Asian Soft-Power: Globalization and Regionalism in the East Asia Olympic Games
Collins, Sandra, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research
The East Asian Olympic Games as Visual Spectacles of the Abstraction of Globalization
After the spectacular conclusion of the historic 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, various Chinese officials declared that Beijing successfully held a "coming out party" that had ultimately increased China's soft power. (1) Despite the protests by numerous international organizations surrounding the Games, the Beijing Olympics realized China's celebrated entry into the global community as a reliable and peaceful member. Although the legacy of the Beijing Games is still being established, many in the West were supportive of the positive effect that the Beijing Olympics had on China's soft power and international standing. (2) The Beijing Olympics, Susan Brownell optimistically assessed, was China's "peaceful integration into the international community." (3) Not only was China's culture and soft power showcased, but also China's globality, as Marc Blecher of the Asian Survey noted: "The message was that China has arrived as a country with a sophisticated global (and not just Chinese or Asian) sensibility, the wealth to match, and a capacity for producing far more than cheap exports." (4) Through the sumptuous Olympic Games, China showcased the distinctive allure of its national culture and realized its international ranking as a global power to both itself and the world community.
The extensive uses of "soft power" and a "coming-out-party" are often unchallenged descriptors of the Beijing Olympic Games. Soft power was popularized by Joseph Nye to describe the non-economic and non-military forums for exerting national influence and encapsulates earlier notions of public diplomacy and cultural relations. (5) The relationship between soft power and the Olympic Games, Wolfram Manzenreiter furthers, "seems to be an appropriate occasion to enhance the soft power of their hosting nations, particularly because of the easy association with the Games' positive images of excellence, fairness, universal friendship and mutual exchange." (6) President Hu Jintao has also framed the 2008 Olympics as key to promoting China's soft power in recent years. (7) In addition, the image of a "coming out party" is also popular and may seem apropos given the fact that China is a rising power and rapidly developing economy. In fact, many have likened the "coming-out-party" of the Beijing Games to the other two summer Olympic Games held in East Asia during their developing economic periods: the 1964 Tokyo and 1988 Seoul Games. (8) The Olympic Games provided high-profile events for all three of these East Asian nations to demonstrate not only the "political reliability" of these host cities to their international audiences but also their national identity to domestic citizens. (9)
Despite the popularity of the terms "soft power" and "coming-out-parties," there are limits to using soft power and coming out parties as valid socio-cultural categories in analyzing the Olympic Games held in East Asia. Central to understanding how the discourses on Asian Soft Power and the Olympic Games interact is situating them within their larger, global political economic contexts in which they emerge. By using the discourses on "Asian Soft Power" and "Coming-Out-Parties" as a prism, I argue that the East Asia Olympic Games are symbolized to legitimate the Olympic Games as an abstracted, universal parade of nations that is severed from their specific, geopolitical conditions. When the East Asian Olympics are celebrated as "soft power" and as "coming out parties" that transformed each Asian host city into a member of the global community, the significant differences of each Asian Olympic Games is bracketed. The political, economic, and social problems inherent in how the Olympic Games work in each East Asian country is displaced by the seemingly more sensational aspects of being incorporated into the elite group of Olympic hosts. Hosting the Olympic Games serves as an allegory of the "universalization of universalism" in that the East Asian Olympics display the inevitable unfolding of the universal aspirations of the Olympic Movement. The East Asian Olympic Games are visual spectacles of the abstraction of the Olympic Movement made global.
The East Asian Olympic Games discourses make "visible" the grand historical narrative of the Olympic Movement as the natural progression of "Olympism" throughout the world. (10) Without East Asian Olympic hosts, the Olympic Games remain a western phenomenon of developed nationstates. As such East Asian Olympics prove not only that the Asian city/country has arrived as an elite member of the world community, but they also legitimate the universality of the Olympic Games. The logic of incorporation according to terms defined by the West is never challenged. The East Asian Olympics also reveal how the grand narratives of the Olympic Games mirror the grand narratives of modernity. That is to say, they are inscribed by the same processes of knowledge formation and institution building that abstracted the history of global capital from its European roots of industrial capitalism and the international system of nation-states. As Maurice Roche has argued in his influential book, Mega-Events and Modernity, industrial capitalism and the international system of nation-states in the 19th century espoused a putative universalism based on western rational thought and science that is also concomitant with the Olympic Games. (11) That is why, despite the self-reputed slogan that the Olympics are "above politics," when there are major shifts in the world system, these also underscore the Olympic Games. As the discourses of modernity have shifted to address different frames of reference and agency--Eurocentrism, westernization, Americanization, the postcolonial, the "glocal", and multiple modernities--today's themes of "soft power," globalism and regionalism are also indicators that earlier approaches to modernity are shifting. The discourses on the East Asian Olympics are also inscribed by these larger projects of representing local inflections of global processes, or what Arif Dirlik labels "global modernity." (12)
In this essay, I am most concerned with specifying how the process of abstraction inherent in globalization continues to function in the East Asian Olympic discourses. Many of the dominant discourses on the East Asian Olympic Games, as argued by elites in both the East and West, are informed by a logic that is complicit with modernity's abstraction. Recently, Close, Askew and Xu, argued in their collaborative work, The Beijing Olympiad, that an Asian Olympics discourse focuses on economic propaganda and this differentiates them from Western Olympic discourses. (13) Indeed, their analyses of Asian Olympic discourses reveal many informative insights, but in a move of "reverse orientalism," they fail to specify these Western Olympic discourses. Both Asia and the West are mutually constituted in the discourses on Olympic Games, but there are historical differences in their asymmetrical relations and specific geopolitical contexts that must be addressed. East Asian Olympic discourses reveal as much about Asia as they do the West.
The discourses on the East Asian Olympics function as both a category of practice (how they work) and as a category of analysis (what do they mean) for the Olympics of global modernity. (14) As such, the categories of practice will focus on reading each Olympic Game as an event and categories of analysis will focus on their symbolic representation. Analyzing the East Asian Olympics through the framework of its global political economy is central to revealing how the East Asian Olympics are a category of practice of institutional forms of organization and control, governed by various regulations in the legal policies, governance structures, global financial strategies, etc. that are associated with hosting the Olympic Games. (15) This entails reading how the Organizing Committee of each East Asian Olympic host, the IOC and other involved municipal, national and international organizations constitute the successful hosting of the Olympic mega-event. The relationship forged among the host city, capital sponsors, the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the IOC is central in the consolidation of the hegemony of power practiced within the Olympic Movement. If each Asian Olympic host city as a group focused on economic development, this is in part because of the assumption that as late developers of global capitalism, they lagged behind their western counterparts. This assumption, however, is based on an abstraction of their historical contexts, and only furthers the abstraction of global capital. In addition, East Asian Olympic discourses can also be seen as a category of …
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Publication information: Article title: Asian Soft-Power: Globalization and Regionalism in the East Asia Olympic Games. Contributors: Collins, Sandra - Author. Journal title: Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research. Publication date: Annual 2010. Page number: 163+. © 2008 International Centre for Olympic Studies. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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