Beyond the gold medals and efficient hosting, China's leaders showed their true colors.
At least in the gold medal count and as an Olympics host, Beijing has pulled it off. The world will remember China for its athletic prowess and glorious stadiums in the 2008 Games. But after Sunday's closing ceremony – which could match the opening spectacle in proclaiming China's "rise" – a different history may be written.
Sure, these Olympics were mainly about the 10,500 athletes, especially superstars such as Michael "fish-man" Phelps and Usain "Lightning" Bolt, and notably China's government-trained athletes. Beijing the city was mostly an efficient but largely colorless backdrop.
But what happened – or didn't happen – in that backdrop was the telling story on whether China has successfully opened itself to the world and earned the respect it so desperately sought from these Olympics.
The most poignant reminder of the real China under Communist Party rule was the arrests of two elderly Chinese women during the Games. They had applied to demonstrate in a special protest zone set up at the urging of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The women simply wanted to decry local officials who had evicted them from their homes. For their legal action, they now face a year of imprisonment, or "reeducation through labor."
Dozens of applications to protest were ignored. The few protests that did occur were elsewhere and quickly suppressed. Most foreigners with a record of protesting China's human rights and who wanted to be in Beijing during the Games were denied visas.