Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China

By Song, Xianlin | The China Journal, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China


Song, Xianlin, The China Journal


Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China, edited by Monroe E. Price and Daniel Dayan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. [ii] + 416 pp. US$70.00 (hardcover), US$29.95 (paperback).

Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China is an edited collection of papers, not on the sports and athletics of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but on the narratives and counter-narratives pertaining to the event. In this book, published before the Games, the authors take on the official definition, perspectives and representations of the Games as well as the voices of interest groups, and examine the Beijing Olympics as a "polyphonic, multivoiced, many themed" (p. 2) sign. Divided into four parts, the sixteen papers offer a wide range of analyses of this sign which brings together the history of the Games, the media dramas, the evolution of modern China as a super power and the shaping of global civil society. A central theme of the book is to highlight the "inherent instability" of such a media event which attracts global and often unwanted attention.

The first part of the book consists of three papers. The first, by Jacques deLisle, starts with the very definition of the XXIX Olympiad of the Beijing government, "One World, One Dream", and studies the discourses of "One World, Different Dreams". DeLisle takes on the position that political narratives have been an integral part of the Olympic Games in modern times. While the narratives of the Chinese government initiate links between China's economic prosperity, social stability, international standing and national pride with the Olympic Games, the counter-narratives of China's critics are keen to concentrate on issues of human rights, media freedom and the environment. DeLisle argues that governmental discursive power gives the regime considerable political advantage and that the Games will be a positive step for China towards "a more liberal and open environment". In the second chapter, Alan Tomlinson focuses on the relationship between "Olympic Values" and the universal market through an examination of the rhetoric by Beijing and London in their bidding for the Olympic Games. He concludes that, as a brand in the international market, the Olympic Games have been further commodified and reshaped by "a system and ideology of consumer capitalism". Monroe Price's paper is especially fascinating, as it employs the theoretical approach advanced by Daniel Dayan, namely the "hijacking" of the Beijing Olympics "by altering the expected and legitimated narrative of these singular moments". He argues that the Olympics as a platform are seized by both marginal and established groups to exploit the Beijing Games to advance their own agenda.

The second part of the book proffers an interesting range of viewpoints. Nicholas Cull looks into the history of Chinese public diplomacy and believes that, through participating in this sporting event as a site of exchange, the Chinese government's intention is to inform the rest of the world about modern China. …

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