Human rights and the Beijing Olympics: imagined global community and the transnational public sphere




The Olympic Games are increasingly used by non-governmental organizations to demand transnational forms of accountability from public authorities. This article assesses the effectiveness of transnational public opinion surrounding the Beijing 2008 Olympics, when the pressure of Western public opinion was exerted upon the government of the world's most populous non-Western nation to improve its human rights record. Utilizing the concepts of ‘imagined global community’ and ‘transnational public sphere’, it finds that the Olympic Games had helped to call into existence a transnational public that ran up against the obstacle posed by the incomplete formation of supra-national forms of governance. The International Olympic Committee, a non-governmental organization, was a weak substitute. Because of the strong desire of Chinese people to take part in transnational deliberations, the article concludes with optimism about the potential of transnational public spheres that include Chinese people to develop toward more effective forms of transnational governance. But the IOC must strengthen the voice of its non-Western members, and Western interlocutors, including the media, must accept their share of the responsibility for creating the conditions for egalitarian dialogue.