Academic journal article China Perspectives

Sport, Maoism and the Beijing Olympics: One Century, One Ideology

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Sport, Maoism and the Beijing Olympics: One Century, One Ideology

Article excerpt

The slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympics slogan is "One World, One Dream." Chinese officials claim that this slogan fully reflects the essence and the uni- versal values of the Olympic spirit - unity, friendship, progress, harmony, participation, and dreaming. However, a review of the historical development of sport in modern China shows that sport has more often been connected with political ideology. This article explores the relationship be- tween political ideology and sport in China through a review of Chinese and Western literature.

Nearly a century ago, Tianjin Youthmagazine published an article entitled "On Sports Competition." Commenting on the upcoming London Olympics, the author asked, "How long must the Chinese wait to win a medal in the Olympic Games?" He appealed to the Chinese government to take responsibility for developing sports and to host the Olympics in China. (1) On 23 October 1908, educator Zhang Boling (1876-1951) from the Nankai School in Tianjin advocated China's participation in the London games. A slide presen- tation on the Olympic Games during the opening ceremony of the Sixth United Schools Sports Meet in Tianjin aroused students to ask similar questions: "When will China send an athlete to win in the Olympic Games? When will China send an athlete team to win in the Olympic Games? When will China host the Olympics and invite international dele- gations to 'Peking' for the games?" (2)

These questions must be carefully considered in the context of the historical materials of their time and place. At the same time, it is important to clarify how China's "imagined Olympians" (3) and "sick man" complex (4) were used and evolved in Chinese and Western literature over the last cen- tury, and how China has recognized and presented itself through an image of Western Olympians that is coloured by Western imperialism.

According to Foucauldian methods of discursive analysis, the answer may lie somewhere within the structure of the question. In the same year of 1908, coincidently, a famous sport advocate, Xu Yibing, who objected to military exercise in schools, used the motto "Strengthen the Chinese national physique, wipe out the shame of 'the sick man of Asia'!" when he took over the first physical education school in China - the Chinese Gymnastic School. (5) In fact, from the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, a fear of national decline and racial extinction had been planted among Chinese intellectuals, and some began to associate physical education with national strength. One of these con- cerned intellectuals was Mao Zedong, whose thinking has influenced the development of sport in China for more than a half century.

This paper will discuss the following questions: What was the significance of physical culture and sport in China a cen- tury ago? What was Mao's thought on physical culture and sport, and how did it affect the development of sport in China? How has sport developed in the post-Mao era? To answer these questions, this paper is organized into three sections. Section one introduces Mao's early thought on physical culture and sport along with his ideology of nation- alism. Section two critically evaluates the development of sports under Mao's socialism and the Cultural Revolution. Section three examines how and why China began to pay attention to international sport and made great strides in the post-Mao era.

Mao's early thought on physical culture

Mao's early thought on physical culture was affected by the national humiliation of defeat in the Opium Wars and in other subsequent conflicts, which left deep and lasting scars on the entire nation. Sport seemed to play an important role in the process of Western cultural imperialism within various social formations in China. It also played a major role in the transmission of imperial and national ideas from the late nineteenth century onwards. In particular, some constitutional reformers frequently used the human body as a metaphor for a nation or national system. …

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