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The Olympic flame burned brightly in China during the summer of 2008

There has been much wringing of hands and criticism across the blogosphere and in news print about the Beijing 2008 Olympics being a facade. So let me get right to the point here and state that in my opinion these Olympic Games, as is any Olympiad, were a huge success in all the important ways.

Is China a repressive communist nation that subjugates more than enhances the lives of its people? Yes.

Does the Chinese government commit human rights atrocities in order to remain in power? Absolutely.

Did the Chinese Olympic organizers commit a few slights of hand in order to make Beijing and the Olympic venues and ceremonies look better for the TV cameras than they actually were in person? Sure.

But it remains that the International Olympic Committee selected China for these games knowing that these things were and would be facts. They made the selection just as they made the choices of Los Angeles in 1984, Moscow in 1980, Berlin in 1938, and many other places around the world that have been controversial locations for some nations and political systems.

We would like every nation in the world to be democratic, to grant freedom to their people, to open their societies to interact fully with the world. But the fact is that is not reality. China has been a nation and a people for more than 6,000 years. The American experience of 232 years pales in comparison.

And though much of the world would like to see reform in the Chinese political system at least to the point of a little more tolerance of varied viewpoints, the answer is not to attack them or isolate them. The answer is to engage the Chinese in any positive way possible, with the hope that exposure over time to the free world will inspire change from within China.

These Olympics undoubtedly were a positive step in that regard. A generation of young Chinese have been strongly exposed to the outside world in these past few years, and especially these last two weeks. They will carry this cultural experience with them for decades, and it will affect the way they view the rest of the world.

I am no Pollyanna, and do not expect the Chinese dragon to change its stripes overnight, or perhaps even in my lifetime. But neither do I intend to give up on the possibility of a profound change in the Chinese people, and ultimately in their government, no matter that the powers-that-be will return to repression now that the spotlight has lifted.

The Olympic Charter itself states that its purpose is as follows:

“to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” 

These Olympics showcased all these aspects, from the victorious joy of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the new “World’s Fastest Human”, the professional pride of American basketballer Kobe Bryant, China’s excellent women’s gymnast Kexin He, the dominating brilliance of American swimmer Michael Phelps, and so many others.

Despite the Russian-Georgian conflict at the opening of the Games, and the looming American political conventions and election battles, these Olympics gave us many reasons to continue to cheer the human spirit. And after all, that is the point of their existence.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics theme was ‘One World, One Dream”, and it says here that despite numerous differences of politics, religion, and culture the dream is still alive. A dream that, for the most part, we can find a way as humanity to co-exist and compete on friendly terms. It is a bit idyllic, but it is a dream that must not be allowed to die.