Enter the Dragon: Nigeria, China, and the Beijing Olympics

by Sheyi Oriade

And so on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the current millennium; in this, the Chinese year of the Rat, budding Olympians from around the world will converge upon the land of Confucius; Sun Tzu; Lao Tzu; and Chairman Mao; and besiege Beijing, to take part in the greatest sporting extravaganza on earth. East shall meet West in the spirit of friendship and sportsmanship to celebrate the togetherness of sports and the brotherhood of man.

From all indications, the Chinese organisers of the Beijing Games, have left no stone unturned and no detail unchecked in their meticulous preparations for the games. Every detail, including the date set for the opening ceremonies, has been carefully thought out. The symbolism of the opening date of – 08.08.08 – for the games, with its triplicity of eights cannot be overlooked. For the number eight occupies an important place in Chinese numerological belief; it is considered to be a symbol and harbinger of wealth, prestige, and prosperity. Underlining that which hosting the Olympic Games has come to represent in recent years.

But to date, the highlight of preparations for the games – and that which marks China’s seriousness and commitment in staging them – has been the unveiling of the games’ centrepiece; the marvellous bird-nest stadium. A tremendous edifice conceived and crafted entirely by Chinese minds and hands. It is an architectural wonder. Indeed West shall meet East and bow in wonder.

Nigeria, like most other sporting nations from across the world, is also sending a delegation to Beijing. And if past experience is anything to go by, one can readily expect that the official delegation will be large; and comprising of more officials than athletes.

I have no idea whether or not the Nigerian Olympic team has been set any medal targets by the government; or what the nature of their preparations have been ahead of the games. But I wish them well in their pursuits. I hope that they win medals in the prestigious track and field events; and in our favourite national pastime football. With good fortune and the requisite skill, our under-23 football team may even replicate the gold medal winning achievement of their 1994 Atlanta Olympic counterparts.

Last weekend’s announcement by the IOC, that Nigeria has been awarded, albeit, retrospectively, the 4 x 400 relay gold from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, could not have come at a better time to raise the hopes and boost the determination of our athletes.

Since Nigeria’s Olympic delegation to the Games will naturally include political functionaries, amongst whom there will be governors and federal ministers. I appeal to them to consider the trip to Beijing as more than just a sporting junket and an opportunity to shop. Let it be for them a learning experience on how a serious minded nation orders itself.

I challenge them to keep their eyes and ears wide open, not only to the marvels of what China has accomplished in the staging of these games; but to their achievements as a nation in general. Preparations towards the games are estimated to have cost China in the region of $49 billion. These monies have been well spent and the tangible results are there for all to see.

The $49 billion spent on the games is almost at par with our much touted foreign reserve levels of $54.8 billion. And in stark contrast to our foreign reserves, China’s foreign reserves are estimated to be in the region of $1.6 trillion dollars; and they are growing at a rate of $1 billion per day.

I recognise that Nigeria and China are different nations with vastly different population sizes. But China is a serious nation to the extent that Nigeria is an unserious one. The government of China has been able to galvanise its people around a vision that has set their nation upon the path of global dominance, notwithstanding the competition from Western economies. Nigeria has much to learn from them.

In fact, most Western economies are now largely dependent upon Chinese labour for the manufacture of goods for their markets. The extent of this dependence is best illustrated by the following example. In the aftermath of the attacks on America on September 11, 2001; American patriotic fervour rose to such heights, that many American citizens and residents sought to fly American flags over their homes and offices in a show of support for their nation and in defiance of their enemies.

But they faced a problem; there were not enough flags to go round. And this was because the Chinese factories, where orders for the flags had been placed, were not able to match the level of demand within the desired timescales. It was a revealing moment to discover that such an iconic symbol of American identity and patriotism was being manufactured in China!

It was also a reminder of how dependent upon China the West really is. And this dependence continues, in spite of the West’s protestations about China’s human rights violations and high pollution levels. As things stand presently, it looks like the West needs China more than China needs the West.

In another example, but on a micro level, and one much closer to home; just the other day, I was approached by an enterprising young man (who somehow divined correctly that I was a Nigerian and, therefore, open to an attractive proposition) with an offer to buy some sought after brand name formal shirts at greatly reduced prices. These items, in the shops, cost anything from £50 and upwards. But he was prepared to sell them to me at the price of £25 for two shirts.

On noticing my reaction of surprise and suspicion at his offer, he quickly assured me that the items were legally obtained, and were part of surplus stock, which he had bought at knock-down prices from the retailer’s warehouse. He said that items were made in China for the equivalent of 10 pence per shirt! I was stunned. And as appealing as his offer was, I politely declined it; wishing him well on his merry way.

I must confess that I was astonished at this information. Not simply because the production costs were so low, but also at the realisation of huge profit margins of the retailers. Suddenly their endless sales promotions made sense; for them it was a ‘win-win’ situation. Is it any wonder that everything these days seems to be made in China?

I was equally surprised to discover recently while reading a current affairs publication that in China there are 2,000 newspapers; 2,000 television channels; 9,000 magazines; and 450 radio stations. And that every one of these outlets receives daily instructions from the Chinese government on what they can and can’t publish. Freedom of speech considerations aside, it takes a well run government to undertake such an exercise.

China is alive to its powers and its importance in the world. Earlier this year, President Sarkozy of France announced that he would be boycotting the Beijing opening ceremonies in protest about China’s treatment of Tibet. China, on becoming aware of this threat stopped its citizens from travelling to France. Prior to this prohibition, Chinese citizens had been travelling to France at a rate of 400 people a day. Before long the French began to feel the pinch, and President Sarkozy changed his mind. He will now be attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing. Contrast this approach with that of the Nigerian government in the British Airways/Omotade debacle.

Much of China’s strength is based on its ability to see the world through its own eyes. It has resisted the wholesale domination of its people by outsiders, by carefully monitoring what its people are exposed to. This may not be to the liking of everyone, but at least their approach has made them a strong nation.

This ability to see the world through their own eyes is best captured by an anecdotal tale involving a Chinese exchange student at Harvard University many years ago. His American hosts asked him to share with them his most gripping observation of the American people. One could not have anticipated his response, as he said:

‘All you Americans have funny eyes’

It takes a certain cultural pride, confidence, and even innocence to respond in this way. China has powered on with its mission of becoming a country that matters now and in the future. Nigeria has an awful lot to learn from them. It is not enough for us to be content with selling off our resources to the Chinese and other nations; we must also follow their example of national development and pride.

Our national focus, has for far too long, been orientated towards the West and its manner of doing things; but with precious little to show for it in concrete terms. Perhaps the time has now come for us to look inwards and Eastwards, in our quest for national actualisation.

There can be no doubt that China is on the verge of becoming a world superpower in its own right; if it is not one already. We must study and learn from their strategic/tactical blueprints in order to galvanise our people. We have to mature and move beyond our devotion to individual and national corruption and sheer consumerism and move towards an ethos of national pride, discipline, accountability, and productivity.

Serious concerns have been raised about China’s human rights record and global warming activities; and these are issues for concern. But I am persuaded that the more China engages with the world, she will have to improve her behaviour; hosting the Olympics is a great starting point in this direction. But the West, as the main critic of China and the major beneficiary of the output of her polluting factories, must seek to remove the beam from its own eyes, before attempting to detach the mote from someone else’s.

And as for us, Nigerians, we must discover the wisdom to end our fixation with ‘tribal throat slashing’ and begin to work together towards a common purpose. There may not be as many Nigerians as there are Chinese, but we too can make our numbers count for something important.

But all said; inevitably nothing last forever, empires, nations, and personalities will rise and fall and disappear. And as one member of the Chinese underground church said many years ago; and I quote:

“For many year (sic) Chairman Mao say (sic) there is no God.
But in 1976, God say (sic) there is no Chairman Mao.

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enit August 7, 2008 - 3:31 pm

Interesting article. While I do not in any way support China’s domination of Tibet and it’s other colonizing activities (which are not much different than that of some modern day “protectorates” and those who colonized Africa and carved it’s land into the ill-fitting parts the aftermath of which we now contend with) I agree that we as Nigerians do have a lot to learn from China in terms of marshaling a large population with low levels of literacy among the masses, toward meaningful united national goals.

Large groups of people with a large percentage of peasants need an effective mechanism/government that can move them toward common goals. Despite China’s high handed government and the fact that a great percentage of the Chinese population is rural, Chinese productivity is high and has world-wide impact.

I hope that if and when Nigeria looks to China for strategies to move forward toward creating a nation with high productivity and significant world recognition it will decidedly treat it’s citizens fairly, rewarding appropriateness and reprimanding counterproductive activities.

Nigeria may indeed benefit from a government that can limit it’s paternalistic tendencies to that which will be for national good while maintaining at the least a respectful and cordial relationship with other governments.

Tony August 7, 2008 - 2:44 pm

Great read. If only our leaders would copy the positive aspects of China’s economic revolution. I am not holding my breath.


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