Stone Soup: The Chinese Authorities, The Beijing Olympics & New Media

Posted on August 13, 2008


Beijing Olympic Mascots

Beijing Olympic Mascots

The following post began as a school assignment on August 7th, but it’s such an interesting topic I had to post it here.

The 2008 Olympics at Beijing continue to bring out controversy, Super Bowl calibre advertising blitzes, and an abundance of articles, blog posts and Twitter tweets.  Everyone has something to say and it’s no wonder.  With all the countries involved, the venue itself and all the individual athletes, Beijing has set the stage for some powerful drama.  It seems to me that opinions of what is happening in China is largely based on your perspective in the World.  Stone Soup: To a large degree, it is what you think it is.  Of course, I’m interested at looking it from the Public Relations-colored lens.

Numerous articles have been written about the negatives in this Olympics, the pollution, the Internet censorship and the US defeat.  But in there are some positives, if you’re looking at it from the Chinese Government perspective.  One thing which was noted was resurgence in Chinese patriotism.  An article in the NY Times talks about how the authorities have sought to tweak their stand in order to survive changing times.  One example is while gaining support from seemingly rival sections of the society such as entrepreneurs and free thinking university students, they crackdown on Tibetan protestors and censor Internet access.  The whole time the Communist Party controls the propaganda and it seems even the advertising campaigns of companies like Adidas and Nike.  The lines seem to blur since athletes are in ads for all sorts of products both foreign and domestic. 

I think by hosting the Olympics they have shown some willingness to let the World into their ‘home’ as long as they mind their manners.  This may help the overall perception as being an oppressive country.  My impression from the press is that they are not ‘free’ to do their job as they would be in other situations.  As far as press conferences being good, they give an opportunity to tell your story to wide audience assuming the media shows up.

In the case of Chinese President Hu Jintao, his rare appearance on Monday, he got a chance to try and put a human face on a government known for its human rights violations.  He attributed the issue to a difference in culture as they view the human rights issues in a different view.  He went on to talk about representing China in Ping Pong and China opening its doors wide open to the outside during and after the games.  He stated “…we will always welcome foreign reporters and journalists to come to this country to cover what is happening here.”  During the press conference, a German reports attempted to ask an unapproved question regarding human rights to which to President paused and declined to respond.  So the reason stands why reports might not attend such a press conference.  It is only going to be used as a publicity tool to fuel more propaganda. So for the same reason a press conference is called (to tell your story) could be the reason no one show up (they don’t want to hear it).

As proof of the power of PR, from July 31 when stories broke about the Internet censorship of the media, by August 5, the Chinese government began to lift some of the restrictions.  I think it’s interesting that the censorship issue is seen as a way to bring more attention to the human rights issue.  The spread of these articles is amazing.  One of the most in-depth articles I found on this subject was on which is focused on IT issues.  The surprising aspect was the detail about the political issues in the IT arena.

One other notable is the overwhelming sense of New Media surrounding the Olympics.  Of course there is the aspect of live streaming through NBC, which is a brave venture into New Media.  The surprising thing I’ve noticed is the entry of NBC and Olympic sponsors heavily into blogging and specifically into Twitter.  Yes, Twitter.  You can follow the Olympics through Twitter and receive tweets for all the events.  Not just NBC, but Slate and even Lenovo’s in the mix.  Indian Gold Medalist, Bindra Abhinav, has a blog and it links back to Lenovo’s Podium site which is a Google based web portal.  You can then visit all the Lenovo sponsored athlete blogs, etc.  Wow!  All this from a Twitter post!  Amazing!  Althought it’s not getting much attention, I think we’ll see more of this in the future.  Public Relations is diversifying by the second it seems.


The 2008 Olympics has grown into a giant circus of advertising blitzes, described as ‘clutter’ in an up and coming consumer economy, mixed in with a political hotbed broadcast on a global new media experiment.  It’s been an education to watch and a professional inspiration.

Posted in: Observations, Writing