The Beijing Olympics were about more than just sporting competition. They were about China and its role on the international stage. The Games were explicitly recognized for their role showcasing China's economic, technological, cultural, social and environmental achievements to the rest of the world. The Beijing Games were therefore inevitably going to lead to a process of contestation between competing representations, understandings and identifications of China, and a common motif of this process became the designation of what is or is not the “real China.” This article focuses on the notion of the “real China” and the debates and contestations surrounding it in Chinese and foreign media over the months running up to and during the Olympics. It will identify what these debates and contending claims about the “real China” may reveal for a broader understanding of the role of media in the country and our need to rethink our approaches to both.
* This article is the result of research supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), whose help is gratefully acknowledged.