No one involved in it seems to have given much thought to the manner in which this
ad could be interpreted in China (or elsewhere) and whether it was appropriate to run. That’s all the more surprising when considering that
one of the primary sponsors of the Spanish Basketball teams is actually a Chinese company.
The issue went largely unnoticed in China. The country was too busy fulfilling and
celebrating its role as the host of the biggest games in Olympic history. Otherwise, many Chinese would have been offended upon learning about this
Or would they? After all, it used to be commonplace in China, and still is in some
of its rural areas, that people would curiously stare at and openly make fun of foreigners. The term gweilo (literally “ghost man”,
more commonly translated as “foreign devil”) is also still in use here and there. The Chinese are certainly no strangers to making fun
of others, so we can expect them to be tolerant of others making fun of them, too, can’t we? Well, not really. We all tend to be less
forgiving about outsiders making fun of us than the other way around, and the Chinese are no exception to that rule. On top of that, the joke was
about THE OLYMPICS IN CHINA.
The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were a remarkable event in more than one way. Not only
did we see fantastic athletic achievements and great sportsmanship, but those looking closely also witnessed countless examples of profound cultural
misunder- standings. To the world outside of China, these were the 29th Olympic Games. Maybe a bit more colorful and flashy than past ones, but at its
core, this was just another meeting of the world’s top athletes to determine the best of the best, celebrate, and enjoy life together. As
viewed from abroad, the Chinese somewhat spoiled the fun, with their over-protectiveness of the Olympic torch during the pre-game relay, the
omnipresence and intrusiveness of the country’s police force, and the censorship of the media and others. All of this was further complicated
by the tensions around Tibet. In short, country and people seemed to lack the “laid-back-ness” and sense of humor that made some of the
past Olympics such fun events.
The picture looks vastly different when viewed through Chinese eyes. To the Chinese,
these Games were much more than, well, games: a crucial milestone in the country’s return to greatness, a celebration of its aspirations
and achievements, and a demonstra- tion of the unity of nation and people. This event had to be perfect. The pride that almost all of the
Chinese, no matter where they live in the world, felt about conducting these games in China is hard to describe or compare. Even most of those
normally critical of the country’s leadership shared this pride, flat-out rejecting any critique of the ways in which the event was conducted.
To the Chinese, the 2008 Olympics were definitely not a mere sports event. Actually, watching and celebrating sports is not that common in the
People’s Republic anyway: even the table tennis finals found relatively limited public interest. That’s a sport that more than 50
million Chinese practice regularly! No, it wasn’t interest in sports that got them excited, it was being party to an event that presented
China center stage in front of the whole world.
It seems that neither side, China and the West, quite realize how fundamentally
different their perceptions of the event were. As is common in the business world as well, each side saw things clearly from their own
perspective but had trouble adjusting to the other’s views. If nothing else, the Beijing Olympics made it ob- vious that both sides still have a long
way to go before they can truly understand each other.
That observation notwithstanding, the Games were fun to watch, weren’t