Chinese Chequers and Other Spectator Games

The irony of very well-recompensed nominally-American basketball players of color reacting with wild indignation to American criticism of China with regard to heavy-handed treatment of citizens of Tibet and residents of Hong Kong is of a density so thick and heavy that it threatens to drop through the core of the earth and come out the other side. This of course, after months of rather public displays by professional athletes of color making a big thing of knee-taking and demonstrations of disapproval during the playing of the American national anthem at the start of various games. This cheap display of woke-virtue sporting world division may already have sunk the National Football League, in the minds and hearts of those fans of football in Flyoverlandia-America. I suppose now we can look forward to seeing the same fatal holed-below-the-waterline-and-sinking-fast pattern in the round-bouncy-ball franchise; honestly, it’s as if the NBA is basically saying, “Hold my beer and watch this!”

Frankly, I’d boycott them both and the Olympics for good measure but since I have never been sufficiently interested in any of them as a fan, and I think that Gregg Popovitch is a total d*ck anyway, my disinterest wouldn’t have any particular effect. Is there something deeper going on, as this commenter suggests? I’m not enough of a fan of sports or the Nike brand to have any particular insight, but abiding native cynicism leads me to the conclusion, as Rep. Ilhan Omar/Elmi (D-Mogadishu) explained in another context, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

That China in general, or China as a consumer seems to exercise so much economic power over American pop-culture generally is a matter to give one pause. It is one thing to consider the what we in Air Force Broadcasting used to call “Host Nation Sensitivities’ – that is, certain topics were, out of consideration for those countries in which we operated, were to be avoided. In Japan, it was any depiction of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or mention of atom bombs, especially in a joking manner. In Spain, it was, IIRC, the Spanish-American War – a bit of history so far in the past that I cannot recall it ever coming up. Denmark, the civil authority over Greenland when I was serving there, was quite sensible about it all, admitting that they didn’t have any beef over anything which we might potentially air. In contrast, the host nation sensitivities pertaining to Greece were draconian: any mention of Greece in any context, Turkey, ditto, NATO or the European Economic Community, as the EU was known then.

The bottom line is that I totally get being circumspect in a foreign country, or about one where you hope to do business, but there is a line to be drawn, when pro-Hong Kong demonstrators are thrown out of an exhibition game in an American stadium. There is a line to be drawn when American movie-makers preemptively censor themselves to curry favor with a foreign audience, over those at home.
Perhaps this group of basketball fans in Toronto has the right idea; to give away pro-Hong Kong tee shirts for members of the audience to wear to games. Discuss as you wish.

16 thoughts on “Chinese Chequers and Other Spectator Games”

  1. This is part of the price of the “benefits” of pseudo-free trade between a generally open US and a strictly mercantilist China. The free trade enthusiasts talked incessantly about US consumers paying lower prices for goods. Now it should be obvious even to them that some prices are not paid in money.

    The rot goes far beyond the NBA and Hollywood. GM sells more cars in China than in the US — and the cars GM sells in China are mostly made in China, unlike the cars it sells in the US. Apple depends totally on China for the iPhones it sells around the world. Boeing’s future depends on being able to sell large numbers of jets in China. Walmart in the US would collapse without Chinese imports — but Walmart’s growing retail operations in China have no need for US imports. US oil drillers use Chinese-made drilling rigs. San Francisco commuters cross the Bay on a Chinese-made bridge. Even the US military relies on Chinese parts.

    So it is no surprise that when China quietly says jump, the entire US Establishment asks “How high?”

    The US Political Class has sold us out.

  2. An ancient version of basketball was played by the Aztecs called ullamaliztli. It was actually more like a combination of soccer, racquetball, and basketball depending on what equipment and materials were on hand at the time, but in many versions the ball was thrown through a hoop. And the losers were killed, gruesomely and ritualistically.

    Decapitation is particularly associated with the ballgame—severed heads are featured in much Late Classic ballgame art and appear repeatedly in the Popol Vuh. There has been speculation that the heads and skulls were used as balls.

    These were the Mesoamericans, after all. Anything worth doing was worth doing for some blood and guts.

  3. I remember reading an article a few years ago claiming that NBA refereeing was biased to try to make game outcomes less lopsided. I went to look for it again, and found articles about “overcoming racial bias” in calling fouls instead. (The BYU paper I skimmed said this more often affected white players.) Whatever. I can’t boycott the NBA.

    But on the real topic:

    Who is *not* taking money from China?

    And what are you and I willing to pay or give up to be able to tell them to go hang?

  4. Me, I’d be willing to pay a little more – even a quarter or a third as much for household goods that aren’t from China. Thinks like tools, too – the stuff from there isn’t worth cr*p. There is a reason that we like to buy from thrift stores and eBay, for things like china, glass and cookware that doesn’t originate from China. And I would never, ever purchase foodstuffs originating from there – sorry, just have read too many stories of contaminated dog food, baby formula, and seafood. I’d sooner purchase goods from India, Mexico, Vietnam, even. Walmart, under Sam Walton, apparently bent over backwards to stock American-sourced manufactured goods, but that was then.
    What does it profit the shareholders to run American industries out of business, just to sell the impoverished out-of-work former employees cheap tat at Walmart?
    There was a comment on a Sarah Hoyt thread a couple of posts back, from a person who seemed fairly knowledgeable about the business climate in China; it’s utterly corrupt, quality control is almost non-existent, and the factories there commit all kinds of shenanigans, when licensed to produce goods – deliberate overruns, which get sold on the grey market, and usually with sub-par components. (Which ruins the reputation of their brand in the long run.) The gist of the thread was that perhaps American manufacturers who had outsourced to Chinese factories were discovering that, after all, they weren’t paying as cheap a price as they had assumed, going in.

  5. Me, I’d be willing to pay a little more – even a quarter or a third as much for household goods that aren’t from China.

    My Italian-made heavy duty can opener no longer functioned, after 20+ years of use. I found an American-made can opener at HEB, also heavy duty, for $10. IIRC, heavy duty imported can openers go for $7-$8, so I am satisfied with the price I paid.

    Chinese-made duct tape at Lowes went for $4, while 3M duct tape went for $5. Easy decision to buy American.

    My 20-30 year old vegetable peeler still has a sharper blade than the $1-$2 peelers that I have purchased in recent years. It is maybe time to purchase one, return it to the store and demonstrate with the old peeler why I am returning it. Does one have to go to Williams-Sonoma to get a vegetable peeler with a sharp blade?

    And I would never, ever purchase foodstuffs originating from there – sorry, just have read too many stories of contaminated dog food, baby formula, and seafood.
    I used to purchase dried mushrooms from China. No more. I eat canned mackerel, but not from China. Recently, I haven’t seen many instances of canned mackerel not from China, which means I will be stocking up on sardines.

  6. “Walmart, under Sam Walton, apparently bent over backwards to stock American-sourced manufactured goods,”
    That’s what I remember being Walmart’s calling card when they were starting to break into national consciousness. It’s a pity they ditched that.
    I don’t really care if the NBA wants to kowtow to China, they’ve never touched their Jordan era popularity, and like all sports leagues they have to figure out some way to replace the US TV money that is just about gone. The problem is that it is difficult to impossible to buy US made consumer goods, and so in most cases I can’t just “pay a little bit more” for US made–there is no more US made option left.

  7. The US needs to hang a sneaker tariff on China, and not a small one. And anyway, doesn’t a lot of that Nike waste dumped into Chinese rivers end up growing those plastic islands we keep hearing about?

  8. To Sgt. Mom:
    The Vietnamese, I think, have complained of Chinese manufacturers labeling products “Made in Vietnam”.

  9. “And I would never, ever purchase foodstuffs originating from there – sorry, just have read too many stories of contaminated dog food, baby formula, and seafood.”

    How, really, is one to know? Example, Chinese farm-raised fish exported to Ecuador, packaged and marked “Product of Ecuador.” I assume this is not the only example, nor that it is rare.

  10. How, really, is one to know?

    That’s easy. Only buy imported seafood from Canada or Scandinavia.
    Otherwise, purchase locally, not at any big box stores. Go to the local fish market. You may have to spend four or five dollars more, but that’s still a less expensive than thyroid cancer.

  11. Regarding the idea that ” movie-makers preemptively censor themselves ”

    It goes beyond that, and in the worst possible way. To sell tickets in foreign markets, US movie makers move away from plots arising in the conflict of ideas — expressed in English dialog — to plots of physical and visual conflict. Now, physical conflicts are fine tools in story tellers’ tool kits. I enjoy a good superhero slug fest. But we get more and more movies like Bruce Willis in _Die Hard_ and fewer of Albert Finney in 1974’s _Murder on the Orient Express_. CLEARLY so, when the Kenneth Branagh 2017 version of _Orient…_ was shot, we had LOTS more “action sequences”. If one hasn’t seen the recent film, see a favorable descriptive review:

    “Branagh’s Poirot …could almost be a Marvel superhero, with superior brain power, wisecracks, and a moustache more ridiculous than even the gimpiest of superhero masks. He even gets an action sequence, a bizarre addition to the film to make it appeal more to the modern movie goer that sees him chasing Josh Gah on the scaffolding under a railway bridge.”

    Substitute “movie viewer with limited proficiency in English” for “modern movie goer” and one sees to whom the industry is making and marketing films.

    What makes this worse is that we DON’T revive the dialog free, wordless, tales of the silent film era. Lauren and Hardy moving the piano. Buster Keaton on the (Confederate) train, “The General”.
    We don’t even get new, wordless, cartoons of Merrie Melodies, Silly Symphonies, and _Fantasia_, with honest-to-Pete real classical music performances to introduce the middle-brow (and non-Western) audiences to the best of Western traditions.
    If Hollywood MUST re-make the classics and MUST reduce dialog, there are other, arguably better, models than comic books — even if we LOVE comic books.

    If we as consumers don’t, and the producers won’t, even acknowledge the economic incentives and the problems they create, then we can’t continue to make or get good new movies. REGARDLESS of politics. If we COULD get better movies, we would also have opportunities to introduce better portrayals of traditional, successful, U.S. and Western culture.

  12. Well, I, as a consumer of movies have noted that there aren’t many current movies movies with plots based on interesting and original ideas, nuanced characters and intelligent, witty conversation. I’ve been to see two in theaters in the last three or four years. (Did like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though – but had to watch it on streaming video. If it ever showed in my neighborhood, I wasn’t aware.
    Hollywood movie producers want to go with slam-bang simplistic comic book plots with lots of slam-bang violence, just to appeal to China and the third world market? Go to town, chaps and chapesses. Just count my movie dollar out of the equation. I have a ton of good stuff on DVD, streaming video, and out of the archives that I can watch; decades worth, as a matter of fact. TV series from cable, and from other countries; interesting people, original plots, thoughtful conversation … while the mainstream Hollywood sinks to the lowest common denominator, cable TV might be having a golden age of their own.

  13. Some interesting speculation on China.

    The Taiwan News reported that even though she graduated five years ago, Chairman Xi’s daughter has returned to Harvard for graduate studies. The newspaper speculates that Xi sent her to protect her safety.

    The Taiwan News said she may be unhappy with life in Red China.

    The newspaper reported, “Some observers also con<a hrefsider the move to be a potential safeguard. Sending his daughter back to the U.S. might be considered a diplomatic measure to signal trust in Washington and also a means for Xi to remove his daughter from harm if factional struggles within the Communist Party were ever to threaten Xi’s grip on power."

    This may explain the Trump administration's crackdown on Chinese student visas. Keeping the offspring of Red China's elitists from seeking asylum in America is leverage in trade negotiations.

    More speculation along that line.

    Breezing into Beijing or Shanghai, most Westerners are unaware of even the existence of this vast population. A recent trip took me to a large migrant settlement beyond Beijing’s fifth ring road. Rather than sparkling new high rises, this district consisted largely of small jerry-rigged shacks and buildings. The streets are dusty, animals lie in the midday sun, and men, off from work, line up at a house that, everyone acknowledges, accommodates the world’s oldest profession. It is like a flashback to the China of 40 years ago, a poor country where many struggled to eke out the most basic existence.

    To date, these workers have not been able to make themselves heard. Union membership in China is essentially worthless, as unions must conform the party’s priorities. Apple, for example, manufactures most of its products in China; conditions have been linked both to strikes and several suicides by workers claiming to be treated no better than robots. Yet neither China’s government nor the world’s premier smartphone brand, which has also collaborated with the party bosses in Hong Kong, has felt compelled to meet their demands.

    The Pliant Middle Class

    This vast class of poor and often powerless migrants, peasants, and factory workers represents a far greater threat to the Chinese regime than isolated intellectuals on the mainland or even the brave protesters in Hong Kong. Chinese history lacks examples of successful rebellions launched by a middle class informed with democratic ideals; no equivalent to the distinctly bourgeois American Revolution, the French Third Estate’s drive to destroy feudalism, or even a reformist movement akin to Japan’s Meiji Restoration.

    Instead, Chinese history consists largely of an interplay between hierarchical regimes and occasionally rebellious peasants.


  14. “TV series from cable, and from other countries; interesting people, original plots, thoughtful conversation … while the mainstream Hollywood sinks to the lowest common denominator, cable TV might be having a golden age of their own.”

    Robert Avrecht, a screenwriter, said that the writers have much more control in a TV environment than in a movie environment.

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