On China: “Free Speech Doesn’t Pay the Bills”

I sometimes feel somewhat conflicted about watching the Olympics, as do many of you. The Chinese government has policies both at home and abroad that violate basic principles of human rights. Yet, I also know that I am viewing China through my western democratic eyes, and so when I think about instituting a personal boycott against all things Beijing Olympics, I’m not sure what I’m saying to the Chinese people.

I’ve never been to China, but my family has a long connection there. My grandparents were missionaries there and my mother and her siblings were born and grew up there. (Okay, time for some shameless promotion of our book: A Golden Glow in the East.) So I do know a fair amount about the history of China, at least its history of the last century. And almost nothing about China’s history is like anything we experienced in the United States. So while holding on to those most basic principles of human rights, I also feel that we as Americans can’t really judge many of the things about Chinese society that I have heard people discussing.

I recommend a post I found over at TaylorMarsh.com, entitled Free Speech Doesn’t Pay the Bills. Because in our idea of democracy, freedom is inherent in becoming prosperous and optimistic. But in China, many individual citizens are now prosperous and optimistic about the future — without democratic freedoms we demand.

Does this mean that Chinese people are content with censored internet access and restrictions on speech? Of course not. But for the first time in centuries, the country is united, the people are prospering, and society is stable. For a civilization that knew only civil war, occupation, imperialism, political upheaval, famine, and poverty for the 150 years preceding the era of reform that began in 1978, life is good and getting better. Is it perfect? Of course not. According to the Pew Research Center Poll, Chinese people identified the following as the five biggest problems facing the nation–rising prices, the gap between rich and poor, corrupt officials, air pollution, and unemployment.

Even without western democracy, it sounds like we have more in common with the average Chinese citizen than you might have thought. And that’s why I continue to watch the Olympics from Beijing, but watch it with the understanding that there is still much work to do for everyone in China to enjoy basic human rights, and with the understanding that just about everything outside of the actual sporting events has been whitewashed. Just like everything else promoted by the mainstream media, you should take the scenes of Beijing and the Chinese people with a grain of salt. We see what they want us to see. I watch the Olympics for the sports, not for the culture education provided by GE/NBC.



  1. What a thoughtful post on such a conflicted topic. My husband has been watching like crazy and I drift in and out.

    I really do appreciate the perspective you bring in this piece – thank you!

  2. Thanks, Fran. I truly think there are valid points on both sides of the watch-don’t watch debate. All I can do is try to work though it for myself.

  3. The more I rant and rave about China this past week, the more I realize what a hypocrite I am, at least as far as being an American goes.

    Nice post.

    And Taylor Marsh rocks.

  4. QuakerDave, I don’t think you’re a hypocrite at all — you’re a dedicated champion for human rights. China’s complex, is all. But the basic issues you rant and rave about are valid. Keep rantin’!

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