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For China, the game’s not over

The Chinese spent seven years preparing for the Beijing Olympics on a never-before scale: from a $43 billion bill to 40 million lab-tested potted plants on the streets, writes Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Aug 24, 2008 23:36 IST
Reshma Patil

The world’s biggest, costliest and most controversial 17-day party ended on Sunday. But we’ll be talking about it for a long time.

The Chinese spent seven years preparing for the Beijing Olympics on a never-before scale: from a $43 billion bill to 40 million lab-tested potted plants on the streets.

They raised an army of four lakh volunteers including a 103-year-old who prowled on patrol duty. They gave in to world pressure to set up three protest zones — but rejected all 77 protest applications.

When the world complained about Beijing’s unhealthy air, authorities temporarily closed factories, construction sites, and ordered half the vehicles off the roads.

But the lasting Olympian legacy will be the transformation of China’s relations with the world. The Games marked the integration of Chinese and western culture, declared China’s official media.

“The Games will serve as a major turning point in China’s century-long search for national identity and internationalisation,’’ Xu Guoji, the author of Olympic Dreams: China and sports, 1895-2008, told HT from Michigan, USA. “The Chinese demonstrated that China is a major power deserving respect and showed that the Chinese can compete against the world’s best.’’

The Games will make the world look differently at China, Tang Wenfang, international studies lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, US, told AFP.

“Over the past 20-30 years, China was an underdeveloped country in the world’s eyes. The Olympics allowed the world to see what China has become.” “The Olympics symbolised China’s continuing engagement with the world and the efforts China took to dispel the doubts its ‘rise’ inspired,’’ said Raviprasad Narayanan, visiting research scholar at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies.

The multimillion-dollar sports venues also rescued the Made-in-China brand from many such doubts. "If you go back 12 months, brand China was in tremendous difficulties with toxic toys and other issues,” the China Daily quoted Beijing-based Greg Paull, who runs a market research firm.

But once the Olympic flame is extinguished, the Communist Party of China will turn its attention to other burning issues at home. “Like any dreams, the Chinese will have to wake up to reality,’’ said Xu. “After the feel-good Games,
the government has to fix problems such as inflation, corruption and social unrest. The government cannot use the Games as an excuse anymore to force many unhappy citizens not to challenge it.’’ But beyond the Wall, China’s new Olympian image is that of a friendlier, open power. "The world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world,’’ said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

And the Chinese learned about their nation too. "For the first time, I learnt that there are many interesting places in Beijing beyond the Great Wall,’’ said cultural activities volunteer Yang Cuiju. The Bird’s Nest national stadium will remain one such landmark.