed to be a seminal moment for my people. My parents are
Chinese originally from Hong Kong and Indonesia who migrated to
Australia in the 1960s. I was born in Sydney. I have never lived in
mainland China full-time and may never do so, but because I am Chinese,
what happens in China happens to me. Ethnicity runs deep in this
country, among its people, and across the oceans of our diaspora. I
want China to win the most gold medals. I want Chinese brands sold in
American department stores.
But in the past
six months, Chinese nationalism has started to scare me. I was shocked
at how fiercely young Chinese fought back against Tibet supporters. I
have been saturated by the Chinese media's self-congratulatory
glorification of the response to an earthquake that should not have
killed 70,000 people. As I get the chance to work on the Olympics and
watch them, I am not elated, as the Chinese Government tells me to be,
but, instead, disappointed.
I am disappointed that many
Chinese people seem to have abandoned the Olympic spirit in the name of
patriotism. I am disappointed that they are claiming sole ownership of
these Games as theirs alone to organise as they please so they can
prove how far they have come. With less than two weeks to go, the
Olympics no longer feel as if they are about nations coming together,
leaving their baggage behind, and competing on a level playing field;
they seem more about just us Chinese coming together, and dramatically
showing ourselves why we are so great and strong. A friend of mine is
willing to bet that the Chinese athlete chosen to light the Olympic
flame and officially open the Games will be Jin Jing, the Paralympic
fencer who became a national hero when she was accosted in her
wheelchair by protesters while she was carrying the Olympic torch
What scares me — in addition to a mob
mentality in a country of 1.3 billion people — is that I think at least
part of this mentality comes from refusing to be the white man's
lackey, from wanting to emerge triumphantly from oppression, from a
need to say, "I told you so" to former imperial powers. It scares me
because I think it comes from a place not so different from where
conversations with my own friends sometimes end up, a place in which
young people want not only to deconstruct the mainstream but fight it
I fear that the difference between asking why a
white French youth clings to exotic, romanticised notions of Tibet and
boycotting French goods because Parisians protested against the Olympic
torch relay is sometimes only a matter of degree. And that the
difference, then, between boycotting European goods and expelling
Europeans from the country altogether is also only a matter of degree.
I fear that a young Robert Mugabe or Than Shwe also once sat around
with his classmates and had passionate discussions about how white
people just don't get it. Post-colonial empowerment is vital to
development and still has a surprisingly long way to go. But too often
it masquerades as an excuse for angry, anti-colonial nationalism.
feelings cannot be ignored; in fact, a fundamental problem with how
Western powers often deal with former colonies is that they do simply
ignore what to them seem like irrational hang-ups. These feelings need
to be acknowledged and only then can we put them behind us. Our
colonial pasts must matter and then, as soon as they do, they must
start to matter less.
So here in Beijing, China deserves to
show off how far it has climbed, but now it must invite others to join
in and take the next steps forward, together. It can be on the track or
at the UN Security Council, and it can begin with an Olympic Games that
have always been — and should forever remain — the whole world's to
enjoy. And we, the young people for whom borders are no longer
boundaries, should be leading the way. Chinese or otherwise, we should
all be enriched, not burdened, by our new ability to transcend the
traditional categories of a bygone era. Is that not the one world and
one dream we're searching for?
Keane Shum is an Australian studying law at Georgetown University in Washington.