July 22, 2008

The Chinese Celebrate Their Roaring Economy, As They Struggle With Its Costs

Chapter 4. The Olympics

Publics around the world show signs of apprehension about China’s growing economic power, its role in foreign affairs and the safety of the products it exports, but the Chinese are confident that the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing will change the way their country is viewed. By nearly unanimous margins, Chinese respondents say their country will be a successful host and that the Olympic Games will help China’s image around the world. ( For more results on opinions about China and other world powers, see “Global Economic Gloom – China and India Notable Exceptions,” released June 12, 2008.)

In addition to seeing the Beijing Olympics as good for their country, an overwhelming majority of Chinese across all demographic groups say the event is important to them personally. Those who live in the host city are especially likely to say that is the case.

There is also broad optimism about the performance of China’s athletes among the Chinese public. Yet, despite the widespread excitement about the Olympics, some in China say their country is paying too much attention to the games, and the percentage who expresses that opinion has increased since Pew last asked the question in 2006.

The Olympics and China’s Image

The Chinese are enthusiastic about hosting the Summer Olympics. More than nine-in-ten say their country will be successful as a host (96%), including 56% who say it will be very successful. A similar share is convinced that the games, which will take place in August in Beijing, will help China’s image around the world (93%), unchanged from two years ago.

The view that China will be a successful Olympics host and that the country’s image will improve as a result is shared by men and women, the young and the old, and the rich and the poor alike. Moreover, those who do not live in Beijing are just as likely as those who live in the host city to say that China will be a successful host (96% vs. 98%).

Most See Olympics as Important

Positive feelings about the Summer Olympics extend beyond the belief that the event will be good for China. Nearly eight-in-ten Chinese (79%) say the Olympics will be important to them personally, while just 17% say it will not be important to them.

Solid majorities across all demographic groups say the Olympics impact them personally, but those in the host city are considerably more likely than those in other cities and provinces to express that view. Fully nine-in-ten in Beijing say the Olympics are important to them, compared with 79% in other parts of the country.

Opinions about whether the Olympics are important on a personal level also vary somewhat by age, income, and education. Fully 78% of Chinese respondents who are ages 50 or older say the Olympics are important to them, but an even higher percentage of those who are under 30 say that is the case (83%). Among those with low household incomes, three-quarters see the Olympics as important to them personally and 21% say it is not important. By contrast, 87% of Chinese respondents with high incomes say the event is important to them and just 12% say it is not.

Optimism about Chinese Athletes

The Chinese have confidence that their country’s athletes will perform well in August. Three-quarters say China, which finished third, behind the United States and Russia, at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, will win the most medals. Only 15% think the U.S. will take home the most medals.

Women are somewhat more likely than men to say China will perform better than any other country. About eight-in-ten women (78%) say their country will win the most medals, compared with 72% of men. Those with less than a high school education, and those in the middle and lower income groups, are also more optimistic about China’s chances.

Beijing residents are the least confident that Chinese athletes will outperform their opponents. Fewer than six-in-ten (58%) say China will win the most medals and more than four-in-ten (42%) think the United States will. Outside of the host city, 76% name China and 14% name the U.S. as the country that will take home the most prizes.

Attention to the Olympics

Overall, more Chinese respondents say people in China are paying the right amount of attention to the Olympics than say they are paying too much or too little attention. But the percentage saying they are paying too much attention has increased since 2006. More than one-in-three Chinese (34%) now say that people in China are paying too much attention to the Olympics; just one-in-four shared that view two years ago. About one-in-five (18%) say the Chinese are not paying enough attention to the Summer Games.

The opinion that there is too much focus on the Olympics is more prevalent in the host city than in other parts of the country. Beijing residents are nearly evenly split – 46% say people are paying too much attention to the Olympics and 51% say they are paying the right amount of attention. Only 2% in Beijing say that not enough attention is being paid. Outside of Beijing, however, 33% say people are paying too much attention, 19% say they are paying too little attention, and 43% say they are paying the right amount of attention to the games.