To outsiders, 8 per cent still looks awe-inspiring – and a success for the People’s Bank of China’s fight against overheating. Inside China, even 9.8 per cent feels less like cool air than a spell in the freezer. The situation is complicated by inflation, a neuralgic political issue. The official CPI inflation index has cooled thanks to falling food prices, from 8.7 per cent in February to 6.3 per cent in July. However, inflation as most Chinese experience it is far higher and is reflected in social unrest and inflation-busting pay rises in key coastal export industries. It would be higher still had the Government not clamped price controls on grain, coal and utilities (exacerbating electricity shortages) and blown 1.2 per cent of GDP on fuel subsidies, more than double central government spending on education.
Add to these concerns massive industrial overcapacity, and the urgency of tackling environmental degradation, and Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler whose injured Achilles tendon forced him to pull out of the Games, may be a more apt symbol of China’s present condition than the 51 other athletes who took it to the top of the gold medal league.