Tim Wu at Slate argues, persuasively in my opinion, that Western coverage of the Olympics has focused on the "two Ps" – pollution and protests – to an extent out of proportion to their significance, and displayed a more negative slant than it might in other countries:
So are the media just being a little mean to China? It does at times feel akin to if coverage of the Atlanta Olympics were focused on the failings of the U.S. health care system and the plight of the American Indian. One foreign correspondent for a major American newspaper agreed, telling me, "In Athens the traffic jams were presented as the outgrowth of a hip Mediterranean lifestyle. Here they become yet another product of state repression."
John Pomfret at the Washington Post agrees, saying further that the Olympics have proven irresistible bait for Western pundits to seize on in support of pet theories about China’s supposedly "collectivist" model. He takes two particularly egregious op-eds that have popped up recently in US newspapers to task, starting with the NYT‘s David Brooks (full column here; also see James Fallows’s diplomatic but thorough dissections of the piece here and here):
"It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones," Brooks states. He then broadens this theory to say: "If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge." Takeaway? China is a challenge. Not just because it’s big and bad but because they think different over there and the Olympic Ceremony proves it.
I wonder if Brooks has ever seen American marching bands, or line dancing, or visited a high school where the coolest kids are always part of a group – say, the football or basketball teams. I would argue that in many way Americans bow more to the group than the Chinese, which explains why the Chinese party-state has been so intent on forcing comformity.
Even more, I wonder if Brooks has ever driven in China (look out for grandma!), or sharpened his elbows in the scrum that forms each time you try to get off an airplane, or tried to get Chinese co-workers to band together. Let’s just say in the decade that I’ve lived in China (over the course of 30 years), I haven’t seen or heard much collectivist impulse except when it was rammed down the throats of ordinary Chinese.
And as to Brooks’ point about China’s rise being attributed somehow to collectivist impulses. Wait a second. The most dynamic sector of China’s economy is the private one. It’s a nation of entrepreneurs. It’s a culture of entrepreneurs. Look at Hong Kong, or Sydney, or Main Street Flushing and now Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu. That’s Chinese and it’s "individualist" up the wazoo.
Then he deals with the Post‘s Harold Meyerson (full column here), who for some reason took 2,008 drummers drumming in unison as a more frightening omen than, say, an invasion of South Ossetia:
Meyerson noted that during the parade of athletes China’s flag bearer, Yao Ming, was accompanied by a 9-year-old boy who dug two classmates out of the rubble of the Sichuan earthquake. When asked by NBC why he did it, the boy said "he was a hall monitor and that it was his job to take care of his schoolmates," Meyerson wrote, adding "that answer may tell us more than we want to know."