There were two Olympics in Beijing — the real one, and a media fantasyland
Not even Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing Winter Olympics mascot, was spared from scorn by the U.S. media. | Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP | Illustration: PW

For the last month, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in two worlds.

There was the world I could see, hear, and touch with my own eyes and ears. In that world, I was living in Beijing during the 2022 Winter Olympics and things seemed to be going quite well. I’d occasionally walk by a venue or hotel inside the Olympic “bubble” and notice nothing appeared to be on fire or in any state of emergency.

But then, there was the world of the U.S. media. The way they talked about the Games, you’d think a nuclear bomb had gone off in the middle of the city. No such smoking crater could be found, yet on and on the litany of grievances went.

There was no end to complaints from incensed journalists who felt personally insulted by an invitation to the biggest sporting event of the season. No potential avenue of attack was spared—even the wildly popular mascot Bing Dwen Dwen found itself in the crosshairs of a ravenous media class with too much time on its hands.

The word “dystopian” was thrown around a lot during the Games. It’s the corporate press’s favorite term when writing any story even remotely related to China, as it allows the country to be portrayed as a land of despair and misery, one the reader shouldn’t even consider visiting or thinking differently about. Of course, if someone actually comes to China and talks to people who live here, they may find what they’ve had drilled into their head for decades on end was in fact a bunch of nonsense. That’s unacceptable to a media which thrives on its self-appointed status as the arbiter of truth and reality, so “dystopian” it is.

We saw the worst of this when outlets described the strict protocols meant to shield the rest of Beijing from international personnel potentially arriving with COVID-19 in tow. They practically gasped in horror at the notion a country might want to prevent its people from being infected by a deadly virus rather than welcome said virus with open arms. As is the custom with any Western coverage of China’s “zero-COVID” policy, the negative effects on a tiny minority are emphasized to the exclusion of the hundreds of thousands—millions by some projections—of lives China’s approach has saved.

Facts don’t get brought up when it comes to China’s epidemic control, because they would be inconvenient to the politically effective image of a people under the yoke of an “authoritarian regime.” If one stops to compare a cumulative death toll of under 5,000 in a country of 1.4 billion people to smaller populations seeing body counts in the high six figures, the numbers speak for themselves.

But zooming in for a more detailed view shows us just how effective the Olympic policy was. Beijing hadn’t seen new local cases outside the Olympic “bubble” for nearly two weeks, according to the city’s health commission. That’s almost the entirety of the Games. As of this writing, two days after the Games concluded, the city has reported four local transmissions, but the point still stands: A city of 20 million people played host to a massive international sports event in the middle of a pandemic and saw almost no spillovers or cracks in its containment protocols.

It’s an enormous achievement—and one that, naturally, gets no attention from the press. They’re too busy complaining about robot bartenders, or staff in full protective gear daring to offer them free food. What a grueling experience that must have been.

There are endless examples of bad-faith smears leveled at the Olympics from all corners over the past month. To enumerate each of them would exhaust the bandwidth of this publisher; the sheer volume of insults directed at Eileen Gu alone would take up its own server room.

But we can’t pretend to be surprised by this. A hostile press corps, some of whom were coming back to China for the first time in years, was always going to relish the chance to stick the knives in wherever it could. No matter what Beijing did or didn’t do to accommodate them, these sainted truth-tellers were going to take any opportunity to paint the Games in a negative light. And take it they did.

Even so, as with China’s performance in the realm of virus prevention, the results speak for themselves. The city has wrapped up an Olympics that by any objective measure was a success. It was a zero-emissions, zero-infection spectacle that brought plenty of inspiring stories and moments of athletic brilliance.

All the complaining in the world won’t change that—but some people will certainly try.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author. A version of this text originally appeared at CGTN.


Ian Goodrum
Ian Goodrum

Ian Goodrum is a writer and digital editor for China Daily in Beijing, China.