The Olympics… as seen from the other side of the world

Xu Xiangru | 01 September 2012

Despite the pessimism in advance of the games, in the UK they have been widely viewed as a success. Here a Chinese student reflects on what the Olympics mean to the Chinese at a special period in their history. 

From Sun Yang’s world record in the 1500m freestyle to Ye Shiwen in the women’s 400m individual medley, shocking news has never been far away from the media coverage of these Olympics in China. It is not only the business of medals any more, but much more about how Chinese thinking is developing during this special period in China’s history. The London Olympics is a mirror that reflects recent change of Chinese society and different ways of thinking by people from different classes.

The Chinese are profoundly rethinking what a Gold medal means. In the past several decades it was hugely exciting for the Chinese to obtain a gold medal, primarily because we paid much more attention to winning than other countries. It encouraged us to try our best to win the gold even though it almost guaranteed that there would be cruel personal sacrifices needed to attain it. But it worked. Now China is a clear winner and cannot be ignored any longer.

Nevertheless, some problems and tensions have built up over the years. Many people are beginning to discuss whether Gold medals are the only standard to judge an athlete – and are starting to argue that the spirit of the Olympics is the most important thing. This is a landmark discovery for China, suggesting people are waking up from the crazy golden dream. Liu Xiang’s injury in the hurdles sums it up. As the BBC reported, ‘Many lauded him as a hero despite his failure to progress to the final – unlike the general reaction to his withdrawal in Beijing four years ago’.

There is also a large number of Chinese people who take it to extremes and throw away the national interest completely. This makes those who think that athletes should fight for their country, fight to be first – the very basis of competitive sport – quite angry.

In this Olympics, we saw much more ever than before of individual Chinese athletes. Their tears, sweat, heartbreak. It is not overstating it to say that Chinese athletes do the hardest things to please the whole country, but many in the country are never satisfied. People debated and argued with each other bitterly on the internet. Everyone is questioning and trying to find answers… including me. For some, problems come from failure and success. Sometimes I have thought it is we who are lost.

From my point of view, this fight to understand sporting values is also reflected the clash between people who believe in Western ‘everything’ and those who start to doubt it. Many people are upset now because they found what they used to worship in the Western model, also has its disadvantages. After watching the UK coverage of our Games, it is hard to say the London Olympics is really fair and that there is no discrimination against China. Some of the coverage appeared to be a strange kind of jealousy: sour grapes.

I am very happy to see what is happening in China now. We are debating and we are moving on. The big question is: is the West equally ready to accept a changing and stronger China… in the Olympics, or in any other field?

Xu Xiangru is a student of architecture at Liverpool University


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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