Joshua Goldberg on 22 Sep 2000 17:06:22 -0000

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<nettime> Chinese Torture, Olympic Style

Reprinted from


Chinese Torture, Olympic Style
By A. Freudenheim  
22 September 2000
Watching NBC's coverage of the 2000 Olympics, I was aghast at two biography
pieces NBC aired on September 17th and 18th about gymnasts from China. In
the process of glorifying their admittedly remarkable achievements, NBC
endorsed a government, and a nation, that does nothing short of abuse the
children it hopes to turn into Olympians.

Shots of little girls and boys, ages 4, 5, 6 and up, teachers pressing and
pushing their bodies in unnatural directions; trainers looking and probing
for flexibility, strength, and endurance, to cull the best children from the
larger group. Where is the child's interest in the sport? Good question, but
no visible answer. Do the Chinese state's rights to determine a child's life
course take precedence over everything else? Over family? It appears so.

Dong Fangxiao, the feature of one segment, sees her parents twice a year,
for one day - and this is the pattern she has lived with since a very young
age. In another segment, Aowei Xing's mother acknowledged the loss of her
son to the state's gymnastics factory, but said that giving him up was a way
of offering him better life. How is this a better life? The Chinese state
has fed, clothed, sheltered - and shaped - him in the most oppressive of
ways. Presumably, if he wins a gold medal, things might be better; what will
happen to him if he does not win is left unanswered.

It is nearly impossible to imagine this happening in the US, because we, as
a nation, would be up-in-arms. Throughout the Elian Gonzalez episode,
Americans struggled with the very same issues involved here: what kind of
freedom, what opportunities, are most important for a growing child? Yet the
situations are not comparable. Elian returned to his father and his family,
with a stable home and a steady income, albeit lower-middle-class by
American standards. Cuba-under-Castro does not have the same level of
personal freedom we experience in the US. But what Elian faced in returning
to Cuba could best be termed benign neglect when compared with the torture
these children go through every day in China.

Chinese gymnastics teams have done well in Sydney. Yet in a nation of 1.4
billion people, there should be no shortage of the national, home-grown
talent found in other countries - including ours. It should be possible to
find, and raise, young gymnasts who compete out of desire in their hearts
for the sport, not the need to serve their nation. No couple, anywhere in
the world, should be forced to turn their child over to the state in order
to guarantee the child has food, clothing, and shelter. We deplore the use
of child soldiers elsewhere in the world, considering it inappropriate and
immoral to send children into battle. Here, China is training these children
as would-be soldiers, having traded their fatigues for leotards.

The modern Olympics have always been about a combination of individual and
national pride. That these feelings are not inseparable is evident merely by
looking at the history of athletes who defected to the West during the days
of the Soviet bloc. In China's case now, if this Olympic mis-treatment of
its athletes is justified by the need to participate (and win) at these
games, then perhaps it is time to re-think the Olympic Games. National pride
and individual dreams are an effective combination, but the former should
never come at the expense of the latter in this "arena."

NBC should hang its head in shame. A part of our massive media complex, NBC
has moved from a Cold War-era acceptance of the Soviet and Chinese athlete
factories - accepted mostly in silence, part of the cost of war - to an
endorsement of the Chinese system, which flies in the face of everything
that America, and American freedom, represents. The Olympics Games are
entertainment. When entertainment requires this kind of self-sacrifice, our
values - for willingly watching and participating - and the values of the
Chinese are severely out of line with basic human standards.

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