A letter from a reader: The Olympics in the wake of China's earthquake

July 16, 2008:

The Moment with ... Perry Link (May 14) went to press before the Sichuan earthquake occurred; I, for one, would have welcomed his reflections on this tragedy in the China mix he describes. Might I humbly take up where he left off?

The context of the Olympics has been transformed by the earthquake. While the mantra of Chinese nationalism, focused internationally, had been growing louder as the torch progressed and the Tibetan drama unfolded, it quickly became an introspective Greek chorus dwelling on the perils of hubris. Ranging from skepticism about the constant equation of the lucky number eight with the Olympics themselves (the games begin on 8/8/08, the earthquake occurred 88 days before the beginning of the Olympics and on Buddha's birthday) to the association of earthquakes with the loss of the Mandate of Heaven itself – the moral justification for dynastic rule reflecting cosmic harmony, a hum of humility can now be heard among people who have less Olympics fatigue than wariness of pride.

Contrast such thoughts with the cruel and causal Sharon Stone, who took it upon herself to explain away the earthquake – those many buried Chinese schoolchildren included – by the Tibetan situation. I reckon the Dalai Lama himself would be as censorious as the Chinese government has been about her. Nonetheless, it must be said that Chinese people, along with Sharon Stone and the rest of us, are now all trying to understand what is going on in China. It should not take geological seismic shifts to get us to pay attention to the ones happening around us all the time.      

Beijing, China

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