Taking into account the role of the Olympic Games as a unique vehicle of cultural diffusion, China has designated the 2008 Games as the “humanistic” or “people’s Olympics.” While the concept known as “humanism” is Western, Chinese culture has a concept that closely parallels it, “humanistic” 人文 meaning “affairs in the human world.” This term first appeared in the Shang 殷 and Zhou 周 dynasties, approximately 3,000 years ago. In the Tang 唐 dynasty (618–907), the Chinese used the term to mean “harmony between man and nature.” As the notion evolved, some Chinese began to theorize that man was at the center of the universe and therefore should be given a place of utmost importance.
In the West, the term “humanistic” first appeared as the Latin word humanitas in the works of the Roman philosopher Cicero (106–43 BCE). Cicero advocated the ancient Greek style of education, which Cicero admired for developing human character and promoting students’ “pure nature.” He found a certain correspondence between the Latin word humanitas and the Greek paideia, “education.” Historically, humanism refers to the Renaissance ideology that placed humanity at the center of the universe, respected human interests and needs, and recognized the human potential for creativity and development.
Today, humanity is reevaluating the classical concept of humanism. As our environment worsens day by day, we begin to question if humans should be seen as the center of the universe. The relationship between mankind and nature is shifting: people must learn to live in harmony with nature.
On the one hand, this humanistic Olympics has the burden of spreading knowledge of the ancient Greek Olympics to the Chinese population; on the other, it also gives the people of China the opportunity to share traditional and modern Chinese culture with the world: “The world gives China sixteen days; we will give the world five thousand years.” (世界给我16天, 我还世界5000年)
In the realm of sports alone, China has much to share with the world. Among China’s traditional and folk sports are ancient gymnastics, qi gong (气功), Chinese martial arts, wrestling, dragon-boat racing (龙舟赛), mountain climbing, and various ball sports. Many modern Western sports, such as football, are similar to ancient Chinese games. In addition, China’s fifty-six ethnic minority groups have their own folk games and athletic competitions.
The World as One Family
China’s first history of the United States, Meilike Heshengguo Zhilue (“A Short Account of the United States of America”) was published in 1834 by E. C. Bridgman, the United States’ first missionary to China. Bridgman believed that if he could impress his Chinese audience with American accomplishments, the Chinese would be more amenable to Western ideas and diplomatic practices. He wrote that he had always regarded the world as one family, and China as one person within that family, and included chapters on such diverse subjects as Native Americans, agriculture, trade, government, literature, the arts, and humanitarian organizations. In his account of the American Revolution (“Commoner Overthrow of English Rule”) Bridgman explained how the colonies in North America grew, prospered, and greatly expanded their trade and commerce. In describing how the King of England began to impose unfair taxes upon the people, Bridgman noted that one of the taxes was levied on one of China’s important exports—tea, which was brought to the colonies aboard British vessels. Bridgman knew that his description of the rectitude of George Washington, who refused to make himself king, would remind his Chinese readers of Yao and Shun, two legendary sage-kings of ancient China who sought the most meritorious of their subjects to succeed them instead of creating a ruling dynasty.
A humanistic Olympics is a positive answer to the expectations of modern Olympic Games. A humanistic Olympics seeks to promote the physical, mental, and ethical development of humans and a harmonious relationship between humans and their living environment. It also encourages cultural exchange between China and the world. A humanistic Olympics is an Olympics for all humanity, giving not only the 1.3 billion Chinese but also all the populations of the world the opportunity to participate in its endeavors and carry on its spirit. The traditional Chinese notions of “peace, harmony, love, and balance” (和平, 和谐, 友爱, 平衡) supplement the Olympics’ ideals of citius, altius, fortius, or “faster, higher, stronger.”
Source: Jin Yuanpu. (2008). The humanistic Olympics. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 118–119. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
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