Beijing’s Olympic Green was the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics and it holds the two most famous structures from those games — the Bird’s Next (Beijing National Stadium) and the Water Cube (Beijing National Aquatic Center). There are a few other venues, but it’s hard to ignore the sight of these main structures, especially when they are lit up at night. China tries to put these venues in use as much as they can to keep the buildings relevant, though the Bird’s Nest in particular has been having some trouble booking consistent games. Apparently the Water Cube had been converted to a water park, though that change happened about a month after I visited.
The opening ceremony that was held in the Bird’s Nest is still one of the most impressive spectacles that I have ever seen on television and it shows just how much effort China put into presenting the Olympics. Almost all the other games were held by developed nations so China’s winning bid was somewhat historic. It was also the third time that the Olympics were held in Asia, behind Tokyo and South Korea. The Beijing Olympics were an attempt to showcase to the world that China had completed its development and had entered a new modern state. The capital city was revitalized and China was leading in the medal count.
Protests due to China’s hold of Tibet ended up marring some of the country’s efforts to show that they were on par with the rest of the world as media in various countries began to focus on China’s history of human rights abuses. Orville Schell wrote about this incident in “China: Humiliation and the Olympics” where he connected China’s feelings of dishonor perpetuated by the world to a history of humiliation within the country. There is this concept of bainian guochi, or one hundred years of national humiliation, that has arisen after indignities such as the Opium Wars and Japanese occupation of China. The use of the phrase “wuwang guochi” even asks citizens explicitly to never forget the national humiliation. The protests of Tibetan exiles and activists on the world stage during the Olympics just added to the embarrassment that China hope it would be able to shake off.
Even though China wants to modernize without Westernizing, like its former occupiers in Japan, Western countries still have a strong psychological hold where it seems like China is still looking for affirmation from the core. Schell believes that China’s obsession with achieving greatness in the eyes of the West is central in how it constructs its own identity. The lingering thought of how China will be perceived by the West drives its decisions and leaks into matters of foreign policy. As long as China continues to preoccupy itself with these circumstances, it can never truly eradicate Western influence.
Mega-events, especially the Olympics which draws high viewer numbers all over the world, have a way of putting the host country on stage for everyone to see both their flaws and accomplishments. While the attention is currently in London right now, I can’t wait to see how the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro develops. It will be the first Olympics in South America and yet another in a developing country, so it will be interesting to see the change occurring in the next couple of years. That gives me time to save up to be there!