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Archive for Sunday, August 3, 2008

China’s Olympic ambitions battered by unforeseen events

Performers dance during a 100 Days Countdown celebration to the Beijing Summer Olympics outside the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest. China's hopes that the Olympics would be a pivotal moment in national glory and global acceptance have been hammered as unforeseen events collided with its grand goals.

Performers dance during a 100 Days Countdown celebration to the Beijing Summer Olympics outside the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest. China's hopes that the Olympics would be a pivotal moment in national glory and global acceptance have been hammered as unforeseen events collided with its grand goals.

August 3, 2008

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— The short, catchy film commissioned by the Chinese government was designed to plant a new, positive image of China in foreigners' minds for the Beijing Olympics.

But instead of airing worldwide more than two months ago as planned, the 30-second TV spot is only now about to reach viewers, having been delayed repeatedly by Tibetan riots, a devastating earthquake and foreign criticism buffeting the games.

China's hopes that the Olympics starting Friday will be a pivotal moment in national glory and global acceptance have been battered by unforeseen events. The disappointment has left some in China hurt and feeling unjustly treated.

The Chinese "tried hard to impress the world and to prove the country deserves respect and appreciation," said Xu Guoqi, a China-born historian at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. "But the West used the Olympic torch relay and the coming games to shame the country and frequently remind the Chinese they were not good enough."

The August Olympics still may appear picture-perfect on global TV, despite concerns about air pollution, overbearing security and media restrictions. Enthusiasm among Chinese for a strong showing by Team China remains high. But where officials once spoke of hosting the greatest games ever, they now seem ready to settle simply for an incident-free event.

"A safe Olympics is the biggest indicator of the success of the games," Vice President Xi Jinping, the senior-most Communist Party leader overseeing preparations, told a rally of volunteers last month.

Worries about terrorism and protests have come to the fore. Beijing has taken on a strange air: Its new venues, skyscrapers and roadways hung with banners sparkle in anticipation while police expel political critics, some migrant workers and foreigners deemed suspect.

The Olympic letdown stands in contrast to the ambitious buildup. From the outset, Chinese leaders saw the games as a chance to boost China's image, to redefine it as a worthy, humane global partner - and not a menacing behemoth. Ordinary Chinese thought it a ripe opportunity to mark the tremendous strides made in casting off poverty and totalitarianism and building the fourth-largest economy in the space of a generation.

In their bid for the Olympics seven years ago, Beijing officials said the games would increase interaction with the international community and spur improvements in human rights and media freedom. The Chinese government called on party image-makers to devise ways to appeal to foreigners and on officials to stoke popular enthusiasm at home. "Integrate with the world" became a catch-phrase.

The longest ever torch relay was planned. In a

$40 billion makeover, Beijing invited top foreign architects to design futuristic sports venues, a new airport and other eye-catching modern landmarks. Residents were told not to spit in public and to obey traffic rules.

The country rolled out the most extensive Olympic education program ever, developing a special curriculum taught in more than 550 schools and encouraging tens of thousands nationwide to teach Olympic values and take part in sports meets and signature campaigns.

The promotional film was a key part of this effort and the first ever commissioned by the government for overseas markets. Dubbed "a national image film," the government planned for a May airing on CNN, the BBC and other broadcasters with international reach. The piece would mix images of ancient picturesque towns with shots of ultramodern Beijing and Shanghai.

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