Bird's Nest and the Laborer

The media and blogosphere have recently been abuzz with comments on Steven Spielberg’s withdrawal from the Beijing Olympics as an artistic adviser. People are debating on the rightness and wrongness of Spielberg’s action, his alleged motives behind it, the possible consequences, as well as on how China should act in response. While most commentaries played up on the question of whether the Olympics should be politicized and on China’s responsibility as a member of the global village, none has touched on the perspective of the Chinese people’s view of their leaders’ mindset about the Olympics. Are Beijing leaders prepared to treat the Olympics and the world with a mindset that is based on humanity rather than on vanity, as citizens expect them to? This is the question that the author of an article titled “Humanity Olympics under the Bird’s Nest” has tried to ask. The commentary appeared in Southern Metropolis on February 18, 2008 but the original had been published in the Caijing magazine previously.

Here is my translation of that article:-

“On The New York Times website there is an article series titled ‘Choking on Growth’ and an accompanying photo depicting a construction worker eating from a lunch box against the vast background taken up by the Bird’s Nest. The display of the white lunch box and the Bird’s Nest has created an enormous tension between them. The unintentional pose in the photo will likely draw a lot of imitators from now on.

Thus the image of ‘Bird’s Nest and the Laborer’ has become a formulated poetic symbol for the Olympics. Ever since the start of 2008 the symbolic value of the Bird’s Nest has been increasing in geometric proportions, far exceeding the pragmatic values of hosting the games. This may have made those in power feel excited and spoiled. For example, the Olympic Committee recently announced that there had been two accidental deaths involved in the Bird’s Nest construction, but it was only after the media pressured the National Security Bureau into forcing the Beijing Security Bureau to further investigate, that the latter finally admitted that there had been six deaths involved in Olympics-related construction works (including the Bird’s Nest).

These accidental deaths should have been announced as soon as they happened. Not only is any attempt to cover up unfair to the victims but it also indicates a lack of responsibility to the public. There is no need to be afraid of being ‘smeared’. Other Olympic host countries have also experienced construction accidents (especially Montreal of Canada). Covering up and not facing up to reality is itself a smearing act. The slogan of ‘People’s Olympics’ is too overwhelming and too cultured. In reality, the ultimate meaning of ‘People’ is ‘humanity’. ‘Humanity Olympics’ should at least show respect to the six construction workers who died on their job. A few days ago some musicians organized a fund raising event for six electric technicians who died while repairing electric cables that were torn down by snowstorms in the province of Hunan. People are talking about government’s willingness to name the deceased as heroes. I am not asking government to name the six Olympics deceased workers as heroes, but in the official announcement their names and the dates of their deaths should at least be mentioned.

With the Olympics right in front of us, we must not be afraid of being ‘put under the microscope’. The more afraid we are, the worse the image of us will become. If we are not going to restrict foreign media reporting, then we must not expect them to refrain from exposing or inquiring into some events that our officials may take as ‘negative news’.

After all, standing at the foot of the awe-inspiring Bird’s Nest is an entity with flesh and blood. Before playing host to ‘People’s Olympics’, let us first do whatever is necessary to be host to ‘Humanity Olympics’. One simply cannot eschew an image like that of ‘Bird’s Nest and the Laborer’. This is not merely a symbol – it is also hard reality.”