Column: China Marches Toward A More Open Future

This story was written by Kenny Ryan, The Battalion

When the country that invented fireworks uses special effects to edit them in the opening ceremony of the Olympics -possibly the biggest show of the young 21st century, well, Bob Dylan comes to mind. The times, they are a changing,

China is an ancient nation with a history that is rich in moments of pride and in moments of shame. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square all quickly come to mind when thinking of a country that was long shrouded behind the mystery of the "Far East" or "The Orient."

Once an enigma, China rested on the edge of the map, a country that few from the west would ever see. But all of that has slowly changed. China is now everywhere you turn.

Your childhood toys - made in China.

Your Victoria's Secret lingerie - made in China.

Your national debt - owned by China.

The list goes on

It only makes sense that the International Olympic Committee would eventually come around and realize that China was a changing land ready to host the games. However, many naysayers doubted that the communist regime was ready to play host to the world stage. After all, China is the world's largest remaining communist power and Americans hate Commies.

The truth is, China has come a long way from the smoldering ruin it was after WWII, and it pulled itself back on its feet by alone. Following the Second World War, Asia and Europe were left in tatters as China was overtaken by a popular communist revolution.

The European states were saved by their Anglo brothers across the sea, as the U.S. sent millions of dollars in economic aid under the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, all of Europe, former enemies and allies alike.

China was not so lucky. By 1949, the communists led by Mao Zedong, had evicted their opponents from the mainland. In an era of McCarthyism in the United States, the former ally against the Japanese was left in the dust.

An ally in war five years before, China now lay on the far east side of the Iron Curtain and received no pity from America as it attempted to rebuild its war ravaged infrastructure.

In the 59 years since, China has slowly but surely built its way out of the ashes of war and back into the super power its size suggests it should be. Its methods have been questionable, and aid to the growing nation has been scarce when available at all. But one Chinese finger trap at a time, the economy has been built to where it is today; a communist nation with economic weight that rivals that of the king of capitalism.

As sure as any Hollywood crime lord that rises to power from poverty on the streets, China's methods have been anything but clean, literally.

In blatant disregard for its environment, China's foundations are built on factories that pour pollution into the ancient land. The reason for China's faked fireworks display is that the nation had to film the show weeks early so it could capture a rare, clear blue-sky day.

Fireworks weren't the only victims of rampant pollution. Many athletes arrived to the games at the last possible moment to avoid being weakened by the smog that saturates the air around the Chinese capitol.

China is far from perfect, but it seems to be working on it.

Popular support of democratic reform has slowly spread through China. Since the British gave China control of Hong Kong in 1997, more and more Chinese have been exposed to western cultures.

Progress might be measured in the medals of gold that China's athletes wore around their necks, but points may be deducted for the number of 14-year-old necks.

Questions still swirl around the ags of Chinese Olympians whose passports conveniently list one of them as turning the required age of 16 on Jan. 1, 2008, just in the nick of time.

As the Olympics end the U.S. finds itself second fiddle to its red rival, trailing in gold medals 36 to 51. The rising influence of China as it competes with the U.S., and the increasing demand for westernization by a Chinese population tired of its repressive government brings another Bob Dylan lyric to mind.

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Leaders of America and China might want to listen to a little more Dylan.