Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008

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Overview

Already the world has seen the political, economic, and cultural significance of hosting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing—in policies instituted and altered, positions softened, projects undertaken. But will the Olympics make a lasting difference? This book approaches questions about the nature and future of China through the lens of sports—particularly as sports finds its utmost international expression in the Olympics.

Drawing on newly available archival sources to analyze a hundred-year perspective on sports in China, Olympic Dreams explores why the country became obsessed with Western sports at the turn of the twentieth century, and how it relates to China’s search for a national and international identity. Through case studies of ping-pong diplomacy and the Chinese handling of various sporting events, the book offers unexpected details and unusual insight into the patterns and processes of China’s foreign policymaking—insights that will help readers understand China’s interactions with the rest of the world.

Among the questions Xu Guoqi brings to the fore are: Why did Mao Zedong choose competitive ping-pong to manipulate world politics? How did the two-China issue nearly kill the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games? And why do the 2008 Olympics present Beijing with unprecedented dangers and opportunities? In exploring these questions, Xu brilliantly articulates a fresh and surprising perspective on China as an international sport superpower as well as a new “sick man of East Asia.” In Olympic Dreams, he presents an eloquent argument that in the deeply unsettled China of today, sport, as a focus of popular interest, has the capacity to bring about major social changes.

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Editorial Reviews

South China Morning Post

[An] accomplished study of China and sport...Where Olympic Dreams scores highest is in describing and explaining the importance of the Olympic Games to China's self-esteem and its sense of belonging on the international stage, and how successive leaders have focused on the powerful political platform the event provides.
— Clifford Coonan

Santa Barbara News-Press

Thoroughly researched and lucidly articulated, Mr. Xu‘s book provides a unique perspective on China through the history of sports. Just as baseball and football define the heart and mind of America, China’s promotion of various sports as national games also speaks to the cultural psyche of a country seeking recognition in the global political arena.
— Yunte Huang

Financial Times

Probably no Olympic Games has been so deeply tied to a political project as Beijing's. The links between politics in China and the games are well told in Olympic Dreams by the historian, Xu Guoqi, who describes how for more than a century the Olympics has been wrapped up in Chinese ideas about national revival and international prestige.
— Geoff Dyer

Chronicle of Higher Education

Xu Guoqi's masterful survey of China's hundred-year tryst with the Olympics, Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008, reminds the reader that sports have been central to the construction of the Chinese nation and its links with the rest of the world...Xu shows how politicians have micromanaged every aspect of China's sporting progress.
— Mark Leonard

The Age

What distinguishes this...from so many of the recent flood of books on China, is its emphasis on the political and national role of sport in the Chinese ascendancy...The Olympics are emblematic of the "new" China but, interestingly, [Xu] speculates on whether the long-held dream of the Communist party to host the Olympics may well spell the beginning of its end.
— Steven Carroll

The Guardian

This highly readable book traces the history of China's sporting ambition, from an obscure lecture in Tientsin in 1908 to the "high-quality Olympics with Chinese characteristics"...It is a useful introduction to an awkward topic that simply won't go away.
— Michael Rank

Times Higher Education Supplement

A thoughtful and highly informative book that all interested in the Beijing Olympics will find rewarding, and it should be required reading for journalists covering the 2008 Games.
— Steve Tsang

Montreal Gazette

The entire history of [China's] involvement with the Olympics, and international sport in general, has been overtly political, as Xu Guoqi ably demonstrates in Olympic Dreams.
— Tod Hoffman

Toronto Star

Thoroughly researched and painstakingly footnoted.
— Garth Woolsey

Far Eastern Economic Review

The 2008 Beijing games, like other sporting events in the past, will be a window into Chinese national pride and global ambitions. Even though Olympic Dreams was written before the March Tibet riots and the subsequent outbursts of Chinese nationalism, Mr. Xu’s general argument still stands, and is even somewhat prescient...Mr. Xu has a clear and readable writing style, and his analysis is punctuated with lively examples...Beijing’s politicization of sports clearly has some uniquely Chinese characteristics. But that is not necessarily the main lesson of this book. Examples of similar phenomena—from Hungary to Argentina—remind that sports and politics are often two sides of the same coin. The grander the event, the more political the stakes.
— Emily Parker

South China Morning Post - Clifford Coonan
[An] accomplished study of China and sport...Where Olympic Dreams scores highest is in describing and explaining the importance of the Olympic Games to China's self-esteem and its sense of belonging on the international stage, and how successive leaders have focused on the powerful political platform the event provides.
Santa Barbara News-Press - Yunte Huang
Thoroughly researched and lucidly articulated, Mr. Xu‘s book provides a unique perspective on China through the history of sports. Just as baseball and football define the heart and mind of America, China’s promotion of various sports as national games also speaks to the cultural psyche of a country seeking recognition in the global political arena.
Financial Times - Geoff Dyer
Probably no Olympic Games has been so deeply tied to a political project as Beijing's. The links between politics in China and the games are well told in Olympic Dreams by the historian, Xu Guoqi, who describes how for more than a century the Olympics has been wrapped up in Chinese ideas about national revival and international prestige.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Mark Leonard
Xu Guoqi's masterful survey of China's hundred-year tryst with the Olympics, Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008, reminds the reader that sports have been central to the construction of the Chinese nation and its links with the rest of the world...Xu shows how politicians have micromanaged every aspect of China's sporting progress.
The Age - Steven Carroll
What distinguishes this...from so many of the recent flood of books on China, is its emphasis on the political and national role of sport in the Chinese ascendancy...The Olympics are emblematic of the "new" China but, interestingly, [Xu] speculates on whether the long-held dream of the Communist party to host the Olympics may well spell the beginning of its end.
The Guardian - Michael Rank
This highly readable book traces the history of China's sporting ambition, from an obscure lecture in Tientsin in 1908 to the "high-quality Olympics with Chinese characteristics"...It is a useful introduction to an awkward topic that simply won't go away.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Steve Tsang
A thoughtful and highly informative book that all interested in the Beijing Olympics will find rewarding, and it should be required reading for journalists covering the 2008 Games.
Montreal Gazette - Tod Hoffman
The entire history of [China's] involvement with the Olympics, and international sport in general, has been overtly political, as Xu Guoqi ably demonstrates in Olympic Dreams.
Toronto Star - Garth Woolsey
Thoroughly researched and painstakingly footnoted.
Far Eastern Economic Review - Emily Parker
The 2008 Beijing games, like other sporting events in the past, will be a window into Chinese national pride and global ambitions. Even though Olympic Dreams was written before the March Tibet riots and the subsequent outbursts of Chinese nationalism, Mr. Xu’s general argument still stands, and is even somewhat prescient...Mr. Xu has a clear and readable writing style, and his analysis is punctuated with lively examples...Beijing’s politicization of sports clearly has some uniquely Chinese characteristics. But that is not necessarily the main lesson of this book. Examples of similar phenomena—from Hungary to Argentina—remind that sports and politics are often two sides of the same coin. The grander the event, the more political the stakes.
Toronto Star
Thoroughly researched and painstakingly footnoted.
— Garth Woolsey
Far Eastern Economic Review
The 2008 Beijing games, like other sporting events in the past, will be a window into Chinese national pride and global ambitions. Even though Olympic Dreams was written before the March Tibet riots and the subsequent outbursts of Chinese nationalism, Mr. Xu’s general argument still stands, and is even somewhat prescient...Mr. Xu has a clear and readable writing style, and his analysis is punctuated with lively examples...Beijing’s politicization of sports clearly has some uniquely Chinese characteristics. But that is not necessarily the main lesson of this book. Examples of similar phenomena—from Hungary to Argentina—remind that sports and politics are often two sides of the same coin. The grander the event, the more political the stakes.
— Emily Parker
Chronicle of Higher Education
Xu Guoqi's masterful survey of China's hundred-year tryst with the Olympics, Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008, reminds the reader that sports have been central to the construction of the Chinese nation and its links with the rest of the world...Xu shows how politicians have micromanaged every aspect of China's sporting progress.
— Mark Leonard
The Guardian
This highly readable book traces the history of China's sporting ambition, from an obscure lecture in Tientsin in 1908 to the "high-quality Olympics with Chinese characteristics"...It is a useful introduction to an awkward topic that simply won't go away.
— Michael Rank
Financial Times
Probably no Olympic Games has been so deeply tied to a political project as Beijing's. The links between politics in China and the games are well told in Olympic Dreams by the historian, Xu Guoqi, who describes how for more than a century the Olympics has been wrapped up in Chinese ideas about national revival and international prestige.
— Geoff Dyer
Montreal Gazette
The entire history of [China's] involvement with the Olympics, and international sport in general, has been overtly political, as Xu Guoqi ably demonstrates in Olympic Dreams.
— Tod Hoffman
South China Morning Post
[An] accomplished study of China and sport...Where Olympic Dreams scores highest is in describing and explaining the importance of the Olympic Games to China's self-esteem and its sense of belonging on the international stage, and how successive leaders have focused on the powerful political platform the event provides.
— Clifford Coonan
Times Higher Education Supplement
A thoughtful and highly informative book that all interested in the Beijing Olympics will find rewarding, and it should be required reading for journalists covering the 2008 Games.
— Steve Tsang
Santa Barbara News-Press
Thoroughly researched and lucidly articulated, Mr. Xu‘s book provides a unique perspective on China through the history of sports. Just as baseball and football define the heart and mind of America, China’s promotion of various sports as national games also speaks to the cultural psyche of a country seeking recognition in the global political arena.
— Yunte Huang
The Age
What distinguishes this...from so many of the recent flood of books on China, is its emphasis on the political and national role of sport in the Chinese ascendancy...The Olympics are emblematic of the "new" China but, interestingly, [Xu] speculates on whether the long-held dream of the Communist party to host the Olympics may well spell the beginning of its end.
— Steven Carroll
Edward Cody
The Chinese government has said over and over in the last few months that the Beijing Olympics should not be politicized. The uproar over Tibet has no place in the Games, officials insist. Nor do humanitarian concerns over Sudan's Darfur region belong in the Olympic spotlight. As for human rights in China itself, well, that's an internal matter. Yet, politics have long been at the heart of China's relations with the modern Olympic movement, as Xu Guoqi, an associate professor at Kalamazoo College, shows in his illuminating history, Olympic Dreams.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

In this history of sports in China over the past century, Xu (history, Kalamzaoo Coll.) accents the cultural intertwining of athletics and politics as the country continually increases its emphasis on the former to enhance its stature in the world. The scope of this book-and China's expanding sports focus-coincides with the modern Olympic movement. Even side trips to, e.g., the "Ping Pong Diplomacy" between China and the United States in the 1970s, are ultimately related to the international competition at the Olympics. Xu focuses on the underlying issue of the rise of Communist China and the marginalization of Taiwan in international competitions, concluding with a look ahead to the potential dangers and opportunities that the 2008 Beijing Olympics hold for China. The study is thorough and detailed, examining archival U.S. and Chinese government memos, communications, and policies as well as interactions with the International Olympic Committee. The writing is a bit dry, but the book offers essential research and analysis on a key and timely topic in world sport and politics. Recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries where demand warrants.
—John Maxymuk

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674028401
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/31/2008
  • Pages: 392
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Xu Guoqi is Professor of History at the University of Hong Kong.

William C. Kirby is the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies, and Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.

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Table of Contents

  • Foreword by William C. Kirby
  • Note on Romanization

  • Introduction

  1. Reimagining China through International Sports
  2. Strengthening the Nation with Warlike Spirit
  3. Modern Sports and Nationalism in China
  4. The Two-China Question
  5. The Sport of Ping-Pong Diplomacy
  6. The Montreal Games: Politics Challenge the Olympic Ideal
  7. China Awakens: The Post-Mao Era
  8. Beijing 2008

  • Conclusion

  • Notes
  • Selected Glossary
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

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