Monday, August 13, 2007

Does Progress Come at the Expense of Tradition?

The 2008 Olympic Games are less than a year away-and the Chinese are getting ready to show the world what they are made of.

Of course, simply holding the Games in Beijing means it open-season on China-bashing. Whether human rights, unyielding poverty in the rural areas or China's contribution to global warming-everyone has an opinion. Even ESPN is getting into the act with an article titled The Bamboo Curtain

The story chronicles the authors drive from Beijing to Chengdu (the same approximate distance from New York to Dallas). Not surprisingly, he comes away realizing that for all of the benefits the coming Olympics is bringing to the cities the rural areas are literally watching the world go by. The revenue and opportunities that await Chinese cities are non-existent in the countryside.

But whatever the benefit to China, there are also trade-offs. As Chinese cities are bulldozed to make way for Olympic venue and other 'modernization' projects, traditional ways of life in China are threatened. Hutongs-the alleys between court-yard dwellings-and a visual and important image of 'old China' are being torn down to make way for modern structures. It is interesting that this important piece of Chinese tradition and culture survived Mao's cultural revolution may not survive the Olympics!

The seeming demise of "Old China" saddens me. I am all for progress, but I yearn for a way to preserve the old ways in the process. Is the world becoming homogenized in the name of progress, or do we simply need to let traditions pass under the noise of cranes and tractors.

Yes, all people are created equal and we need to treat each other with respect and dignity, but the differences are just as important. Without traditions and culture and history we are simply automotons-driven to make money without regard to the things we are giving up.

It is also interesting that in the US we have a 'back to the basics' movement of sorts. You can see evidence of this in Martha Stewart's success and publication like "Real Simple" continued ad page growth in an otherwise abysmal advertising climate.

As the parent of young lady born in China, I am hoping to connect her to Chinese culture and tradition of the old China as well as pride in the new China. I just hope there will be an 'old' China for her to see.

With Respect

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