America’s Opium Dream: “One World, One Dream?”

Americans have been projecting their own fantasies onto China for over 200 years, usually to the mutual detriment of both countries.  The British at least had the clarity of mind to acknowledge, with honest cynicism and honest contempt, that they were exploiting and deliberately weakening China through the Opium trade.  (And to be fair to the British, nearly half of the British Parliament opposed the Opium War.)  But are drugs the only media of fantasies, unreason and degradation?  Today, aren’t all too many Americans (perhaps principally among other foreign exploiters of China) peddling other kinds of media in China, and about China, which corrupt minds and morals equally as much, if not more so, than Opium ever did?

China’s official slogan for the 2008 Olympics is “One World, One Dream.”  I don’t know who coined that slogan of debased metal, but its style and implication is all too typically American in the worst way of the “darker angels of America’s nature” (to turn Abraham Lincoln’s sublime phrase toward its sinister aspect.)  China has become addicted to the American habit of advertising and of confusing commercial popularity with public welfare.   

Is the publicity and advertising surrounding the Beijing Olympics becoming a virtual “Opium Den” shared collaboratively by Americans and Chinese?  “One World, One Dream”, for WHOM?  Or rather, who profits, and who is becoming all the more impoverished and degraded, through the multinational economic “miracle” of the Beijing Olympics? 

I am reminded of the final scene of one of my favourite movies, “Once Upon A Time In America”, by Sergio Leone.  The protagonist, a somewhat “honourable bandit”, a poorly-born Jewish gangster named Noodles (played by Robert De Niro) witnesses the dissolution of his own “American Dream” and the similar – and similarly corrupted – dreams of the friends of his youth, one of whom commits suicide in the end, destroyed by his own hubris.  Then there is a flashback to a moment when Noodles, as a younger man, visited a Chinese opium den in New York.    After taking a few puffs, he smiles – or rather, grimaces – the famously artificial kind of American “smile”, the kind which never appeared on Lincoln’s grave, honest, beautifully tragic Saturnian face, but rather the kind of grimace induced by Satan, the Father of Lies, the first “advertiser”, the first “public relations spin-doctor” in the Cosmos.

“One World, One Dream” is a half-truth, and as St Thomas Aquinas said, a half-truth is more dangerous than a total lie, because a half-truth includes some beauty in it.  Yes, this is One World, and all Civilisation is one seamless web.  But let’s be wary of temptations to believe in “One Dream”, because dreams are perilously close to fantasy, and thus all too close to lies and half-truths, and the Angels weep whenever a “dreamer’s” dreams become artificially induced and thus fit for nothing except to be tossed into the dustbin – or garbage truck – of oblivion.

Here is that scene, with such a haunting and appropriate musical score.  It should be contemplated at first more in the heart than in the logical mind – but only in an honest heart, and then with an honest mind following up to think about the scene’s import.


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9 Responses to America’s Opium Dream: “One World, One Dream?”


    China left off list of violators

    March 12, 2008

    By Nicholas Kralev – The State Department yesterday dropped China from its list of the world’s top human rights violators, prompting criticism that the move marks an unwarranted concession to Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games this summer.

    Department officials insisted that China’s absence from this year’s list, which includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Burma among others, is not linked to the Olympics and has little meaning overall, because the list is informal with no legal consequences.

    But human rights activists said otherwise, pointing out that the list represents the most prominent part of the report, much like the headline on a newspaper article.

    “It’s extremely unfortunate that the Bush administration has adopted a softer line towards China,” said T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia at Amnesty International.

    “The timing is also disturbing ? President Bush is going to the Olympics, and the administration doesn’t want to put China in an awkward position. It’s a lost opportunity to send a strong message.”

    China had been among “the world’s most systematic human rights violators” since the State Department list first appeared in 2005. The additions this year are Syria, Uzbekistan and Sudan.

    One U.S. official said that the only reason China was put in a category of its own was to emphasize that, despite its economic success, it has failed to undertake political reforms that would guarantee its citizens basic human rights.

    Jonathan Farrar, acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, told reporters he was unable to give an “on the record” explanation for the decision ? meaning an explanation in which he could be quoted by name.

    Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said that many countries “have made economic progress, but they haven’t been afforded a special category.”

    “If there hasn’t been much improvement in China’s record, why is it in a separate category?” she said, adding that “two different purposes” are being served by criticizing Beijing on one hand, but dropping it from the worst-abusers list, on the other.

    The State Department’s report, which is mandated by Congress, said that the Chinese government “continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest and imprison activists, writers, journalists and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law.”

    “The year 2007 saw increased efforts to control and censor the Internet, and the government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the domestic press,” the report said.

    “There was a 20 percent increase over 2006 in convictions of citizens under China’s overly broad state security law that is often used to silence government critics,” it said.

    Ms. Richardson said that a standard feature of the State Department’s report is the behind-the-scenes bargaining between Mr. Farrar’s bureau and the department’s regional bureaus, which are responsible for political relationships with various countries.

    She also pointed out that the United States has relied on China to help persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Beijing is the host of six-nation talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programs.

    Some in Hollywood have begun a campaign to boycott the Olympics because of China’s failure to pressure Sudan into ending the conflict in its Darfur region, in spite of the close ties between the two governments. Director Steven Spielberg quit as an adviser to the Olympics’ opening ceremony last month.

    “Sudan’s human rights record remained horrific” in 2007, yesterday’s report said, “with continued reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings and rape by government security forces and their proxy militia in Darfur.”

    In North Korea, the “repressive” regime “continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives,” the report said.

    “Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases, and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons,” it said in a section on detention and imprisonment.

  2. Jiayu says:

    Thank you for this.

    I should point out that sometimes Chinese people can be punished for not having the same “dream” as our Government. Hu Jia is a good example.

    So may be we can have our dream. But we have to keep quiet about it.

  3. Ned Kelly says:

    Nanhe, I’m not sure that a US State department “list” of human rights violators does a damn bit of good in the first place, especially since America is increasingly becoming a violator. But as long as they’re going to have such a list, dropping China makes America look even more ridiculous.

    The US State Department have become a bunch of clowns ever since the arrival of the preternaturally stupid – and yes I DO mean stupid in the sense of “low IQ and shabbily educated” – Condoleeza Rice. She’s the poster-child for everything that’s wrong with affirmative action (in American that means “quotas for middle and upper class females and officially designated minorities”), a wind-up talking doll (an ugly one at that) full of repetitive noise signifying nothing except continuing bloodshed and the continuing abominable descent of America’s already bad reputation for mumbling, mush-mouthed stupidity.

  4. C.A. Yeung says:


    Thank you for your comment. Ditto to what you said about Hu Jia.

    Hu Jia is guilty of being honest about not having the same dream as the CCP. He dreams that one day all Chinese people will be able to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and international human rights law.

    I wonder whose dream is better for China: CCP’s dream of maintaining one-party rule at all cost, or Hu Jia’s dream of a society where civil rights are protected by a legal system that really works.

  5. Ned Kelly says:

    Speaking of opium and other kinds of artificially induced madness, I once met a cowboy-capitalist booster of China’s “economic miracle” who actually said – yes I mean literally said – that people see him as a kind of “Superman” because he flies to Shanghai so much.

    So my “opium” metaphor really isn’t too hyperbolic, and not inappropriate at all. “SUPERMAN” because he “FLIES TO SHANGHAI SO OFTEN?” Wow.

  6. Ned Kelly says:

    By the way that “Superman” guy I mentioned in the above comment, was a Californian. They fly a lot, you know.

  7. Adriana says:

    China shows the moral bankruptcy of those “conservatives” whose one value is the “free market” and the opportunity to get rich.

    The same people who decried communism and accused of treason anyone who asked for a realistic foreign policy, now embrace China, with all its abuses, because they have a chance to make money out of it. Suddenly communism is not so bad. The government is no longer oppressive because businesses do not have ponderous regulations – like the one that says no lead paint on toys, nor tests drugs and foods to make sure that they are not tainted and have what they say they have.

    Those China apologists make one ashame of being an American, or a conservative.

  8. Ned Kelly says:


    Obviously your operative punctuation marks are the “—–” around “conservatives”. Karl Marx was correct to identify something very revolutionary in 19th century capitalism (which no longer exists), and its deformed child, so-called “libertarianism” is beginning actually to use the rhetoric of “revolution.” Ron Paul recently went so far as to quote Trotsky to his own advantage, “the revolution must be a continuous one.”

    Of course China has always been only nominally Marxist, but its repudiation of the insane policies of Mao were virtually inevitable for the sake of mere survival. But then it’s a big mistake to believe the Chinese government (which is by no means centralised or unified), or China’s big businesses (small Chinese businesses are a SLIGHTLY different matter) have embraced the “free market”. What they’ve embraced are the advantages, not of laissez faire, but of Western outsourcing of disregard of any rights of labour or environmental protection.

    I don’t think the situation is hopeless; if I did, I wouldn’t bother blogging about it. But I hold the Western aiders and abettors of China’s mostly illusory “miracle” even more responsible than I hold the Chinese. The way to “engage” China is not through markets, but through cultivating more of the habit of truth among them – and that means cultivating it first among ourselves. That kind of REAL “realism” begins at home.

  9. C.A. Yeung says:

    Dear Adriana,

    Welcome to our little space under the jacaranda tree. I didn’t partake in that bash at the Greek place downtown…

    (Interruption from “Ned Kelly”: that “Greek place downtown”, whose name Catherine knows, serves cheap spirits of all kinds, despite its pretensions 😉 )

    Now Catherine continues:

    … But I’ve been following the stories so I understand what you mean when you said, “China shows the moral bankruptcy of those ‘conservatives’ whose one value is the ‘free market’ and the opportunity to get rich.” I, however, would like to point out that this blind faith in the “free market” is not a trademark of the so-called “conservatives”. Most American Panda-huggers Ned is satiring at this blog call themselves Democrats. Yet their dishonest misrepresentation of a totalitarian regime and their wilful collaboration with big corporations to exploit the underprivileged are no less dishonourable than the neo-cons or the libertarian faction of the conservatives that they love to hate.

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