Carrying A Torch For China Helps In This Even
Ten months before the 2008 Games begin in Beijing, a new and grueling Olympic sport is in full swing among foreign nationals living in China: advanced kowtowing.
Foreign residents are vying for eight slots to carry the Olympic torch on Chinese soil in the traditional relay prior to the Games. Exactly 19,400 people will be picked to run inside China. Most will be Chinese; eight at least will be foreigners.
But the foreigners have to clear some extra hurdles in an online contest organized by Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group Ltd. and the government-owned English-language newspaper China Daily. The criteria: aspiring torchbearers should 'love Chinese culture and history' and 'be devoted to communicate information of a real China to their native countries.' Each of them also needs to write a 500-word English essay titled 'China and I,' which should 'cover a true, touching part of 'my story in China,'' according to the application instructions.
但是外国人需要在中国电脑制造商联想集团(Lenovo Group Ltd.)和官方英文报纸《中国日报》(China Daily)共同组织的网上投票中克服重重障碍。火炬手的标准是：对中国文化和历史有热情的人，愿意沟通中国和世界的人。根据评选规则，报名者需提交一篇 500字左右以“我与中国”为主题的英语短文，文章应真实讲述“我在中国的故事”。
Foreigners have risen to the occasion, engaging in a furious competition to outdo one another in praise of the Middle Kingdom.
One contestant, Prithviraj Puttaraju, a 40-year-old executive from Bangalore, India, said, 'I had continuously heard that China had a lot to offer in terms of deep culture, extreme beauty and growth.' He added that at the U.S. tech company he works for, he is known as 'China Man.
Benjamin Travis Wood, an American architect in Shanghai, plays up modesty, a virtue that Chinese for some reason think Americans lack. 'I don't deserve to carry the Olympic Torch for China,' he wrote, in a classic Chinese self-deprecating way of asking for something. 'China has changed my life. China has given to me more than I have given to China,' he wrote.
在上海工作的美国建筑师本杰明•特拉维斯•伍德(Benjamin Travis Wood)更为谦虚一些──中国人一直认为美国人缺乏这种品质。他用中国人在争取某件事情时典型的自谦方式写道：我还达不到充当火炬手的要求，中国改变了我的生活，中国给予我的要比我给予中国的更多。
Philippe Le Gall, the Seychelles' ambassador in Beijing, offered that he was born on the eighth hour of the eighth day of the eighth month. 'Eight-eight-eight is a lucky number in China, and I feel the need to do something exceptional around Aug. 8, 2008,' he wrote in an essay.
塞舌尔驻中国大使菲利普•勒加尔(Philippe Le Gall)则提到，他是8月8日晚上8时出生的。他在短文中写道，“888”是中国的幸运数字，我感觉有必要在2008年8月8日做些有特殊意义的事情。
On one level this is a garden-variety PR campaign by Lenovo, which is very active in using the Olympics to market itself around the globe. But in China, such patriotic verbiage is also a reminder of times -- not entirely departed -- when little other public speech was permitted.
'They're the words the government wants to hear,' Ian Ross, a Scotsman living in China since 2005, said in a phone interview. 'That's the way the culture is here. People want to hear that kind of rhetoric. Every foreigner, every Chinese knows that.' He adds: 'But you don't have to say what they want you to say.'
Still, Mr. Ross didn't push the envelope in his application. 'Becoming an Olympic torchbearer in China is a wonderful opportunity for my country -- Scotland -- and also a chance for me to say thank you to the people of China for making my stay here such a wonderful and life-changing experience.'
The online voting ended on Oct. 14, and the eight winners will be chosen by a committee of Lenovo and China Daily executives and journalists by the end of the month. Entries have been received from 261 people representing 47 countries or nationalities.
Lenovo spokespeople say the winners won't be chosen for slavish adoration but the essays are a way to evaluate a contestant's ability to 'communicate the attributes of the Chinese culture to their home country.' The organizers haven't decided how much the essay will weigh versus popular votes and personal background.
About two dozen groups have been set up on Facebook, the social-networking site, to solicit votes. 'Shameless pandering for votes continues . . .' wrote Dan Brody, an employee of an American Internet company, to his Facebook group. 'It all started as just a lark, then became kind of serious, moved into extreme kitsch and ridiculousness.' Now, he says, 'who cares -- it's all for fun and (Olympic) games anyways.'
But some contestants figured that the richest pool of votes would come from the 162 million Internet users in China. Mr. Brody submitted the required English essay, but he also posted one in Chinese on the country's popular online forum Tianya ('The End of the World'). He was flooded with responses. Some were impressed with his fluent Chinese. 'Just voted for you, old foreign brother,' wrote one forum member. 'Your Chinese is superb.' Others were flattered by his passion for China. 'Some foreigners love China more than some Chinese do,' commented another.
Others, however, think that even eight torch-carrying foreigners are too many. 'I believe the whole thing of foreign torchbearers is just for show. There are more than one billion Chinese, and many of our own outstanding people don't have the opportunity. Why should we give it to foreigners?' One called those who voted for Mr. Brady 'blind worshipers of everything foreign,' a trait that would have constituted a crime during Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution and still isn't considered virtuous.
Some contestants and their friends have even found problems with the voting system, which has allowed people to vote as many times as they want even though the rules stipulate that there shall be no more than one vote per computer. A few tech-savvy expatriates allegedly used computer programs that could vote thousands of times for themselves. On the official contest Web site, people call one of the top vote-getters a 'cheater.' 'What a dishonor for the Olympics,' says one commentator. 'In the old time they cut the head off.' A Lenovo spokeswoman says that officials are aware of irregularities and that's one reason that the selection will not be based entirely on voting results.