This essay explores the representations of the 2008 Beijing Olympics enacted by Italian media through the analysis of a corpus of printed and television materials. After an overall analysis of the agenda setting, reception and content division of the whole games, we focus on four specific case studies (the opening ceremony; the US–China basketball match; the Liu Xiang incident; and the closing ceremony). Representations of Chinese athletes and of Olympic events consistently appear as political in nature and critical in tone; a powerful framing of China as an ‘opaque authoritarian’ country appears to inform the whole corpus, irrespective of each medium’s specific ideological orientation. Within this frame even China’s successes (both sporting and organizational) are read as either counterfeit or as unfair. Paradoxically, then, the very extent of those successes appear to aggravate the problematic image of China socialized by Italian media.