[Note: This is a continuation of the post immediately below.]
Wait. I am not equating Jin Jing with Jesus or Mary. I am making the point that to hundreds of millions of Chinese around the world the image of Jin Jing in what apears to be a state of grace has an emotional appeal that parallels that which Christians (and even non-Christians such as myself) feel when looking at Michaelangelo’s Pieta. Whether I believe or not, the emotional impact of both images is undeniable. And whether either Mary or Jin Jing deserve to be viewed with such religious awe is irrelevant to my point, which is simply this: the image of Jin JIng has created an unprecedented flood of emotional patriotism and religious ecstasy among Chinese people all around the world.
The photo may have been stage-managed and her story embellished in the Lei Feng style. I don’t know, but based on past CCP deifications I’d be inclined to think it has. But that’s also irrelevant in terms of effect. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will is all about stage management and manufactured emotion, yet it achieved all of her and Joseph Goebbels’ objectives (mass hypnosis, idolization, turning the fuehrer into a cult figure, etc.).
So the picture of Jin JIng stands and it has worked its miracle, fair or not. I had dinner with a Chinese friend last night who told me there hasn’t been anything quite like it in his lifetime. Everone’s talking about it, especially friends and families overseas. It’s strengthening the bonds between these people and their mainland counterparts The Chinese people have rarely felt more unified, And this is not a personal theory of mine based on anecdotal evidence. From Canada’s Globe and Mail.
It was a moment so perfect that it could have been scripted by Beijing’s propaganda masters. A beautiful young Chinese woman, bravely ignoring her physical handicap, is shielding the Olympic flame with her body to protect it against Western attackers.
The incident, captured on video, has galvanized China’s masses and created a new national hero. A star has been born, and she is 27-year-old Jin Jing of Shanghai, an amputee in a wheelchair who was carrying the Olympic torch in Paris this week when she was confronted by protesters who wrestled for the torch.
The one-legged Paralympic fencing champion, whose picture has been splashed across front pages in China, has become an iconic image of everything the Chinese want to believe about the innocence of their country and the dastardliness of the West.
All week she has been mobbed by fans and glorified in the Chinese media, who dubbed her the “smiling angel in a wheelchair” and “saviour of the national honour.”
Her fans describe her as fearless and modest. “She has captured the hearts of millions of Chinese people,” the state news agency says. As for Ms. Jin, she smiles sweetly and then says, of the protesters, “I despise them.”
….There is mounting evidence — in Internet chat rooms, on the streets and everywhere else where public opinion can be measured — that the Chinese Communist Party has gained popularity and strength as a result of the violence and chaos of the past month.
It might be facing an Olympic opening ceremony boycott and mounting criticism from abroad, but the government has largely succeeded in mobilizing its 1.3 billion people into a unified force, giving it the domestic legitimacy it craves for its survival.
This brings me back to the headline of my earlier post and whether the events of the past week have been a PR disaster for China. They certainly started off that way. But I still believe it is much too early to determine the net effect of the media coverage of China’s Olympic-related activities. Yesterday I would have said the scales tipped slightly toward the disaster side. Now, as I see the news out of Argentina, I’d say the scale is about even. And remember, I am not talking about a scale of right or wrong, but of public perception.
What lies ahead is a huge question mark. I’ve always felt the government was hoisting itself on its own petard by saying it would open up the country to the media – a promise I can’t imagine them keeping (thus far they’ve done a pretty poor job of it). They may well get pulverized by the global media. But we saw this week that they are adept at turning the pulverization into a national rallying cry. Maybe it was pure luck that Jin JIng happened to be attacked the way she was. In any case, it was a gift from heaven for the CCP, like Bin Laden’s video right before the 2004 election was to George Bush.
Tibet. It popped up out of nowhere, All eyes were on Darfur as the huge thorn in China’s side, and suddenly Mia Farrow has been wholly overshadowed by the Dalai Lama. And that’s good for China in terms of support from its citizens. Tibet is an issue the Chinese are passionate about. Some Chinese I know had never even heard of Darfur and certainly felt no emotional attachment to the issues there. Tibet is another story. Watching the issue galvanize the country is astonishing. The way the situation is being manipulated might be comparable to the effectiveness of the Nuremberg rallies, but the effectiveness in and of itself is indisputable.
Shortly before the Olympic Games, China will also be hosting the Paralympic Games. I’ll put down money that Jin Jing will be making a strongly publicized appearance. (A side benefit, I hope, would be greater tolerance and compassion for the handicapped here in China. You so rarely see anyone in a wheelchair here in Beijing.)
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.