Olympics, China's Dreams, and the Fear of Nationalism

The new book Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 (Harvard University Press) by Xu Guoqi 1 , is a good read but also a serious piece of research which uses sport to see new dimensions of nationalism. The Olympics, one of those “invented traditions” if there ever was one, and nationalism feed on each other. Xu has the story on everything from Chiang Kai-shek to Ping Pong Diplomacy to the politicization of the non-political ideal and all points in between.

Susan Brownell’s Beijing Olympic FAQ at China Beat has a slightly contrarian take on the recent flap over Olympic torch protests. She suggests that the comparison with the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany is not so useful as a comparison with the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis — remember the song, “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louey?” The United States was then the rising power, fresh from conquests in the Philippines and ready to take on the world. Brownell points out why Europeans could look down their noses at the newcomers and how Americans responded.

Meanwhile, two other recent posts also put the present moment into (drum roll, please) Historical Perspective.

China’s Nationalism and How Not to Deal With It” at China Digital Times translates a Chinese blog posting which also urges more patience, while the response from “angry young Chinese” to the torch protests is nicely illustrated in a YouTube video, “Chinese Nationalism is Westerners’ Fear.

The video accuses the West of hypocrisy. One of many examples: 1) “we tried Communism and you hated us for being Communist” and then 2) “when we embraced Capitalism you hate us for being Capitalist.” Robert Daly, Responding to Chinese Grievances posted at China Digital Times, comments on this long list. For instance, to 1) he replies: “True, more or less. And China hated America for being a capitalist liberal democracy. It was a hate- and fear-filled time all around” and 2) “Not exactly. But America does fear China, in part, because China is gaining wealth and power through following (with Chinese characteristics) prescriptions that were offered by the West.”

  1. Full disclosure, Guoqi is a good friend. 

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