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Could China’s Athletic Events Dismantle Chinese Identity?

27 Oct 2010

The 16th Asian Games are nearing their commencement in Guangzhou, China, where they will be held from November 12 to 27th. There will be 42 sports ranging from the typical Olympic favorites of swimming and gymnastics to the less common golf, dragon boat racing, and chess. How Asian!

The Asian Games are a multinational, multi-sport event held every four years that begs the question, “What is Asia?”

45 countries participate in the games today, with Israel being ejected in the 1970s (If Israel could at one time be considered “Asian,” what about Doha, Qatar — where the 2006 games were held?).

In any case, China has begun to dominate the international sports scene after hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the upcoming 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, and the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. The PRC has become so confident of its ability to host such events that it is reportedly considering a second bid for the Olympics — in Guangzhou — assuming the Asian Games go as well as planned. While there’s no reason to expect the massive scale problems of the recent 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Chinese propagandists always have their work cut out for themselves when international attention is focused on them (even if it’s just Asian).

Two of China’s most perennial problems — the environment and Tibet — will be equally conspicuous as in the lead up to Beijing 2008. That is, until you enter the Great Firewall. With its typical modus operandi, the CCP will be playing the role of God whereby it will alter the weather and physical environment to a level suitable for non-residents with the proven bureaucratic solution of throwing money at the problem.

Meanwhile, the Tibetan Youth Congress has launched a petition to protest China’s hosting of the Asian Games on moral grounds. In addition to this call for action, there is a Freedom Torch bike relay organized from Dharamsala to New Delhi. This focus on Tibet is concurrent with recent student protests over attempts to erase Tibetan identity and culture by banning the teaching of the Tibetan language. These protests have occurred both in Beijing and in the western Qinghai Province.

A similar linguistic crisis specific to Guangzhou is placing the people of the host city in a similarly compromising position. The birthplace of Guangdonghua, or Cantonese, is being reeducated recommended to release their local and native tongue in favor of the official Mandarin Chinese by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In an online survey on the proposal’s website, 79.5 per cent of respondents opposed switching the local television news broadcasts from Cantonese to Mandarin.

In a country that prides itself on thousands of years of linguistic and literary excellence, you would think that the comrades would realize the important link between peoples’ language and identity. [Ed: But then again, they replaced traditional characters with simplified ones, but that’s a difficult debate I’m biased towards as a Hong Kong resident.] Maybe that’s the problem — that they do realize the connection — and a People’s Republic can only have one identity, and thus only one language.

Good thing they’re not in charge of defining what it means to be Asian too.

[image via]

Nathan Bullock is a Fulbright Fellow based in Singapore, researching human and cultural geography, urbanization, and critical studies. Read about his adventures at East Coast Elitist.

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