August 2008

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Last week, we handed out five medals for media handling of the Games, and now we’re following with a different sort of list, which flags both shortcomings as well as accomplishments.

1) Yellow Card for over-generalization and reinforcing stereotypes: to Thomas Friedman for “Melting Pot Meets Great Wall.” Though the Olympics could be seen as a “teachable moment,” with both the U.S. and China having things to learn from the other, Friedman essentializes both countries here, arguing that the US is diverse while China is focused and goal-driven. Moreover, the jumping off point for Friedman’s piece is his observation that “the Russian team all looks Russian…the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them.” Not only is this a neat bit of selective viewing (what does the New Zealand team look like? The British?), but it overlooks the fact that China is actually enormously diverse (particularly historically), even if Friedman can’t “see” it by watching the opening ceremony. Friedman’s essentializing impulse is further illustrated by a gaffe in this paragraph, preserved in the original but edited in syndication–at the Times, part of Friedman’s intro reads “the African team all looks African”; in syndication, it became “the African teams all look African.” Not only do all Chinese people not look alike, but Africa is actually not a nation.

2) Medal for humor: Xujun Eberlein at Inside-Out China translates several Olympic jokes from Chinese. Though she was concerned that jokes-in-translation are rarely as funny as the original, these manage to make the leap.

3) A medal for quick-off-the-start post-Olympics analysis to YaleGlobal for their on-going series. Part II of the series, “China’s Olympic Run” (“With the Games over, the Communist Party loses a convenient excuse for every hardship”), was written by Pallavi Aiyar, who we previously interviewed about her new book.

4) Yellow Card to China Beat, for having neglected to ever mention Jocelyn Ford as one of “our women in China.” Ford, a freelance journalist working in China, was previously Beijing bureau chief (2002-2006) and Tokyo bureau chief (1994-2000) for Marketplace and blogs regularly for Science Friday. Check out this fabulous short video at the Boston Globe documenting her visit to a farming village to chat about the Olympics with regular Chinese.

5) Own Goal: To China for blocking iTunes, as though it would be more damage to the regime for athletes to hear Tibet-related songs than for it to get criticized for such a ham-handed bit of censorship.

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“One World, One Dream” or “One Game, Different Dreams”?

This piece was originally posted at Policy Innovations and has been reprinted here with permission of the author.

By James Farrer

A “silver medal” for the Beijing Olympics from the Japanese media

Mo Bangfu, a Chinese columnist writing for the liberal Asahi Shimbun, used his weekly column the day before the closing ceremonies to award the Beijing Olympics a symbolic “silver medal” for its overall organization (Aug. 23, 2008, p. B3). Despite accusations of fakery, the opening ceremonies and the Olympic volunteers both deserve “gold medals,” as do the ordinary Beijing residents and migrant workers who had to put up with massive everyday inconveniences.

The government, however, deserves a “disqualification” for not allowing any demonstrations in the designated demonstration areas, for restricting the access of normal citizens to the Olympic venues, and also “poor marks” for the large numbers of empty seats at events. As a whole, Mo suggests, the Beijing Olympics deserve a “silver medal,” perhaps summing up the generally positive appraisal of some of the more liberal media voices in Japan. Conservative papers, however, gave the Beijing Olympics much lower marks.

Seeing the Olympics as a watershed event, Japanese commentators have speculated about a “post-Olympic” China, and their prognoses are generally darker than the more optimistic views in the U.S. media. Influenced by Japan’s own postwar experience, columnists ask whether the Beijing Olympics will serve the purpose of integrating China into global society, in the same way achieved by the former Axis powers in the postwar Rome, Tokyo, and Munich Olympics, and later by Seoul in 1988. Most answer negatively. Despite a consensus “silver medal” for a brilliant (if somewhat flawed) show, the Olympics were regarded as a political failure by most Japanese commentators, at least when judged by democratic norms. More darkly, some conservative papers suggest, the Olympics should be seen as a great “success” for the legitimacy of authoritarian rule in China.

In a front-page summary of the impact of the Olympics on China, the conservative Sankei Shimbun suggested that the Olympics were a celebration of dictatorship and the effectiveness of totalitarian government, “a celebration turning its back on democratization” (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 1). The article suggests that the Beijing Olympics should be compared to neither the 1964 Tokyo Olympics nor the 1988 Seoul Olympics, both of which led to greater democratization and the integration of Japan and Korea into the club of democratic states. Rather, the editors conclude, China’s Olympics may in retrospect look more like the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which signaled political isolation and the internal disintegration of the Soviet Union. Like many conservative voices in Japan, the Sankei emphasizes the fragile state of the Chinese economy, predicting much bigger troubles, even a “hard landing” for China’s “bubble economy” (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 1, “After the Olympics: a mountain of problems for China’s economy”).

Even the more liberal Asahi Shimbun described the opening ceremony as a “political show for the party leadership,” (Aug. 9, 2008, p. 2) pointing to the important role played by Communist Party leaders in every public event leading up to the Olympics. The article claims that in every city passed through on the torch relay, the first torch bearer was always the local Party secretary. As the Games opened, Asahi guest columnist and liberal academic Fujiwara Koichi judged Zhang Yimou’s elaborate opening ceremony as a “vacuous” political exercise. He writes, “It’s a sad sight to see this brilliant director expending his talents on this exaggerated display of tradition and political propaganda.”

Despite the emptiness of its political slogans, Fujiwara continues, it was important that the world participated in the Games in order to build bridges with the Chinese people, who can bring about real change in their government (Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24, 2008, p. 27, “Vacuous, but engagement is important”). The closing Olympic editorial in the Asahi Shimbun, although more moderate in tone, also called for political reform in China and asked the Chinese state to give some substance to the “One World, One Dream” motto by joining the global society in the fight against global warming (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 3 “Make steps toward political reform”).

Much of this criticism mirrors the English-language media, but there are some differences. Japanese media reports seem at the same time more critical and less condescending than their U.S. counterparts. Japanese seem to expect more of their giant neighbor but are also far more fearful and skeptical of it. This dynamic is especially evident in the profound mistrust in Japan’s mainstream media toward Chinese political leadership and the insistence by some conservative Japanese commentators that China is headed for a severe economic downturn. These pessimistic economic predictions are significant if only because Japan is the largest foreign investor in China, which is now Japan’s largest export market. Of course, Japan’s reports also say a great deal about Japan’s own obsessions, including concerns about Japan’s declining vitality and status in comparison with its increasingly powerful and affluent “neighboring country” (a term frequently used in Japanese media).

“One World, One Dream” or “One Games, Different Dreams”?

The motto of the Chinese Olympics was “One World, One Dream” (tongyige shijie, tongyige mengxiang). But it might be more appropriate to have named the Olympics after another expression, “one bed, different dreams” (tongchuang yimeng), a Chinese idiom used to refer to two people sharing a bed but dreaming different dreams. Looking at the hypernationalist coverage of the Olympics in the United States and China, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky describes “parallel games,” in which Americans and Chinese were essentially watching their own teams perform in highly selective national media coverage. But this “one games, different dreams” phenomenon is not limited to the hypernationalistic U.S. and Chinese media. Japan’s media also focused almost exclusively on the events that featured participation by Japanese athletes.

The Olympics seen on Japanese television were fundamentally Japan’s Olympics. Just as the Olympics seen by Americans and Chinese were fundamentally nationalist versions of the same global event. It seems that even small countries are not immune to Olympic nationalism. A report in the New York Times documents the “gold medal fever” in several countries around the world, including Mongolia, India, Indonesia, and Jamaica. Of course, some of the superstar accomplishments—such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt breaking records—were truly global media events, but for most viewers in the world, including those in Japan, this Olympics was a case of “same games, different dreams,” in a televised experience characterized by highly selective media nationalism.

Can fulfilling the “100 year dream” mean an end to “100 years of national humiliation”?

It’s clear from the nationalist narratives and folkloric themes of the opening and closing ceremonies that the “dream” that concerned the Beijing Olympic organizers was not a generic dream of “one world” but rather the much more specific dream of China’s place in that world. This “one hundred year dream” of a Chinese Olympics is tied to another story of a “hundred years of national humiliation,” a story in which China interprets its modern history as an underdog struggle against foreign aggression, beginning with the Opium Wars and punctuated by a series of invasions.

In what might signal an important revision of this story of national revival, state media giant Xinhua’s reporting narrates the Olympics as the culmination of 30 years of “reform and opening,” suggesting that 1978 be recognized as the new key turning point in Chinese history, in a new narrative of Chinese history based not on the mythology of national humiliation and resistance but on a myth of national self-renewal and openness to the world. If this story sticks, it signals a constructive revision of Chinese national identity.

Mirroring this official story, the New York Times suggests that China’s newly won confidence might represent the beginning of the end of a pattern of “aggrieved nationalism” based on the story of national humiliation. The Times article cites the positive and welcoming attitude of Beijingers toward foreign visitors as evidence that the Olympics bestowed a new confidence on China that can lead to the diminishment of China’s aggrieved nationalism. The article quotes Fudan University Professor Shen Dingli, who suggests that the success of the Olympics will allow China to become a “normal country” that can more objectively view its strengths and its weaknesses.

The sense of grievance at the base of Chinese nationalism may be hard to overcome. Media in Japan, which is undoubtedly the country most closely associated with China’s “century of humiliation” and also the most common target of China’s nationalist grievances, seemed to show a much greater skepticism about the potential for Chinese people to use the Olympics to overcome the politics of national humiliation.

Despite the positive spin surrounding the Games, Japanese media tended to interpret the nationalist imagery of the opening ceremonies and China’s single-minded pursuit of Olympic gold as yet more signs of China’s potent mix of populist nationalism and authoritarianism. Japan’s conservative newspapers interpreted China’s Olympic-fueled nationalism as a useful strategy for solidifying political control and legitimating political dictatorship by the Chinese Communist Party.

The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most widely circulated daily, suggested that problems such as a slowing economy, declining real estate prices, and greater income inequality will necessitate a resort to hard-line political tactics (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 2 “A return to the hard line”). Not all Japanese commentators were so pessimistic. One Asahi commentary suggested that the relatively neutral and normal diplomatic exchanges between China and Japan could be the sign of a new “adult relationship” (Aug. 24, 2008, p. 4, “The sprouting of an ‘adult relationship’ between China and Japan”).

It is troubling that mainstream media in the one nation that could do the most to help China overcome its “aggrieved nationalism” seem the least optimistic about this possibility. American media have been quicker to embrace 1978 as the new starting point for contemporary Chinese history, with the Olympics as a 30th anniversary celebration of the opening and reform that began that year.

Faking the Olympics

“Fakery” was perhaps the most unfortunate theme of the Beijing Olympics. An editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun reflected on Chinese Olympic “fakes,” such as the use of computer-generated imagery and voice-overs in the opening ceremony, suggesting that, like the obsession with winning gold medals, these practices also reflect the methods of a totalitarian government in which ends justify means (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 3, “As the festival ends, the real trials begin”). Even the more liberal media suggested that the Chinese were “trying too hard,” resulting in a less than authentic celebration of the Olympic spirit.

As in the West, Japanese media also reported on Chinese media censorship, but with some twists that were not common in U.S. reporting. The Asahi‘s coverage of media censorship focused not only on censorship but also on the concrete methods of Chinese authorities in constructing an approved Olympic message. Reporters from Xinhua and CCTV dominated the Chinese corps, with very few slots remaining for local and regional Chinese media. Some well-known investigative reporters were simply told not to work during the Olympics. The Chinese state wanted no independent media scoops in this Olympics. The worry expressed in these stories is that Chinese popular attitudes are easily manipulated by a still-powerful state which is able to micromanage media messages (“Chinese domestic media restrictions” Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15, 2008, p. 2; “Chinese media” Aug. 25, 2008, evening, p. 1).

This emphasis on the state construction of media messages may sound exaggerated in China’s Internet age, but Hong Kong–based media expert Rebecca MacKinnon makes a related cautionary point in her discussion in the Wall Street Journal of Internet reporting during the Games. While Internet sources might be expected to provide different perspectives on the Olympics, unauthorized critical comments about sensitive Olympic topics were quickly removed from the Internet. At the same time, media reports from official agencies were released quickly. The point of Chinese censorship now is less to stop the flow of sensitive news than to shape a dominant message.

Japanese papers also contrasted the rhetoric of “harmony” in the Chinese media with the “reality” of ongoing troubles in the Western regions of China and problems faced by ordinary residents on the day after the closing ceremonies. An Asahi article entitled “‘Successful’ Olympics, a different reality” (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 2) described the continuing repression of the Tibetan and Uighur minorities, as well as restrictions on the movement of ordinary Beijing citizens. The Yomiuri also reported on the Beijingers’ ironic appropriation of the political slogan “harmonious society” through the creation of a new verb “to be harmonized” to describe situations in which people are forced to move their homes or otherwise sacrifice their self-interests for state-imposed goals such as the Olympics (“Increasing Patriotism” Aug. 25, 2008, p. 4).

Although not always negative, Japanese editorial voices in general seem unconvinced of Chinese sincerity and thus especially sensitive to stories of Chinese “fakes.” While the Western media frequently reported on the “friendliness” of the Beijing residents, Japanese media reported on better “manners” (such as waiting in line), implying that these improvements in public behavior, like improvements in air quality, might not last beyond the state-sponsored spectacle of the Olympics. Man-made good weather and manipulated positive media coverage are all represented as troubling signs of a neighbor that is “trying too hard” and is thus untrustworthy.

It might surprise Western critics to read Japanese commentators positioning themselves as champions of democracy and individualism in China, but this focus on Chinese “fakery” and “collectivism” can also be seen as part of Japan’s long history of positioning itself as a modern enlightened nation in a Western-dominated global society. Ironically, Japanese criticisms of Chinese fakery, authoritarianism, and collectivism closely resemble Western criticism of Japanese “copying” and a state-dominated “Japan Inc.” during its rapid growth period of the 1970s and ’80s. These obsessions tell us as much as about Japanese sensitivities as about the state of Chinese society. Indeed, one of the questions Japanese commentators ask is whether Tokyo really has an authentic vision for the 2016 Olympic bid, or more broadly, whether Japan has any viable vision for its future at all.

“One World” (revisited): Flexible Olympic citizenship

One story covered on the front page of all major Japanese dailies the day after the closing ceremonies was a tribute to the Japanese background of Kenya’s Samuel Wanjiru, who was awarded the gold medal for the marathon during the closing ceremonies. Wanjiru began his serious training as a high school student in Japan, and thus could be hailed by the Japanese media as a Japanese success story as well as a Kenyan success story. In a similar fashion, Japanese media also hailed the success of the Japanese coach Imura Masayo, who led China’s synchronized swimmers to a bronze medal—the team’s first.

Japanese and Western media have provided numerous stories of mobile athletes and coaches swapping national affiliations all over the world. America’s silver medal in volleyball was led by China’s former star player Lang Ping, who was wildly cheered by Chinese fans. Russia’s bronze medal–winning women’s basketball team was led by American, and naturalized Russian citizen, Becky Hammon. Georgia’s beach volleyball team hailed from Brazil. America’s women’s gymnastic coach Liang Chow hailed from the host city of Beijing. Fans are getting used to the mobility of athletic careers.

Extensive media coverage of these mobile sports figures belies the nationalist mythology that most media reporting exalts (including Japanese media). The cross-border movements of Olympic athletes and coaches are a better expression of the fluid conditions of modern transnational citizenship than the hard nationalism of mainstream media coverage. And despite the simple-minded nationalism of sports coverage, audiences throughout the world have also became willing to embrace the forms of “flexible citizenship”—as anthropologist Aihwa Ong calls them—exhibited by mobile athletic stars. As more athletes and coaches cross borders, perhaps the hypernationalism of sports will be undermined by the multinational self-representations of the athletes themselves, offering a much more progressive vision of a true “one world” that allows individuals to pursue their cross-border dreams regardless of their place of birth.

“One Dream” (revisited): Olympic Eros

When asked about the Beijing opening ceremony, Tokyo’s conservative governor Ishihara Shintaro, who is not known for circumspection, said: “I suppose it’s a happy occasion, something you can be proud of. But it was also like passing around the same Chinese dish for three people. It was a bit boring and too long” (Asahi Shimbun, August 19, 2008, p. 32, “The words of the mayor”).

Ishihara may have been one of the few in Japan who were underwhelmed by the beauty of the opening ceremonies, which he labeled “mass games.” Such inopportune comments can be taken as further evidence of his disregard for global public opinion, including a statement on the same day that visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine by the Tokyo governor also would have no effect on the Olympic bid. His well-known nationalist rhetoric aside, when describing his response to the sporting events Ishihara also revealed his more literary side: “Actually, [sports] are not about Logos, or language, but the world of Eros. They are about physical beauty.”

Although Ishihara’s comments about “Logos” seemed directed at Zhang Yimou’s highly textual imagery in the opening ceremonies (based on the metaphor of a scroll and the advent of printing), Ishihara’s larger point seems to refute his casual dismissal of the opening ceremony as “boring.” After all, it was the extraordinary visceral beauty of the opening and closing ceremonies, rather than their simplistic narratives, that made the Games such a huge success in the eyes of the global audience, including the thrilled NHK announcers. And it was the vicarious ecstasy of the athletic performances experienced on high definition television that inspired such large global audiences. Discussions of the physical beauty of the athletes themselves were also one of the most non-nationalistic global discourses on the Internet. Eroticism, in its more direct sense, was also part of the experience of the Games for many athletes, who apparently engaged in a great deal of cross-national bed hopping. For some, at least, the private experience of the Olympics was not at all a case of “one bed, different dreams,” but rather of the victory of Eros over Logos.

To return then to idea of “one dream,” when Ishihara suggests that the Olympics involve a fundamentally aesthetic vision, perhaps he should also remind himself that the fact that the Chinese state was willing to spend seven years and $40 billion on an essentially aesthetic experience is itself a reassuringly peaceful expression of a shared human dream. Perhaps the legacy of the Beijing Olympics will be primarily aesthetic, not political, and that’s not a bad legacy (especially, as Thomas Friedman points out, when compared to the legacy of America’s past seven years).

Whether Beijing’s expensive spectacle of Olympian Eros was purchased at the cost of other more fundamental human needs is obviously debatable within China. But whether Tokyo can offer an equally compelling alternative vision for 2016 remains doubtful for most Japanese. When asked whether the ceremonies in Beijing gave him any ideas for Tokyo’s bid, the mayor said, “Not really, we want to do something totally different, if given the chance.” What that difference will be is still unclear to most Japanese.

Tokyo is obviously a great global city, with the best urban infrastructure, public safety, and global cuisine in the world. It is deserving of a second Olympics, but it is also deserving of more progressive global representations from its media and politicians. Ishihara is clever, charismatic, and quotable, and clearly a relief from the leaden boredom of most Japanese political voices, but with such a figure at the helm, Tokyo’s Olympic bid faces an uphill battle for global recognition.

James Farrer is associate professor of sociology at Sophia University in Tokyo. He is the author of Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai (University of Chicago Press).

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The echoes of the Beijing Olympics have been soundly drowned out, at least in US medialand, by the Democratic Convention. Even so, there’s still a lot of good and interesting coverage and reflections on the Beijing spectacle. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. For a variety of takes on the closing ceremony, see Danwei’s wrap-up.

2. In case you missed them, here are Xinhua’s pictures of a sweaty President Bush chatting with the eventual gold medalists in women’s beach volleyball.

3. Mary Beard at TLS wrote two recent pieces on the Olympics that may be of interest–both written from a classicist’s perspective, the first beginning from the premise of how London will possibly live up to Beijing’s show, while the second a tongue-in-cheek reflection on Greek Olympic traditions.

4. For those tracking superstitions in 2008 (like the earthquake premonitions and the Olympic harbingers of doom), Shanghaiist is keeping up on connections between the earthquake and the Chinese medal count.

5. After all the mentions in the media over the last few weeks of the massive mobilization of humans necessary for the Olympic performances (a mobilization made possible, commentators implied or sometimes said, because China is an autocratic regime), Jamie Metzl of the Asia Society urges in FEER that liberal democracies need to go toe-to-toe with Beijing’s technocrats and prove that liberal democracies can also put on a good show. (Is that the acrid smell of Cold War in the air?) At openDemocracy, Kerry Brown argues that the Olympics have already changed China in ways that matter. For a nuanced discussion of this notion of “changing” China, take a listen to Louisa Lim’s Monday report.

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Now that the Beijing Olympiad has reached its glorious conclusion, people in Taiwan are starting to turn their attentions back to the home front. The Olympics did not go very well for Taiwan, which ended up winning only 4 bronze medals, its worst result in 20 years. Even the baseball team could only mange a fifth-place finish, including a shocking 8-7 loss to China in extra innings. One of the few bright spots was the competitive spirit of athletes like Su Li-wen 蘇麗文, who fought to the bitter end while losing her bronze medal match by a single point in extra time, despite having suffered a painful injury. The dedication that these men and women displayed is particularly impressive in light of the fact that they are not permitted to compete in their country’s name, but rather under the odd moniker of “Chinese Taipei” (中華台北).

On the domestic front, things look grim as well. The stock market has plummeted, real wages are declining, exports are in a tailspin, and GDP estimates continue to be revised downwards. About the only things going up are unemployment and prices. These are worldwide problems, and the KMT government has numerous experts who are working on solutions. At the same time, however, the KMT also seems to be devoting considerable effort to restoring its ideological hegemony, attacking its enemies, promoting party loyalists cronies, and pursuing a pro-China agenda.

One prominent example of the first phenomenon concerns the controversy over the proposed renaming of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, which was the subject of a post on this website in January 2008. At a recent Cabinet meeting, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan 劉兆玄 instructed the Executive Yuan to withdraw the former DPP government’s request to abolish the Organic Statue of the CKS Memorial Hall (國立中正紀念堂管理處組織條例廢止案), while also approving the abolition of the Organic Statute of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (國立台灣民主紀念館組織規程), thereby condemning the latter name to the dustbin of history and signifying the imminent return of hero worship of the former dictator. As for the issue of whether to restore the inscription 大中至正 on the Hall’s entry arch, Minister of Education Cheng Jei-cheng 鄭瑞城 said that this would be discussed in a series of public forums.

Another sign of the revival of KMT ideology may be found in reports that the armed forces plan to reinstate the singing of “I Love China” (我愛中華), which features a line about “5,000 years since the nation was founded” (開國五千年), at evening assemblies of soldiers stationed at all military bases.

Efforts at purging DPP-appointed officials (拔綠官) are also continuing apace, including the effective demotion of Executive Yuan Deputy Secretary-General Chen Mei-ling 陳美伶, and the dismissal of Parris Chang (張旭成) as representative to Bahrain. Perhaps even more striking are the unrelenting attempts to convict former president Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 of corruption, which have included the declassification of secret documents relating to Chen’s use of the state affairs fund (國務機要費), a decision that may impact national interests. More recently, the KMT government has launched a wide-ranging investigation of Chen and his relatives on charges of laundering excess campaign funds. Such allegations have shocked, disappointed, and broken the hearts of many DPP supporters, but their legal implications remain unclear (Like the U.S., Taiwan has only recently begun to address the problem of campaign finance reform, and current laws contain numerous loopholes).

There is no doubt that the rooting out of corruption is an essential element of any democracy. Chen has admitted that he and his wife made mistakes, and both have withdrawn from the DPP. If he or members of his family have in fact broken the law, they should face justice for their actions. Nonetheless, one cannot help but wonder if the current anti-Chen campaign is motivated by more than concerns over corruption, and might also constitute a means of currying favor with pan-blue hardliners while also diverting attention from the new government’s problems. Moreover, the tone of some attacks on Chen, his relatives, and even his acquaintances has at times taken on a chilling and even vindictive tenor, which suggests that some KMT leaders have never forgiven the son of a tenant farmer for snatching away the power that they had been groomed to assume. All this, combined with the above-mentioned weeding out of former DPP officials, seems to be sending a clear message to any Taiwanese elites who might have doubts about professing their loyalty to the new government.

It also remains to be seen how diligent the KMT will be about tackling irregularities in its own ranks. For example, despite President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九’s promises of clean government, the KMT-dominated parliament has so far failed to pass any significant legislation related to this issue, and has continued to obstruct the passage of so-called “sunshine laws” (陽光法案). Another thorny problem involves charges of dual citizenship among KMT elites, the most prominent being Legislator Diane Lee (李慶安), who has been accused of holding U.S. citizenship while serving in a number of elected offices. Nearly six months have passed since Next Magazine (壹週刊) broke the story, but the Legislative Yuan has yet to divulge any details of its ongoing investigation, while the Central Election Commission seems unable to reach any consensus on how to deal with the issue.

Eyebrows has also been raised over the decision by Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-pin 郝龍斌 (son of former Premier Hau Pei-tsun 郝柏村) to appoint Sean Lien 連勝文 (son of former Premier and Vice President Lien Chan 連戰) to serve as an EasyCard board member. Qualifications aside, the younger Lien’s reported monthly salary of NT$300,000 seems particularly galling to recent college graduates, many of whom are starting at jobs paying only NT$25,000 a month. Hau’s decision prompted the Apple Daily (蘋果日報) to issue a scathing editorial, which included the observation that “The specter of the old KMT has been haunting the land since even before the Ghost Month” (老國民黨幽靈早在鬼月之前,就已經四處作怪).

Of greatest concern to many Taiwanese, however, is the new government’s pro-China stance. While the current “low key”, “practical”, and “rational” approach to questions of national identity has gone a long way towards reducing tensions, the long-term benefits and costs for Taiwan remain to be seen. While the Cross-Strait atmosphere has improved, direct flights have as yet failed to result in large groups of Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan (visitor numbers average 212 per day, and are dropping). Moreover, Beijing has yet to agree to direct cargo flights, and continues to deploy hundreds of missiles aimed at the island.

On the diplomatic front, the government has decided not to apply for full UN membership this year (as either the “Republic of China” or “Taiwan”), opting instead to seek “meaningful participation” in the august organization’s auxiliary associations. Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prepared a proposal for the General Assembly asking it to support “the fundamental rights of the 23 million people of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate meaningfully in the activities of the United Nations specialized agencies”. The main goal of these efforts seems to be joining the WHO, but prospects seem dim indeed, especially since Wang Yi 王毅, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, indicated that China would never accept Taiwan becoming a member of that organization, but would look instead into forming an international network to share data with Taiwan in cases of disease outbreaks. More recently, in spite of Ma’s calls for a “diplomatic truce”, in an August 18 letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese Ambassador to the UN Wang Guangya 王光亞 stated that, “Taiwan is not a sovereign state. The claim by a very few countries that specialized agencies should allow the Taiwan region to ‘participate’ in their activities under the ‘principle of universality’ is unfounded”, essentially splashing ice-cold water on the KMT plan. The government’s next course of action is unclear.

It also seems significant that key allies such as the Vatican, Haiti, Guatemala, Paraguay, Panama and the Dominican Republic have chosen not to cosponsor the above-mentioned resolution. The actions of these allies are understandable, however, as some have begun to wonder whether the new government’s position includes the possibilty of dual recognition, a point that Ma has been at pains to deny. Other allies have reached a different conclusion, as can be seen in the decision by the Dominican Republic to refer to the delegation led by Ma on his state visit as “China, Taiwan“. This did not seem to raise concerns among Taiwan’s new crop of diplomats and National Security Council officials, however, who argued that according to the 1992 Consensus (九二共識) Taiwan could be referred to as China, since each side had agreed to its own definition of the term (一中各表). The trend of renaming Taiwan is now spreading to countries like Australia and Thailand, both of which have referred to the nation as “Chinese Taipei” on government websites.

Current trends have caused some concern in U.S. diplomatic circles, with recent reports indicating that officials who visited Taiwan earlier this month informed the KMT government of a “Two No’s” (二不) position, namely no hinting that China has sovereignty over Taiwan and no acceptance of China having final say over Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. This suggests that the U.S. government, once concerned about Chen’s government upsetting the status quo, may now have similar worries about the Ma government.

Anxiety on the diplomatic front, combined with the restoration of the name “Chunghwa Post” (中華郵政), confusion over China’s attempts to use the title “Taipei, China” (中國台北) for the Olympic team instead of “Chinese Taipei”, and uncertainty over whether the new government will push for the purchase of the F-16 C/D fighter, have caused many to wonder about the KMT government’s long-term intentions. For its part, KMT elites in favor of unification continue to visit China as often as they can, and some are said to be pushing for the new government to restore the Guidelines for National Unification (國家統一綱領). While the pace at which the KMT government will edge towards this goal remains to be seen, these issues may well continue to occupy worldwide attention for many months to come.

The Olympics have ended, but the news continues. Here are a few of our favorite end-of-the-Olylmpics stories:

1. Danwei notes that last Friday, Google news searches for “China” (done via the Chinese language version of the search engine) returned no results.

2. In case you missed any Olympic highlights, check out Shanghaiist’s nod to the ultra-brief Mime Olympics. They also ran a “report card” on the Beijing Olympics, loaded with links for recommended reading.

3. August 18-22, the comic strip Candorville skewered the holier than thou aspects of some human rights protests against China. Though while doing this, some panels do still effectively work in sharp criticisms of Beijing’s policies.

4. A “Letter from Beijing” by Anthony Lane in The New Yorker on the first week at the Olympics.

5. At the Christian Science Monitor, former Beijing bureau chief Robert Marquand tells the story of Chiu Teng Hiok, China’s “first Olympic hero,” who played basketball for England at the 1924 Olympics and has, according to Marquand, been largely forgotten in Chinese sports history.

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