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Student can’t help asking the ultimate question

BEIJING — Here’s the latest offering from one of our four student bloggers at the Olympics:

Nathan Cooper
Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper: Don’t ask why

“Oh, it’s just propaganda.”

That’s gotta be the quote of my trip to Beijing so far. What’s great about it was that the lead-up to it was so simple and so innocent.

While planning a lunch during one of our drawn-out training days (about an hour of work in the morning, another hour in the afternoon with a 90-minute lunch was about what I considered the norm for our eight-hour days leading up to the Games), an Iowa buddy asked me and a Chinese colleague to pick up a China Daily, China’s national English-language paper, on the way back.

I didn’t think a whole lot of the request — it was no big deal — so I kindly obliged and started loading up my backpack for a short jaunt down the street, excited to get out of the venue for lunch.

After that lackluster exchange, one of our Chinese comrades popped by and asked why he wanted a China Daily. His reply was something about wanting to get the daily news. A former journalism student, her quick-witted response was “Oh, it’s just propaganda.”

While it wasn’t a stop-the-presses type of statement, it did a couple of things for me. Foremost, it’s refreshing to know that not all Chinese subscribe to the Central Government’s theory that things are always fine and good and that the officials are doing their jobs and the newest government policy is probably the best solution.

A corollary to propaganda: If there’s one sentence I never want to hear again once I leave Beijing, it’s a certain reply to the question “Why?”

The answer inevitably is: “Because it’s the policy.”

Almost every time I pose the why question, it’s an awkward social situation. Luckily for me, I profess to be an expert in socially awkward situations, mostly caused by me.

Imagine this: My assigned tasks have been completed three hours early. I ask politely if I can be excused from the venue. After all, I can find as equally boring tasks in my dorm room as I can sitting around at work. The supervisor says absolutely not.

I drop the why-bomb. The music stops, the spotlight transforms into a public ceremony. Everyone in the room holds his or her breath awaiting the answer, despite knowing what the ultimate outcome will be.

I haven’t yet worked up enough courage to ask why twice in a conversation.

As I hope you can tell, the preceding anecdote may have been slightly exaggerated and a little too dramatic. But this blog contains strictly my propaganda.

It’s my policy.

Nathan Cooper is a volunteer flashquote reporter for the Olympic News Service and is a 21-year-old University of Iowa senior from Glenville, majoring in journalism and political science. He has reported sports, government and business for the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune, the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the UI’s student-produced Daily Iowan. He can be reached at

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