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 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."
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