Home Articles Beijing in 2022 2008: Two Olympics-two different Chinas

Beijing in 2022 2008: Two Olympics-two different Chinas

Muhammad Arif : Chairman Centre of Advisory Services for Islamic Banking and Finance (CAIF), Former Head of FSCD SBP, Former Head of Research ArifHabib Investments and Member IFSB Task Force for development of Islamic Money Market, Former Member of Access to Justice Fund Supreme Court of Pakistan

Beijing has become the first city to have hosted both the summer and Winter Olympics. But much has changed between 2008 and 2022.

This time round, the mood, the host government’s attitude, and global expectations are all very different.

Naturally, the Summer Olympics will always be a bigger deal than the Winter Games, simply because there are so many more countries invested in it.

And then, of course, there’s Covid.

It is impossible to host “normal” Games with coronavirus outbreaks exploding in cities all round Beijing, in a country still officially committed to a “zero Covid” strategy.

One fall out of this is that there are no ticket sales for the public.

Instead, state-owned enterprises or other Communist Party organizations are distributing them to their people who will be expected to adhere to strict virus mitigation measures, including potential quarantine and multiple tests before and after attending.

However, even if there was no Covid-19, China now is not the China of 2008.

With a winter snowstorm disaster across the south of the country, 2008 began like the year from hell. Then came an uprising led by monks in Tibet, followed by a catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan that killed an estimated 70,000 people.

The quake and the desperate race to find survivors generated massive international sympathy for China.

By the time the Games began, the then leaders of the Communist Party were able to use this goodwill to show China off, highlighting its booming economy; haul of striking new architectural masterpieces; heaving, fun cities, and a society which had become much more open, with an edgy art scene, underground bands and ever greater exposure to foreign ideas.

In 2022, the country has a new Party leadership with different priorities.

The attitude towards global perceptions of China, under President Xi Jinping, is more along the lines of: We suffered 100 years of humiliation during the 20th century; our time has arrived; and it is for the rest of you to accommodate us as we rise to our rightful place on the world stage.

Following the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Beijing lost its bid to host the 2000 Olympics to Sydney.

And, on many fronts, China clearly has moved forward. If you came to Beijing for the last Olympics and only returned now you would see the difference.

The city’s transport infrastructure, for instance, has exploded.

In 2008, Beijing’s subway system had only four lines, with two and a bit more lines added just before the Games. Now with 27 lines and 459 stations (with more to come) it has evolved into the largest network on the globe.

However, if a returning visitor dug a little deeper, they might also discover that tolerance towards non-Communist Party endorsed ideas has shrunk considerably. Some would even say it is vanishing.

In recent weeks, dissidents have been pressured to not rock the boat at a time when all eyes are on China. This happened in 2008 too. The difference now is that there really are not so many intellectuals or human rights lawyers left to silence. They’ve long since been rounded up.

Beijing’s Birds Nest stadium will be the center of China’s Olympics again but it’s a very different period for the country

Prior to the 2008 Olympics, there was a unique, untrammelled night life in Beijing. You could be sure that any overseas visitor would be blown away by the energy of the scene. It was all happening.

This metropolis still has plenty to offer but endless rounds of demolitions have removed many creative little places operating on a shoestring.

I was speaking to a Chinese architect recently who joked that 10 years ago, it felt like he was going out every night.

Architects at the time were the toast of the town. There were many spectacular new buildings unveiled, ranging from the Escher-like CCTV tower, the beautiful dome housing the National Centre for the Performing Arts, or the dragon scale Beijing airport.

Beijing’s buildings, including the Escher-inspired CCTV office on the right, as seen in 2016

The Olympic structures were also breath-taking.

Rabble-rousing artist Ai Weiwei worked as an adviser on the design of the so-called Bird’s Nest stadium, the city’s national stadium.

What the artist, who’s now in exile overseas, meant was that the pre-Olympic space for bold, artistic expression in architecture was closing, even before the Games had ended.

But, by 2014, President Xi was saying it out aloud when he told a major cultural symposium that he’d had enough of all the “weird architecture”.

Very soon though, the world’s eyes will again be on the Bird’s Nest, for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

There will be fewer governments represented, following a series of diplomatic boycotts because of alleged human rights abuses, especially in Xinjiang, where officials have been accused of grave human rights abuses towards the ethnic Uyhgur population.

And just as Beijing’s attitudes have hardened towards other administrations in recent years, a number of foreign governments have hardened their own stances towards China as well.

There is less willingness to turn a blind eye to the Party’s ill treatment of its own citizens.

To an extent at least, the cultural vision for the ceremonies at these Olympics will be constant, with film director Zhang Yimou again in charge.

He’s been accused, by some, of selling out since the days of his tough films about the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, when millions are believed to have starved to death, but he received great acclaim for his visual feast in 2008.

He might argue that the Games simply provide another canvas on which to present a vision of China – where it has been and where it is going.

Given how different China’s position in the world has become, it will be fascinating to see what he has come up with for the Winter Olympic ceremonies. It shaped the way the entire Games is viewed by the rest of the world.

This will be a televised event. It’s freezing cold. You can’t get tickets. The only foreigners here for the event are those participating or working there and all they will see of Beijing is whatever there is to see inside a giant Covid-protection bubble.

All these factors have also moulded what these Olympics will become.

But – for a government nervous about anything going wrong – if this becomes a sit at home moment in history perhaps that suits them right down to the ground.

But in 2022 According to the IMF, on a per capita income basis, China ranked 59th by GDP (nominal) and 73rd by GDP (PPP) in 2020. China’s GDP was $15.66 trillion (101.6 trillion Yuan) in 2020. The country has natural resources with an estimated worth of $23 trillion, 90% of which are coal and rare earth metals. GDP size of china in coming years is about $ 23.265 trillion China’s GDP should grow 5.7 percent per year through 2025 and then 4.7 percent annually until 2030, British consultancy Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) forecasts. Its forecast says that China, now the world’s second-largest economy, would overtake the No. 1-ranked U.S. economy by 2030

So situation has gone far ahead from 2008 and would be very different in 2030


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