Tall tales about China

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Bill Walton in broadcast mode

Back in the 1970s, seven-footer Bill Walton was a basketball superstar, following a stellar turn for the UCLA Bruins with a pro career playing center for the Portland Trail Blazers, San Diego Clippers, and Boston Celtics. In 1978, he was named the NBA’s most valuable player. After retiring from the game in 1990, he became a sports broadcaster. In November, it turned out that he’s also a big fan of Communist China.

The revelation came during the Pac-12 China Game in China between Texas and Washington. Walton was on the scene, hired to do color commentary for ESPN. As it happened, however, much of his commentary was not about the game itself but about the country in which it was taking place.

He described his visit to China as a “transformational, life-changing experience for me. I cannot express the phenomenal things that are going on in this country.” He called China “remarkable” and noted that its “civilization has spanned more than 8000 years.”

Walton was awed by the scale of things in China. “There are 170 cities in the country of China with a minimum of a million people in them,” he said. “There are 300 million people in the middle class here with 800 more million trying to climb up.” In Shanghai alone, he noted, there are as many people as in all of Texas. The University of Texas has 51,000 students, but “there are that many people in every one of these countless skyscrapers here!”

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The China we don’t see

He favorably contrasted the Chinese people’s attitude toward consumerism with Americans’. Yes, there’s some consumerism there, but mostly “government investment in infrastructure. There is so much room for growth.” In the U.S., “70% of our economy is consumer goods, purchasing stuff,” he said, his contempt for American materialism palpable. The comparable figure for China? “Only 40%.” He added: “You know what the savings rate in the United States is? Zero. Or negative. You know what the savings rate is here in China? 50%.”

U165P5029T2D579136F31DT20130407105749He mentioned one aspect of Chinese society that he particularly liked: “They don’t have credit cards because the government doesn’t want them having [them].”

Does Walton have credit cards? Would he really want to live in a country that wouldn’t allow that? Or is his view, like that of so many Western fans of Communism, that these restrictions are just plain terrific for other people but (of course) not for him?

At no point, in any case – at least as far as we’ve been able to determine – did Walton mention (let alone criticize) the fact that the nation he was showering with praise is a Communist state, a dictatorship, a place where political freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and property rights are severely limited. The press is censored, as is the Internet. Detention without trial is a common practice; so are forced confessions. It was only a few weeks ago that China announced the end to its one-child policy, a rigidly enforced regulation that led to widespread infanticide and countless forced abortions.

More tomorrow. 

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