Something to Prove
The Chinese government has said over and over in the last few months that the Beijing Olympics should not be politicized. The uproar over Tibet has no place in the Games, officials insist. Nor do humanitarian concerns over Sudan’s Darfur region belong in the Olympic spotlight. As for human rights in China itself, well, that’s an internal matter.
Yet, politics have long been at the heart of China’s relations with the modern Olympic movement, as Xu Guoqi, an associate professor at Kalamazoo College, shows in his illuminating history, Olympic Dreams. The first time China participated in the Games, in 1932 at Los Angeles, the goal was to prevent Japan from scoring a propaganda coup. Japanese occupation authorities had planned to dispatch a stocky Chinese sprinter named Liu Changchun to represent the Manchukuo republic, the puppet state Japan had set up in Manchuria and Mongolia. To foil that plan, China’s Nationalist government hurriedly scraped together some money and sent Liu as a one-man Chinese delegation. He fared poorly as a sprinter but held high the Chinese flag.