In total, 302 gold medals awarded and the 29th Olympic Games are over. The world's spotlight shone on Beijing for two weeks. But it was not only interested in the sporting events and medals. But far more in the Games' impact on the Communist Party's authoritarian rule argues Matthias von Hein.
It was the perfect show -- exactly what the Olympic Committee had ordered. China showed off all its strengths in Beijing: An authoritarian government's capacity to mobilise people and resources for a central project. The ability to restrict traffic for weeks at a time, or shut down factories if necessary, so that the air quality would meet the standard at least halfway. But unfortunately Beijing also showed off its ability to prevent protests, shield off dissidents, and hamper journalists. The 29th Olympic Games in Beijing might well go down in history as the "impression giving" Games. The International Olympic Committee gave the impression the awarding of the Games to Beijing would be followed up by a crash course in democracy. The Chinese government gave the impression it would allow greater freedom and rights in conjunction with the Games. China did everything to give the impression it was the modern open country it claims to be. The Olympic organisers gave the impression they would allow demonstrations -- but not one was actually permitted and those who put in applications landed up in jail. At the opening ceremony, a pretty girl gave the impression she was singing although the song had been pre-recorded by another girl. And some small Chinese people, dressed up in bright costumes, gave the impression they belonged to the country's 55 national minorities. The athletes gave the impression they were breaking world records thanks to their own might. German riders even doped their horses! The IOC, organisers, sponsors and the media all gave the impression the Games were a World Youth Day although it's long been a matter of business. The world gave the impression there was Olympic peace although Georgia's advance on the province of South Ossetia coincided with the Games' opening.
But the Olympic Games represent a success for the Chinese government. Maybe not in terms of its impact on the outside world as it might have hoped but definitely in domestic terms. The shower of medals, the opening ceremony attended by world leaders, the perfectly-organised competitions (better organised than ever before) were beamed into living rooms across the nation. They contributed to strengthening the nation's self-confidence. The Games represented valuable political capital; helping to re-legitimise a party that is in ideological ruins.
The loser is the IOC. It believed, far too naively, that the democratisation boost that accompanied the 1998 Games in South Korea would be emulated in Beijing. But South Korea is a small country that is dependent on the US in terms of security policy. China is a huge country, which functions according to its own rules.
However, there remains a grain of hope that feeds on different elements. International pressure led to Internet censorship being relaxed for the Games. Not entirely lifted but relaxed in an unprecedented manner. Over the next few years, other sectors of society might also witness similar relaxation. Covertly, huge changes have been underway in China for years. Only the future will tell what impact the Olympic Games have had on China.