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"Olympic Dreams"

This article is more than 12 years old.
The road to the Summer Games has not been an easy one for China. From human rights protests to concerns over athletes' health due to polluted air, this year's Olympics have not come without its fair share of controversy. Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 is Professor Xu Guoqi's new book that tells the story of the growth of sports in a country that has also grown important globally throughout the last century.

According to Xu Guoqi, the author of Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008, “sports…provide a useful perspective on – and may even help shape – how national identity is developed and internationalization is achieved.” He goes on to suggest “that sport defines a country’s national identity and internationalization because it inspires solidarity and self-reflection.” And that’s just on the first page of the introduction. Professor Guoqi doesn’t have much to say about the rampant doping of Chinese female swimmers in the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s, or the particular human rights outrages that have led lots of people to conclude that even a spectacle as thoroughly corrupt as the Olympics shouldn’t have been awarded to China. He does suggest that “China needs political reforms,” and that “an overwhelming cry for cleaner, better sports might lead to such reforms.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s more likely that the reforms will come as a result of the international depiction of Beijing as so polluted that some of the athletes began wearing masks even before they got out of the airport. Or maybe the government’s willingness to allow some small number of protests will encourage the locals to engage in larger, more effective protests. On the final page of his book, Professor Guoqi acknowledges that he, like everybody else, has no idea how hosting the Olympic Games will change the country. “Here there is great hope for China,” he writes. “But perhaps also an element of danger.” Am I going to be the only reader disappointed that the end of the book sounds like a fortune cookie?

This program aired on August 7, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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