PARTICIPATING AUTHOR: XU GUOQI
For the 29th Olympiad, Beijing has many ambitious plans including its Olympic torch relay which will traverse the longest distance, cover the greatest area, and involve the largest number of people in Olympic history. The Olympic flame has even reached the peak of the Mt. Everest. Beijing also designed its torch to be so-called “lucky cloud” and chose the theme and slogan of the torch relay as “the journey of harmony” and “light the passion, share the dream,” respectively. However, since the start of the torch relay, it seems that many Westerners did not share the same dream and the torch routes were nothing harmonious. The torch seemed also to have lit anti-Chinese passion among some Western media and politicians. The torch relay legs in London, Paris, and San Francisco were turned into fiascos. Free Tibet groups and human right groups, among others, seemed determined to use the torch relay and the coming Olympic Games to humiliate and shame Beijing and to squeeze concessions from China. Yes, the Olympic flame or “sacred fire” described by the Chinese was heroically brought to the peak of Mt. Everest by Chinese torch bearers on May 8. But the Chinese seemed unable to enjoy the historical moment due to the Western criticism.
For more than a century, China have been obsessed with its dream of joining the West-dominated world system as an equal and respected member. To host the Olympic Games is an important part of this obsession. Through the Olympics, including the ambitious torch relay, the Chinese wanted to prove to the West that they could compete and they were not “Sick Man of East Asia” anymore, and wanted to demonstrate to the world that a new, open, prosperous, and internationalized China has emerged. However, despite the breathtaking fast growth of its economy and rising international power in the last three decades, the Chinese seemed to have suffered what I called in my recent book Olympic Dreams a “syndrome of can-do spirit and inferiority”. The Chinese are not self-confident and have cried for Western acceptance, recognition, and due respect. To organize the most impressive and ambitious torch relay clearly reflects this seemingly paradoxical feeling. But to the dismay of both the Chinese government and its people, the West seemed not to be impressed by or hostile to the Chinese accomplishment or share the same dream of having a strong and powerful China. Through their coverage and handling of the Beijing torch relay, the West seemed to remind the Chinese they were still not equal and they were still not good enough.
However, perhaps surprising to many ill-informed Westerners, their humiliation of China through politicizing the torch relay and the coming Olympic Games seems to have backfired. Instead of undermining Beijing’s legitimacy and credibility, the torch relay has become a rallying force to mobilize Chinese at home and abroad to support their government and defend China’s honor and has lead to the rise of outpouring of patriotism and nationalism. By trying to use the torch relay and the coming Games as leverage to force China to change its behavior and score political and diplomatic points, the West seems to have alienated the majority of Chinese and lost its credibility among the well-educated young Chinese. Instead of undermining Beijing’s legitimacy, Western misuse of torch relay and the Games has strengthened the Communist regime’s power and support base among its own people. The arrogant attitude of the western politicians to use the torch relay and the coming Games to humiliate and shame China was treated by many Chinese at home and abroad as a collective insult and forced many Chinese to ask whether it is still a good idea for China to follow the Western ideas and norms. In other words, due to the West’s self-inflicted wounds, the Chinese government seems to start to enjoy some popular support and the Chinese people seem to share the government’s dream to make the Games a great success regardless of the West responses and criticisms.
Regardless of their good wish and hope, the year 2008 has seemed to be a year of bad luck for the Chinese before the Olympic Games even start. The terrible snow storm early this year froze most of the nation and destroyed many Chinese celebration plans for spring festival. Then the Tibet unrest in March turned China into a target of world denunciation. In April, there was a deadly train crash, and now in May China was hit with the most deadly earthquake since the PRC was founded. But the year 2008 may prove to be the year of most significance in China’s relations with the world in the long run. What happened to their torch relay in the Western countries will fundamentally change Chinese perception of the West and 2008 may mark the beginning of a fundamentally new way of thinking about themselves and the West. Many thinking Chinese, if they can overcome disasters like this earthquake, and if both government and the people can work together to turn the shared dream into reality, don’t feel they have to prove anything to the West. Rather, they only have to prove to themselves. If the Chinese can successfully overcome the deadly earthquake, they definitely will be able to host a most successful Olympic Games. The Olympic Games is an opportunity for China, but it is also an opportunity for the West to prove to the Chinese that it still has some credibility and still can be trusted. What happened to the torch relay may symbolize the beginning of the end of Chinese romantic feeling for the West and provide a starting point for China’s search for more suitable national identity that is independent of western influence and pressure. If that is the case, the year 2008, in the long run, may indeed be a pivotal and a lucky year for China.