Winter Olympics start new era for spread of Chinese culture
Friendly, confident Olympics host 'denies aggressive image'
Published: Feb 24, 2022 08:48 PM Updated: Feb 24, 2022 11:58 PM
 Closing ceremony of Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at National Stadium in Beijing on February 20, 2022. Photo: VCG

Closing ceremony of Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at National Stadium in Beijing on February 20, 2022. Photo: VCG

The Beijing Winter Olympics had ended, yet the unique "Chinese romance" left by the event still lingers, with international and Chinese culture experts sharing their belief that just like the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, this edition of the Winter Olympics will be another key point for Chinese culture to be further communicated to the world. 

But some media and politicians in the West, who have remained vigilant about China's growing influence, will spare no effort to ring-fence it. However, the harmonious, peaceful and loving signals sent by this Winter Olympics will help counter this myth of China as an "aggressive" power as some have alleged. 

After staying in the Olympic Village for several days, Maltese snowboarder Jenise Spiteri became a loyal fan of Chinese culture. She previously earned the nickname "steamed bun" because her love for Chinese steamed buns amazed and touch netizens.

Her love for Chinese food lingers even after she left the country. On Wednesday, Spiteri posted pictures on her newly opened account on Sina Weibo of her and the mascot of the Winter Olympics, Bing Dwen Dwen, enjoying delicacies in San Francisco's Chinatown. 

Jenise is not alone. Many foreign athletes have grown fascinated by Chinese culture during their short stay that many were spotted leaving with items they obtained during the event, including red Chinese lanterns.

With the people-to-people exchanges disrupted by the COVID-19 for more than two years, the Winter Olympics offered a rare chance for overseas participants not only to enjoy sports but also to get a glimpse of Chinese culture, as the event coincides with China's most important traditional festival, Chinese New Year. Apart from Chinese food, Spring Festival traditions, the mascot in a transparent coating of ice that resembles a space suit, stood out and went viral.

Japanese media concentrated their reports on the Winter Games itself and offered little information on other aspects, then after a Japanese TV reporter Gido Tsujioka showed his deep love of the official mascot, some people in Japan took interest in it, which was a rare exception, Marukawa Tomoo, a professor at the Institute of Social Science of the University of Tokyo, told the Global Times.

The mascot was seen by many culture experts as a representative of the hot Chinese culture wave, as the panda is a universally loved animal, and the transparent coat connotes both winter sports and the country's space dream. "The Chinese giant pandas also reveal core Chinese values of living in harmony with nature and animals," Zheng Changling, deputy director of Cultural Development Strategy Center at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, told the Global Times.

International culture experts are also impressed by the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Winter Games. Tomoo from Japan said that Japanese viewers were impressed by the opening ceremony. "It was much better than the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020 opening ceremony. Beijing's ceremony impressed us by using laser and AR technologies, creating a fantasy world."

Rise of Chinese culture

Zhang Yimou, director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics as well as the opening ceremony of 2008 Beijing Olympics, said that unlike 2008, when he tried to fill the ceremony with all elements of Chinese culture, he chose a more streamlined way for Beijing 2022.

"The biggest difference is that we have cultural confidence now, as we have dropped off our burden," said Zhang. 

The past decade has witnessed a revival of Chinese culture. A Chinese netizen said online recently that when China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the country was swept by the craze of Korean and Western pop culture, with Korean soap operas, Japanese animes and American TV series, the most popular being "Prison Break," dominating the Chinese youth's attention. 

Fourteen years later, the tide has turned to Chinese culture, when young people are turning to "Chinese chic," "China made" commodities to seek a sense of cultural belonging; the Forbidden Palace and Dunhuang Murals topped the list of Chinese tourists among domestic destinations, and domestic films have overtaken imported ones on Chinese screens. 

And such cultural influence began to spill over to other parts of the world as China's strength grows. Zhang Yimou pointed out that a country's rising power will bring a cultural output. China's Confucius, Mencius, and other ideas and values from thousands of years ago have made an impact on the world, especially some Asian countries including Japan and South Korea.

Take this Winter Olympics. According to a survey conducted by China News Service this week, which included respondents from countries such as the US, UK, Russia, Australia and Japan, 73.2 percent of respondents said they paid attention to the Winter Olympics, and that a majority expressed their willingness to visit China and get a deeper understanding of the country.

Yury Tavrovsky, head of the "Russian Dream-Chinese Dream" analytics center of the Izborsk Club, told the Global Times that Chinese characters remain a symbol of Chinese culture for him. 

"They are beautiful and inexhaustible, like the unique Chinese civilization. They can be written in an official manner strictly and legibly, or you can draw with one stroke of an inspired brush, creating a whole image, a whole cosmos of concepts. Characters can be viewed with awe as an impenetrable Great Wall separating the Celestial Empire from the rest of the world. But you can search and find ways to understand and translate," said Tavrovsky.

Challenges to China's image

The road for Chinese culture to reach a wide overseas public hasn't been smooth. Many foreign media and Western institutes tend to be negative when reporting about this edition of the Winter Olympics. 

For example, a research staff at the US-funded Australia-based think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute also took it to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen and used it as a tool in criticizing Chinese "propaganda and information operations." 

China faces serious challenges in promoting its image in the US. The relentless condemnation of China by American political and media elites has fostered negative images about China, and fueled the spread of anti-Chinese, anti-Asian hatred and violence, Kenneth Hammond, a professor of East Asian and global history at New Mexico State University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

However, the cultural importance of the 2022 Winter Olympics has been in helping to counter this myth of China as an aggressive, imperialistic power, Carlos Martinez, a British author and co-founder of No Cold War campaign, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

He said that humanity faces three existential threats: pandemic, climate breakdown, and nuclear war. With Beijing 2022, China showed the world its responsible approach to all of the three, by successfully containing the viral spread within the closed-loop system. The Winter Games were also the greenest yet, with zero-carbon venues, zero-carbon transport, low-carbon artificial snow production, and the reuse of  venues. 

Defying the so-called diplomatic boycott advocated by US-led West, China developed friendly relations with countries around the world and promoted an understanding of China as a responsible, peaceful country, according to Martinez.

Yet culture experts are confident that China will accelerate its pace and influence more people. "After a certain period of accumulation of forces and inventory of ideological weapons according to the degree of effectiveness, China will be able to launch a counteroffensive on the global front. The starting point may be at the end of this year," said Tavrovsky. 

Zheng also said he hopes more about Chinese culture, not only the symbols but also its essence and values, can be understood and accepted worldwide.