Medals And Rights

In the New Republic, Andrew Nathan discusses several books relating to the coming Beijing Olympic Games:

So, too, at the human level, China offers a political and social landscape in which those who are not part of the future make way for those who are. The individual fits in or gets out. Job ads for bank clerks and office workers specify sex, age, height, and good looks. A lawsuit a few years ago against height discrimination in job hiring was dismissed by a local court for lack of jurisdiction. A case on discrimination on account of looks was settled out of court with no precedential effect for other cases. The 380 hostesses guiding the athletes through the Olympic awards ceremonies will all be about the same age, height, and weight, and they have been trained to walk and gesture in standard ways.

By contrast, people who suffer from hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS are treated with widespread discrimination in college admission and employment. In search of something called “population security,” couples are forbidden to bear more than one child, pregnancy screening has been upgraded to prevent “defective births,” and mothers are taught how to raise children of “high quality.” Despite the loosening of restrictions on migration for work, a legally entrenched caste system still grants rural residents political and social-welfare rights inferior to those of urban residents. Worsening income inequality shows its marks on the weathered faces of migrant workers who come to the cities from the villages to do the hardest labor, often going home cheated of their pay at the end of their term of employment.

The Olympics have been designed to showcase the upside of this dialectic: glass towers, modish people, prosperity, and health of every kind–economic, political, and physical.

June 24, 2008 3:14 PM
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