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Reviewed by:
  • The East Asian Olympiads 1934-2008: Building Bodies and Nations in Japan, Korea and China ed. by William M. Tsutsui and Michael L. Baskett
  • Keiko Ikeda
Tsutsui, William M. and Michael L. Baskett, eds. The East Asian Olympiads 1934-2008: Building Bodies and Nations in Japan, Korea and China. Danvers, Mass.: Global Oriental, 2011. Pp. 224. Illustrations. $121.00 hb.

What made the East Asian Olympiads different between the years 1934-2008? This collection of essays questions how the Far Eastern Games (1934), aborted Tokyo games (1940), the summer games of Tokyo (1964), Seoul (1988), and Beijing (2008) stand apart, as a group, from the Olympics of Europe, North America, and Australia. The twelve essays explore the Olympic games in East Asia, as well as the participation of Asian athletes and states in international sporting competitions from the perspectives of anthropology, geography, history, political science, and sport studies. The East Asian nations were latecomers to the Olympic movement: the first Asian participation was Japan in Stockholm (1912), followed by Chinese participation in Los Angeles (1932), and Korean participation in London (1948). As the editors argue, Asian participation was "driven by a history of marginalization in a world sporting culture and a global political order long and still dominated by the West" (pp. 4-8). In addition, "the Games have been . . . preoccupied with the immediate demands and nagging memories of war and empire (p. 8). "A persistent [End Page 515] national compulsion" or "a distinctive and uneasy Olympic nationalism" among the three Olympiads of Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing are underscored. However, the attempt undervalues the difference of each decade in geopolitics among the three countries: Tokyo in the rapid economic growth in the 1960s after the end of World War II, politically-and-ideologically struggling Korea in the late 1980s after the confusion of the Cold War, and recently distinguished China in the global economy of the late 2000s. Another preoccupied idea is "modern hybridity" as inherited from Sandra Collin's article (p. 10). The East Asian Olympiads crafted "a unique blending of traditional culture and modern industry . . . to promote themselves as world-class cities" and "to claim parity with the West economically, technologically and socially but assert difference culturally" (pp. 11, 59). Although most of the host cities must have produced the fusion of indigenous tradition and recent innovation—e.g., Cathy Freeman who lit the Olympic Flame made a symbolic role in promoting local improvements as well as international relations through Aboriginal Australian Olympics in Sydney in 2000, while the opening ceremony of the 2012 London games began with the scene of a pre-industrial, rural festival and ended with the illuminations created by post-modern technology—the collection attempts to emphasize the blend as Asian commonalities.

The essays in this volume all illustrate the themes and commonalities that have characterized the Olympics in East Asia and seek to locate the history of the East Asia Olympiads within the larger narrative of the Olympic movement and the experience of participating in and hosting the Olympics within each national history. Five essays focus on Japan, two essays on the Seoul Olympics, and three essays discuss the controversial 2008 games in Beijing. Among the articles exploring the landmark of cultural policy designed to create nationalism, disciplined urban bodies, and a docile populace, it is interesting that John James Kennedy focuses on the contradictory views and argues that the Beijing games should not be seen as landmark events either in China's democratization or the intensification of state oppression but as part of a long-term view of "two steps forward and one step back process of economic and political reform in China" (p. 165). The last two essays are written about gender and architectural spectacle that illustrate the contributions of the early East Asian female athletes to the Olympic games and a symbolic milestone as emotionally charged space.

Most essays are challenging in updating the analytical views accumulated through the studies of the Olympiads in the West and the intelligibility of the difference. However, this angle appears to fall into a somewhat prejudicial idea although the Olympiads are undoubtedly a Western creation brought to the modern societies. For example...


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