China Gold

Learn about China through sports history and Chinese participation in the Olympics.


Olympic Games, held every four years, provide a series of snapshots about global relations over time. China’s Olympic history serves as a lens to examine and evaluate how China’s place among nations has changed during a 100-year period from 1908, when a Chinese educator brought news of the Olympics, then only a dozen years old, to his students, until 2008, when the Summer Games in Beijing put China on the world stage.

About China Gold: China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory

As preparations for the Olympic Games in Beijing were underway, many in the East and West wondered if China would change the Olympics, or if the Olympics would change China. In retrospect the answer to both sides of the question is no, not to the extent that some people expected. But the ideal of the Olympics — of fellowship and good sportsmanship, of athletic prowess and determination, and of a global community united in working toward a common future — undoubtedly inspired people inside and outside China to look at that common future with hope and in anticipation of what we all can learn from each other.

China Gold: China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory introduces the athletes, the businesses, and the leaders who have cooperated — through many challenges — to bring the XXIX Olympiad to Beijing, China.

Written by Chinese experts in close collaboration with US and European sports writers, and enhanced by full-color photos and illustrations, China Gold covers Olympic sports and events, traditional physical activities such as wushu and tai chi, and new extreme and luxury sports. There are chapters looking at the economic, technological, and environmental issues connected with staging the Olympics, and fascinating coverage of the history of sports in China, including women’s participation in ancient sports and the ascension of elite female athletes.

About the Olympics and Sports

Pierre de Coubertin created the modern Olympic Games as more than simply a spectacle or a romanticized version of the glories of ancient Greece. He was an educator with a global vision, acting at a time when the world was suffering from upheavals and conflicts — and when more conflicts loomed. He saw peaceful competition as something that would give the world’s young people maturity and confidence, and thus the ability to respond to the social, political, and economic challenges of the early twentieth century. Coubertin and his supporters were also aware that friendly international contacts would reduce prejudice, increase trust, and diminish the dangers of excessive nationalism. The Olympic Charter — the rules and regulations of the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee — puts it this way: “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.”


  • China Gold: China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory
  • Video with historical footage of Chinese practicing different types of sports; traditional martial arts, archery, basketball, diving, swimming, and ice skating, and related vocabulary –
  • This is China: The First 5,000 Years
  • Berkshire Publishing articles:

Guanxi issues

Football chapter anc cheatsheet


  • China’s cycles of growth, conflict, revolution, and reform are reflected in its Olympic history.
  • China has a unique system of training and supporting athletes, modeled on the Soviet system but with special characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Since the opening-up reforms of the late 1970s and early 1980s, China has entered a new era of sports competence. The desire to succeed in the global sports arena reflects China’s desire to take a more prominent role in global economics and politics.

Discussion Topics

  • Which sports do you associate with Chinese people, and why?
  • What advantages does China have in fielding a strong Olympic team?
  • In the 2008 Olympics, the famous series of “footprint fireworks,” which led to the stadium, and the voice of the little girl who appeared to sing the national anthem turned out to have been staged or faked. Do you think it is all right to fake events such as these, to guarantee they happen as planned?
  • How can celebrity athletes, with plenty of money and wide recognition, affect Chinese society?
  • Are athletes important role models? In what ways?
  • Athletes in China are supported by the state. Does that impact their ability to speak out?
  • Li Na is a famous Chinese tennis player who has broken away from the state system. What advantages or disadvantages might that have?
  • How do you think the Chinese philosophical tradition of Confucianism impacts Chinese athletic competition?
  • Why do you suppose the Chinese excel at certain sports, such as badminton or table tennis? Why are they less successful in other sports?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of a centralized, government-funded training system?
  • China has both tropical and temperate climates. Why doesn’t it compete in the Winter Olympics as well as the Summer Olympics?
  • Why did the People’s Republic of China and the Government of Taiwan disagree about which of them should represent “China” at the Olympics?
  • Why is there a stereotype of a “sick man” of Asia? Do you think this still exists? How did it change, and how could it change in the future?

Paper Topics

Basic Level

  • There was strong competition between the United States and China at the 2008 Olympics. China claimed victory for having the most gold medals. The United States claimed victory for having the most combined medals, including gold, silver, and bronze. Which point of view do you agree with, and why?
  • Why was it important to both China and the United States to be able to declare victory at the Olympics? Why do some countries need to be the “winningest”?
  • Do you think it is good for young Chinese children to intensely focus on one sport? Why or why not?
  • Which event of the 20th century was most important to lead to China’s hosting the 2008 Olympics? Explain your choice.
  • Why did the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) disagree about which of them should represent “China” at the Olympics?

Intermediate Level

  • Nixon’s visit to China was a major event. Why was it so important for China’s Olympic hopes?
  • With an increasing number of Chinese Olympic medal winners, do you think there should be more traditional Chinese sports in the Olympics? Why or why not?
  • Young people in China are increasingly interested in foreign sports, like golf and basketball. How can the Chinese maintain their traditional sports like taichi and kungfu?
  • In 2011, a state-trained elite gymnast was found begging on the street. He had been injured and left without any other skills to support himself. What is the best way for society to prevent this from happening?
  • Why is there a stereotype of a “sick man” of Asia? How did this concept develop, and how is it being challenged today, especially as China becomes more successful at the Olympics?
  • During the 20th century, China was governed under three, arguably four, different political systems: Imperial, Republic, Communism, and post-reform Communism. Which of these systems seems best suited to training athletes? Which seems the worst? Pick two and give a detailed description, as well as how this system of government might help or hinder China’s Olympic goals.

Advanced Level

  • Looking back, does the 2008 Olympics seem to have proven a “turning point” for the West’s perception of China? Support your position from independent sources.
  • In China, the official family-planning policy means that many families only have a single child. How might this impact Chinese Olympic efforts to field competitive teams?
  • China still has some traditional social values regarding gender. How might this impact China’s future efforts to compete?
  • The torch-carrying ceremony in 2008 was interrupted by protesters of China’s human rights record. Is the Olympics an appropriate venue to ask questions about social issues like these? Why or why not? Discuss the impact of protests in 2008 and give your ideas about what might be ahead in 2012.
  • Why did the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) disagree about which of them should represent “China” at the Olympics? As the PRC and Taiwan have closer and closer ties, what do you think is likely to happen in terms of their Olympic participation?
  • Ping-Pong diplomacy served as a crucial stepping-stone to improved US and PRC diplomatic relations. How can sport help bridge political and cultural divides? Are there any opportunities for 21st-century version of Ping-Pong diplomacy?

Follow-Up Activities

  • Stage a debate: how should Taiwan participate in the Olympics in the future?
  • Have students research and compete in a traditional Chinese sport.
  • Analyze the upcoming 2012 London Olympics and predict how Chinese athletes will do, and what the press coverage will focus on in China and outside it.