The Games are nothing short of a sacred ritual for this atheist state, and it is hard to exaggerate the enthusiasm. When the organisers advertised for volunteers to deal with baffled foreigners unused to local ways, a million people applied. Most of the 100,000 selected came from universities around the country, such as Wang Wenjia, a 21-year-old medical student who has trained eight hours a day for two weeks.
“First of all, it’s a great opportunity to be part of the Games,” he said, switching back and forth between Chinese and nervous but enthusiastic English, which he has been practising for this moment. “This is a once-in-a-hundred-year thing. Though I can’t compete in the field as an athlete, I can give my heart as a volunteer, give my passion. To offer my service to the spirit of the Olympics is very important.”
He defined that spirit as being based around “peace and unity”, which is the official line. But it is Mr Xu’s “powerful and strong” that resonates abroad, and in the guts of a billion Chinese.
Read also an interview with Orville Schell on the New York Times Olympics blog, in which he says:
Q: Can the Olympics, as much as it serves as a symbolic rather than actual catalyst for change, alter China in some fundamental way?
Schell: Yes, I believe it can … potentially both for the worse and the better. The more we engage China, the more we will find ourselves entitled to criticize and influence it. (This process is, of course, also a two-way street on which we, too, need to be willing to sometimes listen to China.)
But if we spurn and rebuke China without seeking to play out those areas where there actually is common interest, the outcome could be very dangerous and China will be inclined to be more resistant to the kind of changes which most enlightened citizens of the world would like to see it embrace.
See also “Will The Olympics Change China?” from VOA.
Update: Also, see “A spirit of progress” from the San Francisco Chronicle. Thanks to Erika for the link.