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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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February 1, 2008 3:35 PM

Games of the Newly Emerging Forces

Posted by Daniel Beekman

According to many people here - particularly academics and officials - Beijing's 2008 Olympics will showcase "5,000 years of Chinese civilization." The Games are to be a cultural extravaganza, loaded with references to China's long, proud history.

Like its Forbidden City, Beijing's Olympic Green has been constructed along a north-south axis that, according to Chinese tradition, connotes spatial harmony. The National Aquatics Center - nicknamed 'Water Cube' for its odd, sudsy facade - was designed to reflect Chinese philosophy as well.

(Note: Check out the official description of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Emblem for a taste of Chinese-Olympic symbolism.)

The 2008 Opening Ceremonies are, likewise, sure to be soaked in historical allusions - a final crescendo to China's re-emergence as a global power and its first Olympic Games.

Of course, history is a selective science. Certain bygone morsels won't be on display this August. The 1989 Tian'anmen incident, for instance, will remain absent from most Beijing tours.

Another, albeit less sensitive, historical happening seems to have been forgotten - crowded out by Confucius' birth, Marco Polo's arrival and hurdler Liu Xiang's gold medal performance in 2004.

In 1963, in Jakarta, Indonesia, China bankrolled and headlined GANEFO - the Games of the New Emerging Forces. Highly politicized, GANEFO were intended to challenge the International Olympic Committee and protest the Olympics.

Four years earlier, in 1958, China had withdrawn from the International Olympic Committee over that organization's recognition of Taiwan. By 1962, the Chinese had gained an ally - Indonesia.

Playing to Chinese and Arab interests, Indonesia's ambitious founder and president-dictator, Sukarno, barred both Israel and Taiwan from the 1962 IOC-sponsored Asian Games held in Jakarta.

According to GANEFO archives, Sukarno had, prior to the Asian Games, received pointed correspondence from China.

The Chinese government sincerely wishes that the Asian Games held by Indonesia would be a great success. But the Chinese government cannot ignore those imperialists and their followers who want to use the Asian Games to create 'two Chinas.' These activities will not only harm the friendship between the PRC and Indonesia, but also harm the stand of Indonesia's fight with Imperialism.1

When, in 1963, the IOC responded by suspending Indonesia's Olympic committee, Sukarno struck out on his own. Two days after the IOC's decision, his country's Sports Ministry declared that:

The exclusion of Indonesia from the Olympic Games will not harm Indonesia. On the contrary, Indonesia will now have the freedom to organize a new games without the participation of imperialists and colonists. The new games is the GANEFO - the Games of the New Emerging Forces - Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the socialist countries...It is time that the newly emerging countries should have a revolution to destroy the spirit and structure of the international sport movement which is controlled by the imperialists and colonists.2

Indonesia withdrew from the IOC and announced it would organize GANEFO, with Chinese and North Korean assistance. In 1963, China's president, Liu Shaoqi, visited Jakarta and signed a joint declaration in support of GANEFO. The Chinese also agreed to donate US$18 million toward the games.

The GANEFO allowed China to exert new influence over the rest of the 'developing world' and assume a leadership role. The Chinese were particularly interested in rallying African, Asian and Latin American support at the time, having begun to split with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s.

Until the 1960s, the Soviet Union had supported China in its attempt to expel Taiwan from the IOC. Now the Chinese were alone. In order to compete with the 'first world' - the United States and Western Europe, and the 'second world' - the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, China looked to the 'third world.'

A number of developing countries had recently gained independence and embraced socialism. GANEFO, the Chinese hoped, would bring these 'newly emerging forces' together.

Where the IOC claimed to value the separation of politics from sport, the GANEFO were purposefully political. The games also gave Chinese athletes a chance to flex their muscles - they hadn't done so on the international level for years.

The first (and last) GANEFO took place in Jakarta in September 1963 - 2,404 athletes from 48 countries participated, including China, Cambodia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Mali, Pakistan, North Vietnam and the United Arab Republic (Egypt).

China sent by far the largest delegation - 238 athletes, coaches and officials, and the Chinese collected 66 gold, 56 silver and 46 bronze medals. The Soviet Union sent low-caliber athletes in order to preserve its relationship with the IOC.

A second GANEFO was planned for 1966 in Cairo, and qualifying tournaments were held in North Korea and Cambodia. But financial trouble kept the games out of Egypt and Beijing plunged head first into a Cultural Revolution.

In some ways, the renegade Jakarta games of 1963 seem silly now. When Beijing hosts the 2008 Olympics this summer, China will symbolically rejoin the global mainstream. In all other aspects - politically, economically, culturally - it has done so already.

Most Beijingers, like most Seattleites, have never heard of GANEFO ('juban xinxing liliang yundong').

"Juban...xinxing...liliang...yundong," a forty-year old woman dragging her teenage son down the street read from my notebook, puzzled. "I don't know what that is."

"No," a seventy-year old man wearing a navy Mao cap and slippers apologized. "I'm not familiar with GANEFO. I'm very sorry."

"I hear what you're saying," admitted a thirty-year old car wash attendant, after I filled him in. "But it's new to me."

A handful of Beijingers looked truly perplexed when I asked them about GANEFO.

"Wo bu tai qingchu," more than one person answered - "I'm not so clear."

"I know about that," a newspaper-stand owner said when I brought up China's quarrel with the IOC. "But I don't know GANEFO. Why? That stuff is irrelevant now."

"I've already forgotten what I read in the newspaper yesterday," a crossing guard chuckled. "Anyway, in 1963 I was only three."

And yet, there are parallels between Jakarta's GANFEO and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Once again, China is preparing to flex its athletic muscles. Once again, the Chinese see themselves as an underdog nation on the verge of great things. Once again, China will play to a suspicious international audience.

Jakarta's 1963 games were politically driven - no doubt about it. And these 2008 Olympics? That's up for debate.

"If you want to know about GANEFO, go ask a historian," a 13-year old boy from Beijing suggested.

In 2008, you'll read Confucius. You'll study China's communist revolution. You'll certainly hear about Liu Xiang. And you'll have the Olympics to thank.

Other episodes - like GANEFO - will go un-referenced. After all, Beijing has a lot of material to work with - '5,000 years of Chinese civilization.'

1 Diyijie xinxing liliang yundonghui gexiang gongzuo zhongjie baogao' ['The working report of the 1st GANEFO], in Guojia tiyu zhongju danganguan [National Sports Bureau Archives], 135 (1963).

2 Diyijie xinxing liliang yundonghui gexiang gongzuo zhongjie baogao' ['The working report of the 1st GANEFO], in Guojia tiyu zhongju danganguan [National Sports Bureau Archives], 135 (1963).


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