The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.
April 29, 2008 11:19 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
According to the Wall Street Journal's Geoffery Fowler ('Where have you gone, Lei Feng' - April 12), Liu Xiang - Shanghai's handsome hurdler - belongs to "a new breed of Chinese hero: the global champion."
Liu won a gold medal for China at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens - dashing 110 meters in 12.91 seconds. He's since become a Chinese media darling - the country's first-ever track star.
"Traditionally, hero making has been the job of the state," Fowler writes, "and most state heroes are idealized former leaders and soldiers who exemplified the Communist ideals. But in an era of reform and commercialized media, China's emerging icons are looking less like heroes of the state than heroes of the people. From athletes to nimble and wealthy entrepreneurs, today's Chinese heroes are exalted for both global achievements and peoples' ability to relate to their success."
According to Fowler, Communist heroes like Lei Feng - a selfless soldier who died young - are fading from this nation's imagination. Modern Chinese idolize Taiwanese rappers and Internet wizards. Modern Chinese admire winners, not martyrs.
Fowler quotes Jack Ma, a celebrated Internet speculator - CEO of the e-commerce firm Alibaba.
"Many years ago, all of the heroes were made by the government," Ma told the WSJ. "Today, people make you a hero. The things you achieve make you a hero. That is a huge change."
Lei Feng was a soldier of the revolution and China's favorite son during the 1960s. Born an orphan in 1940, Lei grew up by way of the Communist Party. His diary was published after his death - struck by an army truck in 1962. A year later, Chairman Mao Zedong urged all Chinese citizens to 'Learn from Comrade Lei Feng.'
Mao applauded Lei's faith in the communist party, plastering Lei slogans thoughout China. A reliable soldier - cheerful, noble, hardworking and helpful - Lei served as a role model. His legend suffered slightly following Mao's death in 1976; Lei, however, is still admired.
Liu Xiang, born in 1983 to a truck driver and waitress, competed at high-jump until his state-sponsored sports school 'gave up on him.' That's when Liu took up hurdles, breezing past local competition.
According to his coach, Liu was initially an awful hurdler. A determined runner nonetheless, Liu won the 110-meter hurdles at Osaka's 2001 East Asian Games and Beijing's 2001 World University Games. Last year, he became China's first athlete to achieve track & field's 'triple crown' as world record holder, world champion and Olympic champion - all at once.
Liu, whose given name means 'take flight,' was raised by grandparents; the 24-year old dedicated his 2004 gold to his grandmother. Possessing a sweet face and sweeter disposition, Liu has earned the adulation of China's young women.
He's taken to fame, charming reporters and consumers alike. Beaming Liu Xiang billboards endorse Nike, Cadillac and Coca-Cola where decades ago Lei Feng's posters hung. Yili, a Chinese dairy firm, pays Liu 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) a year.
In April, Chinese youngsters - more than 2,000 polled between the ages of 8 and 24 - voted Liu 'most popular athlete'. The hurdler beat out Chinese basketball luminary Yao Ming and soccer's David Beckham.
Liu has clearly achieved iconic status; he's favored by patriots, jocks, gossips and advertising executives. Perhaps Liu does belong to a 'new breed of Chinese hero' - Fowler's 'global champion.'
Blogging Beijing hit the streets to find out...Is Liu Xiang China's new Lei Feng?
"No way," shouted a middle-aged man selling popsicles near Beijing's 'Big Bell Temple' - Da Zhong Si. "Yes, I know Liu Xiang - the runner. I like him. Chinese athletes don't often win medals in track.
"Lei Feng was a soldier - someone who helped other people. Liu Xiang, he's a sports hero. Beyond that...running is one thing, contributing to society is another."
An out-of-town couple visiting the temple agreed.
"Liu Xiang is an athlete," they observed. "We all like him. He sets a great example - with respect to sports. He's no Lei Feng though. He's an Olympian. Lei Feng served the people. Lei Feng was a hero."
"I guess you could compare the two," a 24-year old chuckled. "Although I'm not sure you completely understand Lei Feng. Liu Xiang is China's treasure. He gives us strength. In fact, I prefer him to Lei Feng. I'm a young person."
Liu Xiang's name drew smiles from three women chomping pears outside Da Zhong Si.
"He's an Olympic champion - the whole world knows who Liu Xiang is," lectured one of the women, an icredulous, retired schoolteacher. "He's our hero, the pride of China and a gold medalist. We Chinese all love him.
"We tell our kids - look at Liu Xiang. Work hard to improve your body. Do you best. Practice. Don't worry what other people say. Liu Xiang is a good boy. When he's not running, he helps people. He's young like Lei Feng was young. He's our heart."
This may be Liu Xiang's year - many expect him to win a second gold medal - but he's hardly eclipsed Lei Feng. Most Chinese seem to sincerely respect the soldier's memory and value his deeds.
"I like Liu Xiang - he's a hero on par with your NBA stars in America," commented a 62-year old doctor. "We're all very proud of him.
"But he isn't China's new Lei Feng. That's not right. Lei Feng was a helper. Running isn't the same. Today's kids should study Lei Feng in addition to Liu Xiang, Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant. We old men and women were young when Lei Feng was alive - we care about him very much. He's important to us. He volunteered because he wanted to. Now I suppose Liu Xiang is more popular."
"I really like Liu Xiang because he's a winner," said a Beijing high school student. "I wouldn't say he's the new Lei Feng though. I studied Lei Feng in elementary school. He's still worth studying."
"I know Lei Feng and Liu Xiang," a six-year old answered. "I like them both."
"Liu Xiang runs very fast," his friend added.
Liu Xiang the commercial pitchman and global sex symbol may belong to a 'new breed of Chinese hero' - a self-made man sans socialist state. And yet, not so much has changed.
A few months ago, Liu found himself elected to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Mao's precious Lei Feng never achieved that.
April 27, 2008 7:21 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Three concepts have - officially - colored preparations for the 2008 Beijing Games: 'People's Olympics,' 'Hi-tech Olympics' and 'Green Olympics.'
Beijing's commitment to environmental protection ahead of the Games may or may not impress come August. But a slew of ambitious 'green' campaigns have indisputably transformed the city and garnered international attention.
In 2005, BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad) signed a UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) agreement - pledging to curb air, water and noise pollution.
Since then, the city has scrapped coal-burning furnances, rolled out 'green' buses, booted dirty factories and capped auto emissions.
Last December, Beijing narrowly achieved its 2007 goal - 245 'blue sky days.' Beginning June 1, Chinese shoppers will pay for plastic bags - retailers caught giving bags away will be fined.
But Beijing and China's environmental woes continue.
About 1,200 new cars hit the street here each week - Beijing claims 3.5 million vehicles today, up a million from a few years ago. The city contains thousands of construction sites - all sources of particle pollution.
Various Olympic athletes have questioned Beijing's air quality. Concerned that the city's pollution could affect their performance and/or health, a handful may pull out of the 2008 Games entirely.
The UNEP issued Beijing a progress report last year, stating that "significant strides are being made to 'green' the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games," but withheld final judgment:
"Beijing has implemented a number of initiatives to improve its air quality and reduce pollution...and can boast significant achievements. Most of these initiatives will benefit the citizens of Beijing long after the Games have closed, provided that the impetus brought about by hosting the Olympics is continued, with Games-related measures being adopted and implemented on a long-term basis by the authorities...Air quality has improved for some of the monitored pollutants. However, it can take years to determine significant changes in air quality. It would appear that more effort may be needed to address the legitimate concerns of the International Olympic Committee and other stakeholders."
Before BOCOG adopted the concept 'Green Olympics,' dedicated professionals and volunteers were working to protect the city's environment. They've kept on. And, for better or worse, the 2008 Games have altered their world.
"If Beijing wants to remain a global city and China's cultural-political capital, the condition of its environment must improve," said Fei Xiaojing, who heads the volunteer group Green Student Forum (GSF). "Olympics or no - this is necessary. However, the Games have given our government a push."
"The government has instituted a number of concrete environmental measures to ensure a clean Olympics," Michael Zhao, Beijing coordinator of the International Fund for China's Environment (IFCE) said. "But the Games' most beneficial results are less tangible - common people here are thinking about the environment because they want the Olympics to be successful."
Beijing's top-down 'greening' has empowered students like Fei and served as a platform for Zhao's IFCE. GSF has partnered with city government on exciting projects; Olympic fever has helped IFCE raise funds abroad.
Yet Daniela Salaverry of Pacific Environment, an international NGO based in San Francisco, contends that the Games have failed to nourish grass-roots environmentalism. Both IFCE and Pacific Environment fund GSF.
"The Olympics are a natural 'news hug' - an opportunity for local groups to seek support," Salaverry said. "But the Games are limiting, too. Groups have leveraged the Olympics less than we in the West would think."
Top-down efforts to better Beijing's environment were designed with the 2008 Games in mind. According to Salaverry, Chinese activists are engaged long-term.
They also wield less power than environmentalists in America. Beijing has allowed groups like GSF to grow - providing they don't push too hard.
"What's interesting is that there may be more space for activists after the Olympics," said Salaverry. "No one here wants to politicize and ruin the Games - so it's sensitive right now on the ground."
GSF has collaborated with government nonetheless, organizing students against car pollution. Every year, GSF volunteers tour Beijing by bicycle, wearing Olympic-themed t-shirts to promote 'green' awareness. Beijing's Enviromental Education center backs the event.
"It's true - NGOs must consider environmental protection long-term," Fei admitted. "But there's nothing wrong with the concept 'Green Olympics.' The government has made environmental protection a big deal in the news and on TV. No single NGO could have done that. We're in favor of cooperation."
A team of Beijing university students established GSF in 1996 as an umbrella organization. Most Chinese universities host 'green' clubs - some more active than others. GSF's founding members traveled to southwest China hoping to save the endangered Golden Monkey.
"In high school I really liked languages," said Fei, a People's University of China second-year graduate student. "But I also watched the Discovery Channel. Now I am very passionate about protecting the environment. For me, that's how it all began."
By 2003 GSF developed into a known and respected organization - promoting environmental protection among Beijing youth. Today the group is comprised of 20 volunteer members, representing seven area universities.
"We're majoring in different subjects," Fei said. "We bring different skills to GSF - from law to computer technology. And we're good friends. What we share is a desire to make a change and protect our environment."
GSF receives support from Pacific Environment and IFCE, two non-profits. Pacific Environment is 21 years old, a veteran of community development and forest protection in Siberia.
A self-billed 'watchdog/innovator/advocate/facilitator/catalyst/investor' Pacific Environment launched its China program in 2001. Now the organization helps train and finance 11 Chinese groups.
A Pacific Environment partner in Lanzhou saved that city's electric cars. Another partner, Green Anhui, counseled houseboat fishermen on the scummy Huai River - turning reporters onto an illegal battery dump.
"We send money and work with environmentalists seeking to professionalize," Salaverry said. "We answer their questions about international funders; we do a lot of networking - get Chinese groups talking to each other. We also promote collaboration between government and environmentalists at the local level."
"Host a 'Green Olympics,' build a 'green' homeland"
In Siberia, Pacific Environment worked to prevent a fire sale of natural resources following the Soviet Union's collapse. China's plight http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20070901faessay86503/elizabeth-c-economy/the-great-leap-backward.html has challenged the organization.
"Here, we're encouraging civil participation - because conditions are already dire," explained Salaverry, Pacific Environment's China co-director. "Three hundred million Chinese lack access to clean drinking water."
A team of U.S.-educated Chinese, including Zhao, founded IFCE in 1996. Not only a funder, IFCE furthers environmental education and U.S.-China exchange. Next month, the organization will co-host a high-level U.S.-United Nations delegation to China.
"I came back to China from the U.S. for the first time when my father passed away, in 1993," Zhao said. "To me, the country looked like one big construction site. This was still in the early stages of China's development.
"We were concerned. We felt strongly that China could learn from industrialized nations' mistakes. Having lived in the U.S., we knew the costs of development."
Last month, IFCE kicked off a community health/environmental awareness program in Xian with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. The program will eventually spread to Kunming, Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan.
Pacific Environment and IFCE don't staff the Chinese groups they fund. According to Salaverry, there are close to 4,000 environmental organizations operating in China - 300 in Beijing alone. Most depend on enthusiastic young people.
"In the future I'll work for an environmental NGO," said Fei. "But first I want to work in public relations at a large company. I think I'd gain a lot of perspective."
Fei joined GSF in 2005, while studying at Beijing's Forestry University. A year later, she agreed to head the group's training program. She stepped into GSF's top post last year.
"Beijing has so many environmental NGOs and government organizations - we had to carve ourselves a niche," Fei said. "We speak with young people about local problems. After we graduate, we'll go forth and multiply. We're environmental leaders."
Few Chinese schools teach environmentalism, although 'green' curricula are catching on.
"That's why the Olympics are great - they're raising awareness in China," Fei remarked. "I know that in the U.S., small children are taught conservation. That's not yet the case here. I wasn't until I was 20 years old."
IFCE holds an annual College Environmental Conference in Beijing, and has trained GSF members to conduct 'green' campus assessments and test for energy efficiency.
"The schools save millions - it's a win-win," Zhao said. "We're trying to enlighten China's students, so they'll be the driving force for change."
GSF, in particular, has championed Beijing's maligned waterways. With assistance from Pacific Environment, the organization began to check for pollution in 2003. GSF volunteers also surveyed riverside residents, dispensing advice and relaying concerns.
This year, the group will produce a hiker-friendly river map, highlighting historical sites and Beijing's endangered waterways.
"Have you visited our rivers? They're dirty," Fei exclaimed. "We've tested a bunch near Olympic sites - rivers that are sources of drinking water. It's important for these rivers to be clean, and not only for appearance's sake."
Some Beijing waterways carry industrial waste. Others choke on plastic bags and beer bottles. The city's lakes are drying up. Its underground aquifers are close to empty. Beijing is overpopulated - a water-poor municipality of 17 million.
Canals will pump 'emergency' water from neighboring Hebei province to Beijing for the Olympics this summer.
"Unfortunately, most people don't understand," Fei said. "They don't save water in their everyday lives. We tell them - 'water is precious.'"
Fei credits the government for tackling Beijing's water crisis before the 2008 Games. And she's optimistic.
"Our rivers are less polluted than they were in 2003," Fei said. "On the other hand, this will take some time."
Salaverry sees 'Green Olympics' as a stand-alone phenomenon.
"We've got two movements here - an Olympic environmental movement and a long-term environmental movement," she said. "Right now Beijing is trying to 'get it done' - it's game-time for the government, literally.
"There's been a ton of negative reporting on China's environment, but people are doing amazing things outside of Beijing. Pacific Environment supports the activists pursuing long-term change. They'll be here long after the Olympic athletes go home."
Zhao thinks the Chinese government is doing what it can to host a 'green' Games and keep the country clean.
"China's leaders realize that ruining the environment will halt economic development," he said. "Of course 'Green Olympics' is about face, pride, politics. Underneath, however, the motivations are real."
"Pollution is a global problem," Fei suggested. "Here in Beijing, we're trying to solve it. So...welcome to China!"
April 24, 2008 2:05 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Mr. Wu Dengming is a force for nature. His business card, printed green on white, reveals as much.
- President, Green Volunteer League of Chongqing
- Director, Chinese Environmental Protection Federation
- Vice-Chairman, Chongqing Behavioral Science Academic Society
- Chairman, World Bank Loan Supervision/Cuonsultation Committee
- NGO Representative, United Nations Sustainable Development Summit
- China Environmental Journalists Association Earth Award Winner
- National 'Lei Feng' Volunteer Role Model
- Ford Motor Company Environmental Protection Award Winner
- Top-ten Star, China Public Welfare
- Chongqing 30 Years of Environmental Protection Tribute Recipient
- Chongqing Youth Direction Award Winner
- Top-ten Person, China Legal News 2007
Beneath his shiny bald head and worried brow, Wu's eyes are dancing. The bullish environmentalist, a former People's Liberation Army officer, has fought to save China's forests and streams for more than 20 years.
Campaigns to reign in Chongqing's biggest, baddest polluters haven't always endeared Wu to local leadership (Chongqing is a large municipality in western China). According to a Washington Post story from 2003 - "Wu Dengming has been roughed up and threatened. His researchers have been arrested. His petitions have been ignored."
Beijing's successful Olympic bid, however, has ushered in a new era for Chinese environmentalists. The central government has flipped its pockets inside- 'People's Olympics,' 'Hi-tech Olympics' and 'Green Olympics.'
According to the 2008 Beijing website:
Environmentally friendly technologies and measures will be widely applied in environmental treatment to structures and venues. Urban and rural afforestation and environmental protection will be widely enhanced in an all-round manner. Environmental awareness will be promoted among the general public, with citizens greatly encouraged to make "green" consumption choices and urged to actively participate in various environmental improvement activities to help better the capital's ecological standards and build a city better fit for all to enjoy.
This June, Wu will jog the Olympic torch through Chongqing. He's been named a Green Olympics torchbearer - one of ten men and women across the country so recognized.
Decades ago, the retired university administrator inspired student volunteers to collect garbage and plant trees. In 1995 he founded an NGO - the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing (GVL).
During the late 1990s, GVL helped villagers develop eco-tourism and forest agriculture as alternatives to illegal logging. Wu has also worked to keep the Yangtze river and its tributaries clean. In 2003, an enormous reservoir - 410 miles long and 575 feet deep - began to form behind the Three Gorges Dam, China's US$30 billion hydroelectric project. Sewage, agricultural run-off and industrial waste have seen poured in. GVL promotes eco-agriculture and environmental education as well.
I recently discussed the 2008 Olympic Games and environmental protection with Wu for Blogging Beijing.
Today, you're considered a sort of 'Green Hero' - how did you begin?
It all started at Chongqing University in 1985, a long time ago. We were concerned about the impact of rapid modernization on the environment. First, we organized a campus group. We took trips to Huang Mountain and planted trees. We visited parks in Chongqing and asked people to help protect the environment. We collected garbage.
How has the 'Green Olympics' concept affected your work with GVL?
The concept was actually introduced at the 2000 Games in Sydney; it just didn't catch on. 'Green Olympics' has been good for China - government officials' environmental awareness is much-improved. From the beginning, we hoped our organization could participate.
Of course, the Olympics are the Olympics and we're an NGO. We haven't benefited financially from the Games. We still belong to a poor sector. It's hard for Chinese NGOs - we don't get much money from the government, unlike NGOs in the United States.
If your money doesn't come from the Chinese government, where does it come from?
There are so many foreign NGOs in China, and many funders from the United States. They spend a lot of money, but not so wisely. Too little reaches the Chinese laobaixing (common people). Too little reaches the environment.
Not enough real work is done. It's a circus - zuoxiu (for show). If US$100 is allocated, perhaps US$4 reaches the laobaixing - not very fair. And so much money is being spent. For example, Coca-Cola Co. will spend US$20 million on river water conservation by 2012.
What new programs has GVL launched over the past few years?
In 2006, we organized Chongqing's first 'no car day.' We're also promoting a day where we tell people in Chongqing - set your air conditioning to 26 degrees (Celsius). Don't set it lower. We've been working on public health alongside environmental health.
How would you describe the state of the environment in and around Beijing?
Beijing is China's political and cultural capital - it should be protected. Beijing should represent the best of China. But Beijing's environment is not so good. This is unfortunate. There's no reason for Beijing to serve as China's industrial capital or even an industrial hub. It should be like Washington, D.C. or Paris - a preserved, beautiful city.
On the one hand, Beijing's air has improved. Many factories have been moved out or shut down. But the city remains polluted. And why? Too many cars!
You see all these campaigns in Beijing - campaigns to protect the environment. But people still abuse air conditioning, still wear fancy clothes, still build mansions. Meanwhile, those without money suffer. The environment suffers. The city has so many cultural resources - these shouldn't go to waste. Beijingers' attitudes and lifestyles must change.
The only way to change attitudes and lifestyles is through education - in school, at home, in the workplace, in the government.
Perhaps Beijingers' attitudes and lifestyles are related to China's rapid economic development - can the city grow AND protect its environment?
Economic development and environmental protection can move forward in harmony. In fact, there is a symbiotic relationship. If the environment is destroyed, Beijing will not continue to grow.
However, China needs help. Look at all of our mountains. Where there was once August snow-pack, there is none today. Look at the Yangtze and Huai rivers. Upstream vegetation has been destroyed. Both rivers are muddy rather than clear. Industrialized nations like the U.S. can help by lending China experience and by consuming less.
Beijing's environment is in trouble. But cities across the globe are facing similar problems. Fly over Los Angeles in an airplane and tell me it doesn't look like Beijing.
The Chinese government has pushed for environmental protection ahead of Beijing's Olympics - could China's green movement stall when the Games are done?
After the Olympics, this movement will continue. China can't go back. Now people know what needs to happen. Organizations like ours are starting to play a bigger role in society.
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
April 18, 2008 3:01 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
"Repugnant French!" "Ignorant French!" "France must be eliminated!"
"If you are Chinese, if you are a warm-blooded youth, let's support Beijing's Olympic Games and oppose the Tibetan splittists!"
"With respect to the violence in Tibet, CNN has twisted facts, misled its audience and discredited China."
"Clearly recognize the Western media's mean and shameless true colors!"
"Far too malicious - a flagrant attack from the U.S., a country which has pressured China for too long."
"China unite!" "Go Motherland!"
"Protect the sacred flame, support the Olympic Games!"
- comments posted on www.xiaonei.com, a student-centered Chinese networking website similar to Facebook
If March protests/riots involving Chinese ethnic Tibetans set indignant fires blazing in London, Paris and San Francisco - where onlookers demonstrated against the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay last week, those demonstrations have in turn provoked among Internet-savvy Chinese youth no little nationalistic fervor.
Foreign politicians and Western media have also drawn students' ire, for statements issued regarding Tibet and what many here perceive as unbalanced reporting. Some young Chinese have railed against German and American publications, in particular CNN - most recently demanding an apology from that network.
On April 9, Jack Cafferty, a regular guest on CNN's 'The Situation Room' remarked: "Our relationship with China has certainly changed. I think they're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years."
Weeks ago, Chinese university students launched 'www.anti-cnn.com' - a website dedicated to exposing the Western media's biased coverage of unrest in Tibet. The website has accused foreign publications of doctoring photos and misrepresenting video footage.
Now urban youths are campaigning against French hypermarket Carrefour, a retail leader in China. Many have called for a boycott on May 1, using text messages to spread the word and rallying online. Chinese activists have suggested that stakeholders in a Carrefour parent company, Moet Hennessy Louis Vitton, previously donated money to the Dalai Lama and/or Tibet independence funds.
They have also criticized French and English police for failing to protect the Olympic torch from protestors on its way through Paris and London. An incident involving one protestor and a young, wheelchair bound Chinese torchbearer has recieved significant attention.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he is considering not attending the opening ceremonies for Beijing's Olympics, citing China's response to unrest in Tibet. Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain have urged U.S. President George W. Bush to skip the festivities as well.
"I heard about the protests online," said a Beijing Institute of Technology graduate student, walking between classes in a white collared shirt and black slacks. "I generally go online for www.xiaonei.com and QQ (a Shenzhen-based instant messager).
"When I first heard, the protests seemed very foreign to me, very strange. For us Chinese, the Olympic Games are a matter of heart. For many foreigners, I guess the Games are a political matter. The Olympic flame and Tibet aren't so related - that's how it seems to me. I don't understand why foreigners always discuss them together."
The Internet has served as an important organizing platform for young, nationalistic Chinese both on the Mainland and overseas. In addition to conventional websites such as www.anti-cnn.com and social networking websites like www.xiaonei.com, the fen qing ('angry youths') have cobbled together stirring videos for posting on www.YouTube.com - videos titled 'Don't be too CNN,' 'Dragon Roar' and 'Chinese protest in London you'll never see on BBC' etc.
Online dialogue has spilled onto the front pages of Beijing newspapers and consumed English-language blogs in China. The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games website has recognized 'netizen' (Internet citizen) voices, as have many Western news editors.
Chinese websurfers have targeted a 44-year old Tibetan-American caught on camera attempting to snatch the Olympic torch from Jin Jing, a female wheelchair fencer. They have also disparaged 20-year old Wang Qianyuan, citizen of China and Duke University freshman, who stepped between pro-China and pro-Tibet protestors on campus.
Using various sites, referred to by some as 'human flesh search engines,' netizens have launched collaborative efforts to track down and harass so-called 'enemies of China.' Wang's parents, who live in the coastal Chinese city Qingdao, have been located.
"I first saw photos and videos of the torch relay protests on www.xiaonei.com and on my friends' blogs," a Beijing Foreign Studies University graduate student said. "Sites like www.xiaonei.com are very popular. Online is where we're obtaining information."
According to the Washington Post, the number of Internet users in China hit 228.5 million in March - surpassing for the first time the number of users in the United States, 217.1 million.
"I think it's somewhat silly how excited everyone has become," said the BFSU graduate student. "But young people here are easily angry. Mostly, we're mad at France and England because it was in Paris and London that the Olympic flame went out. If future protests are peaceful of course we'll be upset, but we'll respond in kind. Hopefully, everything will settle down soon."
Strong images from torch relay protests circulating the Internet have turned some apolitical Chinese students into patriots.
"When I saw what went on in France, I became furious," a BIT student majoring in biomedical engineering growled. "All the world's people should embrace the Olympics. These people are protesting for Tibet, claiming that our government is heavy-handed. It isn't their business.
"Online, it's young people cursing and writing angry messages. I'd say 70-80 percent of Chinese young people feel this way. Me too, almost."
A material science major, also studying at BIT, disagreed.
"The torch relay is very important for Beijing - it can help the Chinese people better understand the world," he said. "The torch relay is supposed to be about mutual understanding. Some Tibetans are attempting to play politics.
"I can't say that the Dalai Lama is a good man or a bad man - but I oppose mixing politics and the Olympics. When I heard about the protests, I was a little angry at first. But the people contributing to these online forums aren't so reasonable. They don't represent us all."
Many young Chinese believe local leaders purposefully allowed protestors in London and Paris to run amok. Students from China studying abroad in England and France have posted photos and stories from the front lines, warning their friends back home against European ignorance.
"In England and France, the police did a bad job," said a BIT undergraduate. "So I blame those countries' governments. They want to hurt China. Look at Argentina - when the torch was carried through Argentina it was very safe.
"If people truly understand China and still want to protest Beijing's Games, okay. But most don't understand what's happened in Tibet. The Dalai Lama's supporters killed so many."
"We've heard that many foreigners protesting for Tibet don't know where Tibet is," said the BFSU graduate student. "We've heard that someone from Zhejiang province went to France and a supermarket wouldn't accept his money. We've heard that a Chinese exchange student in France was beaten up.
"I'm in favor of a peaceful world. If a whole people want independence, fine. But if I was (Chinese President) Hu Jintao I would never allow it. If New Mexico tried to sucede from the United States, would George W. Bush approve?
"Our professor explained to us that Western leaders are advancing their own interests when they make statements about Tibet. You can say what you want, but if you're not Chinese you shouldn't interfere directly. Maybe some Western leaders see China as a threat."
Other Chinese students say they've lost faith in the idea of an independent, free press.
"Of course I think the foreign journalists are incorrect," said the material science major. "They've mixed up many reports. Our Chinese journalists downplay politics."
"Some foreign journalists have been spreading lies," the BIT undergraduate said. "With regard to Tibet, they miss what's beneath the surface. It's hard to say anything critical of Chinese journalists because they've barely reported on these issues."
"Before I thought the foreign media were very free," the BFSU graduate student said. "Now I think foreign journalists carry agendas too. They have freedom, but don't make good use of it.
"Perhaps only a small percentage of Tibetans want independence, but in the West they are supported. So they sound very loud."
The Olympic torch's rocky road through Paris could potentially damage, at least temporarily, Sino-Franco relations.
"I read about the protests in the newspaper - in France," said a 25-year old man from Hebei province. "Now we Chinese think we should attack. We are very angry and excited. The fault lies with the French government and people. They are hypocrites. Now we want to boycott Carrefour. We're thinking - 'boycott us and we'll boycott you.'"
"It would be wrong for the owners of Carrefour to make money in China and hand it over to those who want an independent Tibet," the BFSU graduate student said. "Yesterday I went to the supermarket. When I got back to my dorm someone yelled 'Hey, where'd you get that stuff?' 'No, no. Not at Carrefour,' I told them."
A number of Chinese journalists and celebrities have spoken out against boycotting Carrefour, arguing that such action would only hurt the store's Chinese employees.
"At times I've felt angry, because I love my country," said another BIT student. "But those people boycotting Carrefour don't really understand what they're doing."
Of course, not all young people here have tuned into the torch relay drama.
"Protests?" inquired a 20-year old BIT student. "No way. China's foreign relations are great. I think you're mistaken."
"I may have heard something about Tibet," said a BFSU English student. "I'm not too clear on what's happened, though. I mostly read about movie stars rather than politics."
On the other hand, China's campus defenders don't stand alone.
"I was watching CCTV - the news said Tibetan separatists are trying to ruin the 2008 Olympics," recalled a 13-year old middle school student. "I saw photos in the newspaper of policeman knocking down a Tibetan protestor. Those protestors - I hate them very much. The Dalai Lama is a splittist - he doesn't want China united.
"The torch relay is supposed to help the world understand China. I'm mad but there's nothing I can do. If some Western leaders don't want to come to Beijing for the Games that's their business. If they support China they should come. If they don't come, that means they don't support China."
April 17, 2008 8:10 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
On April 12, the Olympic torch passed through Dar es Salaam on its way to Beijing. Chinese leaders applauded Tanzania's political and economic stability. Dar es Salaam's mayor promised China a peaceful, apolitical relay. Officials trimmed the route from 25km to 5km, dodging protestors who harried relay legs in London, Paris and San Francisco.
Liu Xinsheng, ambassador to Tanzania, promised the torch's stop in Dar es Salaam would "enhance mutual understanding."
Mutual understanding - wherein two parties appreciate the similarities that bind and the differences that divide - is an Olympic tagline. According to the Olympic Charter, last updated in 2004, "the goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport...in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
The 2008 Games in Beijing have thrust Chinese politics, history and culture before a global spotlight. The Olympics have likewise introduced Beijingers to foreign languages, ideas and traditions.
It's been a rocky education in the Olympic spirit lately, with advocates for and against the Dalai Lama hurling insults across the Pacific Ocean. But genuine disagreements, such as concern Tibet, further mutual understanding too.
Recent protests have exposed Beijingers to Londoners' and Parisians' ideals, insecurities and fears. Young Chinese nationalists tearing through Internet chat rooms to defend the Olympic torch have betrayed themselves to the world.
Tame exchange may enhance mutual understanding - Shenzhen's goofy 'Windows of the World' theme-park, for example. But the 2008 torch relay - by virtue of its ugliness - has inspired candid dialogue from Buenos Aires to Almaty.
"Windows of the World is popular because you've got every civilization represented here," said a young man lounging below the park's 354-foot tall Eiffel Tower. "Everyone wants to have a look. In terms of understanding the world, however, the Olympic Games are much better than Windows of the World. This place - it's not so realistic."
Windows of the World, perhaps Shenzhen's best known attraction, is an adventure in kitsch (see 'In search of China' - April 6 for more on Shenzhen, Hong Kong's sister city). The theme-park offers up more than 100 architectural miniatures, including the Louvre, the Alhambra, the Grand Canyon, Angkor Wat, Stonehenge, Notre Dame, the Matterhorn, Mount Fuji, Versailles, the White House, an Egyptian Sphinx and Mid-Town Manhattan.
Frequented by parasol-wielding Chinese tourists, Windows of the World boasts exotic restaurants, a monorail, fireworks and its own subway stop. Admission is 120 yuan.
Replicas of famous statues crown the theme-park's front gate: Siddhartha Buddha, Shiva, Michelangelo's David. Near a tiny Sydney Opera House, outdoor speakers blare tribal-infused rap. Visitors rent elaborate gowns for photos with the Taj Mahal.
Children cluster round a bronze chimpanzee - perched feet from the Sankore Mosque of Timbuktu. Every afternoon, Chinese women in lipstick and heels perform African 'folk dances.'
"Africa is our favorite exhibit," an older man walking arm-in-arm with his wife said. "Although we moved to Shenzhen just six months ago - our son works here - we've been to Windows of the World many times. We're not sure what's authentic and what's not. We've never been abroad."
Just outside the theme-park, a digital clock mounted on Grecian pillars counts down to August 8 and Beijing's Olympic Games.
"We're very proud of China for hosting the Olympics," confirmed a young woman from Sichuan province. "Beijing will represent our Chinese civilization.
"We came this afternoon to understand other countries a little better. The Games are more effective, though. This park - it's only tourism."
April 15, 2008 1:37 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
A flock of construction cranes have swung and dipped here, stirring up dust and monumental structures for seven frantic years. The Bird's Nest. The Water Cube. A new opera house. Rem Koolhaas' bagel-shaped CCTV headquarters. Asia's 23rd tallest building. Since the International Olympic Committee awarded China its first-ever Games, Beijing has recieved a dramatic face-lift.
For a comprehensive glimpse of new Beijing - sans five-hour cab ride - head southeast from Tiananmen Square on Qianmen Dongdajie ('Front Gate East Street'). The city's Urban Planning and Exhibition Center boasts a shockingly accurate, 302-square meter model Beijing.
Breezy and attractive, the center was renovated in 2005. Wings dedicated to transportation, environmental protection, water systems and energy conservation complement the mini-city - a four million yuan (US$482,000) project that took 150 workers 12 months to build).
Don't miss the nine by ten meter Beijing bronze relief on your way upstairs. Historical maps and plans reveal how the capital has grown. Admission is 30 yuan. Ten more and you'll strap on goggles for a 3-D film.
Most visitors to the center head straight for mini-Beijing - 750 times smaller than the real thing. Why is the model so fun and fascinating?
It boasts stunning detail: every office plaza and apartment tower inside the city's Third Ring Road, rendered true to style. A sliver of turf studded with graceful gymnasiums runs north into forest - 2008's Olympic Green. Raised over a blown-up satellite image, the model sprawls where Beijing sprawls, heaves where Beijing heaves.
And yet...The capital's construction sites - absent. Its slap-dab corner stores and midnight kebab stands - missing. Mini-Beijing (the work of urban planners, after all) hints at what could be. Neat, affluent and modern, it's the sort of city Olympic organizers aim for.
In fact, Beijing's urban planners and 2008 organizers are battling traffic, pollution, a water shortage and energy over-consumption. The center approaches each issue separately, emphasizing a set of values that supposedly define Olympic Beijing.
A cartoon music video, poppy and bright, applauds the city's improved commitment to healthy, safe transportation.
Every day and every year/
Traveling for school, work and pleasure/
Beijing transportation is part of our daily life/
Smooth traffic delights everyone/
Harmonized transport is the wish we all share/
Walking is relaxing/
Cycling is good for exercise/
Traveling by car is, of course, most comfortable/
Riding the bus is money-saving/
You can get anywhere on Beijing's well-executed transport network/
More roads, bus lanes/
Preserving the hutongs as our precious heritage/
And the speedy, comfortable BRT, another accomplishment/
Metro trains carry us all upwards to the ground/
Beijing is my home/
Oh, my Beijing is developing/
Harmonized transport is becoming another symbol of Beijing/
Beijing is changing every day/
For the year 2008/
Harmonized transport will be another name-card of my Beijing/
I bought a car and made more money than before/
But it was really annoying that gas prices have been rising ever since/
It's wise to take public transport on weekdays/
Saving money and the environment/
Use my private car on weekends, when I go shopping or driving/
Most important when going out is traffic safety/
Speeding, overloading, driving drunk/
A fluke coupled by improper operation might bring you your end any minute/
Beijing's green skyline is based on environmental protection/
So take care of your car's emissions, use unleaded gas and new energies/
Change your habits/
Transport is developing fast/
Running red lights and jumping fences is really bad conduct/
Jumping the queue while driving might save you a few seconds/
But it'll be really embarrassing when your kid says "Dad, bad driving!"
Posters warn against polluted water and tick off measures intended to 'green' Beijing.
According to one notice: "Clean energy will be used in a larger scale," "traffic pollution control further strengthened," "coal-based small boilers in urban areas retrofitted," "more stringent vehicle emissions standards implemented," "construction of wastewater treatment and recycling plants accelerated," "aquatic environmental management strengthened," "90 percent of urban sewage treated" and "afforestation carried out."
"During the 2008 Olympic Games," the notice promises, "the indicators of major atmospheric pollutants will meet World Health Organization guidelines."
Nearby, wall charts follow Beijing's waterways. Glass cases display efficient bulbs and clap-on lights. On the center's top floor, an Olympic exhibit includes scale models of the nearly completed National Stadium and the recently finished National Aquatic Center - nicknamed Bird's Nest and Water Cube.
"My personal opinion of the designs?" laughed a Qinghua University architecture student from Jiangsu province. "Too controversial. I'd rather not get in trouble. Today's my first as a volunteer here."
Best laid plans aside, Beijing remains a city in flux. Fittingly, the center itself is under construction. Migrant workers in yellow hard hats have thrown up a new facade.
"I've lived in Beijing a year," remarked one man, originally from Henan province. "This place we're working on? I've never been inside."
April 10, 2008 1:38 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
It's been four months since Blogging Beijing's first post, which means the 2008 Olympic Games are four months away.
Since December, snowstorms have buffeted, Tibetans protested, marathoners abandoned, Hollywooders disowned and meteorologists questioned China's Olympic push.
Since December, sponsors have milked, hurdlers glorified and Chinese politicians championed the Games.
If a city can change in just four months, Beijing has. Underground, where migrant workers scraped out new subways. High above, where unique stadia shine. Among Beijingers too. Some warmed to the Olympics - so exciting, so colorful, so important for China. Others cooled.
Beijingers, sensibly enough, went on living as well. Teaching, learning, cooking, cleaning, dancing, biking, working, eating, crying, kissing, sleeping, playing. Not for the Olympics, or China, or Communism. Rather, for the same reasons Seattlites did - family, friends, honor, confusion, jealousy, love, boredom and necessity.
They'll likely keep it up, from now until August 8. And there's nothing right or wrong with that.
A Tiananmen tourist gets behind Beijing's Olympic motto 'One World, One Dream.' (below)
Join the discussion:
Four months in, Blogging Beijing welcomes comments and suggestions.
What aspects of life in Olympic China have you found interesting thus far? What posts have you enjoyed? How has Blogging Beijing failed to deliver? Moving on, what would you like to read?
Thank you to all readers who have commented or offered suggestions already.
(Note - A long-planned post on grassroots environmental protection ahead of the 2008 Games in Beijing will appear online soon.)
April 6, 2008 4:23 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
The Olympic Games, like other forms and functions of today's globalization, involve exchange. Ideas, investments, insults, accords - flow from host to guests and guests to host. In 2008, what will or should pass between the two? And to what end?
Most Chinese expect this year's Olympics to further mutual understanding, of a non-topical sort. Lessons in history, language and culture - these are the goods China has hoped to send and receive.
On August 8, any number of pressing realities could block such an exchange: ethnic unrest in Tibet, Saharan skirmishes, acidic skies. But assuming not...even then, will the world leave Beijing 16 days later with a useful perspective on China?
"The 2008 Games can't represent all of China," a Shenzhen migrant worker said. "Our customs and lives are different down here."
Shenzhen, a subtropical metropolis minutes by light-rail north of Hong Kong, won't host an Olympic event this summer (Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao and Hong Kong will).
"You Americans should know," a 16-year old high schooler said, "that Shenzhen is a beautiful city, a modern city and China's New York for the future."
Shenzhen is legendary - a bubbling monument to post-1978 reform. Thirty years ago, when Mao Zedong's successor Deng Xiaoping named Shenzhen a Special Economic Zone (1980), it was a fishing village. One of five such zones - experiments in free-market capitalism - Shenzhen exploded.
Now home to millions of Chinese - survivors, escapees, dreamers and self-made millionaires - the city may soon join its economic strength to Hong Kong's. Shenzhen boasts the world's ninth-tallest building and a stock exchange of 540 companies and 35 million registered investors.
Unlike nearby cities, where most people speak Guandonghua (Cantonese), Mandarin Chinese is the norm in Shenzhen. That's because the city has slurped up migrants from all over China. Reportedly, 70 percent of 'Shenzheners' lack hukou (permanent residence permits). Most are less than 30 years old.
"Shenzhen is better for migrants than other Chinese cities," said the worker, who keeps a bag and umbrella shop. "It's better because we're all new. There's less discrimination here."
"Our diversity is our economic strength," explained a high school English teacher, originally from Hubei province. "Shenzhen is an miracle - to add 12 million people in just three decades. And Shenzhen is a melting pot, like the United States."
For years, a fence sealed freewheeling Shenzhen away. Inside the fence: construction workers, hypermarkets and Internet cafes. Outside: slums, sweat-shops and crime - what acclaimed American author Peter Hessler dubbed the 'Overnight City.'
Shenzhen's economy grew 28 percent a year (average) between 1980 and 2004 - powered by assembly-line exports like mouse-pads, bra-straps and phony Christmas trees.
China's first SEZ has yet to discard the hukou system - migrant communities still ring Shenzhen. But the city has outgrown its former isolation. Commuters and shoppers cross daily in droves from Hong Kong. Cars and trucks speed freely between Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
The city's developers are gobbling up Guangdong farm land and moving mountains, literally. Shenzhen is expanding so fast suburban roads hadn't reached a newly built school of 1,000 students this winter.
"Many people are worried about the Olympics and Beijing's environment," one of those students, a high-school freshman said. Roughly half of her classmates were born in Shenzhen. "We have air and water pollution too. You notice it walking outside. Just open a window. Shenzhen has many cars and factories."
Known as a manufacturing hub, Shenzhen may be switching gears. A number of domestic hi-tech firms have emerged in the city. There's Tencent, for example. More than 500 million web-surfers here use Tencent's instant messaging platform, QQ. Despite its substantial migrant worker population - nearly 6 million in 2005 - Shenzhen has become one of China's wealthiest, best-educated cities.
"Shenzhen is a developed city," a tourist from Hunan province commented admiring. "Hunan is a farm."
In fact, Shenzhen proper resembles an enormous shopping center. Think pristine white storefronts. Think double-escalators. Think Gucci. Once on Shenzhen's subway - which stops below more than one mall - it's possible to forget the city's suffocating sun.
A self-styled 'City of Joy,', Shenzhen lacks cultural-historical cache. In other words, a Shenzhener's joy has plenty to do with his or her salary.
"Shenzhen is less civilized than Beijing," said a necklace seller from Jiangsu province. "Shenzhen is a city by the sea. Shenzhen is developing too fast."
Away from the SEZ's glitziest avenues, bargain seekers and over-worked youngsters squat beneath palm trees.
"We've been in Shenzhen for three years," said the umbrella seller. "Life here is okay. There were no opportunities at home, for sure.
"On the one hand, the Olympics should benefit our economy. On the other, most people won't see a profit. The Exchange rates are falling. Our salaries are low. There's too many of us, and no job security.
"You Americans complain about poor-quality Chinese goods. But the brand-name products we make earn your companies a lot and us very little."
Back in the classroom at one of Shenzhen's newest schools, Beijing's Games solicited less jaded reactions.
"We all love the Olympics," a smooth-talking freshman said. "After the Games, more foreigners will visit Shenzhen."
"China will win gold medals this year," a demure girl announced proudly, as her friends broke into song. "We are the champions, we are the champions...of the world."
"Why are the Olympic Games important?" the girl continued. "In 2008, China will communicate with other countries, improve its reputation and stand tall before the world."
Beijing is China's Olympic face, and will host 2008's most heralded global exchange. Why?
For the same reason Beijing's Games won't encapsulate all that is 'China.' There's no Chinese city quite like it.
"Beijing is an ancient city," a wedding planner explained. "Shenzhen's only three decades old. If we hosted the Olympic Games, you'd see a different China."
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
April 3, 2008 4:23 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
As the screen flashed unsettling images, ten rows of dark-suited bureaucrats stiffened, frowned and laughed nervously.
The awards ceremony for 2007's best amateur Olympic shorts had begun (see 'Olympic films - part one' for more coverage).
Coordinated by an cultural clearinghouse in Beijing, the '3-Minute Olympic DV & Cartoon Competition' - now in its third cycle - performed an unexpected function last year. Rather than broadcast Olympism to China's masses (as intended), the contest brought academics and officials face-to-face with a new generation's hopes and fears.
Most amateur film makers here are 'reform babies' - heirs to a blossoming Chinese economy and a pressurized post-Mao society. They've been asked to 'embrace the Olympics' and promote President Hu Jintao's twin watchwords: harmony and stability.
Yet change is what China's twenty-somethings know best. Buildings rise and fall every day where they live. New lifestyles are born. Trends come and go.
They've no quarrel with Beijing's Olympic slogan 'One World, One Dream.' But their worlds continue to heave and split. Their dreams aren't fully formed. Their craft - digital video - is foreign itself, and long on potential.
The second-annual 3-Minute awards were held last November, in conjunction with an international forum on Olympic education. Some of the top films stick to conventional themes: Tang Dynasty gowns, smiling peasant children and Beijing's five Fuwa mascots - the 'Olympic Friendlies' (see 'Olympic films - part three' coming soon).
Others, however, take risky turns and avant-garde twists.
In one film, an angular skateboarder zips down computer and amplifier wires. In another, Michael Jordan takes his younger self to the rim. From interpretive dance to clay-mation and alienation, the shorts kept Beijing's Olympic educators guessing.
Ultimately, a third yearlong competition was launched and those present - young and old - cheered.
Back in January, Blogging Beijing featured two films from 2006 and one from 2007. "Dreaming," re-posted below, follows a dancer from China's past into modernity. Minzu feng - 'Nationality wind' fuses today and yesterday. And Wo zui xihuan... - 'I most like' asked elementary students a simple question.
Here are three more award-winning shorts, representing the competition's quirkier side.
In Kuafu zhuiri - 'Chasing the sun' a mythic hero flies skyward. He fails once, fails twice...and from his failure, the world as we know it is born (end omitted).
In Jinbi shilide aoyun guanjun - 'Jailhouse Olympic champion,' a baby left alone finds itself running track for China (end omitted).
In Dui zhan - 'To battle,' a uniformed high-schooler goes to war with a robot in his apartment kitchen.
In Zhu meng - 'Dreaming,' a man from times long gone wakes up in a modern hutong and discovers Olympic Beijing.
April 1, 2008 3:28 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
What are your thoughts on the Olympic Games?
Grimacing, a craggy South Asian tailor betrayed himself and his city - then resumed pacing Hong Hong's notorious Nathan Road.
"Olympics? China Travel Tours," he shot back, disappearing beneath heavy eyebrows. "My thoughts? Go away."
Hong Kong - a dense island metropolis of 7 million people, rising deep green from the surf off China's south coast - will host the 2008 Olympic equestrian events from August 9-21.
The world's nimblest horses and ablest riders should enjoy Hong Kong. They'll trot right around Beijing's crowds and pollution. What's less sure is this: will the citizens of Hong Kong enjoy Olympic equestrian?
Some Hong Kongers are frustrated. Some aren't. Most all of them recognize what co-hosting in 2008 means: the Mainland Chinese have arrived...and plan to stay. Hong Kong, formerly a British colony, passed to the People's Republic in 1997.
"We're excited for the Olympics," a middle-aged woman selling gag gifts - fake spiders and rubber hot dogs - at Stanley Market crowed. "The Games are good for us, because Hong Kong is part of China. China is the father and Hong Kong is the son."
An old man pouring over newspaper stock reports disagreed.
"I'm not so keen on the Olympic Games," he said, crossing one slender, bony leg over the other. "They've become a meddlesome political affair, not a sports competition.
"All these (Mainland) Chinese in Hong Kong are very hot about it. The city has completely changed. Hong Kongers have become a bunch of yes men - we've lost our morals. I prefer the old Hong Kong, yet China is a giant. What can we do?"
In 2005, Olympic organizers moved the equestrian contest 1250 miles from Beijing to ensure a disease-free zone for the horses. Substandard quarantine procedures and health concerns nessecitated the switch.
Hong Kong Olympic committee president Timothy Fok embraced the decision.
"Hong Kong is delighted to have this opportunity to contribute further to the Olympic Movement," Fok, a Hong Kong legislator aligned with the city's pro-Beijing wing told Xinhua. "Supporters of equestrian sport can rest assured that we will do everything we can to host them in the best possible way."
A colony for 135 years and a global financial center, Hong Kong boasts its own unqiue culture - fast-paced and cosmopolitan. Here, wedged between skyscrapers and tropical hills, British, Chinese and South Asian personalities dance.
Apprehension gripped Hong Kong a decade ago as the island prepared for its return to communist China. Declaring 'one country, two systems,' PRC leaders granted the government of Hong Kong responsibility for its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, immigration policy and delegates to international organizations (e.g. the International Olympic Committee) - at least until 2047.
Hong Kong had established strong economic ties with the Mainland already - serving as China's main source of foreign investment following that country's 1978 reforms. In 1979, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping designated Shenzhen, then a Mainland fishing village just north of Hong Kong, a Special Economic Zone. But the handover's political implications bothered Hong Kongers who valued the island's British heritage and those who advocated democracy.
Of the 25.25 million tourists who visited Hong Kong in 2007, 13.58 million were Mainland Chinese. Thousands commute from Shenzhen to Hong Kong every day. Despite expectations that Hong Kongers would gain universal suffrage by 2012, Beijing announced last December that a 400-member committee would select the city's Chief Executive Officer until 2017.
The 2008 Olympic Games - for many Mainland Chinese a source of national pride - have recieved patchy support from Hong Kongers who claim complicated identities.
"We don't know much about horse jumping," said a young Hong Kong hosteler, speaking English (most of the city's citizens speak Catonese rather than Mandarin Chinese. "We like football and horse racing. We Hong Kongers think local. The Olympics are coming and we don't really care. If you want to know more about horse jumping you can go to the Jockey Club."
Few Hong Kongers are familiar with equestrian, an extremely expensive sport. According to the Tapei Times, Hong Kong contains just 1,000 to 1,500 regular riders. Legislators, concerned about the 'lukewarm' reception the Games have recieved, earmarked US$20 million for Olympics promotion last year.
In fact, horse-racing is a wildly popular pursuit in Hong Kong - where the sport collects over 10 percent of the metropolis' annual tax revenue. Hong Kongers like horses, and like to bet. Still, a series of international horse shows at facilities in Hong Kong's New Territories were sparsely attended in 2007.
The city - working with Mainland organizers - has sponsored a number of stunts to build excitement around August's Games.
In February, Hollywood Kung Fu star Jackie Chan pulled on riding boots and a hard helmet to publicize Hong Kong's Olympic role. Last month, more than 3,000 participants, including 1,000 members of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison, planted trees for the Games.
Eighteen life-sized horse statues designed by local artists - one for each of Hong Kong's districts - rode forth on March 3 to engage a disinterested public. Also in March, 548,000 people attended Victoria Park's annual flower show. The theme this year: Beijing's Olympics.
"We're all proud of the Games," said an elderly woman tacking a 2008 Olympics poster up by Hong Kong's waterfront. Splintered fishing junks bobbed in the background. "Before we considered ourselves Hong Kongers first. That's starting to change."
On the one hand, Hong Kong is a jewel in China's crown - a brilliant, sophisticated jewel. But the city's co-hosting of the 2008 Olympics carries certain risks for an anxious government in Beijing.
Switzerland's equestiran team has announced it won't attend the Games and two bronze-medalist Canadian riders told a Toronto newspaper that Hong Kong's August heat would keep them away as well.
Protestors for an independent Tibet and/or Chinese intervention in Sudan's Darfur are planning to disrupt the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay - history's most ambitious. As the Torch winds its way to China, there's only so much Beijing's organizers can do. But here in the PRC...
A high-profile stop on the torch's domestic tour, Hong Kong is no stranger to political protest. The torch arrives on April 30.
For Hong Kong, the Olympics are becoming a balancing act. In early March, Chinese reporters and consumers blasted Adidas - the global sportswear brand - for a line of sports bags and polo shirts released in Hong Kong. The bags and shirts featured an Adidas logo...on China's national flag.
Chinese law forbids using the flag for commercial purposes - something Adidas claims it was aware of. The bags and shirts, according to the company, were marketed only in Hong Kong and not on the mainland. Hong Kongers are often stereotyped as trendy and materialistic.
"They're ready for the Olympics in Beijing - we're ready here too," a middle-aged woman said. "Head to a sports bar if you're a fan of the Games."
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
Apr 29, 08 - 11:19 AM
Liu Xiang vs. Lei Feng
Apr 27, 08 - 07:21 AM
Beijing's 'green' scene
Apr 24, 08 - 02:05 PM
Beijing 2008 Q&A: Wu Dengming
Apr 18, 08 - 03:01 AM
Protests and counter-protests
Apr 17, 08 - 08:10 AM
Windows of the world