The Games of the New Emerging Forces, or GANEFO, held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1963 resembled the Olympics and offered the People’s Republic of China (PRC) its first opportunity to compete in a large-scale international sports competition. Historians often describe the late 1950s and early 1960s in China as preoccupied with domestic crises, political struggles, and increasing isolation in foreign relations. Only in 1971, so the story goes, with ping-pong diplomacy and Nixon’s visit, did the process of “opening” China to the rest of the world formally begin. During those pre-1971 years, however, early PRC leaders began to use international sports to carve out a new position in the world for China. The GANEFO, as a huge media spectacle that projected images worldwide of successful Chinese athletes, highlights the culmination of that project and shows that China’s recent Olympic achievement is built on the foundation of these Mao-era developments in sport.

At 5:20 p.m. Sukarno tucked his swagger stick under his arm and said, “The first Games of the New Emerging Forces are now open.” He said it three times, first in Indonesian, then in English and French. Doves flew, balloons and banners floated, flags fluttered, cannon boomed, trumpets played, Mexicans danced, Chinese giants marched, Russian Cossacks stomped, Korean girls screamed and waved colored handkerchiefs and a banner was hoisted bearing the slogan of the occasion, “Onward! No Retreat.” Thereupon 1,300 primary students rushed out on the field and went through gymnastic exercises that spelled out WELCOME, and recited: “We are dancing to enhance the sports festival of the new emerging forces. We have won. Undoubtedly we will win. We will get the star of victory.”

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