As New York Times journalist John F. Burns watched the Olympics, he recalled a marathon he ran in Beijing in 1973:
The runners will gather, as we did, under the gaze of Mao’s portrait on the great vermilion gate guarding the Forbidden City. And they will run down some of the same tree-lined boulevards. The crowds, though large, could hardly be more dense or clamorous than the million or more people who lined the sidewalks 35 years ago, when the race, like President Nixon’s visit the year before, was a watershed in the thawing of the Cultural Revolution.
I haven’t set foot in China since 1986, when my second posting there, for The New York Times, ended with imprisonment and deportation, on charges of using a motorcycle trip across the Chinese heartland as a cover for spying on the country’s missile program. That imbroglio, long since settled by a private apology from the Chinese authorities, meant that I left China for the last time just as it began its ascent to its current wealth and power with Deng Xiaoping’s repudiation of Mao and the reforms that put an end to the Maoist delusion of economic autarchy.
All of which has made me, perhaps more than most, a fascinated spectator, via television, of the Beijing Games.