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China and the 2008 Olympic Games

Jul 7, 2008
My book, RETURN TO THE MIDDLE KINGDOM: One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China, begins in the middle of the 19th century when China was nicknamed, by the Western Powers, as the "Sick Man of East." When Eugene Chen (my late father-in-law), fought to get rid of this label, there were other characters in my book who were fighting the same good fight. One was Zhang Boling, a great educator, who founded Nankai School on the principles of the American educational system after he had graduated from his American Alma Mater, and made the school sports an important part of training. The slogan was: Healthy people makes a strong nation.

As early as in 1915, patriots like Zhang Boling worked for getting Chinese into the Olympic Games, but the West jeered at them, just like they did Eugene Chen. Excluded, Zhang, with Thomas C.T. Wang, another character in my book and Eugene's colleague, planned to launch a separate Far-East Olympic, the predecessor of Asian Olympic, in Shanghai. But the only place which could accommodate this event was the training ground of the British forces, and it had never admitted a Chinese. That stirred up a huge furor, and it took all the diplomatic skill of Thomas Wang to persuade the British to rent the place to them. On the opening day, Zhang Boling marched into the arena at the head of the Chinese team.

In 1928, Chinese team was still banned from the Olympic, but there happened a lone Chinese voice from the stands: "Wo Neng Bi A!," meaning "I can compete!" Fortunately because it sounded like "Olympia," the man, named Song Ruhai, was not driven out.

It was not until 1932 that China was invited to compete in the Olympic. China was not able to put together a team, so the patriots pooled their resources and helped a runner, named Liu Changchun, to go to London. Britain, eager to cater to the Strong Man of Asia - Japan, intentionally mistook Liu for a representative from the quisling government of Manchukuo, the northeastern part of China which had been occupied by the Japan in 1931. Liu did not win, and the Western media reported the failure of the "Little Chinaman," laughing at Liu's short stature.

In 1936 China managed to send a small team to the Olympic held in Berlin. They were defeated. A Western paper carried a cartoon, depicting a group of haggard Chinese men in traditional long gown holding a huge egg, and the caption was: the "Sick Man of East."

In 1937, Japan started an all-out war on China. After the end of Second World War, China sent a team to attend the 1948 Olympic Games. No victory. In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took over the mainland and China was again banned.

The brief history above proves that the chase of the Olympic Dream had begun long before the Chinese Communist Party came into being. The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing is more than a showcase of the Chinese government. It is a coming-out party for the Chinese.
About the Author
Yuan-tsung was born in China, and immigrated to USA in 1972. Her first book, THE DRAGON'S VILLAGE, (was published by Pantheon, and) its Penguin paperback sells an average of 3,000 copies per year since 1981. Her latest book (nonfiction), RETURN TO THE MIDDLE KINGDOM, is now available through the Union Square Press of Sterling Publishing. Visit Yuan-tsung Chen.
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