One of my favorite China hands, Professor Susan Brownell – quite possibly the most knowledgeable scholar out there on China’s sports culture and legacy – presented a paper last week at the University of Southern California on Beijing’s goals for the 2008 Olympics. Reproduced in part at the China Beat blog, she argues that there was no specific plan to use the Olympics as a public-relations tool for China to improve relations with the outside world; rather, it was Beijing’s goal to strengthen the confidence of its own people. The Telegraph (UK) quotes Brownell’s work in a piece titled “China didn’t care what you thought of the Beijing Olympics,” but having read the portion of Brownell’s paper that is available online, that feels like a harsher-than-necessary sound bite. In so many ways, China is just different than what many in the West expect it to be – a cultural difference that will keep China scholars busy for a long time to come. In any case, having been a witness to the 2008 Games myself, I can say that Brownell appears to hit the nail on the head, because it did feel after a while as though the Games were being put on for the benefit of China’s internal needs, not a need to look good to the rest of the world. Let the debates on that subject begin…
George Vescey of the New York Times was there.
One NBA Star and 150 Bridges to Sichuan (NY Times, January 26)
That’s two Vescey columns in three CSB posts that have caught my attention for their excellence. This is a great snapshot of Yao’s relationship with his homeland and his generosity – and a great piece of sports writing as well.
Bill Dwyre at the Los Angeles Times has written a great piece on one of the coaches who made Beijing memorable: U.S. men’s indoor volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon. He led the U.S. men to the gold medal – one of four medals and three golds that USA Volleyball took home from China – in the worst of circumstances: an apparently random attack at the Drum Tower (Gulou) tourist site in Beijing the day after the opening ceremony took the life of his father-in-law, Todd Bachman, and critically injured his mother-in-law, Barbara. McCutcheon has now taken the helm of the U.S. national women’s program for the London Olympics, following in the footsteps of Chinese legend “Jenny” Lang Ping, who led the U.S. indoor women’s team to the silver in Beijing. McCutcheon is by all accounts a class act, and it’s great to see the U.S. national women’s team in good hands for the next quadrennium.
Hugh McCutcheon of U.S. volleyball moves beyond Beijing – LA Times
It’s been quieter at the CSB than I had planned, but George Vescey of the New York Times wrote a column today that pretty much summed up the reason. It’s hard to think about sports being important when so much of what’s going on in the rest of the world is going wrong. Of course it was a great day for Pennsylvania, my home state, in the NFL playoffs today. But after the game, when the crowds go home from their expensive seats and the players go home to their expensive mansions, in a world that feels like it’s crumbling, it feels like sport should be put in a different place rather than front-and-center in our world views. Kudos to Vescey for expressing that sentiment today, and hopes for a much, much better 2009.
Mad at Sports, and Mad at the World – George Vescey column in the NY Times, 01/11/2009
China Daily reports that Liu Xiang’s medical team has agreed with the opinions of U.S. doctors who say that the injury that forced the 2004 Olympic champ out of the first round at the Beijing Olympics requires surgery. That’s likely to be done in the U.S. as well – and it makes Liu one of several Chinese sports superstars who have gone the route of making the trip to the United States for sports-related surgery. (Volleyball stars Feng Kun and Zhao Ruirui made the trip to Chicago in early 2007 to receive surgery for sports-related injuries and snagged a bronze medal in Beijing in August, both playing at full strength.)
Star hurdler Liu to go under the knife
Before the Olympics, the Chinese leadership agreed to sit down with representatives of Tibet’s government in exile to try to work out their differences. Now, word comes that the Dalai Lama himself feels the talks have reached a dead end. That’s frustrating to all who hope for better relations between China and Tibetans – and considering how much it became an issue in this Olympic year, with protests in Tibet that led to some calling for a boycott of the Olympics, it’s doubly difficult to swallow. We hope the Olympics are a catalyst for positive change in the world; it would have been gratifying to see the Chinese leadership try to figure out how to solve its differences with the Dalai Lama so that the cultures could coexist peacefully.
As I said…frustrating.
That was some 2008, wasn’t it? I know it’s not over quite yet – but for me and so many others who pay close attention to the Chinese sports world, the most important date on the calendar was August 8, 2008. The CSB shut down for a bit so that I could concentrate on my work for Sports Illustrated, and it was an amazing and very gratifying professional experience to work with such a talented team of writers at the Games.
The CSB will open up shop again starting now, and will be updated weekly or as events allow in the China sports world. No doubt there will be much news to share and to comment on in the coming weeks and months. Thanks to everyone who looked up the blog in the last few months – seeing that the website continues to get over 30,000 hits per month was a big part of the reason why I’ve decided to keep the blog going past the Beijing Olympics.
For now, I leave you with my articles from the Games and from SI’s Olympic preview issue, in which I wrote an essay on “The Chinese Athlete” – the stereotypes, the misconceptions, and the realities of developing into a sports star in the modern-day People’s Republic of China.
Magazine: The Chinese Athlete (July 28, 2008 issue)
Sunday, August 24: Indelible Memories: U.S. volleyball teams persevere in wake of tragedy
Saturday, August 23: Volleyball: U.S. women find silver lining in tragedy
Thursday, August 21: Volleyball: Former Chinese national team star has U.S. playing for gold medal
Tuesday, August 19: Lang Ping’s magical mystery tour
Monday, August 18: China reacts to its fallen hero
Sunday, August 17: Scenes from Beijing: A day in the life of Chinese Olympic sports (scroll down for story)
Saturday, August 16: China-U.S. volleyball: U.S. women’s volleyball team churns out victory from the heart
Saturday, August 16: Scenes from Beijing: Them’s fightin’ words (scroll down for story)
Friday, August 15: Scenes from Beijing: Bring on the yellow cows (scroll down for story)
Wednesday, August 13: Scenes from Beijing: Volleyball – “Minor” sport? Don’t tell that to the Chinese (scroll down for story)
Saturday, August 9: Truly sad day for two nations (with David Epstein and Rebecca Sun)
Friday, August 8: Tiananmen quiet by comparison to opening ceremony
Friday, August 8: China’s top 10 Olympic stories
Tueday, August 5: What I’m looking forward to: Yao Ming
A friend sent me a copy of a poem that is making its way around the Internet about the Sichuan earthquake, written in Chinese by an unknown author and translated by a Toronto-based earthquake engineer named Alex Tang. As much coverage as the earthquake has gotten in the States – including a PSA by Yao Ming being broadcast during the NBA playoffs and lots of national coverage, with many papers having sent journalists to the region – it’s still next to impossible to get a sense of the tragedy on this side of the ocean (I’m writing from the U.S. right now). This poem really speaks to the pain of the families who have lost children in the quake. My prayers go out to them.
å¿« (Hurry up)
æŠ“ç´§å¦ˆå¦ˆçš„æ‰‹ (Tightly hold your Momâ€™s hand)
åŽ»å¤©å ‚çš„è·¯ (The road to heaven)
å¤ªé»‘äº† (is too dark)
å¦ˆå¦ˆæ€•ä½ (Mom is afraid that)
ç¢°äº†å¤´ (you hit your head)
å¿« (Hurry up)
æŠ“ç´§å¦ˆå¦ˆçš„æ‰‹ (Tightly hold your Momâ€™s hand)
è®©å¦ˆå¦ˆé™ªä½ èµ° (Let Mom keep you company)
æ€• (I am afraid)
å¤©å ‚çš„è·¯ (The road to heaven)
å¤ªé»‘ (is too dark)
æˆ‘çœ‹ä¸è§ä½ çš„æ‰‹ (I cannot see your hand)
å€’å¡Œçš„å¢™ (the wall collapsed)
æŠŠé˜³å…‰å¤ºèµ° (it took the sun light away)
æˆ‘å†ä¹Ÿçœ‹ä¸è§ (I cannot see )
ä½ æŸ”æƒ…çš„çœ¸ (your lovely eyes again)
ä½ èµ°å§ (You can go)
å‰é¢çš„è·¯ (the road in front of you)
å†ä¹Ÿæ²¡æœ‰å¿§æ„ (has no sorrow any more)
æ²¡æœ‰è¯»ä¸å®Œçš„è¯¾æœ¬ (there are no books that you cannot finish reading)
å’Œçˆ¸çˆ¸çš„æ‹³å¤´ (and your fatherâ€™s fist)
ä½ è¦è®°ä½ (you have to remember)
æˆ‘å’Œçˆ¸çˆ¸çš„æ‘¸æ · (my face and your fatherâ€™s face)
æ¥ç”Ÿè¿˜è¦ä¸€èµ·èµ° (letâ€™s finish walking this road together in our next life)
åˆ«æ‹…å¿§ (do not worry)
å¤©å ‚çš„è·¯æœ‰äº›æŒ¤ (the road to heaven is a bit crowded)
æœ‰å¾ˆå¤šåŒå¦æœ‹å‹ (I have a lot classmates and friends)
æˆ‘ä»¬è¯´ (we all say)
ä¸å“ (donâ€™t cry)
å“ªä¸€ä¸ªäººçš„å¦ˆå¦ˆéƒ½æ˜¯æˆ‘ä»¬çš„å¦ˆå¦ˆ (anyoneâ€™s Mom is our Mom)
å“ªä¸€ä¸ªå©åéƒ½æ˜¯å¦ˆå¦ˆçš„å©å (any child is Momâ€™s child)
æ²¡æœ‰æˆ‘çš„æ—¥å (the days without me)
ä½ æŠŠçˆ±ç»™æ´»çš„å©åå§ (give your love to the children alive)
ä½ åˆ«å“ (donâ€™t cry)
æ³ªå…‰ç…§äº®ä¸äº† (tears cannot light up the road)
æˆ‘ä»¬çš„è·¯ (our road)
è®©æˆ‘ä»¬è‡ªå·± (let us)
æ…¢æ…¢çš„èµ° (walk slowly)
æˆ‘ä¼šè®°ä½ä½ å’Œçˆ¸çˆ¸çš„æ¨¡æ · (I will remember your face and fatherâ€™s face)
è®°ä½æˆ‘ä»¬çš„çº¦å®š (remember our appointment)
æ¥ç”Ÿä¸€èµ·èµ° (of walking together in our next life)
I’ve been blogging over at Sports Illustrated’s FanNation site for the last few months and I’ve checked in over here a bit as well, something I’ll be doing more of in the weeks and months to come. So much of the China-related sports news has been political in the past month that it’s been tough to balance everything out – how much time to spend digesting and commenting on the political issues, while trying to remember that we’re getting ready for a sporting event, one that will be the highlight of most of the athletes’ competitive careers.
This week at FanNation I’ve posted entries on the contrasting news of the week (the torch in Hong Kong, to a mostly supportive reception; contrasted with the Tibet-China talks coming up this weekend and the criticism Beijing continues to dole out to the Tibetan side); Yao Ming’s recovery and his prognosis for the Olympics (quick note: it’s all good); and an update on the Olympic men’s basketball tournament. Check it all out here.
Wow – what a tough time for the Rockets, sitting on a 12-game winning streak going into tonight’s game against the Washington Wizards.
International Herald Tribune
Los Angeles Times
United Press International
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