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Now that the Olympics are over, we may have a better idea if the organizers won their bet. They were betting that the games would change China, rather than the other way around. China won more gold medals than any nation, but this story goes beyond medals. We begin this morning with reasons that China says it's becoming more confident and more open. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.
ANTHONY KUHN: One of the most improbable moments in the Games' closing ceremony came during a preview of the 2012 London Olympics. A red double-decker bus rolled into the national stadium with guitarist Jimmy Page on it. It had to be the first time members of the ruling Communist Party's political bureau were subjected to Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."
(Soundbite of song, "Whole Lotta Love")
KUHN: It was also the first time China had topped the gold medal count, winning 51 golds and 100 medals in all. The U.S. claimed 36 golds and 110 medals in total. But China snagged the most Olympic gold medals of any country, since the Soviet Union took 55 at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Liu Qi, head of the games' organizing committee, congratulated the athletes and thanked Beijing's legions of Olympic volunteers.
Mr. LIU QI (Beijing Games Organizing Committee): (Foreign language spoken)
KUHN: The Beijing Olympics represents the world's trust in China, he said. The Chinese people enthusiastically fulfilled their solemn commitment to host an environmentally friendly, high-tech and humanistic Olympics.
(Soundbite of cheering)
KUHN: The many sporting highlights yesterday included the U.S. men's basketball team's hard-fought 118-107 win over Spain. This morning, the official People's Daily newspaper led a chorus of media praise for the games. The opportunity of the Olympics, it said in an editorial, has allowed us to calmly show a more open and self-confident China after 30 years of reform.
On a downtown shopping street, 40-year-old Jo Xiomei(ph) strolled with her son. She had this to say.
Ms. JO XIOMEI: (Through translator) Many foreigners look down on us and don't really understand us. The Olympics gave us a great opportunity to show our country to them. To put it simply, it allowed the world to open its eyes wide and look in on us rather than just squinting at us.
KUHN: But in a statement yesterday, the U.S. embassy here expressed disappointment that China did not display more openness during the games. It expressed concern about eight Americans with or connected to the group Students for a Free Tibet who were detained last week after staging street protests. The eight were deported Sunday night.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said that it had confirmed 30 cases of harassment and 10 cases of violence against foreign reporters in recent weeks. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge addressed the issue at a press briefing Sunday.
Mr. JACQUES ROGGE (President, International Olympic Committee): We acknowledge that the situation has not been perfect, but we acknowledge at the same time that the situation was a major change in comparison before the games. So we believe that the games had a good influence in that.
KUHN: Observers say bad press was exactly what China was trying to avoid. Economist Hu Jingdo(ph) of the Beijing Institute of Technology says that Beijing's quest for Olympic gold was, above all, a global public relations campaign.
Mr. HU JINGDO (Beijing Institute of Technology): (Through translator) Everything is for the nation's face. The effort to become world champion is a typical exercise in engineering that face. The state pours all its sports funds into producing champions. But even if China becomes number one, does that mean its people are really in such great physical shape?
KUHN: Who says that China's medal tally is, above all, the result of massive state investment, just like building an atom bomb or putting a man on the moon.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.