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.
May 30, 2008 3:18 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
On May 14, I accompanied six Chinese civil servants on a trip to Tianjin. We took in the sights, strolled down Gu Wenhua Jie ('Ancient Culture Street'), scarfed fish-scale salad and doughy dumplings (baozi). We also attended the 2008 Gymnastics World Cup - an Olympic preview.
"Twenty civil servants. Sixteen provinces. Eight apartments. Three hundred hours of English instruction. Four eye-opening months in Olympic Beijing."
Which does the above passage best describe?
a). Chinese television's newest reality show
b). An intensive English program sponsored by the State Council's Office of Legislative Affairs
Surprisingly, the correct answer is 'b'. For the past three years, the State Council has plucked bright young bureaucrats from China's backwaters for extra education.
The 'Middle Kingdom' is crazy for English; people value the language here, where English speakers net cushy jobs and vocab equals money.
Like it or not...English has facilitated China's post-1978 economic surge and three-decade dance with the West. Cab drivers, hoteliers and volunteers are now immersed in study. More than 500,000 overseas tourists will visit Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Nearly 200 million Chinese took formal English classes in 2005 (China made primary school English compulsory in 2001). Tack on 'English Corners,' private academies and the country's wacky English-learning magazines. By 2025, China will boast more English-speakers than the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom combined.
This February, at Beijing's behest, an unlikely group took the English plunge - provincial law-clerks determined to further or escape that most mundane of careers.
What does a Chinese civil servant dream about becoming, besides a civil servant?
a). A philosopher
b). A businessman and father
c). A central government official
d). A fashion designer
e). All of the above
You guessed it. The correct answer is 'e' - all of the above.
"When I was a little boy, I thought I'd grow up and start a business," said Ted, a 34-year old from Yunnan province. "So many things come between you and your dreams, though. So many things you don't expect."
Ted's classmates like to tease him - the former soldier, married years ago, is desperate for a son.
"I don’t want to be a civil servant my whole life," he remarked softly, smiling. "The job is monotonous."
Halfway down Gu Wenhua Jie, Ted ducked into a Taoist temple. "He's going to pray to Mazu, the sea goddess," explained Bryan, a native Tianjiner. "Ted's going to ask her for a son."
Bryan, chubby and friendly, is young for the program. In July, he'll return to Tianjin. Unwillingly.
"I've always dreamed about becoming a fashion designer," he giggled on the bullet train back to Beijing. "I wish I could move to Tokyo and make clothes for a living. I make clothes now - in my spare time. Men's clothes. Women's clothes. It's a childish dream, maybe. But it's my dream.
"Beijing is more fashionable than Tianjin. There are more people from outside China in the capital. They can wear something new. Of course, I like Tokyo fashion best. I like Tokyo's style."
Paul - short, muscular and restless - fidgeted with his cell phone a few seats away. The program's only participant based in Beijing, Paul speaks excellent English. He works for the State Council. His favorite phrase is - 'Yes, I know.'
"Yes, I know," Paul began. "As a boy, I hoped to become a philosopher. When I was in university, I discovered law."
Paul hails from Ningxia, a poor, sandy autonomous region northeast of Tibet. He spent six years in Xi'an - where China's famous Terracotta Warriors dwell - earning a master's degree.
When I dropped a coin into the mouth of a jade temple toad for good luck, he assured me "you'll acquire many shares in your future company." Paul is a fierce badminton player.
He's also what Linda, from smoggy Chongqing on the banks of the Yangtze, wishes she could be.
"I took the central government exam and passed four years ago," Linda recalled sadly. "Then I failed my interview. It was such a pity. I missed my chance to work in Beijing."
Paul examines an old-time 'Spring Festival' scene, in Tianjin.
Vivian grew up in Urumqi, the biggest city in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
How will China's Olympic gymnastic team perform this summer in Beijing?
a). Very well
d). Very poorly
e). Yayyy! China! Yayyy!
Both 'a' and 'e' are correct.
Chinese gymnasts tear up Tianjin:
Lu Shanzhen, who coaches the Chinese women, recently lamented her squad's difficult Olympic draw - Lu's gymnasts will open the 2008 Games against Romania. Judging by their performance at the FIG World Cup, however, the Chinese are ready.
Ted grinned, Bryan cheered and China dominated - out-spinning, out-vaulting, out-balancing the planet's best in Tianjin.
Bryan bounced off his seat for Chen Yibing, Tianjiner and World Champion on the still rings.
"China won't win the overall medal count in 2008," Bryan admitted. "We don't have many great runners or swimmers. The U.S.A. will win, as usual.
"The Chinese team will place second or third, though. We're good at gymnastics. Our bodies are suited for tumbling."
Outside the stadium (think Kremlin meets Kingdome) a platoon of grizzled workers spent the afternoon heaving paver-stones. Inside, sleepy ushers shuffled past dated posters of body-builders. The whole place stank of urine.
Chen Yibing, Bryan's favorite gymnast, on the still rings.
A custodian sleeps between rounds of the 2008 FIG World Cup in Tianjin.
A Chinese gymnast mid-flight - the uneven bars.
What is the relationship between China's central government and provincial governments?
e). Any of the above
Once again, 'e'. Which is to say, there's no correct answer. Even Chinese bureaucrats disagree.
"I think the role of the central government is to guide," Bryan said. "China is not a dictatorship. The local governments have some autonomy. We in the provinces can determine some things. This is something that people outside of China often don't understand."
"I don't know that," Linda chimed in. "I think the central government does have so much power. We have very little power in the provinces. We do what the central government tells us to do."
If you answered 'c' - yourre like most Americans. China is the Three Gorges Dam. China is state censorship and propaganda. China is Chairman Mao. You've read about Beijing's 1989 crackdown on student protests in Tian'anmen Square. You know what China's central government demands, what it has accomplished.
Yet many people familiar with China would call you uninformed - naive. "Heaven is high," the old Guangzhou (Canton) saying goes, "and the Emperor is far away." China is immense; Beijing can't manage the country alone. And so, half the policies the central government drafts...are ignored.
Autonomy has its advantages and disadvantages. Some people argue that loosening the reigns on local Chinese politics encourages democratic reform. Others say Beijing's admirable 'green' regulations will remain worthless until properly enforced. A stronger central government, they contend, could save China's environment from dirty politicians and corrupt factory bosses.
"I'm glad that local officials don't always listen to the central government," Bryan said. "If local officials don't protect the environment, they're making a personal mistake. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the system."
Chinese civil servants believe English is awfully important.
True or False?
"I believe English is awfully important," Bryan confirmed.
Would Bryan or Ted, or Linda or Paul - I inquired - use English much after returning to their regular jobs?
"I don't really speak, read or write English at work," Ted apologized.
So why the training? Why should China's civil servants learn English? What does the central government care?
"We must learn English," Bryan said. "How else can we communicate with people outside China? How else can we help our country develop? How else can we learn about the world? If we don't learn English, we'll never understand America."
Ted, walking past Tianjin's brand-new Olympic soccer stadium, sends a text message to his wife in Yunnan province.
May 26, 2008 3:54 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
A violent aftershock - registering magnitude 6.0 by the Richter scale - shook China Sunday, killing six people. At least 1,000 people were injured in the earthquake and more than 70,000 homes were destroyed.
Second-tier tremors have rippled through Sichuan province since May 12, when a tremendous earthquake - registering magnitude 8.0 - hit. Sunday's aftershock was the most powerful yet, hindering relief work in the city of Chengdu. The quake damaged as many as 200,000 homes in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.
Aftershocks - real and rumored - have frightened many people here, especially in rural Sichuan. The May 12 disaster left hundreds of thousands homeless and 300,000 injured. Just half of the 59,394 who needed hospital treatment had been discharged last Wednesday, according to a Chinese health ministry. China's government has issued an international appeal for tents.
On May 12, entire mountainsides shuddered loose - blocking rivers across Sichuan. Thirty-five new lakes have formed; Chinese soldiers rushed Monday to dynamite several waterways free. Thousands of people have been evacuated from the area below Tangjiashan - a 'quake lake' in Sichuan's Beichuan County.
Officials warned that Tangjiashan could flood, submerging villages and threatening 700,000 earthquake victims.
Earthquake newslinks (more newslinks below story):
When the smog descends. When the crowds press in. When the sun beats down. When the politics heat up.
When Beijing's 2008 Games become unbearable, repair to the Fragrant Hills. There you’ll rest below a breezy cypress, listen to mazhong tiles softly clack and gulp fresh air.
The Fragrant Hills - in Chinese, Xiangshan - are accessibly located an hour by public bus northwest of Beijing.
For nearly a thousand years, city-worn Beijingers have found sanctuary here. Jin Dynasty officials commissioned the park in 1186. China's Qianglong emperor - a renowned calligrapher - scattered temples, pavilions and gardens up and down its slopes.
Today, Xiangshan Park occupies 400 wooded acres. Stone-paved trails and stairs twist 1,800 feet to Xianglu ('Incense Burner') Peak. Follow one past Yanjing ('Spectacles') Lake and an 18th-century Tibetan lamasery - the sixth Panchen Lama's Beijing abode. Or stroll by Shuangqing Villa, the Communist Party of China's onetime headquarters.
Xianglu is hardly a quiet climb - tired toddlers whine, high-heeled hikers screech, elderly lushes bellow encouragement, while sweaty teenagers blast Taiwanese pop.
Dirt paths lead to abandoned outlooks and dappled groves, however. Xiangshan is worth a half-day trip. Smart visitors pack bags of fresh fruit - sold by the jin below the park's east and north gates.
Biyun Si (Azure Clouds Temple) is Xiangshan's most intriguing edifice. First constructed as a nunnery during Kublai Khan's Yuan dynasty and thrice-enlarged since, Biyun Si boasts six courtyards, stacked one by one up the mountain.
Heng and Ha, Buddhism's fearsome gate-guards, snarl ahead of Biyun Si. Inside the temple, lithesome cats explore courtyards, goldfish pools and prayer halls.
One wing has been dedicated to Dr. Sun Yat Sen (Sun Zhongshan) - the 'Father of Modern China.' Mourners carried the revolutionary, unifier and political leader to Biyun Si on March 12, 1925, the same day he died. Four years later, Sun's body was moved to a mausoleum in Nanjing.
Foreign troops - the Anglo-French Allied Forces and the Eight-Powers Allied Forces - burned and plundered the park in 1860 and 1900 respectively, diminishing Xiangshan's historical allure.
The Fragrant Hills rise, gentle and verdant, within sight of Beijing's Summer Palace. But - as a modern tourist site - Xiangshan plays second fiddle to that world-famous imperial retreat.
Which is to say: German back-packers, Japanese photographers and American sightseers haven't overrun the park yet. Admission is only 10 yuan, 5 yuan during the winter (prices may increase temporarily during the Olympic Games).
Chinese flock to Xiangshan once a year to appreciate the mountain's stunning foliage.
A Tang dynasty poet, Du Mu, once wrote of the Fragrant Hills:
Stopping in my sedan chair in the evening, I sit admiring the maples/ The frost-covered leaves are redder than the flowers of spring
Cable cars, rather than sedan chairs, ferry leaf-seekers up Xianglu Peak today. On a sunny day - summer, winter, spring or fall - the views are beautiful.
Beijing squats on a flat, dusty plain. Perched astride the Fragrant Hills, you'll measure the city's gray sprawl against shadowy mountains, puffing smokestacks and lonely factories.
Yellow winds from Inner Mongolia whip over Xianglu on their way to the sea; hold on to your camera and cap.
Beijing is so large, so dense, so full of bureaucracy, car exhaust and history - it's easy to feel swallowed-up, overwhelmed.
When the Olympics hit town this August, head for the Fragrant Hills. Atop Xianglu, smoggy Beijing swings back into focus.
More earthquake newslinks:
May 23, 2008 1:03 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
The letter below was posted to a Chinese online BBS (bulletin board system) - 'Netease' - on May 16. The photo was featured in a Chinese television special on Sichuan province's Dujiangyan Middle School, where last Monday's earthquake buried 900 students. Hundreds died.
Manchester United, one of England's most successful professional soccer teams, beat English club Chelsea to win the prestigious European Champion's League Wednesday.
To Sir Alex, players of Manchester United, and all staffs:
Congratulations on the Champions!
We are from Guangzhou, China, fans of Manchester United . 12/5/2008, when we immersed in the joy of the Champions League, a century disaster advent in China: earthquake of Wenchuan, Sichuan.
In this tragic natural disaster, we found a photo with a group of middle school students in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, who were killed by earthquake now. They are also fans of Manchester United.
Before the earthquake,they were in celebrations for Manchester United's Champion, too. And they left this photo that we will not forget in our lifetime. Children wearing Manchester United jerseys, take this pictures very happy. But now, some of these children, have died in the catastrophe.
We can not help crying.
Now we solemnly email this photo to Manchester United, to help children achieve their wishes. Hope every player courageously competition in Moscow, to win the european championship, comfort this little spirits.
Best wish for all of you!
A group of Manchester United fans
May 21, 2008 7:08 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Last Monday's destructive earthquake staggered China. For more than a week, soldiers, goods and supplies have streamed into Sichuan province - located 900 miles southwest of Beijing, near Tibet. For more than a week, gruesome photos snapped amid the rubble have streamed out.
The disaster has absorbed foreign correspondents and citizen journalists. Chinese reporters have covered the earthquake diligently, out-pacing state media censors. A number of distinct Sichuan story-lines have emerged.
The earthquake itself
When Sichuan shuddered and shook May 12 at 2:28pm - sending smaller earthquakes north to Beijing and east to Shanghai - thousands of Chinese Internet users jumped online. Within minutes, news of the earthquake was widely available. Mainstream newspapers and television stations, bloggers, instant-messagers, chat room posters and micro-blogging 'twitterati' all contributed . The tremor spooked Sichuan's capital, devastating smaller cities and towns north of Chengdu.
Early accounts from stricken Sichuan reported 'thousands dead.' As soldiers slogged past mudslides, reaching hard-hit but isolated hamlets, the number of lives claimed by the earthquake began to swell. Headlines in China and abroad wailed '10,000,' then '15,000,' '25,000,' '50,000.' The death toll will continue to increase (now closing in on 75,000). Thousands of people remain missing; hundreds of thousands have been injured.
Woeful and wonderful tales
Concerned readers and viewers from Beijing to Bellevue have shed tears over collapsed school buildings and marveled at successful rescues. On video, a girl was pulled from beneath her school - dead, still clutching a pencil. In the city of Pengzhou, relief workers extracted a 60-year old woman from a ruined temple 195 hours after the earthquake.
'Tiny bodies in a morgue, and grief in China (New York Times)
'In rubble, couple clung to eath other, and life' (New York Times)
'With China quake toll rising, an unexpected rescue' (International Herald Tribune)
Front page - Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Centerspread - Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Sons and daughters, father and mothers, friends and colleagues have yet to be accounted for; China is mourning. Already, though, reporters and researchers have begun to assess the earthquake's economic impact.
According to one European news service, direct disaster losses will tally around US$10 billion - less than those incurred when freak snowstorms hit southern China early this year. Experts expect reconstruction work to compensate for factories closed and jobs lost. The country's Ministry of Finance has allocated US$357 billion in temporary allowances to support earthquake victims.
However, the earthquake has left five million Sichuanese homeless. The disaster may affect China's labor pool, as well. Nearly 20 million people from the province work as migrant laborers elsewhere. Many will return home to help Sichuan recover.
Energy and the environment
Initially, Sichuan's giant pandas demanded loads of foreign ink. A May 12 Associated Press story assured readers that 60 pandas - interned at a Chengdu breeding center - were safe...paragraphs later reporting that fifty bodies had been pulled from the debris of a school. The province is home to 1,200 endangered pandas - 80 percent of the surviving wild population in China.
According to National Geographic, the earthquake buried 32 radiation sources - mostly materials used in hospitals and factories. Sichuan contains no commercial nuclear power plants, but does host military and nuclear weapons research facilities.
On the other hand, Sichuan's earthquake may have seriously damaged 400 dams. Additionally, 22 coal mines in western China were affected. Sichuan produced 27 percent of the country's natural gas in 2007. No Chinese province generates more hydro-electricity. More environmental analyses are surely forthcoming.
Questions and allegations
Sadness has defined China's reactions to the earthquake. This Monday, folks around the country bowed their heads for a three-minute silence. But the disaster has elicited anger as well.
Some people believe that scientists and officials knew the earthquake was coming. A contingent of parents wants to know why so many Sichuanese schools crumbled May 12. Recently, false aftershock warnings caused thousands of Chinese to needlessly flee for cover and panicked tent-seeking crowds in Chengdu.
Slow government responses have garnered harsh criticism in China before. It appears that won't be the case this time.
'Frog march sparks new China quake alarm' (Agence France-Presse)
'Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children's Deaths' (Wall Street Journal)
Pacific Northwest dispatches from Chengdu (Seattle Times)
'A tale of two disasters - China's rescue mission shames Burma' (The Independent)
'Beijing's quick response to disaster won't cover cracks of corruption' (Guardian)
Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Media set free?
China's state-controlled media has - for decades - steered clear of unfolding disasters. "In 1976, after an earthquake razed Tangshan in the northeastern province of Hebei, the death toll of 240,000 was treated as a state secret for years," Maureen Fan of the Washington Post wrote May 18. Fan, like many Western reporters and 'China-hands,' has praised domestic earthquake coverage.
"Journalists have covered the disaster with unprecedented openness and intensity, broadcasting nearly nonstop live television footage, quickly updating death tolls on the Internet and printing bold newspaper editorials calling for building industry and other reforms."
It appears that, at least temporarily, Chinese media was given free reign. Why and for how long? Theories are circulating.
'Chinese media take firm stand on openness about earthquake' (Washington Post)
'China quake critics make voices heard online' (Agence France-Presse)
'Wen Jiaobao - man of the moment' (Newsweek)
Reporting bad news in China' (US News and World Report)
'Beijing's balancing act with the press' (Variety)
Fresh news - of refugee camps and buckling dams - will continue to receive top-billing from Chinese newspapers and television programs, even as editors in other countries move on. According to www.danwei.org - an English-language website dedicated to Chinese media and advertising - Guangzhou's Information Times newspaper notified its readers May 20 that it would postpone publication of a high school entrance exam guide - in order to "fully devote itself to reporting the earthquake."
Heavy rains, landslides and aftershocks may hamper further relief efforts in Sichuan. On May 20, UNICEF announced that the earthquake put 14.5 million people at risk and toppled 6,989 schools. According to that organization, tents are the disaster area's most-needed aid item. Infectious disease among those Sichuanese displaced could become a problem.
'Aftershocks create panic in China's earthquake region' (Times of London)
UNICEF relief report - Sichuan
'China scrambles to help homeless as quake death toll climbs' (Agence France-Presse)
'China to probe builders after quake collapses' (Reuters)
The country's three official days of mourning for the victims of the May 12 earthquake have now come and gone. Students and teachers observed frequent remembrances. Work units collected untold cash donations. Online gamers and entertainment seekers were redirected to disaster relief websites. Bowling alleys closed. On Monday, an afternoon crowd clogged Tian'anmen Square for patriotic chants and communal heartache. China's newspapers ran solemn front pages - black and white. University students held candlelight vigils.
'In grave grief, China mourns quake dead' (China Daily)
'Front page of the day - black and white' (www.danwei.org)
'UW earthquake vigil' (Seattle P-I)
'Wave of unity and patriotism sweeps China' (CNN)
'A day in the quake' (McClatchy)
Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Beijing Evening News (May 21)
A disastrous Olympics?
Although no Olympic venues were damaged in the May 12 earthquake, nor Olympians injured, this is China's Olympic year. Already, some of the 2008 Games' staunchest opponents have declared a ceasefire. What two weeks ago resembled a global conflict - over human rights violations, press freedoms, Tibet and Darfur - now resembles a global discussion.
The Olympic torch will resume its journey towards Beijing from the Chinese seaport of Ningbo tomorrow, after a three-day hiatus. Bloggers and 'netizens' (online users) here urged their government and Beijing's Olympic organizers to shut down the relay.
China has endured a series of crushing hardships this year, from riots to train wrecks. Beijing's Olympics symbolize national strength and unity; in the wake of 2008's worst calamity, many Chinese people crave a successful Games now more than ever.
Others maintain that the Olympics are to blame. It's the Bird's Nest - Beijing's new National Stadium - some claim...the structure's fengshui is all wrong. Or perhaps the Fuwa - Beijing's Olympic mascots - are bad luck. There are five Fuwa. One represents Sichuan's giant panda. Chinese folk traditions link natural disasters to important political events.
'China shaken - reactions from Beijing (Seattle Times)
'China's disasters by the number' (Asia Sentinel)
'Rat causing China's tough Olympic year?' (International Herald Tribune)
'Olympic torch relay resumes' (Seattle Times)
May 19, 2008 7:22 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Today, China began to officially honor those people who perished as a result of the May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake in Sichuan province. At 2:28pm, the country observed three minutes of rememberance - seven days after the natural disaster began.
According to the Associated Press:
China stood still and sirens wailed Monday to mourn the country's tens of thousands of earthquake victims, as the search for survivors increasingly became a search for bodies. Construction workers, shopkeepers and bureaucrats across the bustling nation of 1.3 billion people paused for three minutes at 2:28 p.m. - exactly one week after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit central China. Air-raid sirens and the horns of cars and buses sounded in memory of the estimated 50,000 dead.
Millions of Beijingers paused. Workers stopped working. Students lowered their heads. Drivers parked their cars. Behind a chorus of horns and sirens, the city's birds kept on chirping.
Sympathetic Sounds (original audio) - Haidian District, Beijing
China's central television stations, CCTV1 through CCTV9, ran earthquake coverage all day. Beijing's television stations followed suit. For the most part, programming consisted of: live updates from the relief effort in Sichuan, compassionate messages from viewers, graphic rescue montages set to music, interviews with survivors and heroes, and scenes from today's three-minute observance.
Sypathizers packed Tian'anmen Square in central Beijing for a rally in solidarity with the earthquake's victims. Thousands chanted Zhongguo jiayou, Sichuan jiayou ('Go China, Go Sichuan' - lit. 'Add gas China, Add gas Sichuan').
Three Minutes to Remember (CCTV News)
An emotional Tiananmen Square (CCTV News)
A television reporter conducted interviews outside of the Bird's Nest - Beijing's new National Stadium, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games will be held. One interviewee remarked, 'In spite of the earthquake, the Olympics will succeed."
May 18, 2008 4:14 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Tomorrow (Monday) at 2:28pm, one week after a devastating series of earthquakes first shook Sichuan province, China will observe a three-minute silence. The Olympic torch relay, currently winding its way to Beijing, will be suspended for three days - out of respect for those affected by the disaster.
Interactive map of Beijing/China (including the earthquake's epicenter) - follow up on posts and get oriented:
More earthquake links:
May 15, 2008 5:46 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijing quivered. Sichuan collapsed.
A powerful earthquake - registering 7.8 by the Richter scale - struck western China's Sichuan province Monday. Nearly 20,000 people have died; at least 40,000 remain buried; thousands more are missing.
The tremor ripped through roofs, wrecked factories, splintered dams and brought buildings down. In the city of Shifang, two chemical plants crumbled, leaking liquid ammonia. In Dujiangyan city, several schools fell. Hundreds of students were killed.
High-rises swayed here in the capital, 930 miles northwest of the earthquake's epicenter - a rugged country, Wenchuan. Sichuan's rumble triggered a smaller earthquake near Beijing, registering 3.9 by the Richter scale. Few Beijingers noticed, though white-collar workers evacuated a grove of skyscrapers downtown.
But word spread quickly - via text and instant message, flitting between cell phones and cell phone towers. Television sets and radios blared. "Thousands of Chinese troops deployed west." "Premier Wen Jiaobao arrives on the scene."
Beijingers are fond of figures, obsessed with numbers. This year's Olympic Games will begin at 8:08am on August 8 - that's 8/8/08. Days after the earthquake, a grislier statistic commands the city's attention - everyone knows the death toll will continue to rise.
The earthquake has dominated newspaper headlines in Beijing, as in Seattle.
Television coverage of the relief effort in Sichuan, aboard a Beijing bus.
A series of tragedies have shaken China this year. Freak snowstorms startled Spring Festival travelers in February, damaging 602,000 houses, stranding 600,000 migrant workers, leaving hundreds dead. A month later, Tibetan protestors/rioters set fire to Lhasa.
European activists hounded China's Olympic torch relay in April. This month, 70-plus were killed in a train crash between Beijing and the Yellow Sea. Hand Foot & Mouth disease, an intestinal virus, has claimed scores of Chinese children.
People here, however, seem confident that China will emerge from the rubble to host a memorable 2008 Games.
"It is horrible," said a construction worker from Hebei province, perched on a mud-caked folding chair eating lunch. "Our work-unit has already pitched in - we've collected money for the relief effort. Fortunately, we trust our government. As for hosting the Olympics, China will succeed."
"We're all very sad," remarked a young woman from Inner Mongolia, who attends Beijing's Central University of Nationalities. "I have Sichuanese friends - none from Wenchuan. Their families are okay. China has endured many hardships in 2008. Even so, this earthquake won't affect the Olympics. We are determined."
"We're very upset," a waitress explained. "It's hard to comprehend - so many people have died."
Students at Beijing's Central University for Nationalities collect earthquake relief donations.
Photographs from and well-wishes for Sichuan's disaster zone displayed on campus at the Central University for Nationalities.
Road-blocking landslides, caused by the earthquake and subsequent downpours, have hindered relief efforts in mountainous Sichuan. Soldiers and rescue workers didn't penetrate Wenchuan until Wednesday.
Running food, medicine, tents and blankets down the county's muddy, winding roads has proven difficult. As of Thursday night (Thursday morning in Seattle), 130,000 soldiers and police, aided by 150 military helicopters had been deployed.
"I'm from Sichuan," said a man in Beijing, sitting concernedly on the curb inspecting a newspaper. "My hometown is far from the earthquake's epicenter. No one in my family was killed or hurt.
"I've just been reading," he added, nodding to his newspaper - a grief-stricken mother photographed on its front page. "It's so sad. At least China can handle this sort of disaster now - it's been 30 years since gaige kaifang (Deng Xiaoping's 'reform and opening.')
On the outskirts of Beijing, a man from Henan province leaned against an outdoor pool table.
"Sichuan has a whole lot of people. China has a whole lot people," he said. "Sichuan is like this pool table, and Wenchuan - it's just one pocket. This earthquake is a relatively small thing."
"We have a few kids from Sichuan," said an English teacher from Anhui province who works at one of Beijing's 'migrant schools' - fringe institutions that enroll children belonging to un-registered workers. "They've tried calling home...nothing."
"Yes, we left family back home," a Sichuanese migrant to Beijing said. "We've heard from them. They're alive. But they're scared. They've been sleeping outside in the rain."
A Beijing policeman from Yunnan province is worried about his former work-mate and friend.
"He's in Chengdu," the policeman said. "I've tried calling him. My calls won't go through. We've been out of touch for a while. Still, I want to know he's safe."
Students wash their hands before eating lunch at an elementary school in Beijing (no students attending the school photographed have caught Hand Foot & Mouth disease).
A poster encourages students to keep their hands, feet and mouths clean.
According to China-hand Peter Hessler, a New Yorker correspondent, many Chinese associate major earthquakes with political events. Monday's disaster is the largest here since 1976, when an earthquake in eastern China killed 240,000 people. Mao Zedong died the same year, and with him the Cultural Revolution.
This summer, Beijing will host the 2008 Olympics - China's first.
"It's a bad-luck year, a mouse year," said the English teacher (referring to the Chinese zodiac). "First, the snow. Then the violence in Tibet. Many children have died from Hand Foot & Mouth disease in Anhui."
"There's no relationship between this earthquake and the Games," an elderly man washing his hair outside answered angrily. "No relationship."
"There's been a lot of trouble in 2008," said a 40-year old migrant worker from Zhejiang province. "It's got nothing to do with the Olympics, though. That's pure superstition. Earthquakes are completely natural."
A pair of students fundraising for earthquake relief inside the Central University for Nationalities agreed.
"A natural disaster is a natural disaster - that's all," one said. "An earthquake, people don't control. The Olympics, people control."
China has scaled back its domestic torch relay, set to visit Sichuan in July. Yesterday in Ruijin, Jiangxi province, torchbearers and supporters observed a moment of silence in honor of the earthquake's victims. The International Olympic Committee has donated US$1 million to the relief effort.
"Since the earthquake, all I've done besides work is watch the news," said a teacher from the Central University for Nationalities. "There are so many people still trapped. I've donated clothes and money."
May 15, 2008 12:54 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
On Monday, a deadly earthquake - magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale - shook western China's Sichuan province apart.
As of 8am Beijing time Thursday morning (5pm Wednesday in Seattle), the earthquake's reported death toll had surpassed 15,000. Nearly 26,000 people remained buried under collapsed buildings and wreckage.
The earthquake triggered landslides that blocked roads to hard-hit areas. Rugged Sichuan is one of China's poorest and most populous regions. Heavy rain raked the province following the earthquake and tens of thousands of victims are currently homeless.
Some 2,000 Chinese soldiers are working to plug cracks in a two-year-old dam; flooding threatens downstream communities still reeling from the earthquake. In one town of 10,000 people, as few as 2,300 may have survived.
The earthquake has dominated headlines and news broadcasts in Beijing, where a minor earthquake caused no serious damage on Monday. According to Chinese spokespeople, no Olympic venues were affected.
China has scaled back its domestic torch relay, less than 100 days before Beijing's Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has donated US$1 million to the earthquake relief effort and committee president Jacque Rogge has written a letter of condolence to Chinese leaders.
China has faced one crisis after another in this, its Olympic year. Fierce snowstorms buffeted south China just before February's Spring Festival, when millions of migrant workers board trains and head for home. In March, protests/riots in Tibet stirred international concern. Last month, activists in Paris and London opposed China's Olympic torch relay, angering Chinese nationals. In early May, a train crashed between Beijing and Qingdao, a city on the Yellow Sea, killing more than 70 people. More than 40 children in China have died from HFMD (Hand Foot & and Mouth Disease), an intestinal virus, this month.
Migrant workers from Sichuan - who man construction crews everywhere in China - are struggling to reach their loved ones back home.
Journalists and bloggers are praising China's notoriously close-lipped government for the unprecedented freedom it has given local media covering the earthquake.
The Internet and 'new media' played a noteworthy role post-earthquake.
China-hand Peter Hessler of the New Yorker has suggested that many people here will draw connections between the country's bad luck and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
After speaking with Chinese friends, I'd have to agree. According to other reports, however, the disaster has released China's Olympics - at least temporarily - from international criticism.
Check back with Blogging Beijing tomorrow for earthquake reaction in Beijing.
May 13, 2008 11:14 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
A muscular knot of bright white socks and shaggy black heads surges onto the grass at Beijing's National Stadium - the Chinese Olympic soccer team. Their fans roar with patriotic delight.
When a second group of players take the pitch, confident in royal blue, the stadium grows silent. "France, %$@& you!" someone shrieks. Ten thousand voices join him.
Welcome to Liu Jingmin's worst nightmare. A year ago, Beijing's vice-mayor launched a campaign against foul language. According to Liu, boorish Beijingers pose a threat to China's Olympic image.
"Beijing ball-fans do swear a lot," observed a student from the Capital Normal University. "Some of them are fengkuang - crazy. Go to a game. You'll hear 60 percent of the people around you swearing.
"We don't swear, though. We're college students - educated. I mean, $%@*...there's been enough propaganda on the subject."
Construction workers from Henan curse. So do businessmen from Fujian, bakers from Xinjiang and bartenders from Anhui. Yet Beijing boasts an uncouth lexicon all its own: jingma ('capital cursing').
Some Beijingers consider jingma part of their heritage - an earthy way of speaking that's casual and free. Children break into jingma before they know what &%%# means.
Nonetheless, many Beijingers object to jingma; they liken it to Qing dynasty foot binding, an ugly relic of the city's dark past.
"Jingma is a problem we should address," another Capital Normal student asserted. "Jingma isn't a custom we should preserve."
"Beijingers curse all the time," said a young migrant worker from Shandong province. "You get used to it, though."
"Swearing is definitely a problem in Beijing," a Capital Normal freshman from Heilongjiang province chuckled. "*&*# this, *&*# that - it's all you hear."
A smoky, underground Beijing pool hall...and jingma stronghold.
Older interviewees shared a different account.
"Beijingers don't curse very often," declared one grizzled porter, resting his tricycle cart against a shady wall. "Jingma included - we don't use that sort of language."
"People curse on the ball-field, I suppose," an elderly chess-player said. "Fans curse in the stands. We don't curse. We're a bunch of lao tou'er ('old heads'). We don't attend ball-games."
Beijing's Olympic organizers are scrambling to ensure clear skies this August and keep 'Free Tibet' protestors at bay. But rowdy Beijingers worry them too.
Aggressive nationalism is on the rise, thanks to Olympic torch relay demonstrations in Paris and London. China, as host, stands to gain or lose an enormous amount of 'face' in 2008. Fiery fans could ruin the party.
"Taunting would be in poor taste," said a 32-year old accountant from Inner Mongolia, enjoying his lunch break. "We ought to welcome all the Olympic athletes."
"Cursing? At the Games? Impossible!" a middle-aged woman accompanied by two friends exclaimed. "That would be impolite."
"We Chinese are civilized," explained a young Beijinger, breathing hard from pick-up basketball. "There's no cause for concern.
"European soccer fans swear. That's just soccer culture. Americans swear too. At the Olympics - no. In China - no."
The right way to cheer for China's Olympians...
Jingma and the Games first made headlines in 2001, weeks before Beijing was awarded the 29th Olympiad. An article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) began:
Beijing officials fear they have an image problem. When fans are unhappy at football matches, they have a habit of chanting an obscenity. A very lewd obscenity. It is a commonly heard insult on the streets of Beijing, but when thousands of people in a stadium yell the phrase in unison, which includes a crude reference to the female anatomy, the effect is rather overbearing. The Beijing Economic Daily has warned that the curse has damaged "Beijing's reputation as a modern international city with an ancient history and culture. People from top to bottom regard it as a disgrace to the capital."
According to the SCMP report, Beijing's Office of Spiritual Civilization would launch a campaign "to clean up the fans' language and restore the city's image." The newspaper quoted Zhao Dongming, head spiritual civilizer.
"If they say our fans are barbaric and rude, this isn't good for the Olympics bid. If we don't guide the fans in the right direction, they'll become soccer hooligans."
Last March, Liu pounced on the issue.
"It's way out of line to have 30,000 people shouting and swearing en masse," said the vice-mayor.
Soon afterwards, 'Starting New Trends to Welcome the Olympics' commenced. One of the campaign's eight aims: reduce cursing.
In July, a Beijing soccer fan was detained after organizing an uncouth online campaign. According to Beijing Today, the 20-year old administered a Baidu.com forum, encouraging Beijingers to curse Guo'an FC opponents and referees.
Members teamed up at home games, calling themselves the 'Jingma League.'
"I've been using jingma since I was a little boy," the fan told Beijing Today. "For our team, it really raised their spirits."
Also in July, Beijing police announced they would punish discourteous soccer fans - days before a friendly match pitting local props Guo'an against Spain's Barcelona.
"There will be a police officer in each stand videoing the crowd during the match in order to collect evidence of fans' bad behavior," Liu said, dubbing the Barcelona bout "a drill for the Olympics."
"I watched China's soccer league final last year on TV," recalled a college administrator. "Every time the ball went out of bounds, the crowd shook and swore."
A Beijing taxi driver pled ignorance.
"I watch soccer all the time and I've never noticed," he said.
Opponent baiting is hardly a Chinese phenomenon; ask any Mariners' fan who's visited Yankee Stadium. But here in China, hooliganism is on the rise.
In 2000, a mob of soccer fans rioted over officiating in Xian, setting police cars on fire. In 2004, Beijing Hyundai fans knocked a referee in the head with a bottle. The same year, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai International players brawled.
Four years before the 2008 Olympics (to the day), soccer fans-turned-rioters poured out of Workers' Stadium in Beijing following China's 2-1 Asian Cup loss to Japan. Prior to the game, boos drowned out Japan's national anthem. Post-contest, a crowd hurled obscenities, surrounded the opposing squad's hotel and burned Japanese flags.
Last September in Hunan province, Chinese soccer fans rallied behind Germany for that country's win over Japan...and cursed the Japanese.
Many here still resent Japan's invasion and occupation of China between 1931 and 1945. President Hu Jintao recently visited Japan - the first such trip in a decade. China suspended high-level contact with Japan during the premiership of Junichiro Koizumi from 2001 to 2006.
France irked Chinese nationalists when protestors disrupted the Paris leg of China's 2008 Olympic torch relay this April.
"I’m a big ball-fan, but don't swear," said a young real estate agent trolling for home-hunters in Beijing. "If the Chinese team plays France or Japan, a few of us will turn rowdy - most of us won't. On the other hand, the Olympics have been politicized, thanks to the Dalai Lama. People are angry now. It's hard to say what could happen."
Most interviewees differentiated between Beijing's soccer crazies and the city's common folk - laobaixing.
"We care less about sports and politics, more about making money," a rail-thin fruit seller remarked. "We laobaixing don't swear. What would be the use? Swear, and afterwards you're still poor."
China's top taunters beg to differ.
"If the referees were fair, we wouldn't curse," one Beijing fan informed the SCMP. "Cursing is a way to show love," argued another. "If you aren't cursed, no one cares about you. That's a tragedy."
Wang Wen of the Beijing Soccer Fan Association doesn't think cursing will spoil the capital's Olympic image. Cursing allows fans - under pressure at work or at home - a kind of release, Wang told China Daily.
(Note: For one Beijinger's eloquent defense of jingma, click here.)
Liu's anti-cursing campaign belongs to a larger 'civilizing' movement sponsored by Beijing's government ahead of the 2008 Games. Billboards, banners and blackboards throughout the city encourage Beijingers to support the Olympics and jin wenming ('advance civilization').
For people here, jin wenming has meant resisting the impulse to spit, litter, cut in line...or curse.
"Beijing is changing," an elderly woman said. "We've been educating the laobaixing for years now - preparing for the Games."
"Cursing is common at soccer games - if you're a defender, you'll be heckled for sure," admitted a man from Hebei province. "But in general, people curse less these days. The television PSAs delivered by athletes and film stars have been effective."
Beijing's Federation of Trade Unions runs Olympic cheer classes for local firms. Beijing University has contemplated a student ban on Internet cursing.
"We win, we cheer; you win, we boo - that's not right," a sports journalist and cheer coach advised Agence France-Presse. "This is just training...They don't have to use these slogans or moves. Just as long as they behave well in front of the whole world."
"I only curse among my best friends, and when I'm fighting with my girlfriend," said the Capital Normal freshman from Heilongjiang. "When I watch sports? Yeah, I guess I do swear...a lot!
"But I'd never curse Olympians. None of us will."
May 9, 2008 7:24 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Confucius and Mencius. Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong. Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini?
Beijing's athletic, cuddly Fuwa - mascots for the 2008 Summer Games - are making Chinese history.
Since 2005, they've appeared on posters and t-shirts, backpacks and bottle-caps, hats and coins, neckties and airplanes, key-chains and sneakers. There's a Fuwa television show. A Fuwa song.
China's official Olympic ambassadors will greet half a million foreign tourists in August. Long ago, they won over Chinese children.
More importantly, the five Fuwa - a panda, a fish, the Olympic torch, a Tibetan antelope and a swallow - promise a friendlier Beijing and betray China's bid for soft power. According to Jon Brilliant, an American Fulbright researcher, the Fuwa are above all else...propaganda.
Brilliant, who has lived in Beijing and Shanghai, says official portrayals of Huanhuan - the Olympic Flame - particularly recall Mao Zedong, former Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the father of 'New China.' Historians often refer to the patriotic adulation reserved for Mao during the 1970s as a 'personality cult.'
I recently discussed the Fuwa, propaganda and Beijing's 2008 Games with Brilliant for Blogging Beijing.
What is 'propaganda'? In China? In Beijing?
Propaganda is any material used to coerce people into believing. According to Hannah Arendt, the point of propaganda is to organize people around a fantasy - not to convince them of a fantasy.
Prescriptive art boasts a long history in China, from Confucianism to Maoism. Post-Mao, the official Chinese word for 'propaganda' has been xuanchuan - also translated as 'public affairs.' Xuanchuan is a vestige of totalitarianism in form and function, but today its content is so benign and its aesthetic so corny - xuanchuan is not much of anything anymore.
In Beijing, Olympic campaigns are performing propaganda-like functions. I believe that Beijing's 'Olympic spirit' is actually nationalist spirit and that (don't laugh) Huanhuan is a reincarnation of Mao himself.
What are the Fuwa? What do they represent?
The Fuwa are 'good luck dolls' and Beijing's 2008 Olympic mascots. Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini - together their names form a sentence: 'Beijing huanying ni' ('Beijing welcomes you'). So, they're a living slogan for the Olympics.
There were earlier designs for the Fuwa that were much cooler, but official aesthetics trumped those of their designer, Han Meilin.
People, especially Chinese people, think I'm crazy to be studying the Fuwa. But they are important! They are merchandise as well as propaganda, turgid with political meaning and market strategy. They belong to a form of mass media - the collectible item - rarely used for political ends.
They remind me of Mao badges. They reveal the Communist Party's dream-image of China, a utopian cartoon for Chinese society.
Why have the Fuwa been centrally featured ahead of the 2008 Games?
The Fuwa are everywhere because, in the minds of their creators, they present a good picture of China to foreigners - an innocuous one. The Fuwa are cute. China is widely reviled abroad; it's a strategy to reinforce a nicer image of China.
What 2008 Beijing propaganda have proven most popular or successful?
The Fuwa are ubiquitous, and that's a success in one sense. But the Fuwa have also been targeted by counterfeiters, whose activities have cut the Beijing Olympic committee's profits. I think Adidas' 2008 Beijing ads have been very powerful, although I personally find them disturbing.
Why do you find Adidas' 2008 Beijing ads disturbing?
I look at them and see fascist aesthetics. While I don't think Adidas intended to do so...showing 'the many' organized around 'the one' here in China, Adidas tapped some very ugly totalitarian ideologies. The ads resemble propaganda from China's communist revolution - just as I believe the Fuwa reify Maoist iconomania.
What about the Fuwa television show and other 2008 Beijing films?
I own every Fuwa episode! The opening theme song of the show is an amazing a capella arrangement which I hum all the time. I also own an Olympic etiquette DVD set. It's literally 40 hours of a 'professor' teaching one how to behave in a civilized manner (not spitting etc.).
What is the strangest 2008 Beijing propaganda you've seen?
It's all very strange; I've seen the Fuwa made out of everything from plastic to wheat gluten. But the funniest propaganda I've seen - by far - was a competition to see who could prepare food that incorporated the five Olympic colors (red, black, blue, yellow and green). None of it looked good.
The song 'We are ready' (which debuted last August) is bizarre. It's a defensive anthem sung by an army of pop stars...yikes.
What is your favorite Chinese Olympic slogan?
The slogan for the (Shanghai 2007) Special Olympics was 'Let us celebrate love' - I've never felt so comforted by a slogan. 'Let us celebrate love'! It sounds like an invitation to a Bacchanal. But hey, it's colorful!
Lele, a cow, is the mascot for Beijing's 2008 Paralympics. Was there a Shanghai 2007 Special Olympics mascot?
'Let us celebrate love' was accompanied by a cartoon character: San Mao: the three-haired child. It was cute but sort of equated the Special Olympics with children, which was unfair. I don't think this was malicious, though.
What 2008 Beijing propaganda have proven unpopular/unsuccessful?
The campaign 'ten dos and ten don'ts' for the Olympic Games has failed to some extent. One aspect concerns intellectual property rights. There are fake Fuwa dolls everywhere. That aspect has been completely ignored.
How is Shanghai's Olympic propaganda different from Beijing's?
In Shanghai it's sloppier. You see a lot of fake Fuwa dolls, for example. In Beijing things seem more regimented and the Fuwa are used together with xuanchuan/sloganeering.
Who creates the Olympic images?
Usually one official designer has a team; they create an image. Then it is remade by official artists of much less skill, and by counterfeiters of incredible skill. Authorship has never been a central pillar of propaganda production!
What are China's leaders and Olympic organizers hoping to accomplish through 2008 Beijing propaganda?
They want to cultivate a united front - Chinese of all regions and ethnicities rallying behind the Games and the nation.
What three words best describe Beijing 2008 propaganda?
Nationalistic. Nostalgic. Plush.
(Note: Beijing's selection of five Fuwa followed an intense mascot competition. Originally, organizers planned to pick just one animal. Sichuan's giant panda, Tibet's antelope and Yunnan's golden monkey led the pack.
May 2, 2008 6:48 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
'Olympic Dream,' carefully penned and posted, was photographed in a Beijing middle school classroom where the sons and daughters of migrant workers learn.
The story celebrates Xiao Ming, a Chinese student who speaks excellent English and treats foreigners with respect. Ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing's young people have been encouraged to volunteer, study English and identify themselves as 'citizens of the world.'
Protests of China's Olympic torch relay in the West and disagreements over Tibet have challenged such lessons. Many students here feel disillusioned (see 'Protests and counter-protests' - April 18). Will Xiao Ming welcome the planet's top athletes this summer? Or will Beijing's wounded, nationalistic youngsters?
May 30, 08 - 03:18 AM
Back to school
May 26, 08 - 03:54 PM
Beijing's Fragrant Hills (& earthquake update)
May 23, 08 - 01:03 AM
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