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The China story at the London Olympics

Updated: 2012-08-06 22:05
By Chen Yanqi ( chinadaily.com.cn)

London is no stranger to the Olympics, since it is now the third time that the city has played host to the Games.

The first time, in 1908, there were no participating Chinese athletes at all. In 1948, there were four athletes competing in track and field, one in bicycling, 18 in football and 10 in basketball.

Unfortunately but understandably, none made it to the finals.

Granted, the Olympic creed says the most important thing is not to win but to take part, yet for Chinese athletes back then, "not to win" was not an option but rather a reluctant reality. It is said that the Mirror ran a cartoon at that time, depicting a small-framed and skinny Chinese athlete holding a flag with five "zero"s instead of Olympic rings.

Now, more than 60 years later, we are able to tell a totally different China Story at the Olympic Games.

Speaking of China, people tend to recall the "exceptional" Games in Beijing four years ago. They talk about the sportsmanship of Chinese athletes. Many are attempting to predict whether China will secure its top position on the medal list. There is even argument on the pros and cons of the current sports organization method in China vis-a-vis the American model.

By all accounts, China is the most popular topic in London.

On the sports field, Team China is gaining momentum. This year, China sent a large delegation of 621 members, whose size and strength has impressed the world. Its 396 strong athletes are competing in 212 events in 23 sports. Their task is not only to make great achievements in sports, but more importantly, to demonstrate Chinese people’s goodwill, to extend friendship and to promote exchanges.

Outside the competition venues, China is also a catch phrase.

As part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, "London-Beijing Cultural Week" showcases the best of ancient and modern China, and the "Chinese Culture Week" will kick off at Hackney Empire Theater in London on Aug 8 with a solo concert by Doudou, a 12-year-old Chinese singer.

"Made in China" is in the spotlight, mostly for a good reason. Fireworks from Liuyang, Hunan province, lit up the sky of London at the opening ceremony. It is estimated that 65 percent of Olympic merchandise, including clothing, towels, badges, cuddly mascots, wallet tools, hoodies, T-shirts and pins, are produced in China. Flag stickers, inflatable palms and other toys used at the scene to cheer on athletes mostly come from Yiwu, Zhijiang province, a city known as the "Kingdom of Small Commodities". Suits for officials from the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and referees of the Games were produced by a factory in Shandong province. Also, 400 red double-deckers in London carry advertisements for the Yili Group, a Chinese dairy producer.

Tourism and business from China are much sought after. To encourage visitors from China, the British embassy and consulates are making extra efforts to speed up the handling of visa applications. The "China Business Day" was held on the opening day of the London Olympics, the participation of several heavyweight British cabinet members highlights the abundance of investment potential from China.

Such is the China Story at this London Olympic Games. It is much more than struggling for a top place on the medal list. Rather, it is the celebration of the success stories of China as a nation and Chinese as individuals.

The author is a Beijing-based scholar of international relations.