The Olympic Games in China kept reality at bay

BEIJING – They did it – it seems obvious. But what, exactly, was “it” that they did?

China has hosted the Olympics with logistics with very few mechanical failures – a big deal in the pandemic era. This was done, first of all, by creating, as it is called, in the unique style of the Chinese government, a “closed-loop system” – now the famous Olympic “bubble” designed to clamp down all those involved in the Olympics, and that no less important is to keep them from infecting the rest of the country.

For these Games the government took care to put out good China. Inside the circle, everything was polite – led by young and enthusiastic volunteers, embodied by a cheerful mascot of a fat panda named Bing Duen Dwen. Serious men and women in protective suits were friendly, at least as far as could be understood by masks, goggles and plastic for the whole body. Even the relatively few police officers who collided inside the bubble were simply chatty by Chinese law enforcement standards.


And more.

The closed-loop bubble has removed much of its heart and soul from the 2022 Olympics – a global moment that in the best of circumstances should be overflowing with both. And here’s what he also did: created some handy side effects that certainly didn’t satisfy the Chinese authorities.

First, some background. For decades, the Communist Party and the government have honed a multilateral system to keep visitors from seeing – and reporting on – what is really going on in China’s amazingly multifaceted country.

Since the bloody crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, in particular, those trying to look behind the curtain – journalists, activists or sometimes just curious tourists – have often been blocked, beaten or redirected to more innocuous places and activities.

Today, international journalists living and working in China – if they are not among those expelled – have a hard time getting through the official narrative, and they are forced to create innovative final flights to sort out more controversial topics.


Over the years, “foreign offices” in various Chinese cities, allegedly designed to facilitate work for visitors, have in fact become official obstacles in many cases. Many foreigners trying to travel on their own to one of the places the central government finds troubled – particularly in the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet – could be thwarted.

And Chinese journalists? In a society where propaganda is positioned as patriotic rather than disgusting, they face dangers and pressures that are hard to imagine for anyone who grew up in a democracy.

Thus, in a sense, the Olympic bubble was the perfect microcosm of ordinary business that would hide all the spots, against the backdrop of a globalized, mascot-rich, winter background of wonders.

Ordinary foreign spectators were not allowed to come, which ruled out one random element. More notably, thousands of journalists at the International Olympics with curious eyes and tumultuous plot ideas were virtually prevented from any encounters with ordinary Chinese other than carefully tested, domestic staff of pre-approved representatives.


The reason, obviously, was the ban on COVID. But the results are more than in line with the goals and practices of Xi Jinping’s government.

This is not to say that the bubble was created for anything other than the COVID-19 ban. Sure, last year Tokyo had a system for the Summer Games that shared some characteristics with Beijing, but was much less rigid, reflecting the different types of governments of Japan and China.

And, as China willingly notes, the bubble system has worked. As of Saturday, the segregated system that actually turned Beijing into two cities – one sequestered, one working as usual – gave only 463 positive results out of 1.85 million tests among thousands of visitors who have been bubbling since Jan. 23.

“Success in isolating the event from the virus and minimizing disruptions in sporting events also reflects the effectiveness and flexibility of China’s overall policy on zero COVID-19,” said the pro-government newspaper Global Times, which is pro-government even by Chinese standards. .


So, those “authoritarian Olympics” that criticized human rights organizations and that some Western governments boycotted (even when sending their athletes)? The bubble created for their placement was no different from the bubble city that Marvel heroine Wanda Maximov created in last year’s popular series “WandaVision”.

Like the fictional Westview, Bubble Beijing definitely had some things in common with reality, and sometimes you could look at the real world from the inside. But it was brilliant and carefully calibrated, and – unless you did some serious digging to find the seams – you couldn’t leave until the story unfolded.

Ultimately, the 2022 Winter Olympics will be included in books with two dominant themes. One of them is a sports story – a story dotted with triumphs of Eileen Gu, Nathan Chen and Su Yim, the sorrow of Mikaela Shifrin and the mess in Russian figure skating.


The other, however, captured from within this bubble, is the story of the host country of the Olympic Games. It is the story of a pandemic era of apparent medical and logistical triumph on the surface, with a different reality floating below, sanitized to protect the government and inevitably viewed through the prism of our COVID-flavored era – as if through a mask, goggles and a full plastic suit. coverage.


Ted Anthony, director of new stories and editorial innovations for , is a former director of the Asia-Pacific Agency AP and covers his seventh Olympics. In 1979-80 he lived in Beijing as a child and in 2001-2004 as a journalist. Follow him on Twitter at ( (

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