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Could the Olympics Widen the Gap Between China and the World?

New America Media, News Analysis, Jun Wang Posted: Aug 08, 2008

Editors Note: The Summer Olympics are supposed to be Chinas coming out party on the world stage. But its brought into sharp focus how differently Chinese think the world views them, and how the world actually views China. And even the most hospitable gestures by Beijing residents might not be able to bridge that gap, writes Jun Wang who monitors Chinese media for New America Media.

As the curtain rises on the Summer Olympics in Beijing, the gulf between China and the world seems to be growing wider.

A recent Pew Research Center poll, which surveyed 24,000 people in 23 countries, found that majorities in only seven of those countries have a positive attitude towards China. In nine countries, Chinas popularity has declined in the past year. Its gone up in only two.

This when 77 percent of Chinese believe that "people in other countries like China." That percentage has actually grown by nine percent from 68 percent three years ago.

It's a stinging surprise for the vast population in China that statistically, most foreigners view their country with suspicion. The Beijing Olympics were meant to engage with the world. They are, in effect, Chinas calling card to the world.

It was why so many in China have rushed to learn English. According to the Guangzhou Daily, China has been in an English-learning mania for some years. In the summer of 2001, 68-year-old retiree Jingxiu Yang's dream was answered when he learned that Beijing was to host the Olympics games. He wanted to be an Olympics volunteer. Yang followed his grandson who was learning English and became a student as well. Like him, at least a million Beijing residents have been learning English, hoping that would prepare them for better communication with foreign tourists during the Olympics.

The Chinese are going out of the way to be considerate to their foreign guests sensibilities. The capital recently banned dog eating. And for those who can't read Chinese, there are suggestions for a standardized English menu for tourists, reports the web-based media, Online Shanghai. No more "Bean Curd Made by a Pock-marked Woman", "Husband and Wife's Lung Slice" and "Chicken Without Sexual Life." Now theyve become the much less exotic "Spicy Tofu", "Beef and Ox Tripe in Chili Sauce" and "Steamed Pullet" on restaurant menus.

Beijing doesnt just have brand new stadiums and subway lines. Beijing residents are also being taught to stand in line. People have been practicing waiting in line for buses since the government made the 11th of each month "Waiting-in-line Day."

Beijing residents have also opened their homes. The Beijing Times reported that Jichang Jing and his wife made four rooms in their traditional courtyard house available to host tourists. The couple, both in their 50s, hired an English tutor and studied the language for two years to better communicate with their prospective guests. The family even special-ordered over-sized beds for foreign guests, and charges them $60 US dollars per day, breakfast included.

Jing's family is admittedly rare. With the skyrocketing real estate prices in Beijing, average residents can by no means afford a traditional courtyard house valued from millions to tens of millions US dollars. Average families in Beijing don't have the ability to host foreign guests. But the host family initiative launched by the government has been widely considered an expression of genuine hospitality and a desire to know more about foreign people and cultures.

But theres plenty of issues the Chinese are uniformed about which foreign media focus on -- Tibet Independence, ethnic unrest within China, human rights issues regarding religious and civil liberties. Chinese people truly believe their efforts to welcome visitors have been well perceived by people around the world.

Those stories are underreported in Western media. Instead, one reads more about the Chinese government's power to mobilize and control. For example, 100,000 security personnel are working in Beijing to keep everything under control, authorities have swept away protesting residents whose ramshackle homes are now kept hidden behind nets and brick walls, and protesters have been arrested.

Its the control thats made an impression on Chinas foreign guests, not the countrys hospitality.

The Olympic games were supposed to be China's coming out party on the world stage, but in some ways, it might have backfired.

By the time the Games are over, will the gap between China and the world shrink? Or, despite Beijing's best efforts (or maybe because of it), could that gap get even bigger?

Related Articles:

UpFront: An Olympics Special

China Olympics Human Rights Act Passed in Congress

China Implements Rigid Internet Regulation for Olympics

From Mao to Yao Ming

Beijing Olympics Promote Lost Arts in China

Beijing Turns Green Before the Olympics

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