Friday, 5 September 2008

The buzz about Beijing

Earlier this year, the Olympics looked in trouble. The protests in France, the US and other places following the riots in Tibet sparked off a wave of nationalistic fury inside the Middle Kingdom that showed the world the ugly side of a country coming to grips with being the centre of the world's attention. For a while, it looked as though nothing would be able to change this perception of China. It seemed this Olympics was destined to go down as one of the more controversial and bitter in history.

Then in a curious twist of fate, the Sichuan earthquake struck with such a blind ferocity that the criticisms, questions, and rage vanished overnight. Questions over the Chinese Government's attitudes to their citizens were quelled by its super-fast reaction to assist the stricken area. The sight of Wen Jiabao on the frontlines of the aid effort earned him the respect of a nation, and the Government a much improved perception in other parts of the world.

Then came the Games themselves. Despite mutterings over the 'protest zones' in which protests were not allowed, the foreign media army seemed to spend more time eating M&Ms than looking for cutting-edge stories. The media were swept up in the ride, and after the initial loud complaints about internet restrictions fell largely in line with the image the Chinese Government was trying to project.

After the Games, the prospect of putting on a show as efficient and impressive as Beijing has seen the British media shaking in their little space boots.

Now the WSJ has just published an article saying that recent survery have found people who watched the Games have this impression:
According to an online survey conducted by the Nielsen Co. of viewers in 16 countries after the closing ceremony, seven in ten said Beijing appeared more modern and high-tech than they had expected. About half of those surveyed by Nielsen also came away with a very good or somewhat good impression of Beijing’s physical environment.
Remembering where we in terms of international perception of China, Beijing, and the Chinese Government in March of this year - six short months ago - and its scarcely believable how much people around the world have changed their views. Of course, part of that changing of perception came at the cost of an enormous human tragedy, but it is nonetheless impressive, and, I think, something that few pundits would have predicted. The Games have unexpectedly and down a very twisted path, achieved an international PR boost for China that would make the Government very satisfied. Overall, (and remembering that ALL host nations get criticised) I would give BOCOG and the Government a B+ for the change in international perceptions they have achieved.

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