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Come tomorrow we’re going to be inundated with all things Olympics here in China yet again. Big celebrations are being set up here in the capital and in other parts of this country as well to mark the 100 day countdown to the Games. As such, the media organs are going to be going non-stop trying to show what a glorious set of Games China is going to be putting on. And it’s through the lead up to this media blitz that I got thinking about what the impending Games are going to be all about for people on a personal level.
I was asked by a friend of a friend to be interviewed by the People’s Daily last week, because the paper wanted to get some foreigner’s reactions ‘in the can’ about the 100 day countdown and the Olympics themselves for tomorrow’s edition. The questions, which were emailed to me, were fairly generic in nature, but one of them did force me to think for a bit. The People’s Daily wanted to know what the Olympic Games mean to me on a personal level. It is an interesting notion. We’re consistently bombarded on the web and through the Chinese media about just how much these Olympic Games this summer mean to China and the Chinese people. And the foreigners living here and abroad all like to speculate about just what the Games will do as far as China’s public image is concerned. But I have to admit I’ve never really given any thought to what the Games mean to me. I’ve never attended an Olympics before. Sure I’ve watched them on television and have rooted for my own country, even though Canada never really does very well in the Summer Games. I even have a bit of a personal, albeit very minor, connection to the Olympics, given that my sister narrowly missed out representing Canada in the Olympic Marathon in Seoul in ’88. But the more I thought about the People’s Daily question, the more I realized that I don’t care about the Olympics at all. At worst for me, this summer’s Games will mean thousands of people jamming up the subway system and my neighborhood, along with inflated prices for all things laowai as the local retailers do their best to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners. At best, I’ll be able to look back afterward and say that I was in Beijing when the Games took place. But as far as any sort of soulful connection to the Olympics in one form or another, it’s just not there for me. But, in the end, that’s me. As for the answer I gave the People’s Daily, you’ll just have to buy a paper (though I don’t really know if it was for the print or online version, or both).
He Zhenliang.jpg
On the opposite side of the coin, I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with China’s Mr. Olympics, He Zhenliang. He’s the guy that most people credit for getting the Olympics here to China. He’s a very amiable and accommodating fellow, and an interesting guy to chat with, given that he was – in his early years – a translator on numerous occasions for Premier Zhou Enlai. But if anyone out there in China had an excuse to wash his hands of all things Olympics, it would be him, given all the crap that he had to deal with in trying to actually get the games here to Beijing. He Zhenliang Headshot.jpg But in chatting with him, you couldn’t help but realize that this guy really, really thinks the Olympics are going to change this country. Sure, he’s a diplomat and gave all the ‘correct’ answers, but still, you could tell that he believes in these Games to the very core of his soul. To me, it sort of epitomizes the feeling I get from most Chinese people whenever they talk about the Olympics. For whatever reason, there seems to be some sort of collective agreement that these Olympics are going to kick ass and prove to the world that China and the Chinese people aren’t getting the respect they deserve. As such, Chinese people have really taken these Games to heart and have developed an almost intimate and personal connection to them. Hence the anger surrounding the torch protests and the like. But the one thing I can’t really put my finger on is whether it’s the actual Olympics themselves that the Chinese have come to love or whether it’s the Games’ ability to put China under the global spotlight. A term I hear being kicked out a lot is that these are ‘China’s Olympics.’ You hear it so often that you almost tend to forget that the Olympics are ‘the world’s’ Games and that China just happens to be the host this year. So what will be interesting to see is just how much the Olympics mean to Chinese people 4 years down the road when London is the host. Are the Chinese people having a May-December romance with the Games or are they willing to take the five rings and put them on their fingers and commit for the long-haul?
Olympic Rings.png

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3 Comments

  1. Lindel says:

    When I was younger I would get excited about the olympics. Especially the winter olympics and the gymnastics events. Hearing Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, it was exciting. But over the years I soured on the olympics. Jimmy Carter’s boycott, drug scandals, judge fixing scandals, bribery and shenanigans of host city competition. Then one olympics I think it was the LA summer olympics, that clown from NBC Dateline did these long winded poetry readings about each individual athletes herioc poetic journey from some small town and their life struggle to participate in the olympics, that went of for hours on TV. Then a friends girlfriend told me how she worked for a lawyer whose job was to sue people for unauthorized of olympics symbols. After Atlanta I just lost interest. Seems like the olympics is more about being an international traveling economic stimulus package for economically challenged cities of the world to get a shot in the arm.
    By the time I bought one of those Beijing 2008 ball caps in Tiananmen in 2002 I no longer cared much about the olympics. I only bought the hat so I wouldn’t be pestered any more the street vendors to buy one, but that didn’t work of course. You bought one, why don’t buy more you wealthy laowei.
    A large motivation for the olympics was to bring some economic stimulus to Beijing to make up for missing out on all the benefits places like shanghai were enjoying from the open door policy.
    In many of the history books of imperial china I have read how the emperor and his court expected foreigners to come to the capital bearing gifts and tokens of respect and humility to the middle kingdom. I think it was a brit who refused to kowtow to the emperor.
    wonder if they are thinking the 2008 olympics games are an opportunity for the rest of the world to kow tow? From what chinese people have told the Olympics is really important to show something to the rest of the world and has something to do with past humiliations from western imperialism.
    I was never that excited about the 2008 olympics and it doesn’t have anything to do with my feelings towards the chinese. It’s just the olympics have come to represent indirectly problems with western capitalism.
    World Cup Soccer seems to be more exciting as an international sporting event. Even the North Korean’s melted some and rooted for the South Korean Team when the world cup was held in south korea.
    I hope the games turn out to be to the chinese people all they hope it to be. Maybe it will stir new enthusiasm for the franchise in the rest of the world.

  2. Hang says:

    “As such, Chinese people have really taken these Games to heart and have developed an almost intimate and personal connection to them.”
    Honestly speaking, most of my friends and myself never thought that the Olympic Games would mean anything to us personally. Thanks to the biased western media, we begin to take it to heart and strongly hope that Beijing can make it one of the best Olympics.

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