Friday, August 22, 2008

China's Olympics -- The History

Ah, a mad engineering special. But first, a little history.

The Olympic games were an ancient greek sporting event that they abruptly stopped holding in 393. Perhaps the newly converted to Christianity Greeks were unfond of their old pagan culture, or the way that they traditionally held the games completely naked. Or maybe they didn't feel like bothering anymore. But for a long period, the Olympics were not held. There were a few one-nation imitators, but nothing formal.

The Greeks became interested in holding the games again in 1833. This time, they would wear clothes while doing traditional sports, and this time they would invite the whole world. It took some time to organize it (communications back then were kind of slow,) but what we could call the modern olympic games took place in Athens in 1859.

China, who is hosting the olympics right now, first showed a glimmer of interest in 1908. China's government has repeatedly changed throughout its 6000+ year history, and at the time, the Qing ("Ching") dynasty was in charge. The Qing dynasty was rare because its imperial line was held by an ethnic minority group. It had its glories, but by the time it encountered western nations in the 1800s, the decrepidness was showing. Especially when the UK declared colonial war on them and won easily. This showed China that it was not the superpower that it was in past times, and the world was blowing past it, much to the humiliation of the Qing government.

The Qing government collapsed in 1911, and a republic rose in its place. The republic had a number of problems, including two wars with Japan (one of which was part of World War II) and, in addition, there were communist insurgents that also desired to be the proper government. They became more interested still in the Olympics, even if they couldn't field a team yet. (China then had about as much technology as Africa today. Build a track field to practice on? Surely you're kidding.) The operating committee still got a Chinese member by 1922.

The republic also became corrupt, and did a fairly poor job fighting world war II. Japan held a large part of Manchuria during the war, and entered a team from that area as an independent nation, much to Chinese displeasure. The Chinese tried to field a team, but they didn't qualify. Again, no good track to practice on, not enough time off from work.

World war II ended in 1945. The communist insurgents were quite popular with the Chinese for doing most of the WWII fighting, and the republic officials fought to retain control, unsuccessfully. The republic officials were forced to retreat, which they did to Taiwan, a small island long held by China. The communists, who were now the government in charge of China and called themselves the People's Republic of China (PRC), turned around and took back Tibet, which was previously Chinese held and had broken away before. The republic officials, operating out of Taipei, still claimed to be the rightful government of both the island and the mainland, as did the Communist government.

China was now having observers watching the games on a regular basis, and managed to send an athletic team that qualified in 1952. Taiwan occasionally played, and the Chinese government bitterly complained about Taiwan's description as "Republic of Taiwan." This lead to boycotts of the olympics until Taiwan's team was renamed "Chinese Taipei," which reflects both governments feelings on the matter.

During the 50s through the 80s, there were a lot of boycotts, mostly about communism. The capitalist countries were enraged that communist countries could participate, and vice versa. China was interested in hosting the olympics now, but as an almost entirely rural, farming nation, was continuously rejected. Transportation was impossible, farms tend to reek of animal poop, sanitation is not good before urbanization and so on. Also, the US changed its recognition from Taiwan to China in 1973, thanks to the efforts of, surprisingly, Richard Nixon. (The mainland and Taiwan governments only allow you to recognize one of them. If you recognize one of them as a nation, they forbid you to recognize the other. Otherwise they won't respect the relationship.)

In 1984, the games were in Los Angeles. The mainland Chinese team won a gold medal for the first time, and both the mainland and Taiwan governments participated together. China was quite proud of itself, and was starting to finally industrialize after many false starts. As was its neighbors in Korea. The soviet union boycotted these games to protest the boycott of theirs in 1980.

South Korea held the games in 1988, the first Asian nation to do so. South Korea was hoping to demonstrate its newfound industrial power to the world. Unfortunately for them, the people protested the fact that South Korea was, at the time, a dictatorship. The South Korean government looked immensely stupid, and was so humiliated that it collapsed in favor of a democracy, which still stands.

In late 2007, China finally was accepted to host the 2008 olympics, in their capital city of Beijing, much to the delight of the Chinese government. And the people. At this point, stock was taken in Beijing, and a number of problems were noticed.

For starters, industrialization had led to smoke-belching factories and numerous cars. The roads were full of traffic, the pollution combined with wind-blown sand from a nearby desert to form a thick yellow fog (which I'm told also kind of smells), and visitors to the city often complained of rude clerks, unflushed toilets, Beijing residents hocking phlegm on the ground, and bad food. Also, a number of groups were displeased with the status quo in China, and wanted to protest vigorously and (from the government's perspective) embarrassingly. And the reputation of the Chinese government abroad was mostly about brutal repression of dissent, internet censorship, and bizzare assertions.

Beijing itself was famous mostly for being a megacapitalism area with a gazillion businesses, all working intensely in brutalist buildings for a brighter tomorrow. (And the brighter tomorrow has greatly improved Chinese lives, because as hard as sweatshop labor is and as low as it pays, it's a hell of a lot better than utter-crap-paying farm work.) This would not do for China -- this was the first glimpse that the worldwide media would have of it, and China does not want to give a first impression of a polluted, rude, artless hellhole.

The boundries of sanity would clearly have to be breached here. One year to completely remake the city not only physically, but also socially. Engineering, sociology, psychology, art, chemistry, and earth science would all have to be stretched to their limits to ensure a bright, photogenic, picture-perfect Beijing. With, of course, bright blue skies under a warm sun. Also, for astrological reasons, it should be held on August 8th to take advantage of the most possible 8s before 2088. (2088 is deep in the future, some time after I'm predicted to die.) 8s are lucky to Chinese numerology.

The people of Beijing collectively rolled up their sleaves, and citizens from all the rest of China poured in to lend a hand. After all, Beijing was representing all of China, and they wanted their nation to look good, for patriotism if nothing else.

The Mad Engineering of Beijing had begun.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...