Chengdu, CHINA - The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are about more than just sport for China.
The Chinese government hopes the Games will help transform its international image, but building that reputation has been a challenge.
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A Bad Rap?
From the moment China won the bid to host the Olympics, the government saw the Games as a once in a lifetime chance to showcase its economic miracle and boost its image as a nation determined to embrace peace.
"The Olympics gives us a chance to show the world who we are, not just about the modern China you see, but also the spirit and culture of China," one Chinese woman said.
But China's handling of the Tibet riots, press freedoms, internal dissent and foreign criticism have tarnished China's image abroad - and people here on the streets are feeling it.
"It is having a bad impact on us," one man said.
Another said, "I just don't think it's fair to criticize us all the time. This is a sporting event and politics should be kept out of it."
"Why focus only on the things we do bad-- that's not right," one woman said. "I hope people will come and visit us so that we can better understand each other."
Many we spoke to said that those who constantly attack China miss the point- this is a country that has witnessed huge advances in personal and economic freedoms.
"We are the most populated nation in the world," one Chinese woman explained. "Change does not happen overnight it takes time. But you have to appreciate the great strides we have made in the last 30 years to be a more open society."
In a recent survey, China's people ranked first among 24 nations in their optimism about their country's future.
"We are a rising nation that's increasingly playing an important role on the global stage and we are proud of that," said another Chinese resident.
Chinese Pin Hopes on the Games
While many Western politicians and analysts believe the Games have raised even more questions, polls show that overwhelming numbers of Chinese say the Games will help their country's image.
A Chinese woman said, "A few negative events are not going to stop us. We will learn from these disasters and be stronger for it."
The government has spent somewhere around $42 billion getting ready for these Games, hoping to showcase harmony and stability. But as that image has taken a few bruises, the government's main hope now is for an incident-free Games.
As one top government official said: "A safe Olympics is the biggest indicator of the success of the Games.