On the evening that Beijing earned the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, the city celebrated into the night. It was July 2001, and China was beginning an extraordinary decade of economic growth that would transform the capital into something that China's leaders -- and its people -- wanted to show off. Olympics are an opportunity to signal to the world that a country has been transformed, both in how it views itself and how it wants the world to view it. China wanted to show that it was no longer emerging -- it had emerged, and deserved respect and recognition.
Thus, one would expect some civic joy at Monday's news that Beijing joins Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Oslo, Norway, as finalists to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Curiously, though, that news has been muted and hard to find in China. True, it made the homepage of the People's Daily, the online home of the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, but only in the form of a three-paragraph story buried under other news. Slightly more prominent was a slideshow that inventoried the huge costs of previous Olympics, highlighting the Sochi Winter Olympics's $51 billion price. Meanwhile, the advancing bid barely piqued the interest of China's typically Olympic-loving microbloggers. The low-key reaction is a long way from the pride that usually accompanies all things Olympian in China.