A scene of the 2022 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony - Vox.com
On February 4th, 2022, the 24th Olympic Winter Games kicked off in Beijing, China. In the fourteen years since China first hosted the Olympics (the 2008 Summer Olympics, also held in Beijing), the host country has undergone drastic changes. Here, we will look at how China has changed since the previous Beijing Olympics.
The most obvious and drastic change between now and 2008 is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Since originating in the Chinese super-city of Wuhan in December 2019 and being declared a pandemic in March 2020, COVID has forced almost all parts of the world to adapt to living in a pandemic. Even the Olympics were not immune from COVID, leading to one of the most stark differences between Summer 2008 and Winter 2022 Olympics. For the 2008 Olympics, Beijing allowed thousands of spectators to witness the events. But with the rise of the Omicron variant, only a few hundred spectators were allowed. Spectators were limited to residents of mainland China, and had to meet the COVID safety requirements outlined by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). Athletes must be vaccinated at least 14 days prior to arrival, while those granted exemptions will have to quarantine for 21 days after arrival. Additionally, Beijing enforced an “Olympic bubble” that athletes were not allowed to leave. In the event that this bubble was broken, the offending athletes were forced into strict quarantine restrictions, or even barred from competing in the remainder of the Olympics and returned to their home countries.
Another major difference between the 2008 Olympics and the 2022 Olympics was the reaction of other countries surrounding the Olympics. One of the most pressing headlines about these Olympics were the diplomatic boycotts of China by the United States, Australia, Canada, and Britain (a diplomatic boycott is when government officials from a competing country do not attend the games). This boycott was sparked by China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. For several years, China has been pursuing a campaign against Uyghur Muslims and other Muslim ethnic minorities. They have used tactics such as mass detention and forced sterilization, keeping the oppressed minorities in the Xinjiang province.
Further controversy has come from concerns and lingering questions surrounding the internationally- ranked Chinese women’s tennis player Peng Shuai, who disappeared for 18 days in November 2021 after she made a since-deleted post on Weibo (the state-run Chinese equivalent of Twitter) accusing a senior Communist Party official of sexually assaulting her. Since then, she has rarely been seen publicly, but the IOC has claimed that she is safe and doing well, citing video calls that IOC President Thomas Bach had with her. However, the IOC has often neglected to mention the constant presence of a Communist guard with Shuai, which has raised concerns about her ability to speak freely, especially since she began denying the existence of her initial post. This has started a movement, called “Free Peng Shuai” or “Where Is Peng Shuai,” which China has been working to suppress with their considerable might and control.
As such, another difference between the Olympics of 2008 and today has to do with the global standing of China and the concerns surrounding it. The China of 2008 was a country eager to prove itself on the world stage, and to emerge as a modern and influential country. But the China of 2022 has far less to prove. They stand as the most populous country in the world, with a population of 1.41 billion people, around 18% of the global population. Their economy stands as one of the largest in the world, second only to the United States. And they are an established military power, with a large army and nuclear weapons. But they are often greeted with fear and distrust by other countries, who take issue with their suppression of free speech and journalism, and territorial assertions over the island-city of Hong Kong (which China used to control and has administrative powers over) and the island of Taiwan (which China has never controlled but plans to invade). Yet none of these issues deterred China from marching forward with their Winter Olympics.
While the Games have long since ended, China’s rise has not slowed down. The 2022 Beijing Olympics proved just how far China had come in the fourteen years since they first hosted. And despite the concerns and anger surrounding the Games, these were a Winter Olympics to be remembered.
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