BEIJING, China, July 26...Yao Ming may be an All-Star in the US, but in China he's just another servant of the state.
China has committed the lives and the blood of its people to proving that the Communist system is superior.
And the people better step up...Or else.
This was brought home yesterday when Chinese President Hu Jintao took time out from suppressing the protests of the families whose children had died in the earthquake, to pay an "informal" visit to the basketball training facility.
Yao, who suffered a fractured foot that kept him out of the last half of the NBA season was on the sidelines with an ice bag when Hu and his entourage swept in.
"The whole people of China have been worried about your foot," Hu said. "How are you recovering?"
Yao leapt to his feet. "I'm okay," he said, grimacing.
Later Hu faced the media with his photo op smile.
"All the country's people fervently look forward to a splendid Olympics," he declared. His smile faded, replaced by the steely-eyed look of the autocrat of all bureaucrats. "And they fervently look forward to the Chinese team achieving good results."
Which translated means Yao better be ready for the opening tip, even if he has to run the pick and roll on crutches.
In elaborate band playing, banner waving introductory ceremonies in Beijing, Yao and star sprinter Liu Xiang faced the Chinese flag and pledged to "serve and sacrifice for the motherland."
China is fielding the largest squad in the history of the Olympics. Its delegation numbers 1,099, among them 38 foreign coaches. The 639 athletes outnumber arch rival USA's 596 athlete contingent.
China came in third in Athens 2004, behind Russia and the US, winning 62 medals, 32 gold. But home team advantage and an unprecedented training campaign have propelled it to favorite status in many events.
The number-obsessed Chinese delegation will tell you that over the course of history Chinese athletes have won 1317 gold medals and set 1026 world records. But China-watchers say this Olympics is about more than gold medals.
"This is a battle for history," says political analyst Igor Yopsvoyomatsky. "It is to decide which is better--corrupt, indulgent Capitalism or disciplined, self-sacrificing Communism."
He compares Beijing 2008 to Nuremberg 1936. "There the Nazis tried to prove their system was superior with best athletes, best facilities, best marching bands, even best-looking film maker Leni Riefenstahl. Here Chinese want to show that Communist police state is best system for producing athletic excellence, personal heroism, social tranquility, consumer ecstasy, even individual happiness."
China was awarded the games in 1990 at a low point in its modern history. The Tiananmen Square massacre, in which Chinese troops had fired on unarmed protesters, had occurred a year before.
"It was like Chinese fable, The Emperor's new Clothes," Yopsvoyomatsky says. "The so-called reform movement was exposed as same Maoist police state."
Desperate to improve its image China intrigued to get the 2008 Olympics.
"How could world award games to country that was killing and torturing its citizens?" Yopsvoyomatsky asks. "This is question to ask opaque IOC."
Once achieved the Chinese set out to make 2008 the greatest Olympics in history.
"The Chinese are gamblers," says Yopsvoyomatsky. "They have gone all in on this Olympics. "They have to deliver clean air, beautiful facilities, pomp and splendor, great hospitality and dramatic victories."
But they know only one way to accomplish this goal, he says...Control.
"Control all variables. Put 100,000 police on 24-7 duty. Set up check points. Put Ughurs in jail. Put in visa restrictions. Close night clubs. Control every aspect of athlete's lives. Punish dissenters. shut down web sites. Ruthlessly oversee their delegation."
Yopsvoyomatsky cites the example of the caterer who mistakenly put "Peking Dog" on the Olympic menu.
"He was thrown into a pit of starving Dobermans ," Yopsvoyomatsky says.
Now that Russia has degenerated into a "thugocracy" China carries the spear for the Revolution, Yopsvoyomatsky says.
"Hu sees himself as a servant of history. During the day he can bully Yao, but at night Karl Marx appears in his dreams, waves an ink-stained finger and says: History fervently looks forward to a Chinese victory."
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