In: The European Union and China
David Askew
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During the Cold War, and in post-Mao China today, international sporting events have been, and continue to be, seen as an arena in which to display national superiority. Despite the emphasis of the Olympic movement on the ability of sport to promote international understanding and peace, the sporting field all too frequently remains a political arena that is divided by rivalry instead of united by friendship. In China, sport has long been mobilized to construct narratives of national identity. In the twentieth century, initial anxieties about China’s place in the world were projected onto the bodies of Chinese athletes, and produced a discourse that fixated on what were perceived to be inherent national weaknesses. Sporting success has helped China to overcome, at least in part, this sense of inferiority. Today, the Olympic Games provide a newly confident China with a highly visible arena in which the new Chinese book-body can be displayed, and in which athletic ability and national competitiveness can be celebrated. In particular, the Beijing Olympic Games functioned as a site of intense nationalistic emotion and pride. Following the collapse of communism as a legitimate ideal, an attempt has been made in China to graft aspects of the market economy on to a Marxist political dictatorship. Since the CCP suffers questions of legitimacy, the nationalistic pride generated by sporting success has become increasingly important to the Party-State. However, the narrative on Beijing and national identity also faces many challenges, with China’s human rights record in particular threatening to cast a dark shadow over the Olympic success story.

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The European Union and China

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