“One World, One Dream” or “One Game, Different Dreams”?

James Farrer is associate professor of sociology at Sophia University in Tokyo. He writes in the ChinaBeat blog:

Seeing the Olympics as a watershed event, Japanese commentators have speculated about a “post-Olympic” China, and their prognoses are generally darker than the more optimistic views in the U.S. media. Influenced by Japan’s own postwar experience, columnists ask whether the Beijing Olympics will serve the purpose of integrating China into global society, in the same way achieved by the former Axis powers in the postwar Rome, Tokyo, and Munich Olympics, and later by Seoul in 1988. Most answer negatively. Despite a consensus “silver medal” for a brilliant (if somewhat flawed) show, the Olympics were regarded as a political failure by most Japanese commentators, at least when judged by democratic norms. More darkly, some conservative papers suggest, the Olympics should be seen as a great “success” for the legitimacy of authoritarian rule in China.

In a front-page summary of the impact of the Olympics on China, the conservative Sankei Shimbun suggested that the Olympics were a celebration of dictatorship and the effectiveness of totalitarian government, “a celebration turning its back on democratization” (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 1). The article suggests that the Beijing Olympics should be compared to neither the 1964 Tokyo Olympics nor the 1988 Seoul Olympics, both of which led to greater democratization and the integration of Japan and Korea into the club of democratic states. Rather, the editors conclude, China’s Olympics may in retrospect look more like the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which signaled political isolation and the internal disintegration of the Soviet Union. Like many conservative voices in Japan, the Sankei emphasizes the fragile state of the Chinese economy, predicting much bigger troubles, even a “hard landing” for China’s “bubble economy” (Aug. 25, 2008, p. 1, “After the Olympics: a mountain of problems for China’s economy”).

Even the more liberal Asahi Shimbun described the opening ceremony as a “political show for the party leadership,” (Aug. 9, 2008, p. 2) pointing to the important role played by Communist Party leaders in every public event leading up to the Olympics. The article claims that in every city passed through on the torch relay, the first torch bearer was always the local Party secretary. As the Games opened, Asahi guest columnist and liberal academic Fujiwara Koichi judged Zhang Yimou’s elaborate opening ceremony as a “vacuous” political exercise. He writes, “It’s a sad sight to see this brilliant director expending his talents on this exaggerated display of tradition and political propaganda.”


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