chapter  6
China’s media viewed through the prism of the Beijing Olympics
ByKevin Latham
Pages 16

A prism refracts white light in such a way as to make visible its different component

colours that are otherwise not generally perceptible by the human eye. This makes it

possible both to break down light and understand its make up, but also to understand each

component which is thrown into a relief of its own, in terms of its own characteristics.

We might view the Olympics as having a similar effect in relation to understanding

different aspects of contemporary Chinese society. The metaphor is a little crude and

pushed too far would surely break down, but as a starting point for this essay and for

thinking about the relationship between the Olympics and Chinese media, it is helpful. The

Beijing Olympics have to some degree acted as a prism for the white light of Chinese

media. They have made visible, through various media practices and events associated

with them, a range of different component parts of the Chinese media landscape. That is

not to say that these components can only be viewed or understood through the Olympics,

nor is it to say that the Olympics somehow magically unveil secret hidden practices, but it

is fair to say that by following the Chinese, and to some degree foreign, media coverage of

the Olympics a range of clear examples present themselves that draw our attention to some

of the key ways in which Chinese media work and some of the important changes and

developments that are currently taking place in this area of Chinese social life. In this

essay, I shall point to some of the more important of these aspects of, and changes in,

Chinese media practices that may help us better understand the trajectories of recent

developments in the Chinese media landscape.