China’s triumphs and tragedies

DKS Editors

The Great Wall of China took on new meaning over the past few weeks as athletes from around the world gathered in Beijing for an Olympic Games destined to be historic. No longer was the wall just a reminder of China’s majestic past, but it became a symbol of the nation’s seclusion.

Part of that wall came down when the games opened Aug. 8 with a more extravagant ceremony than ever before. For the first time, many in the western world experienced China’s culture, history and patriotism-things many people knew little of before now. Parallel cultures finally looked each other in the eyes and shook hands.

But not everything that broke through the long-established barrier was meant for the public’s view. We got sight of a side of China its leaders most definitely wanted to keep secret. For example, the Olympics showed us a government that would send a middle-aged woman to a work camp just for applying to protest against it and a country that has so much pollution some of the world’s fastest runners declined to compete.

The ongoing struggle in Tibet also became a topic discussed by news anchors, families and sports fans, as people around the world spoke out against China’s human rights violations and refusal to negotiate with Tibet.

At the same time, we got to see a nation of people who have struggled through an array of economic and social hardships finally have something to be proud of, eager to prove their worthiness to the rest of the world. They gathered in hoards to support their teams and become a part of their country’s history.

This is not the first time the an athletic event helped China and the western world make amends. At the World Table Tennis Championship in Japan in 1971, Glenn Cowan, a 19-year-old college student and member of the U.S. table tennis team, got on the wrong bus – the one the carrying the Chinese team. He is said to have sat there for 10 minutes before Zhuang Zedong, a member of the Chinese team and a three-time world champion, gave up his seat at the back of the bus to greet him.

Zhuang recalls that he and his team were told not to talk to Americans, but he broke the rule because he believed ignoring Cowan would violate China’s belief in hospitality. So through a translator, they chatted and exchanged gifts.

Photos of the two athletes appeared in Japanese newspapers the next day and made their way to Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong. Cowan and his team were invited to China, and were the first official American delegation allowed to visit since 1949. Not long after, President Richard Nixon traveled to China in 1972 for a gathering that is thought to be pivotal to bringing an end to the Cold War.

The accidental friendship of the two table tennis athletes is credited with making that happen.

Now that these Olympics are all over it doesn’t matter if China should have never been allowed to host the Olympics or if all those protesters made the event too political. All that matters is what can be done with what we’ve learned.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.