(And What was the Strategy for Dealing with the International Criticism on Human Rights)?
(This is a shortened version of a paper presented at the conference on ““The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games: Public Diplomacy Triumph or Public Relations Spectacle?” organized by the Center on Public Diplomacy, US-China Institute, and Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California, January 29-30, 2009.)
There was a common perception outside China that the Beijing Olympic Games involved a master plan to promote a positive image of China to the outside world and that this was one of the major goals of hosting the Olympic Games, if not the major goal. I want to argue that while there was widespread agreement in China that the Olympics were an excellent opportunity to promote an image of China to the world, the vast majority of the attention and effort was focused on the domestic audience; that there was never a concrete communication strategy for dealing with the human rights issue; and that in both instances, China’s ability to communicate a positive international image was hindered by the domestic political structure.
The People’s Olympics
Many Western journalists and Amnesty International accused
However, in its bid
One of the central concepts of the People’s Olympics was 以人为本 , “take people as the root,” or “people-orientation.” This phrase had appeared in political rhetoric when Hu Jintao named it in his address to the Third Plenum of the 16th Party Congress in 2003. This preceded the inclusion of a passage on human rights in the revision to the Constitution in 2004. It is interesting that as early as 2001, 以人为本 had already been written into the guiding thought for the Beijing Olympic Games.
In 2000, Beijing Mayor Liu Qi began commissioning a number of groups with the task of developing the basic thought behind the 人 文 奥 运 because he felt that, unlike the other themes, it was unclear. The People’s University formed the Humanistic Olympic Studies Centre to study it. One of the non-Communist Parties, the Democratic League, was commissioned by Liu Qi and began developing working papers in 2001. Forums were held, dissertations and books were written on the topic, working papers were drafted, websites were created, and by the start of the Games it was estimated that at least ten thousand pages had been written on the topic of the “People’s Olympics.”
Faculty members of the
As a result of the orientation of the intellectuals who designed it, the guiding thought of the People’s Olympics was largely diverted away from any focus on
These discussions and debates formed the intellectual context for Zhang Yimou’s opening and closing ceremonies, the Olympic education programs in the schools that reached as many as 400 million Chinese schoolchildren, the training programs for the 70,000 Olympic volunteers, the cultural performances in the Cultural Olympiad, and the myriad of other cultural and educational activities that surrounded the Games.
Perhaps the major way in which the guiding thought about the promotion of
The most daring chapter, “Beijing Olympics Speed Up the Transformation of the Functioning of the Government,” analyzes the promises made under the rubric of the “People’s Olympics” - and improving human rights is not listed as one of them.
A second keypoint project of the National Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science was the 2006 project “Construction of the Humanistic Concept, Social Value and National Image of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games” (《2008年北京奥运会的人文理念、社会价值与国家文化形象构建》), which was awarded to the People’s University. Through this project and elsewhere, the People’s University promoted its concept of the “Cultural Olympics.” The final report has not been completed, but in a summary of their conclusions on CCTV in February 2008, they argued that research shows that culture constitutes the core of national image, and “therefore in the construction of a national image, we should hold the line on ‘Cultural China’ （坚持走“文化中国”的路线）in order to make the idea of ‘Cultural China’ into the core theme for dialogue between China and the international community in Olympic discourse.”
So my first point is that if the “People’s Olympics” was the response to the West’s human rights accusations, then that response was delivered in the form of culture and symbols - the “look and image” of the Games, the “branding” of China, the display of “Chinese culture” – and not in the form of verbal debate or dialogue. They were very successful in the former, but the absence of the latter led critics to characterize the Games as one big show orchestrated by the Party-state. This simple-minded view does not do justice to the passion with which the producers of the People’s Olympics threw themselves into fulfilling their mission of promoting Chinese culture and achieving its integration with Western culture. I believe we should accord them more respect.
If the People’s Olympics was to be the response to Western criticism of
While the other systems were doing their work, the Information Office was involved in a separate effort, which involved a different group of intellectuals in the field of communications, whose core was located at the Communications University of China. The question of
If there had been a master plan for using the Olympics to promote
So the major reason that there was no master PR plan was due to the strict division of labor with regard to communications with the outside world, with only the organs under the Central Propaganda Department empowered to speak about “political” issues. While the sport, educational, and cultural systems were crafting their “cultural” messages, the Information Office was engaged in a completely independent effort to produce a television commercial for “
I was invited to be on the panel of academics that evaluated the bid presentations by eight of the top advertising agencies with offices in
At the time, we were told that we were making history, because for the first time