The Redeem Team and Michael Phelps aren’t the only names in the limelight during the 2008 Olympics. Louisiana Tech’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Kenneth Rea also said that the host country, China, is making a splash as well.

Rea, a specialist in Chinese/American relations who has published extensively in the field, said the Chinese government made a big push to get the Olympics in Beijing.

Dr. Kenneth Rea

‘This is recognition that China has made tremendous progress, especially in the last 25 or so years,’ Rea said. ‘China is a nation that has a history of strong traditions culturally and politically, followed by a period of weakness and decline. Having the Olympics in Beijing demonstrates that China is moving forward into the period of growth, stability and modernization.’

The 2008 Summer Olympic Games officially began Friday, Aug. 8, and will end Sunday, Aug. 24.

‘This is like a coming-out party for China,’ Rea said. ‘It gives (the country) the chance to showcase how far it’s come.’

Besides being a beacon to the world, however, Rea added that internally, hosting the Olympics helps surge national pride.

‘It’s more of a political statement for the world and helps bolster Chinese nationalism,’ Rea said. ‘China needs to build its nationalistic spirit. For so many years, the country depended on ideology, and it wants to substitute nationalism for the Communist ideology.’

Tech held a quarter-long series, “Shaping the 21st Century: Focus on China,” in 2007. The annual series, which in the past has focused on India and Russia, includes distinguished lecturers, exhibits, films and panel discussions to provide an interdisciplinary look at a single country. The purpose is to help students, faculty and the community get a better understanding of different places in the world. Rea presented a lecture during the series on ‘The Imaging of China’ and participated in a roundtable discussion.

Communism took over in 1949 in China with the creation of the People’s Republic of China, though policies have shifted since the death of Mao Zedong, who was the leader of the PRC until his death in 1976.

‘China moved from a totalitarian government under Mao’s era and one that seemed to be in constant turmoil internally to an authoritarian regime,’ Rea said. ‘Now the emphasis is on economic development and not class struggle. China’s economic success certainly helps bolster the Chinese Communist Party.’

China previously tried to host the Olympics in 2000 but was turned down because of the country’s human rights record and arguments by Western politicians and human rights groups.

Rea said since the 1980s, China has continued to move forward by allowing capitalism to operate.

‘I think the Chinese leaders were influenced by the demise of the Soviet Union,’ Rea said, ‘and they modified their own policies to make sure that didn’t happen in China.’

Rea himself has been following the Olympic games and said the Opening Ceremonies in particular were very impressive.

‘From everybody’s response, I think China’s objective of showcasing the new China has been accomplished,’ Rea said. ‘After they tried to get the 2000 Olympics, I think it made this selection even more important.’

Written by Judith Roberts