I think it is safe to say that the Olympics, as a concept and "movement," emerged in the modern era as a European project to universalize certain values of competition and character-building. A Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, revived a Greek ideal, a latter day version of the Hellenism that was so common to the consolidation of a modern "Western" identity. It has proved to be successful beyond the wildest dreams of its inventors. This year, 204 countries have sent athletes to London to compete. And no country has been more successful than the PRC, sitting today atop the gold medal count.
It is odd, then, that certain strains of anger and resentment have emerged in the Chinese media. Yes, some unfortunate things have happened to Chinese athletes. I think the statements questioning Ye Shiwen went too far. The badminton and bicycling complaints, however, are hardly the stuff of a global anti-China conspiracy. Shit happens - just ask the 1972 US men's basketball team. Get over it and move on. Indeed, it should be easy to move on: China has been fabulously successful at this Olympics. Why dwell on the negative, much of which seems just to be bad luck, when there are so many fantastic victories, like Feng Zhe on the parallel bars:
Feng’s routine was filled with intricate combinations, yet he did them with the precision of an artist and the rhythm of a musician. He held his handstands for what seemed like forever, looking like a statue, and there wasn’t even the slightest hesitation as he went from one skill straight into another.
While I hesitate to make too much of the Olympics - I don't think they mean anything in terms of real global power and influence - I can't help but notice the irony in the PRC government, which regularly tells us that it resists "Westernization" and cherishes unique Chinese cultural accomplishments, expending of so much wealth and national energy to show the world just how well it can "Westernize" by succeeding in a European-inspired endeavor to recreate and romanticize an imagined Greek past. Yes, yes, I am perfectly aware of postcolonial theory... but it's still ironic. (I'm using scare quotes for "Westernization" because most of what is refered to by this concept is about modernization)
Putting so much emphasis on athletic competition, and using the vast amount of resources to ensure victories, is certainly not a Confucian virtue. Confucius himself thought that "gentlemen" - junzi: 君 子 - noble-minded persons who live morally upright lives, should not strive for winning sporting contests in archery:
The Master said: "The noble-minded never contend. It's true that archery is a kind of contention. But even then, they bow and yield to each other when stepping up to the range. And when they step down, they toast each other. Even in contention they retain their nobility." (3.7)
The Master said: "People's strength differs. So, in archery, shooting through the target-skin isn't the point. That is the way of the ancient." (3.16)
Putting those two together sounds rather like the old saying: it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
It's hard to imagine Confucius sitting in the stands, waving a flag and yelling "jiayou!" And he would certainly see the cost to some athletes, in terms of the damage done to family relations, as in the case of Lin Qingfeng, as simply and completely unacceptable. Most likely, he would rather the money spent on Olympic preparation go to the preservation of historical and cultural relics and to social programs to ease economic inequality.
But, of course, the Olympics are hardly the only aspect of contemporary Chinese society that is un-Confucian...
Let me be clear: I think China's Olympic success is fine, though the excesses of training regimes and gold-medal obsessions are a bit much. I have no problem with Chinese people engaging in any aspects of cultural modernization that they like. Indeed, I think the development of sports in China has opened up new avenues for the cultural expression of Chinese-ness - and that's great. I imagine beach volleyball would have been considered "spiritual pollution" in the early 1980s; now, it's just fun and exciting.
I don't expect modern Chinese society to be Confucian.
What bugs me, however, is when sanctimonious Party ideologues argue that "Westernization" is anathema to Chinese culture and unsuited to Chinese realities, when, in fact, the Party embraces those aspects of "Westernization" that serve its power interests (global capitalist trade and finance; Westphalian notions of sovereignty; Monroe Doctrine-like claims to the South China Sea; deals with Hollywood producers; Olympic victories) and reject those that would challenge its political hegemony ("Western" multi-party democracy). The worries about "Westernization," on the part of CCP elites, is not about cultural authenticity, it's about a narrower concern with maintaining the political power of a one-party state, which itself is a rather "Western" idea.
Let's be honest guys. There's plenty about "Westernization" that you like; it's just that democracy thing you're trying to avoid.