Monday, August 25, 2008

Chinese Olympic Triumph, Chinese Cultural Preservation Shame

China hosted a great Olympics. In particular, the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube" made for spectacular venues. Yet, all this came at a great cost to cultural heritage preservation. Not surprisingly, nothing of the sort was discussed as far as I know in the generally positive TV coverage of the games.

Thankfully, the print media has not totally ignored the story. Enter the editors of the always well written Economist Magazine. As the Economist has reported in reviewing several books on the destruction of old Beijing, "In a few short years China's Communists have used the excuse of the Olympic games to level the medieval city built by the great Ming emperor, Yongle. Beijing was long Asia's ecumenical Rome, but its 2,500 or so religious sites are now reduced to a few dozen temples mainly for tourist consumption. The Communists have also destroyed Beijing's social fabric, cutting through rich threads of community habit, shared memory and (what always infuriated them) subversive resistance to the madder impulses of higher authority." "Going, Gone," The Economist 85 (Aug. 2, 2008). Indeed, in a rather perverse Orwellian twist, even the Cultural Relics Bureau has formed a property-development company to tear down buildings in its charge. Id.

This is sad. Some day, perhaps not in the too distant future, China's leaders will realize what they have lost. But, by then, it may be too late.

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