Beijing, duck!

China rocks. You can’t deny it. I know, I know. Their human rights record is appalling. They exert totalitarian control over their population. They’re (*shudder*) communists. But, you’ve got to hand it to a country with only one Party: it’s a big one, and they know how to throw it.

Last week’s no-expense-spared Olympic extravaganza was, if nothing else, impressive. Sure, it showcased the Olympic Games (and certainly got me, as a die-hard I-really-don’t-care sports-ignorer to bother watching), but more than that, it showcased China. Not just its impressive history and mind-boggling technical proficiency, either. The fact that so many thousands of people, so much technological and financial might could be exercised so perfectly, on such a grand scale sends a message to the rest of the world: we can do anything. Watching that kind of eye-popping display has got to make other nations think: do we really want to come up against these guys? If this is what they can do with a movie director and a sports event, who knows what they could do with, say, a war?

This was China’s ‘coming out’, its debut, and it looked beautiful. And rich. Perhaps too rich. Certainly, BBC commentators were in two minds about the display. Or, rather, one mind. It was as if a memo had been passed round, saying: ‘don’t be too positive’. So, as millions of people around the world went “Oooh! Aaaahhh!” at the stunning show, British commentators rather sourly repeated the mantra of: air quality, human rights, politics; air quality, human rights, politics… ad nauseum. That’s only natural, you might say. Not so. Australian commentary, for instance (I watched their coverage later), oddly focused on the opening of the Games, rather than all the things that might mar them.

So what was the reason? Why were British commentators so negative? Could it be the thought that in 2012 people might still remember giant footsteps across Beijing skies, painted in fireworks and a torch-bearer actually flying around the stadium and be less impressed with Lilly Allen singing God Save the Queen, backed by Oasis while the Beckhams sign autographs? Perhaps. Maybe it is sour grapes.

Or maybe, just maybe, our commentators were doing a courageous thing, for once ignoring the glitter of a showbiz spectacle (however genuinely artistic) and focusing on more important world issues. Um, how to put this…? Rubbish. If this had been happening in the USA, would Iraq get more than a passing mention, if any? Would Guantanemo Bay? Would trade subsidies killing African farmers? In London, will commentators focus on the obscene wealth all around them, the disgusting amount spent on the world’s biggest egg-and-spoon race? Will they talk about the abuses of the British Empire, of slavery, of the Opium trade (China politely didn’t) in the same way last week’s commentators seemed unable to ignore the Cultural Revolution? I think not.

But that doesn’t make my gut-reaction to defend China right. Yes, criticizing China at a sporting event reveals lashings of hypocrisy, denial and self-righteousness. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. A colleague criticized my critiques of Britain and America recently, saying that I was naïve to imagine power could be exercised without injustice, that every state does it, that our own crimes do not negate the crimes of others.
Perhaps. But as a Christian, I cannot, I must not accept oppressive power as inevitable. If Christians are to be salt and light and a force for real justice in the world, we must be willing to speak out prophetically against injustice, whether it is red or red, white and blue. And our hypocrisy, whether communist of capitalist, must not be allowed to shut our mouths.

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