The legacy of the Beijing Olympics – a one off or a sign of Westernization?

15 May


It’s one of the international sporting hallmarks for developed countries in the West, and although it took place 5 years ago, the 2008 Olympics was a hugely influential event for China and its development. The world’s media and attention was focused solely on Beijing. But should the Olympic Games be seen as a one off event, or as part of China’s progress to becoming closer to the other Western powers?

China’s main motivation has not been the economic benefits that have typically become the focus for host nations. Instead, it was primarily politically orientated as a gesture to other countries of how far China has progressed as a country (Gottwald and Duggan 2008, pg.340).

Of huge benefit to China in recent years has been joining typically Western dominated organisations such as the WTO and the IMF. It is not by chance that China joining the IMF coincided with the decision to award the 2008 games to them. Previous Olympic Games have been awarded on this basis for countries such as Japan and Mexico, and it is typically seen as a sign of the trade liberalization and the country “opening up” (Rose and Spiegel 2011, pg.653). While huge economic benefit was also gained by China from the games, the diplomatic benefits probably outweigh the financial ones.

One of the major dividing lines between China and the rest of the Western countries has been its record of human rights violations. China has, in the past, been extremely liberal with the how fairly some citizens are treated when their will goes against that of the governments. The protests over a free Tibet showed how swift the CCP were in minimizing the potential for civil unrest, but the use of riot police demonstrated the willingness to quash any form of resistance (The Standard 2008). The relief of the CCP allowing fixed contracts for construction workers seems only small progress (Blecher 2009, pg.74-75).

Likewise, a vivid reminder of how far China still is from other nations is the heavy censorship of the internet and press regulation. Since the free press has typically been a hallmark of the free press in Western countries, the censorship of the internet has proved hugely controversial. While the country decided to relax censorship during the Olympics (The Guardian), this proved to be only temporary and the CCP returned to typical policy shortly after. As shown across the internet, China has become increasingly adept at manipulating the internet, much to the annoyance of companies like Google (The Economist 2013). This has served to demonstrate China’s lack of progress in terms of liberal freedom that Western countries have begun to value so much.

Overall, China’s “coming out party” (Leibold 2010, pg.1) has been a success for the country and the overall opinion of the country has arguably changed. However, while China may have moved closer to the Western dominated international order, progress will still have to be made. Issues of censorship and human rights abuse in the build-up to the event itself mark the divide of how far China may have to progress to become accepted further by some countries.



Blecher, Mark (2009) China in 2008: Meeting Olympian Challenges, Asian Survey, 49 (1), 74-87

The Economist, April 6th 2013, “China’s Internet”

Gottwald, J. C. and Duggan, N. (2008) China’s Economic Development and the Beijing Olympics, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 25 (3), pg.339-354

The Guardian, August 1st 2008, “China relaxes internet censorship for the Olympics” –

Leibold, J. (2010) The Beijing Olympics and China’s conflicted form, The China Journal, 63 (1)

Rose, A. and Spiegel, M. (2011) The Olympic Effect, The Economic Journal, 121 (553), pg.652-677

The Standard March 18th 2008, “Hong Kong journalists thrown out of Tibet” –





One Response to “The legacy of the Beijing Olympics – a one off or a sign of Westernization?”

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