The Olympic Leap

Will the 2008 Games Push China Into Change?

The interim problem for the mainland, however, is how to get to there from here. It is one thing for the KMT to impose iron rule on a mere 22 million Taiwan islanders. Try doing that to 1.3 billion people and you have a whole different problem.

Deng sought to defuse the tensions of China's huge population by appealing to people's sense of survival and greed. He put the nation in a materialistic mood: "To get rich is glorious," as he once put it. Materialism would substitute for the religion of Communism.

But recently some of the wind has gone out of the sails that have lifted China out of its doldrums. Hence the contemporary rise of Falun Gong . . . the religious cult that has millions so entranced and the central government so unnerved. More and more, China has become all cash and little ideological carry (that anyone really believes in). The recent crackdowns against dissidents and foreign scholars are hardly the hallmark of a confident, laid-back government.

With the 2008 Summer Olympics decision, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the outgoing IOC president, handed Beijing a wand with which to hold the country together for another half-dozen or so years. That will give China more time to evolve toward being a country more like today's Taiwan than yesterday's Mao. If the competition for the Olympic Games hadn't existed, it would, from this perspective at least, have been useful to invent it.

Tom Plate is a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and founder of the Asia Pacific Media Network. He is a columnist with The Honolulu Advertiser,The South China Morning Post, and The Straits Times of Singapore. His column also appears weekly in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, The Japan Times in Tokyo, The Korea Times Los Angeles, and Korea Times Seoul.

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