- By Liz CarterLiz Carter is assistant editor at Foreign Policy's Tea Leaf Nation. She lived for several years in Beijing, China, where she wrote and translated three Chinese-English textbooks and studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University. Since returning to the United States, she has co-authored a book on subversive linguistic trends on the Chinese Internet and been interviewed about developments in China by the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, the Washington Post's WorldViews, and PRI's The World.
Beijing’s latest bid for the Olympic Games is getting off to a rough start. On Nov. 5, China’s Olympic Committee announced that the capital city had applied to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, with some events to be held in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou. The news trended on Weibo, China’s Twitter, with users retweeting related posts over 10,000 times. Beijing held the Summer Games in 2008, meaning that a winning bid would make it the only city in history to host both the winter and summer Olympics. But most of the Chinese who reacted to the news online oppose Beijing’s bid, and wonder why their country’s capital appears reluctant to share with other regions.
Many Weibo users suggested that several large cities in China’s frigid — and relatively unpolluted — northeast would be a better host than Beijing. "Winter sport athletes all come from the northeast, they win all the medals, and the northeast is the cradle of winter sports," one Weibo user wrote. "Why would Beijing apply to host a Winter Olympics?" China’s six medal winners in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics all hailed from China’s northeastern provinces — none from the capital. (Beijing is competing with Kazakhstan’s Almaty and Ukraine’s Lviv to host the 2022 games, while Norway’s Oslo, Poland’s Krakow, and Germany’s Munich are also potential competitors; the winner will be announced in 2015.)
Alternative suggestions abounded. "Why not give Harbin or Changchun the opportunity?" asked one Weibo user. Changchun, a large city known for its winter sports, is the capital of northeastern Jilin province, while Harbin, the capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, is called the "Ice City" for its long, cold winters. "If China is going to bid for the Winter Olympics," wrote one Weibo user, "Harbin should be the first choice." In fact, China bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics in Harbin. On Nov. 6, the Beijing News, a major domestic media outlet, cited a government official who said international authorities had nixed China’s northeast for being "too cold."
But that hasn’t stopped Chinese web users from complaining about the latest move, partly because inequalities between the capital and less developed cities fuel anti-Beijing sentiment among provincial citizens. The hukou, China’s household registration system, makes it more difficult for non-residents moving to Beijing to live, work, study, and obtain medical care there. And because of quotas, students from Beijing can test into top universities — which are disproportionately located in the capital — far more easily than their provincial counterparts. "Beijing gets all the resources," complained one 2022 bid-opposing Weibo user.
The online criticism forms a sharp contrast to the excitement and optimism that preceded China’s first hosting of the Olympics in 2008. In June 2008, two months before the games, 96 percent of Chinese respondents to a Pew Research survey said that the 2008 Olympics would be successful, and 79 percent said the 2008 Olympics were personally important to them. Yet the extravagance of those games — Beijing spent $42 billion, hosting the world’s most expensive Olympics — upset many. Five years on, some now feel that another Beijing Olympics would only waste taxpayer money. "We need a Winter Olympics," wrote one Weibo user, "Just not in Beijing!"