China’s Olympic Expectations
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.