IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Chinese people play starring role in Olympics

The Buzz:  As the Olympics come to a close, there will be different methods to grade the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.
/ Source: contributor

As the Olympics come to a close, there will be different methods to grade the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.

For counties like China and the U.S., it's about medals and champions. China will revel in its gold medal haul, it's smooth organization and the lack of disruption. For the Americans, the heroes include Michael Phelps (remember him?), Nastia Liukin, the men's volleyball team and the Redeem Team, among others.

For nations like Afghanistan, Mauritius and Tajikistan, it's about winning their first Olympic medals. For a country like Somalia, it's simply about competing with the rest of the world.

For broadcasters like NBC and CCTV, success will be measured by the sky-high ratings, making the Games of the XXIX Olympiad the most watched Olympics ever. Millions also flooded online to watch streaming live video.

For spectators, many will remember the majestic Bird's Nest and luminous Water Cube, the exposure to Chinese culture and, most of all, the athletic performances, like Phelps' golden touch and Usain Bolt's exuberance, two of the Games' iconic images.

But for this reporter, a first-time visitor to China, I will take away the connections between fans and ordinary Chinese who opened up their country to thousands of visitors.

Many will criticize China and its leaders — much of it deserved — over its human rights record, its international policies and the treatment of dissidents and journalists. The restriction of Web sites at the Media Press Center went against the promises of the International Olympic Committee. The silencing of protests, including the arrests of two elderly citizens, showed that this is still an authoritarian regime. The protest zones, with nary a protest, were laughable.

Perhaps saddest of all was the silence of Jaques Rogge, the IOC president. He criticized Bolt's celebration but kept tight-lipped on China's broken promises.

But the ones who can't be criticized are the Chinese people, the thousands of eager volunteers with ready smiles, the people who couldn't stop taking pictures with foreign fans, even the taxi drivers who dressed up in collared shirts and ties for the world's biggest event (although some will bring home stories of wild, frustrating cab rides).

If the Olympics were a coming-out party for China, the Games were also a coming-out party for the Chinese people, a chance for visitors to catch a glimpse of the changes in motion in the most populous nation in the world.

For me, it's about the people I've met and the unique moments I've experienced during these last 17 days that epitomize what the New China is about.

Like Zheng Mo Xuan, the 9-year-old Chinese third-grader I interviewed outside the beach volleyball venue. Zheng, who was striking a friendship with a boy from Holland, said the beach volleyball match she watched with her classmates was one of the most exciting things she's ever seen.

"We were all yelling, 'Come on China! Come on China!" she said. Officials could be forgiven for recruiting schoolchildren to fill up the empty stadiums. For many, this was the highlight of their young lives. The memories will last a lifetime.

Like the hoopsters who were decked out in NBA jerseys of their favorite stars. Basketball was their bridge to the U.S., Kobe Bryant and LeBron James their ambassadors to American culture.

Like Alan Wong, the owner of several Beijing restaurants and bars, including the Beach, a glitzy rooftop club that serves the glam and fabulous. The Sacramento native, who moved to Beijing in 2000, is at the forefront of the booming nightlife scene in Beijing. The young and affluent patronize his collection of high-end restaurants and clubs, reserving tables for hundreds of dollars and not batting an eye when ordering $250 bottles of liquor.

Like Wang Xiao Long, the afro-ed and talented rocker I saw perform at Mao Livehouse. In front of a banner that simply stated "MAO" in large white letters, Wang attacked his guitar with vengeance. Wang and his friends, who looked and played the part of rockers, are part of the new cultural revolution.

This is a generation that has embraced Western culture like rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, nightclubs — for better or worse.

It will be the young people like the volunteers, the schoolchildren, the club magnates, the rockers and even the partiers that will help determine China's future.

Rogges released a statement hours before the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, acknowledging some of the challenges facing China.

"The legacy of these Games for China is ultimately up to the Chinese people," he said.

For once, he couldn't have said it any better.