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Papering Over The Plunder

Grandiose appeals to diversity, in both China and the West, are a shield to deflect from the real plunder perpetrated by the global elite.
Papering Over The Plunder

The Olympic torch entered Beijing National Stadium Friday to mark the official start to the XXIV Olympic Winter Games. The message of Friday’s opening ceremony: diversity is our strength. No surprise—the theme is somewhat customary now for the start of each Games. Commentators in the west were quick to label China’s display hypocritical, which it was. What was lost on them, however, is that these grandiose appeals to diversity—in both China and the West—are a shield to deflect from the plunder perpetrated by the global elite.

Gone were grand displays of Chinese manpower and synchronization many of us remember from the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, with Oscar-nominated director Zhang Yimou’s opening ceremony and its 2,0000-plus drummers playing in perfect unison. In their place, Yimou, again entrusted with the opening ceremony, opted for a highly-technical light and projection display that turned the entire stadium floor into a giant screen. It’s all rather fitting of our anti-populist moment that Yimou would replace real, everyday people with literal smoke and mirrors. Though it pales in comparison to the hollowing-out that has occurred in the United States and other Western nations, China, too, has seen elements of domestic manufacturing slow as rent-seeking corporations look elsewhere for cheaper labor.

But sure, blame it all on Covid.

The ceremony began with the procession of the Chinese national flag. Representatives from China’s 56 ethnic groups, each donning their distinctive cultural garbs, passed the flag across the stadium floor before it was raised by members of the People’s Liberation Army. “This is an effort to show they are all united under the Chinese flag,” NBC’s Savannah Gutherie said as she narrated the procession. “China, looking to demonstrate diversity, but… there are obviously deep tensions and concerns under the surface here.”

Once the nearly 3,000 athletes representing 91 nations entered the arena, the festivities continued. A troupe of female dancers, each holding a large light-up snowflake bearing the name of a country represented at the games, performed as similar snowflakes were shown on the stadium-floor screen. For this segment, Yimou apparently drew inspiration from the metaphor “no two snowflakes are alike” as an attempt to bridge the gap between East and West. “What is being conveyed here is that, like a snowflake, this is a unique coming-together of friends and neighbors to be celebrated for their differences and commonality,” Yale University professor of East Asian languages and literature Jing Tsu explained on NBC.

President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach also paid homage to the wonders of diversity in his remarks, only taking a break from singing kumbaya to issue a veiled threat to the athletes that “there will be no discrimination for any reason whatsoever.”

“This is the mission of the Olympic Games: bringing us together in peaceful competition, always building bridges, never erecting walls. Uniting humankind in all our diversity,” Bach said from the lectern.

After a tribute to the global hardships wrought by the Covid pandemic (I couldn’t help but be reminded of B.P. Oil’s “Sorry” ad campaign after the Gulf Spill), interpretive dancers on roller skates performed to a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

The most attention-grabbing moment of the ceremony came during the Olympic torch relay. One of the two final torchbearers who fixed the Olympic torch to the giant snowflake was women’s cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang. Yilamujiang is from the Xinjiang province and has alleged roots in the region’s Uyghur community. It was a clear slight to the U.S. and other Western nations’ justifiable “diplomatic boycott” of the games, given the U.S. State Department’s claim that the Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide against the Uyghurs.

Certainly, China’s brazenness made their hypocrisy all but impossible to ignore. But liberal critics have only gone so far as to suggest that China has been insincere in its embrace of diversity. What these critics fail to realize is that China was using the West’s own playbook against them. Of course China is being disingenuous about diversity, equity, and inclusion—it’s a serious country that doesn’t embroil itself in debates over hereditary bloodguilt. 

China understands that the West uses appeals to diversity, equity, and inclusion to paper over society’s abundant rot: familial collapse, record-breaking riotous destruction, censorship at the hands of oligopolistic tech corporations, and a fledgling bio-medical security state. So, China used the same script and the global stage provided by the Olympics to obfuscate mass repression, religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, and a social-credit surveillance state.

What China is attempting to obscure might be worse than some of what the West is attempting to hide, but it’d be naive to think that couldn’t change given the West’s trajectory. And while this deception is carried out by different actors in different ways—in China, it is the totalitarian power embodied by the governing CCP, while in the West, it is corporate oligarchs with cozy relations with the administrative state—the plunder perpetrated by both Chinese and Western elites is very real.

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