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Olympic perspectives: ECU professors, students on the Beijing games

GREENVILLE, NC   (Aug. 4, 2008)   —   The world’s attention will turn to Beijing, China, this month for the 2008 Olympic games.

While scholars debate what that means for China and the world, they tend to agree that the games are about more than athletics; they’re about politics, too.

Faculty and students from East Carolina University who study China or once called it home offer their perspectives on the 2008 Olympics.

Zhe Lu, a student in the anatomy and cell biology department at Brody School of Medicine, remembers the “jubilancy” of the Chinese people when the country first learned it would host the 2008 Olympics.

“It is a milestone for us,” said Lu, a native of Zhejiang Province, China. “I think some people around the world still know little about China. All they know is poverty, underdevelopment. However, China is developing very fast. Now, she is much more modern.”

Lu said the Olympics provide an opportunity to showcase those changes, and the Chinese are excited to help. University students are training now to volunteer at the games. Residents watch a special TV channel dedicated to Olympic news and display mascots and flags on their cars and homes, Lu said.

Christine Avenarius, an ECU anthropologist who studies China, noted the “pride” involved with hosting the games. Now that China has become stronger economically and in world influence, it can show the world, “look we are an equal player again,” she said.

Avenarius pointed to the development and diversity of China’s cities and the optimism among its people as positive signs. “You can’t help but be in awe,” she said. “It’s one of the most dynamic places in the world right now.”

Yuhong Wang, a native of China who now teaches in ECU’s construction management department, said, while the Chinese are proud to host the games, the impact will not be as great as some expect.

“It’s a common thought of international scholars that this is a way for China to show off its economic progress. I don’t think that’s really the case,” he said.

Wang said the Chinese are more confident about their place in the world, thanks to the country’s economic development and a shared view that they are moving in the right direction. “They do not worry as much about how the Western world views them,” he said.

Even so, John Tucker, director of ECU’s Asian studies program, said the Olympics offers China an opportunity to televise that progress to the world.

He called it “an enormous public relations opportunity.” Media coverage could help Western viewers update their view of China by replacing memorable images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with a “new layer of memory” from China today.

The lead-up to the Olympic games has not been without controversy. Some have criticized the Chinese government on human rights issues and for actions in Tibet.

Derek Maher, an ECU professor who studies Tibet, had an interesting perspective this summer when he met Tibetan refugees abroad and heard their take on the Olympic games.

“The (Chinese) government is in a tough position, in a way,” Maher said. “They want to be seen as an open country, and they are in some ways, but not all. It is a police state that controls access."

Media are welcome to contact the professors and students quoted in this press release for interviews. To get in touch with them, e-mail or call Christine Neff at, 252-328-1159.


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481