Beijing's successful bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics has been viewed by many as something of great significance, as it symbolizes the confidence the world Olympic family has in China's organizational ability, and represents the global community's acknowledgements of China's robust economic progress and people-centered social development. It can also be seen as a congratulatory message from international sports circles for China's extraordinary achievements in developing its physical culture programs in the past two decades.
The emergence of China as a rising sports star has come a long way. Until the first half of the 20th century, at a time when the country was plunged into sheer destitution, social upheavals and foreign invasion, sports activities were confined only to a privileged few, while the majority of Chinese led a miserable life. It was not until the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 that sporting activities were embraced by the ordinary people. And along with the gradual improvement of the people's livelihood, due attention was paid to bettering their physical fitness and enriching their cultural life. In the spirit of uplifting the health standards of all citizens, not only have relevant guidelines and arrangements been made to encourage active participation in mass sports and fitness schemes, but many state-owned sports facilities have been opened to the public, either for free or with a nominal charge. Tens of thousands of sports societies or organizations have sprung up across the country, providing technical guidance to amateurs, promoting different kinds of sports, and organizing contests at the grass-roots level.
Meanwhile, China also has exhibited growing prowess in sports competitions, with its remarkable performance on global sports arenas during the preceding decades. Since rejoining the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1979, what was once perceived to be "an inferior race" by Western nations, have, thanks to state-sponsored sports development strategies, captured some 2,000 championship titles in major sporting international events, and grabbed a total of 286 medals, including 112 gold, 96 silver and 78 bronze, in the six summer Olympic Games the country has participated in. This has put China on a par with some of the world's sports giants, such as the United States, Russia and Germany.
China's ongoing international sporting achievements has inspired local citizens and further stimulated their enthusiasm in sports activities. Sports news claims one of the largest national audience and is always a favorite topic of discussion, while fitness exercises have become fashionable for the young and old alike, because practicing sports is conceived to be a route to a more healthy lifestyle. As the Beijing Olympics draws closer, more and more people have become sports-conscious and expectant of their athletes' good performances.
Despite the expressive showings in global sports competitions, there are differing views on what is the most appropriate strategy to turn China into a real sports power. A main dispute lies in the disproportionate allocation of resources for the state sports development: while an astronomical figure has been used to train world-class sports champions---one estimate puts the total cost of producing a Chinese Olympic gold winner in the Athens Olympics at 700 million yuan ($94 million), government spending on mass sports activities remains largely inadequate and can barely meet the growing demand of the masses. The best approach seems to be a substantial budget increase on public sports facilities, equipment, and training programs, so that the fitness levels of the whole nation can be raised.