With the 2008 Olympics less than a year away from its opening in Beijing, I would like to begin an occasional series that concentrates on the relationship between China’s preparations for the Games and its often questionable record with regard to social justice issues. To begin, Wright Thompson’s recent account for ESPN of his cross-country road trip on China’s Highway 108 provides an excellent overview of the country’s growing socioeconomic dichotomy:
“In two days [after the end of the road trip], a provincial party official will say, earnestly and with a straight face, ‘All of China is excited about the Olympics.’ But, after a week out on Highway 108, it's clear this isn't true. New China is excited. Old China isn't. This simple question -- Are you excited about the Olympics? -- is actually a much more complicated one in disguise, one that gets to the heart of modern China. It's many questions, really. Are you moving forward or being left behind? Do you have something to offer? Are you the future or the past? Are you a have or a have-not?”
As Thompson indicates, China’s transition to a market economy has left much of its rural population more impoverished and vulnerable to exploitation. Thanks to the country’s new regulations that allow expanded media freedom for foreign journalists, stories like his become even more important in holding Chinese authorities accountable for their actions over the next year.