SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • China;
  • Olympic Games;
  • public sphere;
  • transnationalism;
  • human rights

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

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.


‘One World, One Dream’

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

On 8 August 2008, 204 national teams – more than in any previous Olympics – marched in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. The number would have been 205 if not for the fact that Brunei, whose sultan was sitting in the VIP section, neglected to send any athletes. This symbolized the moment when, for all practical purposes, every corner of the earth's territory was now controlled by a nation-state. The last patches of earth to enter the parade were the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu. It had passed unnoticed, but in 2008 the world system of nation-states, which had been expanding across the globe since the late eighteenth century, reached its logical culmination. Since 1896, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had been at the forefront of this process because the Olympic Games were the major public arena for announcing the existence of a country to a world audience.2

In the realms of political symbolism and world media, the Beijing Olympics signified unprecedented global unity. Over 100 national dignitaries – of which about 85 were sovereigns and heads of state – took part in the opening ceremony, more than had ever attended any previous opening ceremony. It was the first opening ceremony outside the USA attended by an American president. These were the most-watched Olympic Games ever, and probably the most-watched event in human history. Approximately 70 per cent of the world's population, 4.7 billion viewers, accessed television coverage. A total of 32,278 journalists (26,298 accredited and 5,980 unaccredited) from around the world covered the Games, the largest contingent for any event ever. They were the first Games to have global digital coverage, with 153 million people watching live broadcasts online. The IOC's digital channel on YouTube, made available free of charge in 78 territories across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, received 21 million views (BOCOG 2008: 123, 129; IOC 2009: 1, 27; Nielsen 2008).

The human rights debates

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

The media platform facilitated a public debate that was ‘transnational’ on a scale that few public debates are. In its risk assessment at the one-year countdown to the opening ceremony, the IOC had identified 28 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that had announced plans to use the Beijing Olympics to highlight political issues; the most active were considered to be Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, Students for a Free Tibet, Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falungong, Support the Monks, and Save Darfur Coalition. Riots erupted in the Chinese province of Tibet in March 2008 and shortly thereafter the deputy secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders disrupted the Olympic torch lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia by unfurling a banner depicting handcuffs in place of the five Olympic rings. With the support of the Central Tibetan Administration,3 the International Tibet Support Network, a coalition of NGOs, organized protests during the international torch relay, which merged with other protests to create chaos in London, Paris, and San Francisco. Later relay legs were shortened and/or held in closed venues. On 14 May, the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province defused the animosity by generating sympathy for everyday Chinese people.

On human rights issues, the two most influential NGOs were Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Amnesty's International Secretariat published eight ‘Olympics Countdown’ reports on China from 2005 to 2008, and section offices published their own reports and engaged with the national Olympic committees in their home countries. After the Olympics, Amnesty reported that 1.5 million people across the globe had expressed their desire to improve human rights in China.4 Human Rights Watch published one book (Worden 2008), five reports on human rights in China, and the Reporter's Guide to Covering the Beijing Olympics; maintained a Beijing Olympics webpage; and met with 46 national Olympic committees, the twelve global The Olympic Program (TOP) corporate sponsors, and numerous heads of state and foreign ministers.5 Both organizations occasionally met with IOC staff.

With their reports, op-eds, press releases, and dramatic protests, NGOs provoked a transnational debate in which ‘human rights’ in China played a central role. This level of influence was new in the Olympic context, and manifested the increasing presence of NGOs in global politics. An idea of the scale of the debate can be gleaned from the numbers generated by a search of the terms ‘Beijing’ AND ‘Olympic*’ AND ‘human rights’ (and equivalent in other languages) in major world media in the LexisNexis Academic database. In only the time period from one month before the opening ceremony to the day after the closing ceremony (8 July to 25 August 2008), the database finds a total of 5243 items in all languages: English (1938 items), German (1220), French (1004), Dutch (590), Italian (325) and Spanish (166). That the discussion of Chinese human rights was subsidiary to the overall interest in the Olympic Games is indicated by the fact that, as numerous as they were, the 1938 reports in English constituted only 6 per cent of the 33,665 Anglophone items called up by the search terms ‘Beijing’ AND ‘Olympic*’.6

While these discussions were well-covered in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the specific issues were not well-covered in the Chinese media because the topic of ‘human rights’ is regulated by censorship policies, which were especially tight during the lead-up to the games. A search in a Chinese database using the Chinese equivalents of ‘human rights’ and ‘Beijing Olympics’ calls up twenty articles in July and August, almost all of which express a negative position on the foreign criticism of China's human rights.7

Imagined global community

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

These Olympic Games marked the incorporation of China – the world's most populous nation, a rising economic and political power, and the nation most culturally and geographically distant from the West – into the modern world system to a degree never seen before, reflected in the official slogan ‘One World, One Dream’.

Through their marketing of slogans and symbols of unity, their pageantry and ceremonial, the Beijing Olympics ‘contributed greatly to an enhanced consciousness of humankind’ (Giulianotti and Robertson 2004: 558). They offered a powerful fantasy of unity that strengthened a feeling of shared membership in a single community – an ‘imagined community’ as conceptualized by Benedict Anderson (1993). However, the unprecedented level of support for the Beijing games by the governments and corporations of the world was accompanied by an unprecedented level of criticism by NGOs and media commentators. How to explain this paradox?

The imaginary global unity and the heated public debate were two sides of the same process of social integration. The ceremonial politics of the Olympic Games expressed a yearning for togetherness and presented an imagined social harmony, while the parliamentary politics that surrounded them involved argumentation and competing interests. Theatricality contrasted with citizenship, representative publicness with deliberative democracy (Dayan and Katz 1992: viii; Habermas 1992: 426–7, 1989: 5–15). The dual process expressed the interplay between the symbols that unite us and the structures that divide us – the dialectic between the floating and fixed worlds, the ‘world as we wish it to be’ and the ‘world as it really is’, the sacred and the mundane, the universal and the particular, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Turner 1969: vii, 96–7; Giulianotti and Robertson, 2012: 218).

Transnational public sphere

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

As the Olympic image of peaceful international relations becomes more convincing, the games are increasingly used by NGOs to demand transnational forms of accountability from public authorities. In Beijing there were many such efforts, but the one that garnered the most media attention was the effort to mobilize external public opinion to pressure the Chinese government to improve its human rights record. Thus, the Beijing Olympic Games provide an empirical case for assessing the effectiveness of public opinion in a situation where Western public opinion was exerted across national boundaries to pressure the world's most populous non-Western nation. Habermas's theory of the public sphere (1989, 1992, 2001) will be utilized to frame the analysis because it is a theory that places public opinion-formation at the centre of political processes. A public sphere is a discursive realm for the mobilization of public opinion to influence decision-makers; in a ‘transnational public sphere’, those decision-makers have influence over issues that transcend national boundaries (Fraser 2007). The human rights debates surrounding the Beijing Olympic Games contribute toward answering the question of whether the normative ideal of the public sphere is attainable at the transnational level. This analysis enables an assessment of the reality of transnational society as compared to the ideal presented by the imagination of a global community.

The concepts of ‘imagined community’ and ‘public sphere’ were originally formulated to describe the emergence of modern nation-states beginning in the West in the late eighteenth century, but this essay extends them from the national to the supra-national level because they seem to accurately describe the endeavour to develop supra-national forms of governance in the twenty-first century, which formed the context for the Olympic debates. I follow Nancy Fraser's assertion that members of a public sphere need not be citizens of a single nation, because, with the cultural support of shared social imaginaries, it is possible for a far-flung collection of people to cohere into a ‘public’ mobilized by the ‘all-affected principle’– the notion that all people potentially affected by political decisions should have the chance to participate in the formation of public opinion about them (Fraser 2007: 19–24). Due to the problem of scale, it is doubtful that all people potentially affected by a global social issue could ever take part in public debates about it; but the key question is whether the deliberative process is conducted in such a way that all of those possibly affected could consent to it after participating in rational discourses. If so, then the public deliberation confers legitimacy upon public policies (Habermas 1992: 443–57; 2001: 116).

Effective global governance does not yet exist – but the Beijing Olympics provided a stop-action photo of the tendrils growing in that direction. The vast majority of China's economic, cultural, social, and legal bonds with the outside world are less than three decades old and still unfolding. In this situation, a sense of a shared community and mutual trust must be created before deliberations on contested issues can be conducted. This is not done primarily through debate, but through ritual and symbol (Turner 1969). The importance of symbolic action in establishing trust is especially valid for China, where ritual, protocol, and the host-guest relationship are extremely important. In accord with the Confucian tradition, hosting the Olympic Games was said to be similar to inviting a guest to one's home: the host's hospitality should help forge a relationship of trust that facilitates an honest exchange of opinions afterwards. This was expressed in the scene in the Olympic opening ceremony that quoted the famous phrase of Confucius, ‘Isn't it a great pleasure to greet friends from afar?’ Only an uncivilized guest would start criticizing the host before he even arrived, and this was how many Chinese people viewed the Western criticism of China during the lead-up to the games.

A transnational public sphere is created when at least two culturally-rooted public spheres begin to overlap and intersect (Bohman 2004: 138): this article describes the unperfected intersection of Chinese and Western public spheres. Public sphere theory tends to assume that a relatively integrated society already exists, forgetting that an imagined community is the precondition for the formation of a public sphere (Fraser 2007: 19). If the Olympic Games are the premier global ritual for expressing global community, then they are also the foundation for building transnational public spheres.

Olympic opinion-formation inside China

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

This essay is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing in the year up to and including the games, when the author was affiliated with the Olympic Studies Centre of Beijing Sport University, and was included in the ‘academic experts team’ of Chinese intellectuals collaborating with BOCOG and with the central and municipal governments. Together they carried out history's most massive ‘Olympic education’ programme in schools, universities, and communities nationwide, and in the mass media (Brownell 2009). The intellectuals constituted what might be called the ‘opinion leaders’ of Chinese public opinion about the Olympics. There was a core group of around ten Olympic scholars, and an additional floating group of several dozen scholars specializing in sport, culture, and communications. Most of the core intellectuals had been offered jobs at BOCOG, but all but one had declined because they preferred to be independent from the government. These intellectuals gave daily lecture series on China Central Television (CCTV); designed a poster exhibition viewed by one million people around China; wrote scripts for Olympic features shown daily on Beijing Television; provided content for school textbooks distributed to 800,000 school students nationwide; wrote blog postings that elicited over 200,000 hits; gave hundreds of lectures to schools and professional groups; and the list goes on. For several years before the games, their projects, combined with the communications programmes of BOCOG, enveloped and bombarded Beijing residents with information about the games in every conceivable public medium. Their efforts contributed to the fact that the Gallup poll conducted among Beijing residents as part of the Olympic bid process in 2001 produced the highest approval rating yet recorded for an Olympic bid – 94 per cent.

The attempt to shape opinion was a top-down tutorial effort sometimes accompanied by very strict government censorship and detainment of those who attempted to utilize the media platform to express opposition. The process of opinion-formation did involve multiple large public assemblies that brought together grassroots representatives with intellectuals and officials, but the greater part of it was not grounded in the kinds of voluntary associations that Habermas considered to be the institutional foundation for a public sphere. However, there was active involvement by three of the eight ‘democratic’ (non-Communist) parties, which utilized the Olympics to expand their influence, and Donnie Pei (mentioned below) formed an unregistered civil group, the ‘People's Olympic Education Promotion Team’ (Brownell 2009: 51–4). The way in which public opinion is formed and shapes public policy in the absence of a full-fledged civil society has yet to be fully handled by Western theory (see Brownell 1995: 67–98), although any Chinese thinker will assert that it does occur. The Beijing Olympics provided a framework within which a very large proportion of the municipal and national populations engaged in a great deal of public discourse about their society and its future development.

The Chinese interpretation of human rights

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

The official Chinese position on human rights, which was unofficially communicated to IOC members in informal conversations, is explained in the memoirs of He Zhenliang, China's senior IOC member, and Yuan Weimin, former minister of sport and Executive Director of the Beijing bid committee. They believed that ‘human rights problems’ were an excuse that Western governments and public opinion employed to attack China because they were threatened by its rapid development. They argued that different nations are in different stages of economic development and have different cultural backgrounds, and therefore have correspondingly different orders of priority for the problems associated with human rights. China's human rights situation is currently the best it has ever been, although of course much work remains to be done. The Olympic Games would help them better solve human rights problems (Brownell 2008: 143; Liang 2008: 158–9; Yuan 2009: 80).

In 2001, the Beijing bid committee knew that European IOC members favourably disposed toward Beijing's bid were looking to the bid team to mention human rights so that they could justify casting their ballot for Beijing (Yuan 2009: 80–4). One of the three themes of the Olympics, renwen aoyun, ‘the people's Olympics’ (also translatable as ‘the humanistic Olympics’) was intended as a response to criticism of China's human rights record. It was linked with the phrase yi ren wei ben, ‘take people as the root’, or ‘people-orientation’. ‘Humanism’ had been hotly debated in literary circles since the mid-1990s as a label for the effort to preserve Chinese culture against the levelling effects of marketization. ‘People-orientation’ was first named by President Hu Jintao soon after coming to power in 2003, when he called for a shift in the Party's leadership orientation away from a focus on GDP growth and toward the ‘all-around development of people’ (a phrase that might have been borrowed from the Olympic Charter). This set the stage for the first explicit mention of ‘human rights’ in the Constitution when it was revised in 2004. This shift in thinking acknowledged that a market economy stimulates the pursuit of satisfaction of ‘individual’ needs – illustrating Habermas's point that the standards of human rights may stem less from the particular cultural background of Western civilization than from the attempt to answer the challenges posed by a social modernity that is expanding around the globe (2001: 121). The idea that economic development should serve the needs of individuals, instead of individual needs (and the environment) being sacrificed for economic development, was a new one in China, and it was facilitated by the interchange with the West that occurred through the Olympic bidding and hosting process. This is seen in the fact that ‘people-orientation’ was publicized through the Olympic bid nearly two years before Hu came to power and made it official policy.

The BOCOG members, education officials, and intellectuals who crafted the ‘People's Olympics’ did not understand human rights in legalistic terms, but reinterpreted them in humanistic terms as a general respect for human dignity (including respect for the disabled), a spirit of mutual caring (the ‘volunteer spirit’), and a code of public etiquette that can only be promoted through public education. However, they never successfully communicated to the outside world (which was not particularly eager to listen) the way in which the ‘people's Olympics’ were supposed to promote human rights – essentially because they were not operating within the Western liberal paradigm. As a result, what could have been an entry point for a dialogue remained unprobed. This left some of them with the feeling that they had responded to the West in what they had thought was a dialogue, but the West had refused to listen.

IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

In 2001, the bid team had been savvy enough to accurately forecast that speaking about human rights would ‘ “draw fire upon us” and bring trouble’ (Yuan 2009: 82). ‘Human rights’ were not mentioned in the candidature file that constituted the official written part of the bid. The question of whether or not to orally mention ‘human rights’ in the bid presentation before the IOC Session in Moscow was considered very carefully. Discussions became increasingly heated and at one point someone said, ‘If we can't even dare to mention the two words “human rights”, then what are we bidding for?’ (Yuan 2009: 82).

Forty-eight hours before the bid presentation, Vice Premier Li Lanqing arrived in Moscow and an emergency meeting was held. Li declined to mention human rights in his address to the Session, but eventually Beijing Mayor Liu Qi was able to secure Li's agreement that he himself could do it (Brownell 2008: 243). The final result was that in his speech to the Moscow Session, Liu said,

I want to say that the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will have the following special features: They will help promote our economic and social progress and will also benefit the further development of our human rights cause. They will promote an exchange of rich Chinese culture with other cultures. They will mark a major step forward in the spreading of the Olympic Ideals.8

This wording became the prototype that could be repeated to the media; thus, the statements by the other bid team members that were later frequently cited by the human rights NGOs were all variations on this basic theme.

On the whole, it appears that the IOC members who voted for Beijing did so primarily because they wanted to take the games outside the West to a country that had never had them before, and not because they believed they would improve the human rights situation in China. At the same time, it appears that the ability of the Chinese to engage in amicable discussion on the topic was important. Dick Pound, IOC member in Canada, recalled that in Beijing's first bid in 1993, only four years after the 1989 Tian An Men incident, the bid team had been ‘surly and defensive’ on the topic of human rights; this time they showed understanding of the importance of the issue to many IOC members, they hired consultants from top international public relations firms, and they made a slick bid presentation.9 It might be argued that the IOC's role as a gatekeeper for China's accession to global citizenship was to ensure that representatives of China were ready to publicly engage in civil debate on sensitive topics. From the published memoirs, we now know how narrowly China passed that test in 2001.

The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

Many of the Olympic scholars and BOCOG officials were frequently interviewed by Western media, and they often perceived the journalists as antagonistic. In their experience, the Western- and Anglophone-dominated transnational debate did not express the preconditions of a democratic public sphere: it was not inclusive and equal, nor did they feel they were treated with respect. Jin Yuanpu, Director of the Humanistic Olympic Studies Centre at Renmin University, was quoted in an article in multiple McClatchy newspapers (USA) as saying, ‘We want to tell the whole world that we are a country with 5,000 years of history. We are not just a country that makes shoes and hats’. The article continued,

But as the conversation unfolded, Jin grew visibly agitated, saying that many Chinese can no longer tolerate the harsh attitudes of the West toward their homeland. ‘I don't believe any American media will publish my words fairly!’ Jin said. (Johnson 2008)

Jin conducted research documenting numerous factual errors in major Western media reports on China attributable to a negative bias; but he told me that he did not try to publicize his findings because, as an expert in hermeneutics, he had concluded that a ‘pre-understanding’ (a concept of Hans-Georg Gadamer) hindered accurate reporting.

Donnie Pei, a faculty member of the Capitol Institute of Physical Education who was very active in the Olympic education programs in the schools, once responded heatedly to a Canadian reporter's question about the political issues raised by NGOs by saying (in English),

[The Olympic Games] are a congregation, a celebration, a holiday – it's a festival. If some Westerners take this time to raise political issues, tell them they're stupid. Even if it's George Bush – tell him to go to the International Olympic Academy and receive an Olympic education. Olympism is respect for any culture, any people, any nation.10

In the eight months before the games, I gave nearly one hundred interviews to journalists from over twenty countries, and also frequently struggled to avoid being boxed into the Western liberal orthodoxy on human rights. My most extreme experience was as a self-funded member of the audience of the 2008 BBC Radio Reith Lecture series on China by historian Jonathan Spence.11 I was invited to be a member of the audience so that I could raise a question after the lecture, but when I proposed to raise a question about whether the Olympics would promote better mutual understanding between China and the outside world, I was repeatedly pressured in phone calls and e-mails over a period of several weeks to raise a question about China's return to East European ‘hot-housing’ methods in the singular pursuit of winning gold medals. Ultimately another member of the audience asked the same question that BBC had pressed upon me, so I assume that they found a willing mouthpiece elsewhere. I wrote a letter of complaint expressing my annoyance with the pressure exerted upon me to be the ‘tongue and throat’ (to use the Chinese phrase) of BBC, which received unapologetic replies.

The perceived negative bias in international media motivated anti-CNN protests in China before the games. Four months after the games, the director of the Chinese Central Propaganda Department made an important speech acknowledging that China's weakness in foreign communications had become apparent during the Beijing Olympics. In 2009, a huge central government initiative was launched, including an initial investment of US$6 billion into international media and an online portal for China Central Television. It seemed that the lesson the leadership drew from the Olympics was that since the existing media platform was hostile to their message, they should build their own platform. The belief that transnational public opinion was manipulated by Western powers was a major factor in China's recalcitrance in 2010, when the leadership refused to allow associates to leave China to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo. He became the first recipient to be represented by an empty chair.

Public sphere theory would predict that the essential precondition for resolving international conflicts over human rights is to ensure the political rights of communication and participation in transnational debates. Human rights are not pre-given moral truths; they are constructions. Independently of their cultural backgrounds, all the participants in a discussion of human rights know that ‘a consensus based on a conviction cannot come about as long as symmetrical relations do not exist among them’. The question of whether human rights are universal, or whether there are ‘Asian values’ different from Western, is not really the main point, and is often an instrumental use of human rights that ‘conceals particular interests behind a universalistic mask’ (Habermas 2001: 117, 129). The concept of ‘rights’ was not found in Chinese legal thought before the last third of the nineteenth century, when quanli (literally ‘power and benefit’) was used to translate the Western concept. However, the importance of public opinion (in classical philosophy, minyi, also translatable as ‘the will of the people’; in today's parlance, yulun) in shaping governance is an enduring concept in Chinese political philosophy that dates back to the beginnings of codified law two and a half millennia ago. While the Western liberal understanding of human rights did not have cross-cultural legitimacy in 2008, the normative ideal of the public sphere did. My Chinese colleagues, anti-CNN protesters, and even Chinese leaders subscribed to inclusiveness, parity, and mutual respect in the transnational public sphere as an ideal, and that was why they felt a sense of injustice, and why the government is currently expending so much money to right it.

The Western liberal orthodoxy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

The main obstacle to dialogue was the way in which the debate was framed. The various NGOs advocated for specific causes in accord with their mandates. Amnesty's Beijing campaign had the goal of four concrete reforms in China: an end to executions, respect for human rights, freedom from censorship, and fair trials for all. It had not originally planned to take up the Tibet issue, but felt pressure to do so after the March riots.12 Human Rights Watch targeted forced evictions and school closures, labour rights abuses, repression of ethnic minorities, controls on religious freedom, the death penalty and executions, HIV/AIDS rights advocacy obstruction, use of the house arrest system, and China's ties with rights violators (such as Sudan).13 The IOC's agenda was that ‘the Olympic Games are above all a force for good, which can have a positive impact on the social development of a country’.14

Hein Verbruggen was the main liaison between the IOC and BOCOG as chairman of the IOC's Coordination Commission (CoComm) for the Beijing Olympics, a committee consisting of some 20 IOC members and staff who met with BOCOG between 2001 and 2008 to review the preparatory work. As a long-time member of Amnesty International, Verbruggen received promotional material claiming (in French) that ‘the Chinese authorities are failing in their commitments [French engagements] concerning respect for human rights’. He wrote a letter to Member Services, observing that their language implied that the government of China had made commitments as part of the dossier for their candidature, and that he could certify that this was perfectly inaccurate.15 When he continued to receive similar material, he decided to go public in an interview with de Volkskrant, one of Holland's leading newspapers. The resulting headline (in Dutch) was ‘Amnesty is Deliberately Misinforming the Public about China – IOC Member Verbruggen Attacks Human Rights Organization’ (Randewijk 2007). Careful to clarify that he was not speaking for the IOC, he expressed his personal opinion that Amnesty was taking its campaign against the Olympics too far, distorting reality and using the Games as a platform to advertise its own – albeit just – cause. He stated that what the Chinese had expressed were convictions or beliefs, not commitments. China had kept every promise made to the IOC, and while Amnesty had the right to express its opinions on the insufficiency of progress in China, it should not say things that were untrue.

The published response of Eduard Nazarski, the director of Amnesty International Netherlands, was,

According to Amnesty the IOC, through President Rogge, did actually promise to oversee the improvement of the human rights situation in China. Amnesty says the opinions of Verbruggen send the wrong signal to the Chinese leaders and are a slap in the face of the Chinese defenders of human rights, who face ever more pressure in the lead-up to the Games. (Nazarski 2007)

In Norway the debate between China critics and IOC member Gerhard Heiberg was also widely covered. Human Rights Watch echoed Amnesty's criticisms of the IOC in nearly 90 news releases, op-eds, and letters to world leaders from January to October 2008, with titles such as ‘International Olympic Committee Operating in Moral Void’.16

Despite the mutual antagonism, each side supported the right of the other to exist and to do its work, and they believed that – if done correctly – this work had the potential to accomplish good in the world. Neither Amnesty nor Human Rights Watch supported a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. In response to my question about whether the Olympic Games have the capability of making the world a better place, Nazarski replied,

At least the amount of exchange between individuals, between organizations, in the Olympics is massive, and that must have an influence on any society. And in that aspect, I think yes. But if you would ask after that the question, ‘Could the IOC have done more?’, then my answer would be, too, ‘yes’. And they shouldn't be as defensive in public debate as they were, at least in the beginning.17

Minky Worden, Public Relations Director of Human Rights Watch, stated that, although she felt the Olympic Games had worsened human rights in China by empowering the public security system, she still felt it was better to give the games to China because the negative return would have been worse if they had not, possibly strengthening ultra-nationalism inside China.18

For their part, IOC members and staff often felt that NGOs were disengaged from the real world. Chinese IOC member He Zhenliang described human rights organizations with a Chinese proverb –‘the monkeys scream nonstop from the banks while the light boat has already passed by countless mountains’ (Liang 2005: 342). Verbruggen said that he could not recall that his Chinese counterparts had ever mentioned the words ‘Amnesty International’ to CoComm:

It's useless, these folders, these flyers, that they distribute. It has no effect, unfortunately. They could do a much better job. [Premier] Wen Jiabao told us, ‘Yes, we have to improve certain areas. We should be more lawful’. Whatever he meant by that, I don't know, but that's the way it was translated for us. I think at the same time, this government is very realistic and knows ‘we have to improve’, and if Amnesty would admit that, if Amnesty would say, ‘Hey, congratulations, you took 400 million people out of poverty. You did a great job. Could you perhaps also –,’ they would make much more progress than what they do now. They sit in their offices in Amsterdam and London and shout! And not tell the truth.19

IOC members are unsalaried volunteers; many of those who are most heavily involved in international sport have sacrificed financial income in exchange for the spiritual reward of feeling that they are shaping a better world. The majority of the headquarters staff comes from liberal Western countries. Thus, the inner circle of the IOC was typical of persons who work for non-profit organizations, and their conceptual understanding of human rights was not essentially different from that of the human rights NGOs. Both the IOC and BOCOG pursued a relatively new course of action: they hired high-profile communications firms. However, these were Western firms that were also solidly entrenched in the Western liberal paradigm.

Under director Giselle Davies, the IOC's Communications Department generated and distributed a large amount of material on human rights issues in China to IOC members and sponsors. Her Department tried very hard to achieve an understanding of the Chinese standpoint. In 2006 it commissioned a report by a consulting firm on ‘Western Conceptions of Human Rights vs. Asian Values’. The Joint Messaging Handbook produced between 2002 and 2005 together with BOCOG's Department of Media and Communications laid out the BOCOG position, the IOC position, and a ‘Unified Position/Message’ on issues that were getting attention in the media.

It was not until the games were over that Verbruggen reflected on his experiences and came to the realization that Amnesty and other NGOs were not, in fact, advocating for universal ‘human rights’, but for a very narrow segment of the whole spectrum of human rights in accord with their own, Western-biased interpretation. He enlisted the help of Joost van der Burgt, a political philosopher, who pinpointed a difference that is known to trained philosophers, but not evident to laypersons: the IOC's system of ethical values as outlined in the Olympic Charter is a virtues-based approach derived from classical Greek virtues, and is different from the rules-based approach employed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Verbruggen then understood that the IOC, too, had its own particular interpretation and agenda – to defend human dignity through sport. In retrospect, he said, ‘We should have said from the beginning, “Amnesty, don't impose your interpretation of human values on the IOC”, and responded with arguments’.

On the whole, the IOC, the NGOs, and the consulting firms shared the received Western liberal orthodoxy, so the IOC and BOCOG assumed a defensive position toward the critics, and did not effectively challenge their foundational assumptions. As a result, the IOC was unable to facilitate a dialogue involving alternatives to the Western liberal viewpoints.20

The IOC itself had not made an adjustment to the increasingly transnational (as opposed to international) demands being pressed upon it. During the Cold War, the IOC had become quite skilled at bringing together representatives of hostile nations at a negotiating table when no one else could. It was prepared to handle crises in international relations; but in 2008, except for the war between Georgia and Russia, there were no major crises in international relations. Instead, the IOC was faced with NGOs possessing unprecedented public influence. In the 1990s the IOC had responded to attacks from environmental activists by including environmental initiatives in its mandate; but a broad global consensus on the environment made this possible, while no such consensus was evident on human rights. The IOC defended its refusal to include specific rights in its mandate by stating that it was a ‘non-political organization’. This was a pragmatic stance assumed in order to avoid boycotts by closing off ‘endless claims’ that the IOC cannot satisfy because there is no broad consensus about how to resolve them.

The host city contract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

As Habermas put it, ‘Discourses do not govern’. What they do is influence administration through the procurement and withdrawal of legitimation (1992: 452). The attempt to leverage public opinion outside China was one facet in a sustained strategy by non-governmental organizations to manipulate supra-national institutions in order to exert control over the Chinese government. At the point where the discourse was directed toward influencing administration, it began to take the form of a ‘public sphere’.

The NGOs attributed to the IOC the capacity to influence human rights in China, while the IOC did not feel that it possessed that capacity, or possessed a very minimal capacity. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused China of breaking a promise to improve human rights made during its bid for the games, and this criticism was picked up by other NGOs and journalists. However, as was described, the bid committee never intended to make a legally-binding promise.

In asserting that the IOC had authority over the Chinese government, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty focused on the Host City Contract, which, like most business contracts, is not made public. Human Rights Watch accused the IOC of ‘abetting censorship’ for not making it public. However, there were no clauses regarding human rights in the Host City Contract, and certainly none specific to China – the Host City Contract is the same for all the candidate cities, and is simply presented to whichever city wins the bid. It does require the host to abide by the Olympic Charter, but its main purpose is to fix financial obligations and distributions. Actually, what the critics were looking for was in plain view, because the commitments and promises made during the candidature phase in the technical file, the presentation to the Session, and other Olympic meetings were binding and ‘deemed to be an integral part of the Host City Contract’ (IOC 2000: item 1.4.4). These documents were easily found on the internet.

The only legal issue that received the constant attention of CoComm was intellectual property protection. The IOC had never intended that vague, grand pronouncements about human rights issued in the heat of a promotional campaign would be legally binding; the warning that bid statements were binding was added as a response to past situations in which bid cities had promised a competition venue or an Olympic village that was never built. The IOC could hardly have taken to court the three signatories of the contract – the Beijing municipal government, the Chinese Olympic Committee, and BOCOG – over the one sentence about human rights in the bid presentation. The central government, which has the ultimate authority over human rights, was not a signatory to the contract; it did provide written guarantees in the candidature file where requested, but no general promise about human rights was requested.

If the IOC had wanted to take legal action against the Chinese signatories, then according to the Host City Contract it would have been arbitrated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne. But this would have exposed the weak legal foundations of the Olympic system. CAS is an arbitral tribunal and not a court, so its decisions are only binding on governments that agree to be bound by them. International sports law, though relatively stable, exists on the fringe of public international law. It is differentiated from all other forms of international law in that it is non-governmental and does not derive from any treaties between sovereign states, but rather from agreements between international bodies that are constitutionally independent of their national governments (Nafziger 2004: 4–7). The major legal relationships that underpinned the organization of the Olympic Games were between the IOC, BOCOG, the national Olympic committees, and the international sport federations – all non-governmental organizations. Thus, the Olympic system is a transnational regime that is more truly autonomous from national governments than any other legal regime, and so it must rely on voluntary compliance by governments and organizations stemming from their desire to associate with the Olympic Games.

After the IOC has allocated the games to a city, it is in a weak negotiating position. Sometimes critics argue that the IOC should threaten to revoke the games from a host, but this is not realistic because the size of the games makes it impossible to shift to another location at short notice. The IOC has never sued any host city over breach of the Host City Contract, and in recent decades all of them have violated it to greater or lesser degree. One reason that Verbruggen was so annoyed by the constant criticism of Beijing's ‘broken promises’ was that Beijing probably adhered more closely to the Host City contract than any previous host. The blocking of politically sensitive internet sites in the facilities for the accredited media was often reported as a breach of the contract, but there was nothing about internet freedom in either the candidature manual or Host City Contract, because in 2001 no one had foreseen that the internet would become an important channel for political discussions. Restrictions on journalists reporting on the games were also said to violate the Host City Contract, but the contract only applied to journalists accredited for the two week period of the games, and the special media law guaranteeing freedom of reporting to foreign journalists for ten months surrounding the games far exceeded this. In short, the Host City Contract did not possess much force on these key issues. Since the legal foundations for compelling compliance were so weak, the main option for influencing the Chinese government was behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, or ‘silent diplomacy’.

Silent diplomacy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

The IOC defended itself by stating that it was engaging in ‘silent diplomacy’ with the Chinese. But how much influence did the IOC really possess?

China was admitted to the UN in 1971 and began its policy of opening up to the outside world in 1978, during the Cold War. The politicization of human rights at that time provoked Deng Xiaoping to declare that ‘national sovereignty is much more important than human rights’ and that no interference in the party-state's sovereignty would be tolerated in the name of ‘human rights’. This continued to be the leadership's uncompromising standpoint through 2008 (Wu 2007: 357–8).

It is instructive to recall the failed effort by former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch in the wake of the election of Beijing in 2001. Two days after the IOC Session awarded the games to Beijing, Samaranch made the bold move of suggesting to President Jiang Zemin in a brief private meeting that this moment was China's golden opportunity, and that Jiang should take advantage of it by proclaiming a general amnesty. Samaranch was perhaps inspired by the Amnesty Law of 1977 that was part of Spain's transition to democracy at the end of the Franco dictatorship, under which he served as a diplomat.21 He Zhenliang was later informed that Jiang had ignored Samaranch, and he concluded, ‘Apparently he was excessively self-confident and did not clearly understand Chinese politics’ (Brownell 2008: 143–4). Samaranch passed away in 2010. He is a nationally-loved figure in China because it is believed that he helped to bring the Olympics to China. Yet even Samaranch was not given a serious hearing when he tried to influence human rights in China. It was his final grand act as IOC president; three days later, Rogge was elected as his successor.

Starting in 2002, key IOC personnel met several times with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. They were in regular contact with Liu Qi and Wang Qishan, two leaders of BOCOG who were members of the Politburo; Wang was also a powerful Vice Premier. After Xi Jinping became Vice President in spring 2008, he was given oversight of the Olympic effort and they met with him, too. In their meetings with top leaders, IOC leaders were probably not as aggressive as human rights groups might have preferred, since they did not employ threats. Interactions were almost always polite. Verbruggen believed that it was important for CoComm to establish a relationship of trust, after which requests could be phrased in the manner, ‘We ask your understanding for the fact that we're under pressure, and that it negatively impacts the image of the games. Can you give us a break here?’22

When the games were months away, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch publicly stated that the IOC's silent diplomacy had not had an impact, and that in several areas they considered that hosting the games had worsened the human rights situation. Actually, silent diplomacy had probably achieved some results. In accord with an IOC policy, IOC leaders had raised a request to end executions in sport stadiums. Perhaps they misunderstood that public rallies at death sentences were commonly held in stadiums as late as spring 2001, but not the actual executions. While they did not ask for the reform of capital punishment itself, it appeared that the prospect of international scrutiny accelerated reform. A year before the games, the China expert at Human Rights Watch stated to media that he believed hosting the Olympics had exerted a positive effect on reform of the death penalty, contributing to a reduction in the total number of executions by as much as 45 per cent (Kingsbury 2007). On another front, after the riots in Tibet, the Chinese government renewed meetings with envoys of the Dalai Lama, perhaps due to pressure from the IOC.

However, just after the torch relay protests, when President Rogge encouraged China to respect its ‘moral engagement’ to advance social change, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that the IOC would adhere to its own Olympic Charter by ‘not bringing any irrelevant political factors into the Beijing Olympics’ (Wilson 2008). The Chinese ambassador in Geneva requested a meeting with Verbruggen and staff members at which he repeated the request. It appeared that the Chinese government feared the IOC was about to cross a line – indicating that a bottom line did exist.

The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

What would have happened if the IOC had succumbed to the pressure and started to publicly criticize China? Verbruggen gave this answer:

[I]t would have escalated within minutes. It would have been them against us, because on certain issues they could not give in. It would have escalated and it would have been a war. And where do we go with a war? Where do we go? You have two parties there who absolutely need each other to bring this to a good end. And that was the whole manoeuvring. That was the total trust. Both parties are vulnerable. They needed the Games. It was prestige: ‘We will show the world and our people’. We [the IOC] need the games because it's the only thing we have.23

In interviews Verbruggen repeatedly and forcefully emphasized the importance of the relationship of trust between BOCOG and the IOC. And so, in the final analysis, we are left with the reality that the Olympic Games are a two-week sporting event that is organized largely on the basis of trust. The IOC operates in a no-man's land where few supra-national governance structures exist. It had no actual jurisdiction over the issues on which it was being pressured to act, and neither did any of the other interlocutors. Not only was the ‘global community’ imagined, but also the public powers attributed to the IOC were imagined. In fact, the furore described here took place almost entirely in the realm of imagination, since it was largely conducted by people outside China talking about problems inside China. Perhaps it is not surprising that one international NGO should wish that another international NGO had such power. It would be more realistic to acknowledge that the transnational power to address these concerns does not exist, and NGOs are a weak substitute.

This is the current state of ‘transnational society’: as Giulianotti and Robertson observe, in the absence of state-defined powers, international sports governance is characterized by Realpolitik forms of interaction and exchange (2012: 226). Since transnational problems by definition cannot be solved by any single national government, it is often unclear to which public powers the public opinion that is mobilized in the public sphere should be addressed (Fraser 2007: 23).

Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography

While the IOC is numerically dominated by the West, it is still one of the most diverse of the powerful international NGOs. Historically, the IOC has served as a testing ground to distinguish those standpoints on which a broad international consensus might be achieved from those on which it cannot. The Olympic Games have become the premier venue for these debates – not just because of the media coverage, but also because they bring together in face-to-face interaction more heads of state, CEOs of multinational corporations, celebrities, and opinion leaders than any other event. In the past, the IOC had shown skill in mobilizing hostile nations behind the guiding principle of world peace through friendly sports competitions, but the more complex issues embraced by ‘human rights’ eluded its grasp. The media coverage of the specific issues of mass evictions, the death penalty, Tibetan rights, jailed dissidents, and so on, created a trap in which particularistic agendas drew attention away from general principles. It was not possible to engage in productive discussions with Chinese publics about these particularistic claims when the foundational consensus on what is meant by ‘respect for human dignity’ had not yet been achieved.

Of course, the IOC should endeavour to ensure the respect of specific rights in the organization work by requiring proper legal procedures for evictions, prohibiting use of prison and child labour on licensed products, and other measures that fall under the label of ‘social responsibility’. However, these ‘technical’ issues in sport organization are tangential to what is the IOC's major function in transnational society – facilitating the formation of the transnational consensus of public opinion that is necessary for concerted action on global issues. The strength of the Olympic bid process is that it gives a relatively open field to candidates to communicate in a dialogical process, and not that it forces them to comply with a pre-existing legal code. There was a huge fascination among the Western public with the question of whether the Beijing Olympics improved or worsened human rights, but this reflected naïvete about the absence of genuine dialogue between Western and Chinese publics. It was not possible for the Olympics to have a great impact on government policies in China because the preconditions for political will-formation across national boundaries had not been met. Having taken their place in the imagined global community, Chinese people now desire parity in the transnational public sphere. Domestic censorship is a partial obstacle, but even when interchange is possible, the language barrier and unwillingness of Western listeners to engage in genuine dialogue are just as serious. The first precondition for a transnational public sphere has yet to be fully established – the equal participation of the Chinese public, as well as those in other developing and non-Western societies. In the Olympic public sphere, this work cannot be done by Western communications firms, so the IOC itself would have to explore better ways to strengthen the voices of its own non-Western ‘Olympic family’ members in transnational debates.

Because of the strong desire of Chinese people to take part in transnational deliberations, I am optimistic about the potential of transnational public spheres that include Chinese people to develop toward more effective forms of transnational governance. But Western interlocutors, including the media, must accept their share of the responsibility for creating the conditions for egalitarian dialogue. As a normative ideal, the transnational public sphere can help guide us out of the narrow restrictions of nationalism and toward the new transnational possibilities unfolding before us.

Notes
  • 1

    The fieldwork in 2007–2008 was funded by a Fulbright Award. Trips to Lausanne were funded by the IOC's Olympic Studies Centre and by the Center for International Studies and the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Languages of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. This article benefited greatly from feedback from Andrew Nathan, Sun Weide, and four anonymous readers.

  • 2

    The IOC is a non-profit organization chartered in Switzerland, consisting of 115 self-selected, unpaid ‘members’. The ‘staff’ are the employees at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. A national Olympic committee is an NGO authorized by the IOC to send a national team to the Olympic Games. The 205 member ‘national Olympic committees’ of the IOC include the 192 member states of the UN and 13 territories not recognized as sovereign states, among them Hong Kong and ‘Chinese Taipei’ (the name under which Taiwan participates in the Olympic Games).

  • 3

    The organization headed by the Dalai Lama and located in Dharamsala, India.

  • 4

    Video: Amnesty International's Beijing Olympic Campaign, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/video-and-audio/video-amnesty-internationals-beijing-olympics-campaign-200812 (accessed 13 May 2011).

  • 5

    Minky Worden, telephone interview, 13 April 2011; see website at http://www.china.hrw.org.

  • 6

    The English count is based on the Major World Publications (English) Database. Other languages were input into the Non-English Language News, World Library Database.

  • 7

    Search terms input into ‘theme’ window were Beijing aoyun AND renquan. http://www.cnki.net (accessed 9 May 2011).

  • 8

    BOCOG Official Website, ‘Mr. Liu Qi's speech,’http://en.beijing2008.cn/spirit/beijing2008/candidacy/presentation/n214051410.shtml (accessed 19 May 2011).

  • 9

    Dick Pound, phone interview, 27 April 2011.

  • 10

    Interview with Jean-Francois Begin, La Presse, Beijing, China, 26 December 2007, observed by the author. The International Olympic Academy is an institution near Ancient Olympia, run by the Hellenic Government under the auspices of the IOC.

  • 11

    Jonathan Spence, ‘Chinese Vistas’ lecture series, lecture four, ‘The Body Beautiful’, BBC Reith Lectures, 24 June 2008, Lord's Cricket Ground, London.

  • 12

    Eduard Nazarski, telephone interview, 2 March 2011.

  • 13

    See note 5; Beijing 2008: China's Olympian Human Rights Challenges, http://china.hrw.org/agenda_for_reform (accessed 13 May 2011).

  • 14

    Position taken by the IOC Executive Board, 119th Guatemala City Session, 2 July 2007.

  • 15

    Account based on letters in the CoComm files and interviews with Verbruggen.

  • 16

    Website of Human Rights Watch, http://china.hrw.org/press/news_release/ (accessed 13 May 2011)

  • 17

    Eduard Nazarski, telephone interview, 2 March 2011.

  • 18

    Minky Worden, telephone interview, 13 April 2011.

  • 19

    Hein Verbruggen, interview, Lausanne, Switzerland, 12 January 2010. Quotation edited to consolidate the main thoughts.

  • 20

    Hill & Knowlton was hired by the IOC in 2002 and began working for BOCOG in 2006. Most of the multinational public relations/advertising firms with offices in China (including Kissinger Associates) provided advice to the Chinese government over the years. I participated on the evaluation panel for one of the Chinese government's solicitations in December 2007.

  • 21

    This law, which protected members of the Franco regime, came under attack in 2008 for protecting war criminals and depriving human rights victims of judicial redress as required by the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

  • 22

    Hein Verbruggen, interview, Lausanne, Switzerland, 16 January 2009.

  • 23

    Hein Verbruggen, interview, Lausanne, Switzerland, 15 January 2009. Quotation edited to consolidate the main thoughts.

Bibliography

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ‘One World, One Dream’
  4. The human rights debates
  5. Imagined global community
  6. Transnational public sphere
  7. Olympic opinion-formation inside China
  8. The Chinese interpretation of human rights
  9. IOC as a gatekeeper of civil debate in the transnational public sphere
  10. The Chinese public in the transnational public sphere
  11. The Western liberal orthodoxy
  12. The host city contract
  13. Silent diplomacy
  14. The IOC: lost in the no-man's land of transnational society
  15. Beyond the confines of Western liberal orthodoxy
  16. Bibliography
  • Anderson, B. 1993 Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso.
  • Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) 2008 Official Report of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, vol. 3, Beijing: BOCOG.
  • Bohman, J. 2004 ‘Expanding Dialogue: The Internet, the Public Sphere and Prospects for Transnational Democracy’, The Sociological Review 52(1): 13155.
  • Brownell, S. 1995 Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People's Republic, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Brownell, S. 2008 Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Brownell, S. 2009 ‘Beijing's Olympic Education Program: Re-Thinking Suzhi Education, Re-Imagining an International China’, China Quarterly 197: 4463.
  • Dayan. D. and Katz, E. 1992 Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Fraser, N. 2007 ‘Transnationalizing the Public Sphere: On the Legitimacy and Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World’, Theory, Culture & Society 24(4): 730.
  • Giulianotti, R. and Robertson, R. 2004 ‘The Globalization of Football: A Study in the Glocalization of the “Serious Life” ’, The British Journal of Sociology 55(4): 54568.
  • Giulianotti, R. and Robertson, R. 2012 ‘Mapping The Global Football Field: A Sociological Model of Transnational Forces within the World Game’, The British Journal of Sociology 63(2): 21640.
  • Habermas, J. 1989 The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge: MIT Press. Transl. Thomas Burger.
  • Habermas, J. 1992 ‘Further reflections on the public sphere’ in C. Calhoun (ed.) Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge: MIT Press. Transl. Thomas Burger.
  • Habermas, J. 2001 The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Transl. Max Pensky.
  • International Olympic Committee 2000 Manual for Candidate Cities for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad 2008, Lausanne: IOC.
  • International Olympic Committee 2009 Factsheet: Beijing Facts & Figures, update July 2009, Lausanne: IOC.
  • Johnson, T. 2008 ‘With a Month to Go Until Olympics, China Grows Anxious,’ McClatchy Newspapers, July 7, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/227/v-print/story/43368.html
  • Kingsbury, K. 2007 ‘An Olympic Reprieve for China's Convicts’, Time online, 11 June, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1631399,00.html
  • Liang, L.J. 2005 He Zhenliang: Wuhuan zhi Lu [He Zhenliang and the Olympics], Beijing: Shijie Zhishi Chubanshe.
  • Liang L.J. 2008 Qinli shen Ao [Personal Experiences of the Olympic Bid], (Hangzhou: Zhejiang Renmin Chubanshe).
  • Nafziger, J.A.R. 2004 International Sports Law, 2nd ed., Ardsley, New York: Transnational Publishers.
  • Nazarski, E. 2007Amnesty wijst China op beloften’[‘Amnesty points out China promises’], de Volkskrant, 1 September.
  • Nielsen Co. 2008 ‘The Final Tally – 4.7 Billion Tunes in to Beijing 2008 – More than Two in Three People Worldwide: Press Release’, 5 September. Hong Kong: The Nielsen Company.
  • Randewijk, M. 2007 ‘ “Amnesty licht publiek vals voor over China”– IOC-lid Verbruggen valt mensenrechtenorganisatie aan’ [‘ “Amnesty is Deliberately Misinforming the Public about China”– IOC Member Verbruggen Attacks Human Rights Organization’], de Volkskrant, 1 September 2007.
  • Turner, V. 1969 The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
  • Wilson, S. 2008 ‘Rogge says Olympics in “crisis” ’, USA Today, 10 April.
  • Worden, M. (ed.) 2008 China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges, New York: Seven Stories Press.
  • Wu, Z.X. 2007 Shehuizhuyi yu Renquan [Socialism and Human Rights], Shanghai: Xuelin Chubanshe.
  • Yuan, W.M. 2009 Titan Fengyun [Stormy Weather in the World of Sports], Nanjing: Jiangsu Renmin Chubanshe.