Beyond Beijing: China’s Toughest Competition

As the world’s attention is focused on Beijing, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom & Kate Merkel-Hess of China Beat argue in The Nation that foreign observers should not overlook the rest of China amidst all the Olympics hype.

The most important reason to look beyond Beijing is simple: the Chinese regime realized from the start that domestically, the Games cannot achieve what it wants them to achieve if they are seen as a just the capital’s affair. It has thus taken many steps to encourage people living far from Beijing–who often view the capital and its residents with suspicion–to feel that they, too, have a stake in and can benefit from the Olympics. Consider the torch relay. International audiences tended to lose interest in it after the flame reached China, perking up again only when it made it to Tibet and then this week the capital, but its passage through Hainan Island and cities such as Fujian and provinces such as Anhui–none of which is near Beijing or Lhasa–were crucial for a government that is constantly trying to convince a population with no faith in its official ideology to give it credit for providing attractive bread and circuses at home and for raising China’s profile abroad.

Since most foreign journalists are based in Beijing, people-in-the-street interviews conducted there will be used to assess the domestic success of the Games (or lack thereof). But for the Communist Party, what counts just as much as reactions by Beijingers is how the spectacle plays in places like Wuxi and Wenzhou, which we might be tempted to call Peorias with Chinese characteristics, except that the population of the former is almost ten times and the latter almost twenty times that of the Illinois city.

Here are some specific stories that benefit from looking beyond Beijing.


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