China's Olympic ambitions falter with protests

Society Materials 2 August 2008 22:44 (UTC +04:00)

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, the AP reported.

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.