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Will the Beijing Olympics Bring about "One World, One Dream"?

Susan Brownell was a nationally-ranked track and field athlete in the U.S. before she went to China for a year of language study, joined the track team at Beijing University, and won the heptathlon in the 1986 Chinese National College Games. This experience was the basis for her seminal work on China’s sports, Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People's Republic. Currently as Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, she was invited to give a lecture on “China and the Olympic Games: ‘One World, One Dream’?” at the China and the World Speaker Series on 30 November 2006.

As China – “the least Westernized nation” in the world yet to host the Olympic Games – aims to promote the vision of “One World, One Dream” by hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, Brownell asked, “Does the Beijing Olympics really manifest a single, shared dream? Is China’s dream really shared by the West?” If the Olympic Games are only a one-way process in which China learns from the West, she went on to argue, then the cultural exchange will not be truly mutual. So will any knowledge flow in the other direction? In her view, China is facing real obstacles to achieve the goal of the “Humanistic Olympics,” which, as one of the three themes of the Beijing Olympics, aims to contribute Chinese culture to global culture. At home, it is not clear what aspects of rich Chinese cultural heritages China wants to present to the global audience. In the outside world, it is even more obscure whether the West is really open to learning something new from China. Yet, Brownell argued that “a true shift in the global order will have occurred only when China no longer defines itself through the eyes of the West and Japan.”