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Politics & press – Embassy 11 – September 2008

Beijing and beyond

With the successful conclusion of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, Chinese Ambassador Fu Ying reflects on China’s Olympic legacies

Since the Beijing Olympics, I received many letters and emails congratulating China on the Olympics. There were also lots of thoughts and questions on what the Olympics has brought to China. Let me share with you how I see it.

The Olympics has, first and foremost, left for China a legacy of nationwide development of sport. For 16 days, half a million Chinese people watched the games every day and a hundred million more enjoyed the games on TV.

I still remembered how the first ever victory for Rong Guotuan at the Table Tennis world championship in 1959 inspired the national passion for Ping Pong, thanks to which many people my age play Ping Pong fairly well. It is well imaginable what the Olympics will do for the young generation of Chinese. I won’t be surprised if there is a fitness boom.

Many wondered what would become of the ‘Bird’s Nest’ and ‘Water Cube’ after the Olympics. According to the report, the Bird’s Nest will become the home ground of Guoan football club in Beijing. And the plan for post-Olympic use of the Water Cube was drawn up in early 2006. Part of it will become an aquatic park. Many other venues were built within universities.

Hopefully after the Olympics, there will be fewer cases of using old photos or prejudices in covering today’s stories

Out of a total investment of £20 billion for the Olympics, one billion went into 12 new or renovated venues. China’s sports facilities are still far from meeting the need. The per capita sports area in Beijing is less than 3m2. That in Japan is 19m2. All efforts will be made to put the facilities to good use.

The second legacy of the Olympics is on the environment. Beijing made painstaking efforts to realise its ‘green Olympics’ commitment, which transformed the city before our very eyes. More importantly, the Olympics has been an educational process and strengthened environmental awareness among the people. A debate has been going on in Beijing about whether temporary environmental measures, such as driving on alternative days, should be maintained. Understanding environmental needs is very important for a country in rapid urbanisation.

The third Olympic legacy for China is about changes in perceptions, both in how China sees the world and vice versa. The Chinese people saw the diversity of the world and engaged Westerners at the human level. The world in turn experienced the warmth and hospitality of the Chinese people.

In the comment I wrote for theGuardian, I mentioned that hopefully after the Olympics, there would be fewer cases of using old photos or prejudices in covering today’s stories. It was interesting to read pages upon pages of comments that followed. Many British web-users offered balanced views, though there was disagreement, too. I also read the comments on the Chinese web. One Chinese internet user thought my point was too subtle. He asked “can they get the message?”

One Olympics can’t change all preconceptions or stereotypes. It takes time, patience and hard work to fill the gap in understanding. But thanks to the Olympics, we have a promising start.

The Olympics has not altered the underlying conditions in China. China remains a developing country, which is not without challenges or problems. Fair-minded criticism is always welcome. As a matter of fact, the Chinese media and internet users have been very active in raising issues such as corruption and environmental pollution. The success of the Olympics will be the beginning of even greater openness in China.

The Paralympics has also helped to generate greater support and respect for the 83 million disabled people in China and those across the world.

The past 30 years for China have been a time of learning from the West. Yet the Olympics will not remake China in the image of a Western country. China remains committed to developing democracy and prosperity in line with its history and culture, and national conditions.

Team GB and Paralympics GB put on fantastic performances in Beijing. Each Olympics is unique. I am sure London will do well in four years’ time.

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HE Fu Ying

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