The Olympic Games
I remember a time when watching the Olympics was not as rife in controversy and debate as it is now. The ethos of watching the Olympics was about watching the best athletes from all over the world compete against each other to win gold for their country. Nowadays, Olympic news coverage has been spoiled by the infiltration of political discourse that in many instances receives more attention than the sporting achievements of its athletes.
The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China continues to be monitored under the global media spotlight, having so far received a mixed bag of reactions from pundits, journalists, and online users on social media.
The production and grandeur of this year’s Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony were much smaller in scale compared to the 2008 Summer Olympics (with 3,000 people taking part compared to 15,000 prior) but was nonetheless a spectacular showing of grace, elegance, and performance ingenuity.
The Olympics’ motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together” was on full display, and its meaning was more important than ever in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated international travel and athlete safety. The Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony paid homage to Olympics gone past and cultures all over the world through the theatrical presentation of LED light shows, fireworks, and synchronized dance choreography.
China’s zero-tolerance approach to fighting COVID-19 has also ensured that the Winter Olympics continues to run without major disruption, as participants are tested daily and are refrained from leaving the Olympics bubble to avoid the potential spread of the virus.
Other success stories include the celebration of Eileen Gu, a half-American and half-Chinese skier who received media attention for choosing to represent China in the Olympic games and has so far picked up a Gold and Silver medal for the country.
What’s the Issue?
The rising political tensions between countries between China and the US have unfortunately dampened the mood of the Winter Olympics, with media outlets and social media users politicizing the games and scrutinizing athletes such as Zhu Yi, an American-born Chinese figure skater who placed last in her competition after falling multiple times on the ice.
This article highlights how despite the amount of media attention that China is receiving from the rest of the world for hosting the Winter Olympics, a focus on covering controversial topics by outlets has not contributed towards helping viewers around the world understand China better from a cultural perspective, and take an interest into further learning Chinese culture.
Every country has its shortcomings, and we are aware that China isn’t exempt from that. However, WildChina Education believes that a grand occasion such as the Olympics should be covered to celebrate diversity, different cultures, and challenge negative stereotypes.
In other words, the Olympics’ motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together’ is largely being ignored as current coverage related to China is more divisive than unifying, which is problematic.
Viewers who are not familiar with China, Chinese people, and its culture are not being introduced to China in a positive way, which impedes cross-cultural exchange and China’s relationship with the rest of the world.
WildChina Education offers students authentic Chinese culture learning through interactive online and offline programs that expose a side of China that most people aren’t able to see.
Understanding the Real China
As spectacular and imposing that the Beijing Winter Olympics has been towards flexing China’s economic power and creative prowess, the bravado viewers see on-screen is not an accurate representation or reflection of the majority of Chinese people across the country, who live very normal and humble lives. According to recent figures, China’s rural population makes up 38.57% of the country’s overall population (Trading Economics, 2022).
Yet viewers from around the world are not being exposed to the plethora of vast landscapes scattered around the country, from the deserts of Gansu to the mountainous terrains of Yunnan that could be printed on a postcard. Nor are viewers being introduced to the 56 ethnic groups within China that each exhibits their own customs and traditions.
Admittedly, my prior knowledge of China was extremely limited 3 years ago. I was ignorant of China and its people – I had a skewed view of what I presumed was authentic Chinese culture. Upon visiting and ingraining myself into the country’s culture, I had no idea that there were different ethnic groups in China, and that the Miao people of Southern China and the Hui people of North-west China looked and behaved differently! Even the food and clothing from these regions had unique characteristics that set them apart.
Instead, international media coverage of China and the Winter Olympics for the most part consists of sensationalized editorial pieces that criticize Chinese-American athletes such as Eileen Gu for representing her Chinese heritage on-stage.
Chinese brands and netizens have embraced Eileen Gu for her decision, resulting in her receiving huge brand endorsement deals that boosted her 2021 earnings to over $31.4 million (Quartz, 2022). With this, Gu has also received negative criticism expressing disapproval for the amount of money she is capitalizing from due to the media attention that constantly follows her.
In an age where Western mainstream media continues to decline in trustworthiness amongst viewers, it is important that people are critical about what opinions are being portrayed in the media. WildChina Education subscribes to the grassroots way of providing people with an authentic and honest representation of Chinese culture so that they can formulate their own conclusions about China.
Instead of social media and news outlets fixating on superficial topics that comprise the current news coverage of China, time and resources would be best used towards showcasing an overlooked facet of Chinese culture that would help international viewers not view the country in such a negative light that the media exacerbates.
Instead of placing the burden and pressures of representing Chinese culture upon one or two athletes, media outlets should strive towards understanding and informing viewers of China and its rich culture that is seldom explored.
You may argue that the above points are overly optimistic and wishful thinking. That’s why WildChina Education is responsible for continuing to educate international audiences on authentic Chinese culture. Our programs and projects expose the rich local customs within the country that doesn’t receive mainstream coverage.
How can we expect misconceptions and false impressions of China to change if no one offers pragmatic solutions? WildChina Education organizes programs that introduce to people abroad the real China. Whether you’re in or outside of China, our programs provide students an immersive and interactive experience that engages them with people and practices in China.
Our goal is to leave foreign students in or outside of China with an imprint that clarifies and extends their knowledge of authentic Chinese culture that is not depicted accurately in mainstream news. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a connoisseur of Chinese culture, our programs leave all our students with pieces of newfound knowledge of traditional and modern Chinese culture to reflect upon.
In the age of digital learning that we live in, WildChina Education’s virtual programs have made it even easier for foreign students and institutions to be proactive about accessing real information regarding authentic Chinese culture.
Lantern and dumpling-making are great activities, but do they really suffice in showcasing authentic Chinese culture? China continues to become a multi-dimensional country that amalgamates traditional history with innovative technology, and we show our students this reality through visits to Beijing’s rustic hutongs and Shanghai’s French concession area.
With the 2022 Winter Olympics currently running, all eyeballs are on China. And while China deserves applause for putting on such an incredible opening ceremony, does this polished image of China suffice in representing authentic Chinese culture? If the Winter Olympics helped you arouse curiosity towards China, WildChina Education’s goal is to navigate you in the right direction and help you understand what China is truly like.
Quartz. (2022). How much money is Eileen Gu making from the Winter Olympics?. https://qz.com/2127630/how-eileen-gu-became-a-darling-of-global-and-chinese-brands/
Trading Economics. (2022). China – Rural Population – 2022 Data 2023 Forecast 1960–2020 Historical. https://tradingeconomics.com/china/rural-population-percent-of-total-population-wb-data.html#:%7E:text=Rural%20population%20(%25%20of%20total,compiled%20from%20officially%20recognized%20sources.