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China’s Olympic Expectations

August 8, 2008
Fireworks explode over the "Bird's Nest" during the Opening Ceremonies

Fireworks explode over the "Bird's Nest" during the Opening Ceremonies

Today, Beijing celebrates the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games. Opening ceremonies are always elaborate, always impressive, but this year’s iteration is certainly greater than any before it. Marking a 5000-year old civilization, modern China is having its coming out party to the world, and we are witnessed the dazzling pomp and pageantry that this culturally-rich nation is capable of.

Although initially plagued by controversy – such as Stephen Spielberg’s very public resignation as artistic director – the ceremonies have successfully wowed the international community. Here in Canada, reportedly 3000 people attended a live showing of the four-hour long opening ceremonies at the Cineplex in Mississauga, Ontario (the best seats were taken at 4am). The dazzling display of artistic creativity and cultural celebration was at times overwhelming and inspiring.

It is in China’s best interest to have the games run without controversy, security concern or public embarrassment. Since being awarded the games in 2001, Beijing has busily transformed itself through massive construction (and relocation) projects and cultural education programs (ie, rudimentary English, and no spitting in streets). The Beijing I saw in 2004 and then again in 2007 was completely different city (while in the same time, the GDP of China had nearly doubled again).

Opinions of China from outside are always mixed – Beijing wants to use the Olympics to quell fears of Chinese global economic domination, growing military strength and troubling human rights record. While the ruling Communist Party are the best propagandists in the world, it cannot hide the realities that lie under veneer of Olympic pageantry. China is a political state of many nations (34 identified minority cultures) held together by an authoritative regime.

While we in the West cannot comprehend the disturbing living conditions of hundreds of millions of Chinese and the allegiance to a state which does not allow scrutiny or dissent, the country’s recent economic success – guided by the CCP – has lifted nearly 300 million (the population of USA) out of extreme poverty.

The lasting effects of China’s ‘olympic’ resurgence cannot yet be predicted. However, one critical factor is the national identity-building exercise the Olympics has brought to the country, instilling a new confidence with its people and reaffirming the idea of a unified ‘One China’. More and more Chinese will believe their country is a world power – and they won’t be wrong.

Regardless of the outcomes of this month’s Games, foreign investment into and wealth creation from within China will continue at a hurried pace; Beijing’s influence in international affairs will continue to grow; and, we may begin to appreciate the complexities of China.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Leon permalink
    August 10, 2008 12:34 am

    Watching the opening ceremony yesterday was certainly an eye-opening experience.

    My initial gut-reaction was “wow!”. My second reaction was – as a Vancouverite – how the hell are we going to top that? (We won’t.) And my third reaction was – how much money was spent on this extravaganza, and how much did it take away from the poverty-stricken areas of rural China (Pundits conservatively estimate it cost ~$100 million USD.)

    Kudos to China for pulling out all the stops. Thinking of the political windfall from the Seoul Olympics, it’ll be interesting to see what political ramifications China’s Olympics will have on the political side, if any.

    The media had a field day on the first day of the Olympics, notwithstanding the world-class sport competitions. There was the unfortunate incident of the American tourist murdered by a Chinese man. But the one worth noting is the protest in Tiananmen Square. The Students for a Free Tibet were protesting in Tiananmen Square about *surprise* human rights abuse in Tibet. And they were taken aback by the large angry Chinese crowd who undoubtedly thought the protesters were trying to steal their Olympic thunder. The protesters found no sympathy in the average Joe Chinaman. It is imperative that we Westerners do not forget that the 1.3 billion Chinese are not unhappy people. They are full of national pride and support their leadership in many ways. I’m not denying the poor relationship between China and , but we must not forget that the vast majority of Chinese are very proud of their country and don’t want their coming out party to be ruined. There isn’t a seething population under the harsh Communist whip, but rather (thanks to the media) small marginalized groups that are often dissatisfied with the status quo.

    Flip this around, and is Canada so different from China? We have separatists in Quebec (and Alberta and Newfoundland). We have First Nations that are rightfully disgruntled across the country. There are white supremacists in Calgary (google Aryan Guard Calgary) and increasing gang violence in Vancouver and Toronto. Sure, we Canadians know better (or do we?), but an outsider might suppose that Canada is falling apart…

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