No clear victory as China set out to improve image through Beijing 2008 Olympics


By Ida Relsted Kærup
Mega-events as drivers of social change: Experts on China went head-to-head in trying to assess the legacy and impact of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

From a Chinese perspective, the Beijing 2008 Olympics set out to improve its national image. However, experts agree that this goal was only partly achieved.

Professor Hai Ren, the Director of Olympic Studies at University of Beijing, told Play the Game that “the Beijing 2008 Olympics has not changed China's image too much, at least from the perspective of dominant western media."

"But the games have made both China and the world rethink the importance of each other,” he added.

Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) disagreed to some extent. While agreeing that the games were successful, he added that they restored some of the negative effects of the international protests during the Olympic torch relay which set out to damage China’s image.

Rreferring to a joint project between the IFJ and Play the Game during the Olympics, White concluded that progress had been made, especially in improved working conditions for foreign media, despite of clear violations of human rights and freedom of expression.

As an indicator of progress, he said, the IFJ has held meetings with the All China Journalists Association.

Lecturer Xiong Huan, on the other hand, concluded in terms of Chinese sports policies, that “it doesn’t seem they will change.”

“There is not enough evidence that the Chinese politics of sports will change, “ said Xiong Huan of the Irish Institute for Chinese Studies at the University of Cork.

In the eyes of Hai Ren, the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a historical opportunity for the country to show case the many years of rapid Chinese development to the world. The ambition was to bridge the gap between China and the world, Hai Ren reported.

“In a sense, it [the 2008 Beijing Olympics] was a large scale of mass communication. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was not seen as a message, but as a media.”  

Referring to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s 2003 comments on the opportunity given to China, Hai Ren said: “If we don’t grasp it, it will slip away.”

The discussion between Xiong Huan, Hai ren, Aidan White and Brian Dooley of Amnesty International can be watched from our on demand streaming page.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics will also be themed at a session Thursday 11 June, 14.00-16.00.

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