IOC president Jacques Rogge told Western countries to stop hectoring China over human rights in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Games, in an interview with a British newspaper published on Saturday.
"We owe China to give them time," the International Olympics Committee boss told the Financial Times.
The Olympic torch relay in the run-up to the August 8-24 Games has been met with protests in cities across the globe over China's actions in Tibet and human rights record.
Rogge said that while he understood the strength of feeling in the West, expectations of how quickly China can change were overblown.
"It took us 200 years to evolve from the French Revolution. China started in 1949," the 65-year-old Belgian told the FT business daily.
"We all know that there were abuses under Mao and the Cultural Revolution was not a nice period. But gradually, steadily, over 60 years, they evolved, and they were able to introduce a lot of changes."
In 1949, Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal came "with all the abuse attached to colonial powers. It was only 40 years ago that we gave liberty to the colonies. Let's be a little bit more modest."
But Rogge said protests were the wrong way to convince Beijing to change its ways.
"You don't obtain anything in China with a loud voice," Rogge said.
"That is the big mistake of people in the West wanting to add their views. To keep face is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works -- respectful, quiet, firm discussion.
"Otherwise the Chinese will close themselves. That is what is happening today. There is a lot of protest, a lot of very strong verbal power, and the Chinese, they close themselves."
Rogge said the IOC always thought handing the 2008 Olympics to Beijing would "open up China", and that in time this would happen.
"The Games, we believe, over time, will have a good influence on social evolution in China, and the Chinese admit it themselves," he said.
"I wonder if Tibet would be front page today were it not that the Games are being organised in Beijing. It would probably be page four or five," he said.
"We have been able to achieve something. I am not quite sure that heads of government have achieved much more than we have done."
He said the political landscape of South Korea had been transformed by the 1988 Games in Seoul.
"There will never be a solution whereby the political world or the pressure groups will not try to leverage the Games," he added.
"You cannot stop that because of the prestige of the Games and what they represent for mankind."