China Beat Archive



Xu Guoqi

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July 1, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright July 1, 2008 Xu Guoqi. Used by permission.


Jonathan Spence gave his fourth and last Reith lecture on “The Body Beautiful.” This is a perfect fit for China’s Olympic year and a wonderful conclusion talk after his first lecture on mind (“Confucian Ways”), then on Chinese interactions with the former superpower (the second lecture “English Lessons”), and the current one (the third lecture “American Dreams”). From mind to body, from China as an ancient civilization through its turbulent relations with Western powers to a nation which is determined to compete with the world in hard power either economically or physically, the topic was extremely well thought. The lecture was given at no better venue: Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, which will play an important role in the 2012 London Olympic Games, according to the host of the lecture. Everything seems great.

The 2008 BBC’s Reith lecturer entertained us with a brilliant explanation on issues such as ancient Chinese discussions of sports and athleticism, their practices of women’s Polo and men’s kickball roughly one thousand years ago, modern meets in the 20th century, and, most importantly, this year’s Olympics and its implications. His lecture also dealt with the transition from sports for the sake of personal character to sports in the name of nationalism. This is a great treat from a master. Listening to Spence’s many lectures always reminded me of Lao Zi’s political idea: “治大国若烹小鲜,” or it is the same to rule a big nation as to cook a small fish. Any topics for Spence, including this one, seem so easy for him to address, just like cooking a shrimp.

But it is exactly Spence’s brilliance that presented some problems for this lecture. As Daoist theory points out, misfortune can become a base of fortune, and fortune can lead to failure. In the short presentation, Spence dazzled us with all the great stuff, and like a talented chef, served us a delicious dish. But for some of us who are greedy, that dish tasted so good that we wanted more—a feast. For instance, Spence explained in a relatively detailed way China’s past participations in Olympic Games and touched upon the issue between Taipei and Beijing of who should represent China in the Olympic family. But he did not elaborate on Beijing’s withdrawal from the Olympic movement nor the PRC’s absence for over two decades from the most of the world’s sports activities.