SHANGHAI In the China Finance Journalists Union offices on the fourth floor of Shanghai's Pudong Holiday Inn Hotel, an international summit commenced recently to discuss China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics and how the Chinese people may react to the historic invasion of international media.
The group was small participating were two Chinese journalism officials and one visiting American reporter and the meeting's impact far from earth-shattering.
But the open exchange paralleled what one saw as the spirit of the 2008 Beijing Games.
"I think the Olympic Games provide a good platform for communication," said Yang Ming, secretary-general of the China Finance Journalists Union. "There are so many people from so many countries, with chances for them to see China and to understand China."
Since journalists are supposed to have their proverbial fingers on the pulse of the public, I called on Yang and CFJU deputy secretary-general Cheng Wenlan to get their perspectives. They had invited me to help present a multiday seminar last March to Chinese journalists on tips for covering the Olympics.
Yang and Cheng were asked of perceived benefits of hosting the Olympics, how attitudes have changed since Beijing was awarded the Games in 2001 and how the Chinese may react to negative international news coverage and possible protests.
"For the short and the intermediate terms, I don't think the Olympic Games will reward as much as we have invested," said Yang of the conservative estimates that China has spent some $40 billion in construction and preparations.
The immediate financial benefits are not being realized, with the stock market on a downturn and economic conditions not as robust as expected, said Yang, who also cited the obstacles of a tightened security throughout Beijing and China and the widespread visa restrictions facing foreign visitors this year.
"China does not enjoy the tourism income as much as we expected," he said.
"To some extent, I think we have taken some considerable risks in hosting the Olympic Games," he said, adding that in the long term, "China will benefit greatly from the Olympic Games as we gain more understanding of our culture and our soul and our spirit."
"China expects (to have) more influence in the global platform now. I think the Games have been an exhibit as to what China is and how we think, of our culture and our new image."
Cheng underscored the national pride fostered by China's hosting the Olympics. "It's not only the government that has attached a great importance to the Olympic Games," she said, "but the Chinese people are very enthusiastic about it, too."
The attitudes have evolved, Yang said. "At first, we thought would be like was a great banquet or party for the Chinese, but now we understand that not all the people have the same attitude."
And those contrary attitudes lead to voiced concerns and criticism from across the world.
Also an associate professor and head of the Department of New Media at Nanjing University/Jinling College, Yang says he is "not strongly opposed to some criticism" and knows of the different writing and reporting styles employed by journalists.
He said he thinks negative reporting is often the result of cultural differences.
"Some people don't understand the differences," he said, "so they may have anger or misunderstanding."
Yang posed a reversal of roles.
"If the Olympic Games were held in America," he mused, "maybe the Chinese media would be reporting that the American people are not so friendly and on the cultural differences in America."
If a country and people trying to be gracious hosts are the target of international criticisms, Yang said "China will feel dumbfounded."
He offered a specific example of reports of some athletes who considered wearing medical masks when marching in this past Friday's opening ceremonies.
"Chinese people will feel humiliated if the athletes do this," he said. "China's people will be disappointed if the foreign people don't understand our warm hearts."
And he thanked the world for its collective warm heart following the devastating earthquake May 12 in Chengu, China.
Yang found a fitting summary for our meeting and for China hosting the Olympics."I think we will find more in common, thanks to the Olympic Games, and that we have more in common in our values and in our goals toward a better world."