On 13 July 2001, a nation of 1.3 billion people heaved a collective sigh of relief as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Moscow, announced which city would host the 2008 Olympics: Beijing, China.
After the first round of voting by the IOC, only Beijing, Toronto, Paris, and Istanbul had remained in contention; Osaka was eliminated after having received only six votes. In the second round Beijing received an absolute majority of votes—with fifty-six—and no subsequent voting was required. Although some people claimed that the bids from Paris and Toronto were technically superior, the IOC, under Juan Antonio Samaranch, was eager to see China, the world’s most populous country, host the Olympics. Although many nations praised the decision, a few groups objected, arguing that China’s human rights issues made the nation unfit for the honor. To quell such objections, the city of Beijing chose the motto “New Beijing, Great Olympics” 新北京, 新奥运 to emphasize the country’s move toward a new image for the new millennium.
The official logo of the games, called “Dancing Beijing“ 中国印舞动的北京 features a stylized calligraphic character jing 京, meaning “capital.” (Beijing means “northern capital.” The logo was unveiled in August 2003 in a ceremony attended by 2,008 people at Qi Nian Dian 祈年殿 — the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Tian Tan 天坛, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
The logo draws on elements of Chinese culture, depicting a traditional red Chinese seal above the words Beijing 2008 and the Olympic rings. The seal is inscribed with a stylized calligraphic rendition of the character jing in the form of a dancing figure. The curves are also meant to suggest the body of a wriggling Chinese dragon. The open arms of the figure symbolize the invitation of China to the world to share in its culture. Red, the dominant color of the emblem, is an important color in Chinese society, signifying good fortune.
The logo was designed to symbolize China’s journey to the future, the promise of the nation, the beauty of the city, the heroism of the athletes, and China’s desire to welcome the world to its capital city.
Fuwa 福娃 were unveiled as the mascots of the games by the National Society of Chinese Classic Literature Studies on 11 November 2005, at an event marking the one thousandth day before the opening of the games.
Fuwa consist of five members: Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini. The five mascots incorporate fish, giant panda, fire, Tibetan antelope, and swallow designs, respectively, and each also represents one of the five Olympic rings. When the five names are put together, they form a pun on the phrase, Běijīng huānyíng nĭ, 北京欢迎你, which means, “Beijing welcomes you.”
Slogan and Songs
In June 2005, the Beijing Olympic Committee announced that the slogan for the 2008 Olympics would be “One World, One Dream” 同一个世界, 同一个梦想. Since 2003, there has been a competition underway for songs that would spread the Olympic spirit of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger), promote the theme of “Technological Olympics, Humanistic Olympics, and Green Olympics,” and celebrate the culture and humanism of China.
Olympic Volunteers from the Hawkeye State
In the Olympics of the early twentieth century, host cities enlisted volunteers for such simple assignments as couriers, flag-bearers, and safety marshals. After World War II, Olympics volunteers became increasingly important in a much broader variety of capacities. The preparations by the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 2008 Olympic Games (BOCOG) have elevated the celebration and deployment of volunteers to new heights.
There are an estimated 100,000 volunteer positions at the Beijing Games (70,000 at the Olympics and 30,000 at the Paralympics—with close to half a million more expected to work as “city volunteers” offering information, language, and emergency services at stations across the municipality, and a million more “social volunteers” for related tasks leading up to and during the Games). Among this vast number are about three hundred students recruited from a dozen universities and colleges in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia to assist with media work.
The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, where I teach, is one of six U.S. schools in the program. In 2005, my longtime friend XU Jicheng—a senior sports reporter and editor for Xinhua News Agency whose additional role as a China Central TV commentator on National Basketball Association broadcasts makes him recognizable throughout the country—went to work for BOCOG’s Media Operations Department. Upon learning that Big Xu—as everyone calls him—would be running the Main Press Centre for the Games, I half-jokingly asked him if I could volunteer as his assistant. He replied with a request that I recruit students whose native language was English to assist the Olympic News Service (ONS) with competition coverage.
The ONS supplies detailed information to the international media on every Olympic and Paralympic event, with English as the first language (followed by French and Chinese). Big Xu asked me to deliver sixty to one hundred students! I said twenty or so was more realistic.
The result: twenty-four students from our university in the U.S. heartland—after prolonged preparations in journalism, Olympics and sports studies, and Chinese language, history, and culture—are spending the summer of 2008 in Beijing making their contributions to the Olympic movement. Eleven will cover tennis for the ONS; five will cover wrestling (an especially appropriate assignment given an Iowa tradition that has produced a string of Olympics champions in this sport); six will work in the International Broadcasting Centre; and two will work in the Main Press Centre.
These young people know they are in for the experience of a lifetime. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the best seat in the house—my own house in Iowa, watching TV.
The Olympics will be broadcast worldwide by a number of television and radio networks:
- Mainland Chinese state-owned CCTV, predominantly CCTV-5, will have the same coverage rights as the rest of its broadcast partners around the world.
- Channel Seven in Australia will broadcast the events.
- CBC and Radio-Canada and its properties, along with TSN and RDS in Canada, will broadcast across Canada.
- NBC Universal, with NBC and its cable properties in the United States, will handle the U.S. broadcast.
- In the United Kingdom the BBC will carry the Olympics.
- China will also stream all events over the Internet.
The Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee announced in August 2006 that it would sell more than 7 million tickets for the Olympics. The chief of the committee said she hoped that all people in China will have a chance to attend the games. The committee therefore set the admission prices very low to encourage the Chinese to become involved in the Olympics. For the opening ceremony, ticket prices range from 200 Renminbi (RMB) (US$25) to 5,000 RMB (US$625). For the individual sports events, the price range is from 30 RMB (US$3.75) to 800 RMB (US$100), determined by the degree of popularity of the sport in China. In addition to the public, tickets were set aside for sponsors, officials, and members of the IOC.
In preparation for the games Beijing’s subway system has undergone expansions to more than double its size. The system had been composed of four lines and -sixty–four stations. An additional seven lines and more than eighty stations have been constructed, including a direct link to Beijing Capital International Airport.
Firing the Imagination: The Olympic Torch
On 26 April 2007, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), in the presence of the International Olympic Committee, unveiled the Lenovo-designed Beijing 2008 Olympic torch, called the “Cloud of Promise” 祥云. Since its inception in 1936, the Olympic torch has come to represent the history and culture of the host country and city. Lenovo’s approach for the Beijing 2008 Olympic torch incorporates a sleek and modern design with historical Chinese symbolism.
The torch was carried by torchbearers around the world in the Olympic torch relay that precedes the start of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The torch, fashioned from a polished -aluminum–magnesium alloy, measures 720 millimeters by 50 millimeters by 40 millimeters and weighs 1,000 grams. The 2008 Olympic torch was also designed to evoke the traditional Chinese concept of the five elements that make up the universe: metal (gold), wood, water, fire, and earth, with primary coloring of deep red and bright silver, and an embossed pattern of clouds, which represents the ever-developing Chinese culture. “Inspired by the shape of a traditional Chinese scroll, the imagery of the ‘Cloud of Promise’ represents the traditions of China, while the shape, texture and technology evoke the Olympic spirit,” said Yao Yingjia, executive director of the Lenovo Innovation Design Center in Beijing.
The Torch Relay
After being lit in Olympia, Greece, the torch relay (called the “Journey of Harmony” 和谐之旅) traveled to the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens and then to Beijing, arriving on 31 March. The torch traveled to twenty countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, France, United States, Australia, India, and Japan, creating no small amount of controversy in Europe and the United States. The torch relay includes visits to cities on the Silk Road, symbolizing ancient links between China and the rest of the world, with an attempt to carry the flame to the top of Mount Everest, as well as to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and 113 cities in China, arriving at its final destination in Beijing for the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Source: Xiong Xiaozheng. (2008). Setting the stage. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 102–105. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.