Thursday, August 7, 2008


How do you spell "ambivalence" in Chinese? As this article suggests, those of us with children from China have a particular stake in the impending Olympics--and for once, it's not the gymnastics! My daughter is spending the summer in a Chinese program. She's learning songs, counting, writing, basic communication, painting, dance, and a bit of martial arts. She's hanging out with a lot of little girls who look like her, who have families like hers (i.e., white parents, or a single mom), and getting to know some absolutely lovely and loving women who were raised in China. This kind of exposure is something I have always wanted to give her, and I feel lucky to have a great program that is amazingly close to our house! And they serve lunch! (Other mothers will know exactly what I mean when I speak of the tyranny of the home-packed lunchbox).

Logically enough, the program is using the Olympic games to help the kids learn a bit about Chinese culture, both traditional and contemporary. This involves lots of logos, coloring, and 5 odd little mascot creatures that are sort of the Chinese Olympic equivalent of "Hello, kitty."(China is waaaaaay into capitalism, y'know). All this is fine. My daughter comes home and says, "Ni hao, Mama" (hello) and "xie-xie" (thank you), and announces at various times, apropos of nothing, that it is great to be "Chinese AND American."

At the same time, my in-box is filling up with anti-China propaganda--the U.S. should boycott the games; Bush is chastising China for its human rights violations; progressives want me to sign another petition for Tibet; etc. I am well aware that China is not above reproach. It's environmental and social policies are screwed up--my daughter is living proof of some of that. But I am surprisingly hesitant to criticize my, shall we say, "adoptive" country. Whereas the U.S. has had every opportunity--and the freedom, money, resources--to become a leader in these areas, China has not. And in those circumstances, given the desperate poverty many, many Chinese people still live in, I think we need to approach China's troubling aspects with delicacy, not brute force. Plus, as a country that relishes the death penalty, tolerates indescribable carnage from its guns, and bullies (or worse) sovereign nations in pursuit of our unsustainable (and I don't mean not-eco-friendly; I mean "will destroy the planet" unsustainable) and obscene lifestyle of consumption, I kind think we should be cleaning up our own house before throwing stones at the neighbors.

Selfishly, too, I worry that the fragile relationship between the U.S. and China will continue to decrease international adoptions there, and will resign even more thousands and thousands of children to bleak lives in orphanages--or worse. Those orphans are likely to be undereducated and, perhaps worse, undersocialized, so that when they age out of the system, they are incapable of meaningful relationships, productive work, or, I fear, happiness. So even when I wish the Chinese wouldn't hurt their own people just to "save face," I still wish our politicians--especially our idiot lame-duck president--would shut up. I don't want the Olympics to be an excuse to bash China, or to confirm our own anxieties about how the U.S. is still "the greatest" by denigrating their efforts at improving. I don't want my daughter's newfound pride in her heritage to be met with hostility, jingoism, and scorn.

Yes, China's human rights abuses need to be addressed (umm...can you say, "Gitmo"?) But let's not embarrass them right now, or try to bully them, just because we can. For my daughter's sake.

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At 1:00 PM , Blogger Julia said...

You know, I have very similarly ambivalent feelings, and I don't even have a personal connection.

And as cliche as it is, gymnastics will be our #1 glue-us-to-TV event. But my daughter is a doing gymnastics pretty seriously, so I feel a little less cliche there. We will also be watching swimming. That part, though, is all about me.

At 6:08 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can say I agree wholeheartedly with this Julia I don't have a personal connection either.

One our neighbors, a family from China, both parents work at the local University and their daughter is in class with my oldest, well, we had a similar discussion just two days ago. The dad said near the end, "to use a phrase I've heard here before, 'those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones' you know what I mean" Yes sir I do - how can our lame duck spout off about freedom abroad when he has gone above and beyond during what has felt like his unending reign to encroach, impinge upon and in many cases outright steal freedoms we as Americans have long held to be given rights...ok, off the soap box, thanks for the good post.


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