Games offer chance to shatter misconceptions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2008, 12:00am

The Olympic Games are grounded in sport and culture, but over the decades, have come to embody friendship, building a better world, and for the host nation, pride and prestige. All these elements were on show at the opening ceremony on Friday night; never has there been such an impressive kick-start to what is unquestionably the world's premier sporting event. So dazzling was the four-hour extravaganza that it is difficult not to believe the boast of the architect, film director Zhang Yimou , that it will take some years before it will be bettered.

Yet for some foreign media, the focus of their commentaries the following day was less about the ingenuity, skill and technical brilliance than the attempt to read political meaning into the occasion. A number focused on the presence of People's Liberation Army soldiers among the performers, the nation's aim to show its greatness and the Communist Party's grip on power.

The ceremony was about none of this. Looked at objectively, the first half was a journey through the history of China during its golden era. The second part of the performance was about China's aspirations to be a modern country. Segments emphasised the nation's culture, values and contributions to the world, as well as the Olympic spirit of friendship among the world's peoples. Zhang got across these points spectacularly well. That PLA soldiers participated is not unusual for an event that needed teamwork and precision. Political and nationalistic messages were not particularly evident.

Some foreign media commentaries reveal misconceptions of what China is about. China does not have a perfect society or system. There are problems that need attention. Authorities are well aware of the shortcomings and the mammoth task of overcoming them. Rather than criticise, the media in other countries would do better to try to come to grips with the transformation and what it means. The central government would also do well to face up to the country's problems squarely and learn how to get across the message of China's peaceful evolution more effectively.

China's rise is confusing to many of the world's people. They are closely watching the Beijing Olympics for clues. The Games are steeped in ideals of togetherness and peace. There is no more opportune occasion for both officials and the foreign media to shatter the misconceptions.