Everyone knows the Olympics are a public relations goldmine – but it works both ways. For every ounce of goodwill China manages to wring out of its three weeks in an unprecedented global spotlight, activists and pressure groups will try to match it by drawing attention to the country's darker, more complicated and unethical side.
Already, people have been waiting for Beijing to score its own goals and in June the deadlock appeared to have been broken.
It doesn't do for an Olympic host to be accused of using children to produce the merchandise for the big event. Yet, according to a report by PlayFair 2008, an alliance of global trade unions and labor groups, this is what has been happening.
The Olympic organizing committee said it would investigate and deal with any offenders, but the issue didn't die down. Before the week was out, China was engaged in an unpleasant although very necessary discussion on forced labor.
The trigger was an internet-based appeal made by fathers of missing children. The fathers said they had appealed to officials in both Shanxi and Henan provinces for help in following up on rumors that 1,000 boys were working as slaves in kilns and mines but were turned away.
With public interest growing, the Chinese authorities responded by dispatching 45,000 police to the two provinces. It wasn't long before reports came through that 568 people, including dozens of children, had been rescued from slave-like existences digging for coal and making bricks. Most were migrant workers and many had been snatched off the street.
The fact that the police investigation delivered such shocking results so quickly suggests the officers are either endowed with exceptional powers of detection or they knew exactly where to look because the problem is so widespread.
It is also likely that the problem is quietly ignored by local authorities because officials are on the make and take.
Viewed from a cold economic angle, it could be said that we are seeing enterprises and individuals doing whatever it takes to reap profits in a climate of rising costs and intense competition.
At one end of the spectrum are listed companies under pressure to deliver the results to which investors have become accustomed; at the other end, smaller players face similar profit margin headaches but don't have to worry about oversight. The temptation to exploit the vulnerable for a bigger slice of the profits must be difficult to resist.
As international attention intensifies in the run up to Beijing 2008, the pressure is growing on the authorities to confront this immoral and unruly element. But, if the official corruption that hides it is as entrenched as many suggest, this beast won't be easily tamed.