By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
For the second time in 14 years, Beijing is home to the Olympic Games. In 2008, the city hosted the Summer Olympics; in 2022, the Winter Olympics are occurring nearby. The 2008 Olympic Games were embroiled in controversy, and the 2022 Olympic Games are experiencing similar scrutiny and critique.
On Friday, the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off the city’s—and China’s—second time hosting the Olympics in just 14 years. Additionally, Beijing has become the first city in the history of the modern Olympic Games to host both the Winter and Summer Games. Another milestone of the event is that the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games are the second event of this size and scale to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were delayed to 2021.
Amid such historical milestones, the importance of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics could easily be forgotten. Dr. Richard Baum, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains the significance of the games in his video series The Fall and Rise of China, which was recorded before his unfortunate passing.
“When the 2008 Games were first awarded to Beijing back in 2001, the spotlight—which was quite intense—of global media publicity shone brightly on the no-longer-sleeping Chinese Giant,” Dr. Baum said. “At the same time, hopes were raised that China’s quest for international status and respectability would push the country toward greater political liberalization and greater respect for human rights.”
According to Dr. Baum, the world had good reason to place such hopes on China. Before the Seoul 1988 Olympics, South Korea’s military dictatorship began a process of democratic political reform, caving to international pressure. Having occurred just 20 years earlier, these memories were still fresh in the minds of much of the global community.
“As it turned out, however, the South Korean experience was not replicated in China,” he said. “Although the long-term gravitational forces of globalization continued to nudge China slowly and fitfully in the direction of greater openness, greater transparency, and human rights awareness, no political breakthrough occurred en route to the 2008 Olympics.”
In fact, Dr. Baum said, China’s concern with maintaining the social order before the Games led to a tightening of state censorship, repression, and surveillance. In the year leading up to the 2008 Olympics, more than 50 Chinese reporters were detained by police for “reporting on forbidden subjects.” Political dissidents, human rights activists, and civilian protestors—numbering in the thousands—were also detained.
History Repeats Itself
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are being boycotted by several countries over China’s human rights record. Government representatives from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States will not be present at the Games. However, this is nothing new. Dismissal of the 2008 Olympics began as early as 2001.
“Although most international human rights organizations stopped short of endorsing a quarantined movement, the approach of the 2008 Olympics saw growing, albeit sporadic, support for a boycott movement,” Dr. Baum said. “In the final run-up to the August 2008 Games, a number of high-profile politicians and celebrities declared their personal support for the boycott.
“Britain’s Prince Charles and the vice president of the European Parliament were joined by nine Nobel Peace Prize winners and 119 U.S. lawmakers, among others, in publicly renouncing the Beijing Games.”
In the end, the Olympics commenced without major incident from any country. A total of 4.7 billion people watched the Games.
Ratings for 2022 are forthcoming.