The Panda Paradox

Pop culture has shied away from showing the real China. The Olympics are a chance to change that

Illustration for TIME by Francisco Caceres Paramount

Of all the buzz around the Beijing Olympics, the most puzzling is the idea that the Games will "introduce" Americans to China. The world's oldest civilization? Home of 1.3 billion people? Tireless exporter of goods and importer of jobs? Introduced? Haven't we already met?

Where American media and pop culture are concerned, yes and no. Cable TV channels and news outlets have dutifully been trying to give Americans a crash course as the Games approach. But the country's biggest pre-Olympic exposure to Chinese culture this summer has been Kung Fu Panda, about a chubby bear (voiced by Jack Black) who becomes...

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