Beijing Olympics: "One country, two dreams"

11 Aug 2008|Added Value

Ordinary people in China are not that proud of the slogan “One world, one dream”. It’s a politically correct slogan and well crafted in both languages, but “one country” is always more important than “one world”. They are not that proud of the five mascots (Fuwa in putonghua) either, indeed it is often heard consumers saying the look and design of these five Fuwa are so clumsy that even kids don’t feel like buying them.

But these have never mitigated the pride and passion of Chinese people for the 2008 Olympics, which is to open tomorrow in Beijing!

For China, the Beijing Olympics is about national pride, dignity and progress. National pride is understandably universal for any country hosting the Olympic Games, but it is more intense this time for China, and no one can argue that dignity and progress underscore how people feel about the Olympics.

China was a “sick man in Asia” for more than 100 years but in the last 20 years, it has experienced an extreme makeover in every aspect domestically and internationally. Successfully hosting the Olympics is seen to be almost a final exam to prove that the country has become a world-recognised powerhouse, and a modern nation with over 5000 years of civilisation. Consumers told us they wanted the world to see how advanced the country is: the highways, astounding buildings, accessibility of mobile phones, luxury brands – the richness in culture and openness of the country. Moreover, people believed that the Olympics will accelerate China’s economic growth even further, and more people from overseas would be fascinated and fuelled to invest more in the mainland.

To sum up, the dream is “to show”.

But that was true about a year ago. The government knows the danger of people getting too impassioned and has tried to reduce from boiling to a simmer. If you live in China, you can see that the publicity and Olympic messages sent out by the government and CCTV have been very mild in nature. What they want is a smooth Olympics with no hiccups. This is far more important than the number of medals won and the economic profit of the event.

While the government is subtly toning down the nationalistic zeal, dramatic happenings with the Olympic torch relay in different countries and accusations on environmental issues etc. have kept the nationalistic spirit ignited. Even though the government has controlled what was reported on TV and official media, people saw it anyway on the internet. However, what really diverted all attention away was the Sichuan earthquake in May. During that whole month, the Olympics was put aside.

With all this happening, Chinese would say that 2008 is both a dramatic and traumatic year for China and its people. As the Olympics is drawing close, there are perhaps “two dreams” pervading: “No disruptions” and “More medals”.

Dream one: “No disruptions”
In recent months, security checks throughout China are so strict and sporadic unrests are heard of so often that Shanghainese are talking about not going to Beijing during the Olympics “for safety”. Many wealthier Beijing people are leaving the city for a few weeks to “escape the disturbance” caused in their daily life such as traffic control. The more patriotic segment is getting steadily tenser because of possible terrorism (for example Tibet supporters) during the games. Dustbins in crowded malls have disappeared because they pose a risk of hiding spots for bombs, and close-circuit cameras are being installed in most public buses to ward off trouble-makers. Many local consumers said that they just want the Olympics to end peacefully, and then life will be back to normal.

Dream two: “More medals”
The “show” element has died down. To a certain extent, the “foreplay” has been too long to sustain a “show” interest. It has also become unlikely that the Olympics can accelerate economic growth for the future – the marketing circle has people describing the effect to be “de-economy”. On a positive note, it has brought people back to the fundamentals of any Olympics – that is, to get more gold medals! Every athlete and country wants to win and a healthy winning attitude keeps athletes going beyond their limits, breaking records. In communities across China, there are all sorts of “guess how many medals China wins” and cheer teams in action. It dilutes the tension that is surfacing and builds a positive anticipation for the games.

China has come a long way since it won the hosting right in 2000. The intense passion to “show and prove” has turned to an unromantic dream of “no disruptions” plus a ubiquitous theme of “more medals”. In the next three weeks, we will anxiously see if the two dreams both come true.

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