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China Missteps Shatter Olympic Myth April 10, 2009

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.

The Beijing Olympics is the one global event everybody shares. It will be shared in bits and bytes across media platforms. The whole world is watching. Missteps over these next few months will affect the Olympic brand and Brand China.

Within the Middle Kingdom, Chinese leaders have misjudged the force of images and symbols. Odd, for a culture whose language is built on both. Sending the Olympic Flame across the globe is meant – symbolically – to draw one and all to a moment, shared.

Yet the passing of the Olympic Flame, person to person, became last week a moment of its own. The intended images were crowded out. The intended symbolism was out of tune; Chinese leaders and Olympic organizers appeared out of touch.

If China wants to play in the Big League it needs to step up and show what it’s got. Control of images and symbols is no longer top-down. The Web has democratized media and given it its finest moments. Those who use it create the message. They have all the votes and they vote one by one, moment to moment.

It’s a hard lesson. It may be lost on leaders – and the Chinese are not alone – intent on message management and gatekeeping. Chinese authorities have consistently misjudged a media world in which they, as a subject, have no control.

Banishing the BBC, buying radio jamming systems, cutting satellite and cellphone transmissions and enlisting more censors serves only to raise the sense that terrible things are happening and they are keeping terrible secrets.

Human rights, press freedom, corruption and the environment are serious issues in China and elsewhere. Third parties representing special interests are putting the screws on China to keep promises made back in 2001 when awarded the Olympic Games. The Chinese had given the appearance of loosening things. Then came Tibet to prove the sham of it all.

Sending thugs to guard the Olympic Flame, bloodying the Free Tibet protestors and jailing journalists serve only to illustrate, boldly, the greater concern about China. If that nation has made its Great Leap Forward to modernity can it make the next leap to post-modernity?

Olympic sponsors find themselves in a bind. They risk guilt by association, for which they’ve paid $$$. They face certain wrath of the Chinese government, grantor of access to the worlds fastest growing consumer market as well as its significant manufacturing center. No one doubts the swift reaction of the Chinese authorities to a sponsor pulling out.

Just as naive as saying the Olympic Games are for the athletes, the notion of separating the athletics, the business and the political is disingenuous. With the world riven by conflict, the Olympic Games remain a pillar of hope. Emerging media that communicate images and symbols across physical boundaries will share that hope.



1. Robert Tan - April 29, 2009

You can say what you want but as a person of Chinese ancestry, I’m very proud of the fact that China staged the Olympics successfully as well as winning the most gold medals. Western, esp American, media has made it a habit of bad mouthing and talking down about China’s various successes especially its economic success until the world’s financial crises hit the western world. They then shut their mouth and change their attitude towards China, hoping that China would help to rescue their countries from their recession.

Tibet has all along been part of China. Even the Taiwanese govt also agree that Tibet has all along been part of China.Not only is their people’s physical feature the same as the Han Chinese but their culture is almost identical. The western world and its leaders are very mischievous by instigating the Tibetans to revolt against China, hoping it would initiate the collapse of the country. So it’s only fair for the Chinese govt to cramp down on those revolting Tibetans or for that matter any Chinese in any part of China should they revolt against the government and destroy the nation.

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