The China Quarterly

Special Section on the Beijing 2008 Olympics

The Beijing Olympics as a Campaign of Mass Distraction

Anne-Marie Brady


From 2006 to 2008 the predominant theme in the Chinese media was preparations for the 2008 Olympics. These preparations were not merely about putting up new sports stadiums; China also underwent a massive public etiquette campaign, aimed at “civilizing” Chinese citizens. This was nominally so they could be good hosts during the Beijing Olympics. The 2006–08 emphasis on Olympic-related news coverage and the ongoing public morals campaign was what I have called a campaign of mass distraction: a propaganda campaign designed to mobilize the population around a common goal, and distract them from more troubling issues such as inflation, unemployment, political corruption and environmental degradation. This article discusses China's Olympics propaganda within the context of the modernization of the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda system – which has included incorporating practices originating in modern democratic states – and considers in what way changes in the propaganda system reflect changes in China's system of political control.