Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spielberg's resignation

Steven Spielberg's resignation from his role as artistic director for the 2008 Olympics is starting to make an impact on the Chinese net. Danwei and Global Voices Online have a number of translations from the brewing debate.

Predictably, nationalists have jumped on the news with acid scorn for the director. More disappointing, the cynical real politik you sometimes hear from Chinese university students has reared its head--"the West is just trying to edge China out of Sudanese oil for its own interests," "this is how big powers behave and now we are a big power," etc. Sure, the U.S. has its own record in regards to fossil fuels and violence, but for young people in other countries to be pumping that as a role model for their own leaders really drains the air out of the room. It is like the formation of an international wing of the Young Republicans.

And outright baffling--as much as one should be prepared for it--is how little sense there seems to be on the Chinese net of how NORMAL it is for activist groups to campaign on an issue, that not every organization is the mouthpiece for some foreign government (though some, of course, are part-time) and that, yes, plenty of citizens in plenty of countries demand a say in their countries' foreign policies.

But other voices have joined in, too. Danwei translates a post by Wang Xiaoyu that sarcastically praises Spielberg's collaborator, Zhang Yimou, who has not quit his position in the Games, as "China's Riefenstahl" and ends with this:

A PhD student at Renmin University who is relatively familiar with international affairs told Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao that he has frequently heard the name Darfur in the news, but he is not at all clear what the situation there has to do with China, or why people want to boycott the Beijing Olympics over this: "It's truly mystifying." This PhD student is full proof that our higher education system is completely successful. Congratulations.

Other Chinese bloggers have laid out short chronologies of the Darfur conflict for readers (see John Kennedy's translation here).

The point is that this thing is spreading. Will it change Chinese policy overnight? No. But if you really want to influence Zhongnanhai by putting pressure on it where it really feels pressure, you go to the one relationship that keeps Chinese leaders up at night: not their relationship with Sudan or even the United States, but their relationship with their own people.

When the government has to respond to the growing online discussion--and it will respond, even if the discussion ends up lopsided toward the nationalist, anti-Spielberg faction--then another entry point has been created.

An entry point for foreign interference? No, people in China will make up their own minds. But an entry point for an issue, for making it REAL to the P.R.C.

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