chapter
16 Pages

Taiwanese identities and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

In the context of the history of the Olympic Games, one very clear and persistent example of the interweaving of sport and politics is provided by the issue of the ‘two Chinas’. According to an editorial in a Taiwanese Englishlanguage newspaper, ‘Taiwan’s isolation from the formal world community despite our substantive status as a democratic independent state due to opposition by the authoritarian People’s Republic of China has been a longstanding and deeply felt injustice to our 23 million people’ (Taiwan Times, 30 September 2009). In fact, one element of the world community from which Taiwan is not formally excluded is the Olympic Movement. Its involvement, however, has for many years been in circumstances chosen by others-the IOC and the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—rather than by the people of Taiwan themselves. For that reason, the Olympics have long been recognized as political by the Taiwanese. It was widely agreed that the opportunity for the PRC to host the Olympic

Games in Beijing in 2008 would have crucial consequences for the political and economic development in the Asia-Pacific region and, indeed, the whole world (Yu and Mangan, 2008). It is also generally believed, despite the views of sceptics, that an Olympic host country can obtain significant political and economic benefits in terms national integration, facility construction, city maintenance and increased tourism as a result of holding the Olympics. For the PRC, the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was particularly significant for a number of reasons, not least as a symbol of the PRC’s emergence as a modern, developed country. It also allowed for the boosting of Chinese nationalism and enhancing the state’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese public (Chan, 2002; Xu, 2006). However, how would the Beijing Games be viewed by the citizens of the Republic of China, more commonly known as Taiwan but, largely because of the influence of the PRC, obliged to operate under the name ‘Chinese Taipei’ in countless international organizations, not least the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This chapter examines Taiwanese responses to the attempt to boost Chinese nationalism by way of the Beijing Olympics. In addition, the chapter analyses the political confrontation and attempted compromises between the PRC and Taiwan in relation to the issue of the ‘two Chinas’ in relation to Olympic history in general, but with particular reference to the Beijing Games. Finally, the

chapter examines the impact on Taiwanese identities of the PRC’s staging of the 2008 Olympic Games within the context of recent developments in Taiwanese politics. From the outset, in relation to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Taiwan

clearly identified itself as not being part of the host nation, the PRC. Indeed, this distancing was seen as having the potential to strengthen Taiwanese identity and demands for independence. In the event, however, the Games proved to be significant as a political tool for both Taiwan and the PRC. The latter demonstrated its goal of unification from the beginning of the Games preparation, not least in establishing the torch relay route, which is discussed below, but it was unable to achieve its ultimate goal in the face of opposition from the Taiwanese Government. The PRC’s leaders may have hoped that Taiwanese national identity would come closer to its ideal of ‘one China’ nationalism. In this respect, however, they may well have been insufficiently aware of the complexity of Taiwanese national identity debates. Xu (2006) argued that the Beijing Olympics could play a constructive role in forming a Chinese identity across the Taiwan Straits. Given the findings of previous studies on the association between national identity and the Olympics or other mega sporting events, it is certainly worthwhile investigating the impact of the 2008 Olympic Games on changes, if any, in the national identity of the citizens of Taiwan. First, however, it is necessary to provide a brief account of the historical background to these contemporary debates.