Your front-row seat to history's great showcase

By Patrick Whiteley ( China Daily ) Updated: 2008-07-07 17:16:05

A Beijing English-language magazine recently speculated about a possible post-Olympics exodus of expats. As Erik Nilsson's interesting article opposite reveals, this prediction is wrong. Most expats are staying, and after the coming Games, I forecast a rising tide of newcomers.

The 18-day Olympic expo will reveal the real China. Many people will come to believe what many of us expats already know.


For me, the best bit about living here is witnessing a great civilization rise again. I'm a history buff, and love this sort of stuff.

Recently I re-watched the 1969 documentary by renowned British historian Kenneth Clarke called Civilization. According to Clarke, great civilizations don't happen often.

Forgive me for squeezing 8,000 years into a few hundred words, but here we go. Starting from 5000 BC, we had the Egyptians, then the Greeks and later the Romans. After a dark age, the French shone for more than a millennium. The Italian Renaissance sparkled from the 1500s, and later the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English launched their seafaring adventures. Some call it an age of exploration, but I see it more like an Olympics weightlifting event - the snatch and grab.

At the end of the 19th century, there was the Scottish-inspired Industrial Revolution, and than America had its time in the sun. Clarke titles the US episode, Worship of Materialism.

The 14-part documentary focuses on the West, and doesn't touch on Asia. But if he was still alive, Clarke's 15th episode would feature the rise of modern China.

Clarke said one of the key ingredients of a great civilization was a sense of purpose among its people. They are proud of their history, and confident about their future. They believe they are part of something special and are moving towards a better tomorrow. There is a great hope.

But he said fear and boredom, were the ruin of many of any nation.

Another trait of a great civilization was a united community under strong leadership. A great nation isn't always divided, and does not waste its time squabbling over the hairstyles of its leaders.

I am not wearing rose-colored glasses and I can see many of China's glaring defects.

Tackling pollution, corruption and China's urbanization - the greatest movement of people in the history of the world - is an enormous task.

Crucial issues will not be solved in a season, but smart strategies are in place, and these plans are adjusted to better address problems. For example, from this year following the earthquake, every new school built in China will have to pass a much stricter building code.

After the Games are over, China will heave a collective sigh, probably collapse from exhaustion, wake up, have breakfast and bounce back on the road to happy destiny.

I've just signed up for another year in the capital and I can't wait to see the next episode in one of the great chapters of history.

(China Daily 07/07/2008 page10)

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