International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has defended Beijing's right to host the 2008 Games.
But Rogge said he will investigate reports that China's child gymnasts and
swimmers are being mistreated.
China's gymnastics training methods were criticised in a BBC report by rowing legend Sir Matthew Pinsent.
Rogge said human rights still had to be respected but emphasised the hosts had "evolved a lot since 1949."
"Does that mean everything is perfect? No, but let's look at the progress they have made," he said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.
He added: "One has to judge China in the true perspective of realising that 50 years ago they were nowhere and seeing what they have achieved now and what their evolution will be in the next 10 to 15 years.
"We need to establish if this is systematic or whether there are regrettable isolated cases which will also have to be tackled.
"If the IOC believe the methods are widespread and unacceptable, then we will talk to the authorities."
Pinsent, four-times gold medallist, visited Beijing for BBC Five Live in November to assess China's preparations for the Games.
The report described children in pain while training and claimed a boy had been beaten by his coach.
"When I talked to the vice-principals, they said hitting was against the law, but then there were parents who want you to do it," Pinsent said.
Although the school has denied allowing "physical abuse", Rogge said the IOC was looking into Pinsent's assessment.
However, Rogge said the reported treatment should not be exaggerated.
"While it is not for us to condone what might not be acceptable, you also have to look at the cultural factor," he said.
"I don't need to remind you of the fact that physical punishment was still in use in English public schools until, I believe, the 1970s.
"Your society has decided that there will be no physical punishment in the UK, and I approve of that. But it was not so long ago that it was being used."