China Focus: 40 years on, Olympic memories still fresh among Chinese

2024-July-5 13:53 By: Xinhua

BEIJING, July 4 (Xinhua) -- As the 2024 Olympics kick off on July 26 in Paris, Hu Jianqiu, more than 8,000 kilometers away in Beijing, is brimming with excitement and planning his schedule.

"I will most certainly watch the table tennis matches and women's volleyball," said Hu, 59, noting how the sporting gala is bringing back memories from 40 years ago.

In fact, the 1984 Los Angeles Games was the first Olympics many Chinese watched. Over the past four decades, the event has somehow reflected China's development and the changes in people's lives.


In 1983, Hu started working at the No. 718 factory, which manufactured radio parts. The following year, his factory brought Hu and his fellow workers to watch the Games in an activity room.

It was shortly after the reform and opening up, and televisions were not very common then. Enthusiastic young workers gathered in front of a small black-and-white television, eagerly anticipating a gold medal.

"There are two moments that impressed me the most: sharpshooter Xu Haifeng winning China's first Olympic gold, and the women's volleyball team defeating the United States in the final," he said, adding that they euphorically rode their bikes through the streets, shouting and laughing in celebration.

Recalling those moments, Li Pengsong, then 14 years old, said he was moved to tears. His family was the only one of the 13 households in the building that owned a television.

"Our neighbors' kids came to my home and joined me to watch all the matches," said Li, who hails from the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian. "Whenever the Chinese national flag was raised and the anthem played, we would sing along, feeling immense pride."

That very year, China's Xinhua News Agency established its sports department.


Zhou Jie joined the sports desk of the agency in 1986. Six years later, he was chosen as part of a team of over 30 members to report on the Barcelona Olympics, where he was captivated by everything.

"No other event can bring together people from different countries, cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups in such a short time," he said.

Zhou recalled that covering the Olympics also exposed him to the gap between China and Western countries. At that time, China faced shortages in foreign exchange, and travel funds for journalists only covered one meal a day. "Breakfast was very important for us because it was free," he said.

During the 1996 Olympics, a bombing occurred in downtown Atlanta. Zhou went to conduct interviews at a local hospital. When he returned, the gate to the main media center was already closed and he was unable to connect the editor inside.

He then came across an American reporter who had a mobile phone. When Zhou asked if he could use it, his request was denied. "Having the contact means having reporting priority," he said. By 2000, all Xinhua reporters covering the Olympics were equipped with phones.


In 1991, Li joined the sports department of Dalian University of Technology as a lecturer. He would often discuss with students what he called the "Three Olympic Questions:" When will our country send athletes to participate in the Olympics? When will our athletes win an Olympic gold medal? When will our country host the Games? With the first two questions already solved, he, like many Chinese, was looking forward to see the Olympics coming to China.

During that period, China was undergoing rapid development. In 2001, the average 100 urban households in China owned 121 color televisions, while mobile phone ownership reached 34 per 100 households. Over just five years, from 1997 to 2001, the number of home computers per 100 households surged from 2.6 to 13.3, marking a 5.12-fold increase.

Li said he can still vividly recall the joy of winning the bid to host the Olympics in 2001, which, for many Chinese was a dream coming true.

"The staff and student dormitories at Dalian University of Technology erupted in celebration," Li recalled. "We had a TV in our room, and many people had gathered early. After learning about the successful bid, the hallways were filled with cheers, and the campus buzzed with excitement well into the early hours."

During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Hu was a volunteer tasked with picking up referees and officials. "The cars used for the Olympics were automatic, but my own car was manual," he said. To practice, he tied his left leg with a rope to prevent himself from subconsciously reaching for the clutch.

The entire experience was like a dream for him. He said with pride that he even drove Jacques Rogge, former International Olympic Committee President, from the airport to the hotel.


In the past decade, China's share of the world economy has increased from 12.3 percent to over 18 percent, with its annual contribution to global growth averaging over 30 percent. This economic transformation has dramatically changed the lives of the Chinese people.

Sitting in his spacious apartment in east Beijing, Hu said that his family now owns two cars: a Hongqi sedan and an Alfa Romeo SUV. He no longer worries about driving an automatic car. They don't use their 55-inch color TV much anymore; instead, they use a projector connected to their phones.

Talking about the upcoming 33rd Summer Olympic Games scheduled in Paris, he said he is quite familiar with the city. "I traveled abroad a lot in these years, not only to France, but also to Italy, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, South Africa, among other countries," Hu said.

He added that he would definitely watch the Games, possibly with friends and family while enjoying beer from Germany or wine from Australia. "I will not be as nervous as 40 years ago," Hu said, laughing. "Back then we were expecting gold medals. Now that we know our country is strong enough, medals are no longer that important."

Talking about his plans, Li expressed his excitement about watching the Paris 2024 Olympics as well.

For Li, through the lens of the Olympics, he has seen China's overall strength improve. "The improvement in living standards and increased health awareness have motivated more people to participate in sports," he noted.

He added that one of his students, Liu Shengshu, has been selected for China's women's badminton team for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Born in 2004, Liu is the youngest member of the team.

Li extended his best wishes for her success, as well as for all the Chinese athletes participating in the Olympics.

Editor: WXY
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