Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

China's Olympic Dreams and Their American Connections

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

China's Olympic Dreams and Their American Connections

Article excerpt

The United States has affected China's Olympic dreams in some important ways. China's Olympic journey had often gone through its American route. This paper will examine several major events in which the United States played obvious or hidden roles. The purpose of this paper is to use the Olympics as a reference point to study two countries' shared history and the United States' connection in China's internationalization.

The YMCA's American Hands and China's Olympic Dreams

In 1907-1908, some Chinese people started to ask the question when would China be able to invite the world to come to Beijing for an Olympic Games? The Chinese Olympic dream had clear links with the Young Men's Christian Association, especially YMCA's American officials' involvement. To understand Chinese Olympic Dream and the American role in it, we have to explain what happened in 1895. year 1895 was a major turning point in modern China. That was the year that China was defeated by Japan and the Chinese suffered a terrible psychological and mental shock. Many Chinese elite members concluded from the loss that China was a "sick man of East Asia" and needed a strong medicine to save it from total disintegration. For many Chinese people, the root of China's sickness was that it lost shangwuor the fighting spirit and its people were physically weak. As influential political reformer and writer Liang Qichao wrote in his article "Xin min shuo" (On new citizenship) that "to be civilized, citizens need a warlike spirit that serves as the essence of a nation. Without this warlike spirit, a nation can not stand." For Liang and many others, this was the key factor behind the power and strength of Western powers and Japan. (1) Liang argued that China had lost this fighting spirit a long time ago; it had become a country of "sick people and as result a sick nation." (2) The Chinese of the 1890s, like the Americans of the same period, seem to have suffered from what Richard Hofstadter called a "psychic crisis," though the backgrounds to their respective crises were fundamentally different. (3) The Chinese embrace of sports at the turn of the twentieth century was motivated by the same "fighting spirit" that influenced Americans at the same time.

The prominent Chinese linkage of western sports national self-strengthening was clearly fostered in this climate through the efforts of the YMCA in major cities around the country. Western sports especially the Olympic Games, for some elite Chinese members, were important prescriptions to save China. The YMCA played important roles in the Chinese understanding of the Olympic Games. In fact, it was the YMCA not the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that was responsible for bringing the Chinese into the world of sports in the first place. In the same year when Chinese search for new national identity and new solution to save China after its devastating defeat with its war with Japan, the YMCA set up its first direct branch in Tianjin, China in 1895. With the arrival of the YMCA representative American David Willard Lyon in 1895, the YMCA could not have chosen a better time when China was in a critical juncture. Lyon, a recent graduate of Wooster College in Ohio started to promote modern sports in China with its coherent and collective efforts. (4) In 1899, a Shanghai branch was set up, and by 1922, forty branches operated across China. From the very beginning, the YMCA played a pivotal role in China's modern sports development. The organization successfully promoted modern sports by sponsoring games, journals, and lectures. It was under the YMCA's leadership that the first Chinese national games took place in 1910. The idea of the games came from an American, M. J. Exner, a YMCA official sent to China to provide physical education leadership in 1908. Major officials and referees for the 1910 games were foreigners and the official language of the games was English. In 1923, when the Far Eastern Games took place in Japan, the leader of China's team was the American J. …

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