Chinese NYers Watch Olympics With Pride

The Olympics have been China’s big coming out party, and in New York City’s Chinatown, Chinese people of all ethnic groups watch with pride and optimism. WNYC's Richard Yeh has the story.

Slideshow: Olympic pride in NYC's Chinatown

HU JINTAO: Beijing’s 29th Olympic Games start now!

REPORTER: The Games open for the first time in China, and Chinese people around the world celebrate with glee.

(Sounds of marching band and chanting of “go Beijing, go China”)

At a recent parade in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Chinese New Yorkers marched and danced in the streets, chanting, “go Beijing, go Olympics!”

HAN WEN: This is a great event for all Chinese.

REPORTER: Han Wen is a student at NYU.

WEN: No matter they're from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Mainland, or even they're American Chinese. I think this doesn't make a difference. As Chinese, we're proud of this.

(Chanting of 2008 Olympics slogan “One world, one dream” in Chinese.)

REPORTER: China first learned of the Olympics 100 years ago, when a college president brought home images he took from the 1908 London Games. A dream was born for China to participate, and ultimately host, the Olympic Games. But in the decades that followed, war and turmoil gripped the nation, and a civil war divided it into Mainland and Taiwan. Tensions between the two have recently eased, thanks to economic reform. And with China opening its doors to host the Games, expats around the globe watch with hope. Expats like Peter Kwong.

PETER KWONG: We all grew up with this identity that somehow, somewhere in the future, China will be strong, China will revenge this kind of history.

REPORTER: Kwong is professor of Asian studies at Hunter College and has written several books on Chinese in America.

KWONG: Many people in Taiwan still see themselves as Chinese. In a sense, the Olympics represent an opportunity for Chinese people to show themselves as a force.

REPORTER: And for the newly-elected president in Taiwan, the Olympic spirit represents an opportunity for better relations with Mainland China. Ben Shao is chief spokesman at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York. He's encouraged that the former and current chairmen of the Taiwanese ruling party traveled to Beijing for the games.

BEN SHAO: Yes, it's a good channel. In fact, there had been other developments. The lift of restrictions of Taiwanese investments on the Chinese Mainland and, last month, in the beginning of July, there had been regular weekly flights between the two sides, and the Chinese currency can be converted in Taiwan.

REPORTER: A hope for better days between Taiwan and Mainland China is much like the hope for redemption for Chinese Americans. Jimmy Cheng is a restaurant owner who organized the parade in Chinatown. He says Chinese people in the United States can now lift their heads high.

JIMMY CHENG: In the first few years since I arrived in New York, people discriminated against me.

REPORTER: He says when he first arrived in New York, people called him condescending names.

CHENG: “China man” they called me. China man is condescending. Chinese people, that’s nice, they should be very nice. You are Chinese people.

REPORTER: Like Cheng, many Chinese immigrants in America see the Olympics as a chance to reverse discrimination.

YAN TAI: Finally. Because not only we can host the Olympics, which is the games to show your physical strength, but also we can do it successfully.

REPORTER: Yan Tai is the deputy editor of The World Journal, the largest daily Chinese newspaper in the U.S. She says her readers are watching the Games closely to see how far China has come.

TAI: What they want to see with their own eyes on the screen, how the streets look like, how the people cheer for various countries' teams, they just want to see how China behaves. These will serve as an indication of China's maturity, Chinese people’s mentality.

REPORTER: On the Bowery, under the statue of Confucius, Chinatown resident Li Cheng says he’s pleased with the Games.

LI CHENG: The Olympics, if successful, is cause for celebration. We can rise on the world stage.

REPORTER: But like many of his fellow countrymen, Cheng feels that now, China must maintain the energy it poured into the Games, and use it to improve the lives of Chinese citizens.

CHENG: I think, more importantly, China needs to take care of its own people, with health care, and benefits for the elderly. That’s more practical. Right?

REPORTER: On Sunday, when the Olympic flame goes out at the Bird’s Nest, China’s big coming out party draws to a close, but the spotlight remains. What China does next has everybody watching. For WNYC, I’m Richard Yeh.