Chinese military soldiers salute as the Chinese flag is raised during the Opening Ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
"Rare Opportunity to Know China"
Op-Ed, The Korea Times
August 10, 2008
Author: Shacheng Wang, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2007-2008
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
It is estimated that more than 30,000 accredited and non-accredited reporters are covering the Beijing Summer Olympics. The event marks the first visit to China for many of these reporters, as there are only 700 foreign resident reporters in China.
The world is looking forward to listening to China's story from these reporters. These days, more and more articles are talking about China's freedom of press and human rights. As a native of China with great affection for my homeland, I have been saddened by some reporters' cynical framing of every story about China.
It is true that "the habit of secrecy" has been one of the central elements of Chinese political activities in the past. But now, China is trying to offer the world a crystal-clear picture of itself, a phenomenon clearly proven by its rigorous and open coverage of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan.
China's improvements regarding information disclosure should be viewed in light of its 30-year reform and opening-up program, which began in 1978. As time has passed and reforms have deepened, so has transparency to the media.
In the upcoming weeks, China will learn as much from the world regarding the process of information disclosure as the world will learn about China.
The Chinese government officially abolished its agricultural tax in a bid to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of poor farmers ― the vast bulk of the population two years ago. It was a historic move ― the final end to the 2,600-year-old system of "imperial taxation" on Chinese farmers.
"The farmers in our town make a good living now," my mother told me in an overseas call this spring, "they need not pay agricultural tax to the government, and on the contrary, they also get subsidies from the government for cultivating the land. They are also rural migrant workers in big cities during the slow season. They are all planning to build villas."
Last year, China began financing 6,000 graduate students annually to study abroad for the next five years. This is the greatest government expenditure for overseas study since 1949.
Many Chinese students from poor families will benefit from this opportunity. This follows China's other progress in education: Since the 1986 passage of its compulsory education law, China has fundamentally achieved the national goal for the Two Basics, namely, extending universal nine-year compulsory education among the school-aged population and literacy among those less than 20 years of age.
In 2006, the net enrollment ratio of school-age children in primary schools reached 99.3 percent. Last month, China vowed to punish officials who cause mass unrest by mishandling public complaints, according to new rules on handling petitions and riots that implicitly acknowledge problems with official misconduct.
The "Bird Theory" is gaining a big following in China these days, which can rival Deng Xiaoping's "Cat Theory". The "Cat Theory," illustrating the liberal reforms at the time, stated that regardless of the type of cat, any cat that catches mice is a good cat.
The "Bird Theory", created by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, now means that a birdcage with all kinds of birds will not be festive if we drive away those birds that are the loudest and the most outspoken. This theory applies to many political affairs in this Olympic year.
"Beijing is great. I'm extremely impressed by how clean and orderly everything is right now. I appreciate very much the great efforts that the government is making to make foreigners feel welcome," said Kelley Swanberg, a student who has an internship at the games. "It's really much more than I expected initially."
"How happy we are, to meet friends from afar!" said Confucius, the greatest of the ancient Chinese sages.
Let us keep these considerations in mind. The Olympics welcomes new visitors, embraces old ones, and, one hopes, convinces those with previous conceptions to reconsider their opinions in light of the young and developing country.
Wang Shacheng is a research fellow at the Belfer Center's International Security Program at Harvard Kennedy School and a Ph.D. candidate in intelligence at the department of information management at Peking University. He can be reached at email@example.com or Wang_Shacheng@ksg.harvard.edu.
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