Posted: Friday August 1, 2008 11:47AM; Updated: Friday August 1, 2008 11:52AM
Rebecca Sun Rebecca Sun >

What I'm looking forward to...

Story Highlights
  • Chinese-Americans will be watching Games with a mix of pride and anxiety
  • The politics of the Olympics will be impossible to separate from athletics
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The oft-criticized politics of China contrast starkly with all-inclusive Olympic spirit.
The oft-criticized politics of China contrast starkly with all-inclusive Olympic spirit.

There are around 40 million ethnic Chinese living outside China. They are the largest émigré group in the world, and I am one of them. We actually comprise dozens and dozens of sub-ethnicities and even more nationalities.

But if my fellow huayi (overseas Chinese) are anything like me, they will be watching the Beijing Games with anticipation and anxiety separate from their rooting interests in the outcome of any on-field competition.

Not since perhaps Moscow in 1980 has there been so much intrigue about an Olympic host for its own sake. For many Chinese, the curiosity goes beyond intellectual interest. I feel more like a nervous relative, waiting to see how my kin behave and how they will be received.

It's like inviting your friends over when you were young. You pray your mom will make pork dumplings for dinner, and not whole fish with head. You hope your friends will think the calligraphy on the wall scrolls looks cool, and that they won't think it's weird to trade their shoes for slippers inside the house. In short, you hope to avoid shame and to make a good impression.

It may seem unpatriotic of me, born and raised in the United States, to liken a childhood home to a country in which, prior to this month, I've only visited once. Except patriotism comes from the Greek root patris, meaning "fatherland," and China is literally my father's land. One of the unique beauties of being an American is that each of our forefathers came from different lands, but here we all get to share the land of the Founding Fathers.

The bond I feel with the Chinese has nothing to do with nationalism -- an admittedly convenient statement for me to make, given that nearly all criticism of the Olympic host has focused on its government.

China's politics are, indeed, hard to overlook -- they loom as large as Mao's portrait does over Tiananmen Square. And as an American, a beneficiary of the tradition of protest as an agent of social change, I understand that any self-respecting activist would be crazy not to use the Games as the perfect leverage.

But my allegiance has more to do with filial piety -- loyalty to one's ancestors, a Confucian virtue that predates any Party philosophy by about 2,400 years and remains in Chinese culture today, both in the People's Republic as well as the world over.

For me, as an American citizen of Chinese descent who practices journalism, the Beijing Olympics will represent more than an opportunity for political statement, and more even than the world's greatest sporting event. For me, it will also be a massive cultural celebration, an affirmation of what "my people" can achieve under the world's biggest spotlight.

Come the opening ceremonies on Aug. 8, I'm hoping to be as misty-eyed as, well, a proud parent whose kid just got into an Ivy.

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