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What comes after the Olympic fever in China?

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Chinese students helping Olympic visitors

Chinese students helping Olympic visitors at the airport

If you arrive at Beijing’s brand new Capital Airport these days, you’re immediately confronted with China’s enthusiasm about the Olympics.

And that feeling of excitement is going to stay with you every step that you take in China.

At the airport, you’re likely to see groups of young Chinese all decked out in blue and white track suits, ready to help the arriving Olympic athletes and guests.

The airport itself is covered with billboards advertising anything and everything with the Olympic logo. Even McDonalds tries to get in on the action, although I can’t imagine any serious athlete sustaining a diet of Big Macs, fries and Cokes…

Driving into Beijing, you’ll see Olympic flags lining the highway. And once you’re in town, the games are even more omni-present.

The Olympic logo is everywhere

In our hotel, the Olympic rings graced the breakfast buffet.

coffee, tea, or the Olympic rings?

Coffee, tea, or the Olympic rings?

Large flat-screen TVs in the hotel restaurant broadcast a continuous loop of the greatest Chinese triumphs during the 2004 Olympics.

(It seemed to me like I’d seen that same TV footage over and over again when I was in China late in 2004. Long after the Athens games were over, Chinese television was still celebrating every Chinese gold medal and showing every flag-raising.)

Brainwashed or happy to see me?

If you wanted to be mean, you could say that the people in China have been brainwashed. They’ve been subjected to displays of Chinese triumphs, national symbols and Chinese achievements over and over again (e.g. all the spectacular new buildings erected for the Olympic games).

A special Olympic hairstyle

A special Olympic hairstyle

But I think the enthusiasm in China for the games is real. Most Chinese are extremely proud that their country will be hosting the games this year.

They want to be good hosts.They want to make sure that these games will be a success and that the international community will be impressed.

The Chinese want to be liked – and what’s wrong with that.

For decades now, the Chinese have been looking forward to these games. They’ve put years of hard work and incredible sums of money into the preparations. And knowing their talent for machine-like precision when it comes to organising big events, everything should run smoothly once the games begin.

O.K.,  you never know whether some protesters will be successful in making their voices heard during the Olympics (Tibetans? The Uighurs? Falun Gong? Environmentalists? Human Rights activists? Come to think of it: there are a lot of discontented groups in China)

From the point of view of the Chinese government, such demonstrations would, of course, add a nasty dissonance to the desired harmony of the games.

But what I’m really wondering about is what comes after the games?

What effect will it have on the Chinese psychologically, when they realize some time later this fall that the games are over.

Olympic mascots at a souvenir shop

Olympic mascots at a souvenir shop

How will they feel when all the international guests and athletes have packed their bags and left? When the stadiums are empty, the swimming pools deserted, the press center dismantled.

Everything the Chinese have been working so hard for will be over. No more fireworks, only the dark night sky.

How will they cope with that emptiness? No one has prepared them for it.

Is there such a thing as post-olympic-depression?

Chinese leaders will have to find some way give those patriotic feelings that they’ve fuelled a new goal. Something new that the Chinese people can strive for.

Otherwise, the big national hangover could turn into more than a headache for the leadership.

WordPress is blocked in China. Therefore I was only able to upload this post after having left the country.

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Written by Thorsten

July 14, 2008 at 11:03 am

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