China Beat Archive



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May 3, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 3, 2008. Used by permission.


Due to other commitments I have had no time to blog since February, but I hope to be able to post with more regularity now.

FAQ#3: Which previous Olympic Games provides the most useful historical precedent for understanding the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games?

For multiple reasons, I do not subscribe to the current fad for drawing parallels between the 1936 “Hitler” Games and the 2008 Beijing Games. If one is looking for actual historical connections, then I would argue that the 104-year connection between the U.S. and China through Olympic sports, which dates back to the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games, is today exerting a much greater influence on the shape of the Beijing Olympics than is the legacy of a now-defunct German regime.

The third modern Olympic Games were held in St. Louis in 1904 alongside the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (world’s fair), and while China did not take part in the sports (it would send its first Olympic athlete to the 1932 Los Angeles Games), the Qing dynasty sent the first official delegation that it had ever sent to an international exposition. It was motivated to do so by concerns about the negative national image of China promoted by the unofficial exhibits at previous fairs, such as the opium den exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition inChicago. The 1904 Olympics were apparently the first Olympics to be reported in the press back in China.