On Gold Medals And Team Sports

Michael Allen Gillespie is a professor of political science and philosophy and director of the Gerst Program in Political , Economic, and Humanistic Studies at Duke University. He writes in the Herald Sun:

…the Americans are much more successful in team sports than the Chinese, and perhaps this is no accident. Voluntary cooperation has always been a hallmark of the American system, suffusing the lives of children and adults alike, an outstanding factor in our playrooms and in our boardrooms.

China, by contrast, has always put much less emphasis on voluntary cooperation than on hierarchical control and the obligation of those below to take directions from those above. Such discipline and obedience can produce individuals who become superb at repeating individual tasks, as in the diving competitions where the Chinese were outstanding, but it cannot produce the creativity and voluntary cooperation necessary to the successful operation of a team.

The Chinese government has begun to learn this lesson in the case of industry and the world has applauded its success, even if many have been intimidated by it. One might anticipate a similar success if the Chinese loosened the reins on other sections of their society.

The evidence from the basketball courts around China suggests this may be beginning to happen. In a cosmopolitan spirit, we therefore may hope that, in London in 2012 or in some future Olympics, Chinese teams will bring home more gold medals than the U.S.(as painful as that might be for our pride), for it would be an indication that China has in fact become a more open and creative society.


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