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Blogging Beijing

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.

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July 30, 2008 4:05 AM

Beijing 2008 Q&A: Dr. Stevan Harrell

Posted by Daniel Beekman

(Note: Bus bombs killed two people and injured 14 last week in Kunming, the capital city of southwest China's Yunnan province and the site of August's International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences Conference - postponed by local officials this spring.)

On May 22, Dr. Stevan Harrell, professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, headlined a 'China Earthquake Forum' hosted by the UW Jackson School's China Studies Program.

Since the 1980s, Harrell has conducted research in Sichuan province, where China's May 12 earthquake shook down villages, killed 70,000 people and left millions homeless.

Harrell, who won't attend the 2008 Olympic games, is considered an academic authority on the Nuosu or Liangshan Yi, a Chinese ethnic minority 8 million strong. Yi people speak a Tibeto-Burman language and reside primarily in China's southwestern mountain areas.

They are related to the Qiang, a people dispersed near the May 12 earthquake's epicenter who were hit particularly hard by the disaster.

Director for the UW Worldwide Program, which conducts undergraduate exchanges in partnership with Sichuan University, Harrell has penned and edited number of books, including Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China - a regional ethnography.

From 1999-2007, Harrell served as the Burke Museum's Curator of Asian Ethnology. In 2000 he founded the Yangjuan Primary School in rural Sichuan, with the goal of advancing environmental sustainability and community development through education.

In 2005, Harrell founded the Cool Mountain Education Fund, a small NGO that awards scholarships to Yangjuan School graduates. His UW students have participated in ecological fieldwork and community service at the Yangjuan School; UW students studying at Sichuan University relayed eyewitness accounts from the earthquake via The Seattle Times in May.

UW students raised thousands of dollars for victims of the May 12 earthquake this spring. About 100 students from Sichuan University have studied in Seattle since 2002; more than 800 Chinese students and scholars are currently at the UW.

I recently interviewed Harrell about the 2008 Olympic Games, the May 12 earthquake and Chinese ethnic minorities for Blogging Beijing.

When did you begin living/researching/working in China?

I've never lived in China. I lived in Taiwan for a total of two-plus years in the late 1960s and 1970s. I first visited China in 1980 as a tour leader, and did my first actual research project in 1988 in Panzhihua, with Sichuan University and the Panzhihua Artifacts Bureau.

What have been the highlights of your career in China?

The highlights are just starting to happen; for the last 6 years I have brought together research (on community organization, ethnic relations, ecological sustainability and elementary education), teaching (of UW undergrads and graduates) and social action (founding and supporting a school) in Yangjuan and Pianshui villages, Baiwu Township, Yanyuan County, Lianghan Prefecture, Sichuan.

(Note: For more on Dr. Harrell's research in Sichuan, check out Fieldwork Connections, which he co-authored.)

Why were you - and why are you still - interested in China?

It was the first foreign culture I ever encountered, in Hong Kong in 1965. I think that if I had encountered Afghanistan or Tahiti first, that would be where my interest would lie. Once you have put in all the time learning about a culture and language, it's hard to switch; I still don't think I have made an effective switch from Han to Nuosu culture.

How were you drawn into studying minority people in southwest China?

After the Mosher affair , it was impossible for foreigners to do field research in Han areas. My student Dru Gladney had done research with Hui in various areas, and encouraged me to give minorities a try.

For readers who know little about Chinese minorities, what are three essential kernels of information?

1. There are as many minority people in China as there are people in Japan, and way more than there are in any one European country.
2. Not all Chinese minorities have active independence movements. In fact, only two of them do: Tibetans and Uighurs.
3. Minority people participate actively in incorporating themselves into the Chinese state, even when they have resentments against the state and against the Han.

What do the 2008 Games mean for China - Chinese people, Chinese government, Chinese minorities, and Chinese academics?

More than anything else, the Games are a chance to show the world that China is a grownup country. That's really about all.

How have the 2008 Olympic Games affected minority people in China?

It seems pretty clear to me that the Tibetan protestors were emboldened by the prospect of international media attention to their grievances. But it backfired on them and on Uighurs through tighter scrutiny.

It also backfired on the backfire-ers through absolutely horrible press coverage of the government crackdown. On the whole, the Tibetan autonomy cause may have been advanced a bit, and the government agreed to another round of direct talks, which like all the previous rounds will probably lead nowhere.

Most people the Games haven't affected at all.

Do you believe the 2008 Games have been organized primarily for international or for domestic consumption?

Both. They are an attempt to excite further nationalistic pride among the populace, and to show the world that China is a modern country that can pull this off.

How have organizers, academics, government, and local people tied ideas about Chinese minorities to the Olympics?

I haven't seen anything.

What is the relationship between Sichuan's minorities and the Tibet Autonomous Region's Tibetans?

There are over two million Tibetans in Sichuan - that is, people classified as Zangzu (ethnically Tibetan). Some of these are linguistically and cultural identical to those in Tibet, particularly those in Amdo, or northeastern Tibet. One of the main regional dialect groupings of Tibet - Kharms - is located mostly in Sichuan.

There are also people in various parts of Sichuan who are classified as Zangzu but speak languages only distantly related to any form of Tibetan. In addition to Sichuan, there are large numbers of Tibetans in Qinghai and Gansu, and a small number in Yunnan.

There are a lot of cultural policies, including school curriculum, that are formulated by committees covering the Tibetans from the five provinces. The TAR population is in the minority of the total Tibetan population in China.

What are relations between Han and minority people like today in the areas you know?

Nuosu people resent Han for being haughty, untrustworthy and dishonest. They also admire Han for being industrious, studious and successful. On the whole, I think resentment may be greater than it was in the past, because there is more contact.

On the other hand, because so many minority people migrate to cities and interact daily with Han, they have probably gotten to know them better. This could be good or bad.

How have the minority people you know been affected by the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan?

No effects in Liangshan. I have one friend from Mao Xian, a Qiang, and a lot of her relatives' villages were wiped out. Tibetans at Jiuzhaigou (a famously scenic national park) lost a huge amount of income because tourism stopped for several weeks; I just got an email saying they have about 400 visitors a day now versus the 12,000 or so a day they normally have during the summer.

How were or weren't the minority people of Sichuan affected by the earthquake in different ways than Han people?

The Qiang were heavily affected because the epicenter was in their area. No statistics available, but I'm guessing a lot of the earthquake's fatalities were Qiang.

In your opinion, how will the May 12 earthquake affect the 2008 Olympic Games?

Not at all. There will probably be a moment of silence or something, but that's it.

What could go wrong at the 2008 Games?

The air could be too polluted for high-level performances. The water at Qingdao could be un-sailable because of algae.

The foreign press will be extremely fed up and will try to report on this and will not be allowed to. The domestic press may feel stifled.

The government may be so tough visas that the stadiums won't be filled. The Chinese might, as the Communists did in Moscow in 1980, cheat to make sure their own athletes win.

Could minority people be involved in making or breaking the Games?

Not particularly. Nobody in China is against the Games, except for a few radicals.

In your opinion, how will these 2008 Olympics play out?

Just like any other - people in Beijing will welcome foreigners, clean up the streets and make a good impression. There will be dramatic moments in the competition itself, used for chauvinistic purposes by American, Chinese and probably Russian television, and appreciated for their intrinsic worth by more sensible countries.

Do you believe the condition of human rights in China warrants protest of the Games?

Not really. The Tibetans weren't protesting the Games in March. They were protesting curbs on religious freedom and other indignities. But I do think the Games provide a good spotlight to show what is right and wrong with China. For most Chinese people this is one of the biggest events of their lifetime. Do-gooder foreigners shouldn't deprive them of it.

What sorts of ties bind China/Sichuan/Sichuan University and the U.S./Washington/UW?

UW and Sichuan University have a lot of academic programs in common. Sichuan and Washington are 'sister provinces,' although our current state government is not very interested in this. The U.S. and China are completely interdependent; each country's economy would immediately fail without the other. This is a big reason why China does not want to invade Taiwan.

What happened to the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences Conference scheduled to be held this summer in Kunming?

I don't know, but I think someone in a fairly high position got scared after the Tibetan protests that foreign anthropologists would use the congress to demonstrate sympathy with the protestors and with the Tibetan exile cause - which almost all Europeans and a large number of Americans support. It was too risky just before the Olympics.

Why should people in Seattle care about the 2008 Olympics?

1. They should care if they want to understand why China is so prickly, why China's wounded national pride needs stroking. People in Seattle will understand by paying close attention to the Games and the way the Chinese promote them.
2. They should care if they like sports.

Why should people in Seattle care about Chinese minorities?

There's no particular reason unless they are interested in China. Minority people are a big part of China. Also, if people in Seattle are interested in Tibet, they have to understand the Tibet question in light of the situation of minorities in China. But there is no more reason for Seattleites to care about Chinese minorities than to care about Sami in Norway or First Nations in Canada.


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Comments | Category: Cultural Exchange |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 28, 2008 3:54 PM

Olympic cheers, Olympic jeers

Posted by Daniel Beekman

"Agh!" the Beijing Guo'an striker shouted, watching his shot skip wide.

"Welcome Olympics - Embrace Civilization - Reject Cursuing" the jumbo screen at Fengtai Stadium flashed.

"Stupid @*$#! Stupid @*$#!" three hundred emerald-clad groupies screamed.

So much for propaganda. Welcome to professional soccer in China.

Beijing Guo'an fans take in a soccer match at Fengtai Stadium.

A club of Guo'an supporters - the 'Capital Cursing League' - ran afoul of Olympic organizers last year.

When Beijing Guo'an met Qingdao Jonoon for an evening tilt July 6, it was the qiumi ('ball fans') who stood out.

Their heroes - perennial contenders for China's 'Super League' crown - looked sluggish at best, spraying balls off target between doubtful dives. Beijing won, 1-0, on a tall Brazilian ringer's goal.

Days from the opening ceremonies, asthmatic marathoners, prying reporters and plotting terrorists rate among Olympic organizers' most pressing concerns. Qiumi don't.

But qiumi do worry the Beijing brass. Liu Jingmin, the city's vice-mayor, launched a campaign against foul language last year. According to Liu, boorish Beijingers pose a threat to China's gracious Olympic image.

(Note: For more on the campaign, see 'Beijing's Olympic curse' on Blogging Beijing.)

Raucous Chinese crowds could undo Beijing's seven-year campaign in global public relations, officials fear.

Beijing's Fengtai Sports Center complex will host Olympic softball in August.

It's unclear whether the festival spirit of Guo'an soccer matches will carry over to the Olympics.

Organizers here have campaigned hard for proper match-time behavior, sponsoring corporate cheer trainings, promulgating an official 2008 cheer and selecting a 400-member platoon of booty-shaking Olympic cheerleaders.

Concepts like 'mutual respect' and 'international friendship' have received top billing at elementary schools across Beijing charged with implementing Olympic education.

(Note: For more on Beijing's unique brand of Olympic education, see 'We're proud of Beijing' on Blogging Beijing.)

National pride is one thing, name-calling another. Riots broke out following Team China's bitter loss to Japan in 2004. Next month, Beijing will crack down on disorder of any kind.

Chinese students held xenophobic demonstrations from Dalian to Shanghai following controversial Olympic torch relay stops in London and Paris this spring. Sino-Japanese relations remain shaky. Then there's the 2008 Olympic slogan: 'One World, One Dream.'

"There are still hard feelings between China and Japan," said Wu Peng, a university student in Beijing. "But when the Japanese arrive for the Olympics, we'll make friends with them."

Chinese supporters should dominate the 2008 Games - four years ago in Athens they propelled China's delegation to a record 32 gold medals.

How exactly they'll cheer, no one knows. Beijing's Olympic test events attracted a different sort of crowd than frequents Guo'an bouts. If the Games unfold without incident, it may be because communist party members and mannered business-people have hoarded all the tickets.

(Note: For accounts of two pre-Olympic tests events, see 'Good Luck Beijing - table tennis' and 'Good Luck Beijing - diving' on Blogging Beijing.)

Relevant links:

'Police trying to control fans'

'Beijing police out in force to limit Barcelona abuse'

'The Goal China Can't Reach'

Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:



'Beijing's Complaint-Free Protest Zones'

'Beijing manufactures its own scenery for Olympics'

'China Opens Olympic Village in Beijing'

'Leaving Beijing as the Games arrive'

'Fun may be a casualty of Beijing's effort for a perfect Olympic Games'

'LEGO Olympic Beijing'

'New Antismoking Signs Are Almost Visible Through the Haze'

'Security can be stifling for Games attendees'

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July 25, 2008 10:51 AM

Olympic ticket madness

Posted by Daniel Beekman

China's remaining 250,000 Olympics tickets went on sale at 9am Friday in Beijing. Enormous crowds turned out for the rush - sports fans and ticket-seekers grasping for a piece of Chinese history.


'Olympic ticket sale in Beijing starts stampede'

'Parents of Olympic swimmers teaming up to purchase tickets'

'The epic quest for an Olympic ticket'

Thousands camped outside the iconic new Bird's Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube (National Aquatics Center) - obscured by sweltering smog cover - overnight, determined to snag spots at the front of ticketing lines.

"Haha! Got'em!" exclaimed a middle-aged man wearing sandals and glasses Friday afternoon. "I feel great. I waited 15 hours standing for Bird's Nest tickets - 24 hours in all."

"I got'em! Bird's Nest here I come!"

Enormous crowds collected on Beijing's Olympic Green Friday - many spent Thursday night waiting in line.

Tempers flared in the midday heat, as security guards struggled to prevent stampedes.

The Bird's Nest will host the 2008 Games' opening and closing ceremonies, sandwiching track & field. The Water Cube will host swimming and diving - a popular sport in China.

Friday morning dawned hot and hazy. Some ticket-seekers sat on newly poured concrete curbs to play poker and wave breezy Chinese fans. Others surged forward in line, pressing impatiently against each other and police barricades.

"It's like we're riding on the subway," chuckled one man, face planted into another man's sweaty back.

An atmosphere of confusion hung over Beijing's Olympic Green, site of the Bird's Nest, Water Cube and other top venues. A steady trickle of exasperated Beijingers wandered past line after tangled line, searching for helpful signage in vain.

"This is the line for water polo, right?" asked a young woman twirling her parasol. "What? This is the line for equestrian? Isn't that going to be held in Hong Kong?"

Thousands of uniformed policemen and security guards swarmed the complex, charged with keeping order. But few were able to answer questions regarding ticket prices and availability.

"Bu tai qingchu," one policeman repeated over and over again, smiling through gritted teeth. "I'm not sure."

A group of security guards, pimply teenagers mostly, held hands to form a human barricade when fans in line for modern pentathlon tickets threatened to stampede.

"I've had enough," muttered one man, turning back.

"Hooray, one less person in line," remarked another ticket-seeker gleefully.

Conspicuously absent from the Olympic green Friday were Beijing's snazzy-dressed Olympic volunteers. Close to one million volunteers will work the 2008 Games. Many are university students, and have already deployed across the city.

"Yeah!" a tiny volunteer waiting to buy handball tickets snorted. "I don't know why there aren't volunteers helping here. It's bizarre."

"There are a bunch of Olympic volunteers here," explained another. "They're just not wearing their uniforms, because the ticket windows won't sell to uniformed volunteers."

By 1pm, a number of sports had sold out and Beijingers clasping precious tickets streamed toward the city's recently opened Subway Line 10. Sales will continue Saturday and Sunday.

"Mei zhunbei hao le," an older woman grumbled, glaring at the Olympic ticket booths. "Totally unprepared."

Photographers took precarious perches to document the ticket rush.

Surprising, only a few of Beijing's million Olympic volunteers were on hand.

A young security guard stares down water-polo ticket seekers.

Security guards form a human barricade.

Sitting out the Olympic heat.

Beijing's most determined Olympic fans camped out for days.

Nearby, a weapons installment - organizers are worried about terrorist attacks during the 2008 Games.

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 25, 2008 9:40 AM

T3 - Beijing's dragon-inspired airport

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijing Capital Airport's monstrous Terminal 3 opened months ago, but these next two weeks will serve as its real debut. Most of the 200,000-plus foreigners expected to attend China's first-ever Olympic Games will touch down at 'T3.'

Designed by celebrity English architect Norman Foster, the 986,000 square meter structure resembles a 'flying dragon.' It rests on smooth crimson pillars and boasts a warped, scaly golden roof.

It just got easier for Seattleites to visit T3. On June 10, Hainan Airlines launched its new nonstop service between Seattle and Beijing.

So book a flight - check out East Asia's answer to London Heathrow and New York JFK.

Or, if a quick jaunt to China sounds infeasible, scroll through Blogging Beijing's photos of T3 below.

Beijing Capital Airport - Terminal 3

'T3' at night - 50,000 workers toiled nearly four years on the world's largest airport building.

Beijing's new terminal claims 300 check-in counters, 451 elevators and a system of luggage carriers able to move 20,000 bags per hour over 60 kilometers of track, at 7 meters per second.

Beijing's new terminal hosts 64 restaurants and 84 shops. Planners say it will accomadate 50 million passengers a year by 2020.

Why construct a US$4.6 billion airport terminal? For the Olympic Games!

T3's arrivals concourse in moonlight - Beijing's air traffic is growing 20 percent each year.

Night shift at T3 for a group of Beijing university students turned 2008 Olympic volunteers.

The terminal's biggest tenants: Air China, Oneworld and Star Alliance.

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 24, 2008 6:19 AM

Beijing agrees to Olympic protest zones

Posted by Daniel Beekman

China's Olympic organizers will set up special protest zones for use during the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Liu Shaowu, security director for Beijing's organizing committee, declared Wednesday plans for protest zones in three public parks: World Park, Purple Bamboo Park and Ritan Park. None lie adjacent to Olympic venues, although all three are located near the city center.

"This will allow people to protest without disrupting the Olympics," Ni Jianping, director of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, announced. "We're giving people a platform to express their views."

Concerns that protestors and Chinese security forces could clash have swelled in recent weeks.

Human rights, press freedoms and religious-ethnic issues - particulary those involving China's Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions - remain contenious issues ahead of the 2008 Games (for more information see "International furor, domestic solidarity" and "Protests and counter-protests" on Blogging Beijing).

China's ties with oil-rich and war-torn Sudan have also come under fire.

Hoping to shield the Olympics from terrorism and dissent, organizers have brought Beijing under strict control. Subway sniffing dogs, highway checkpoints and random visa inspectations are among the security measures now in effect.

Ni and Susan Brownell, an American expert on the politics and culture of Chinese sport, urged leaders here to consider Olympic protest zones.

Supporters of the plan say organizers have taken a meaningful step, opening the city and China's government to criticism. Detractors and realists, Brownell included, contend that Beijing will use the zones to isolate and monitor disruptive activities during the Games.

"It was about placating the West. They were really concerned about social order," Brownell, an anthropologist from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told the Associated Press.

(For more perspective from Brownell, see "Beijing 2008 Q&A: Dr. Susan Brownell" on Blogging Beijing.)

Addressing reporters at a press conference, Liu revealed that groups wishing to protest would be required to apply and receive permission from local officials first. The Olympics begin in roughly two weeks.

Protest zones were adopted for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but little used.

Western press coverage of ethnic violence in Tibet this March, and demonstrations against China's global Olympic torch relay in Paris and London this April, sparked patriotic counter-demonstrations and xenophobic outrage among Chinese from Guangdong to Beijing.

Fengtai District's World Park is three miles from the Olympic softball field; Purple Bamboo Park is two bus stops south of the Beijing Institute of Technology's Olympic volleyball venue.

Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:



'Beijing to set up special Olympic protest zones'

'Three official protest zones for Olympics'

'Far From the Sporting Crowd'

Comments | Category: Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 24, 2008 4:22 AM

Beijing 2008 Q&A: Neville Mars

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Less than one month before the 2008 Olympic Games, a spate of publications have weighed in on Beijing's architectural transformation - the city's fantastic new skyline.

The New York Times, The Architectural Record, The Guardian, Spiked, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vanity Fair...the list goes on.

In 2001, after winning the right to host China's first Olympics, Beijing disappeared into a cloud of construction dust. It will emerge this August completely changed - a looming, muscular mass of concrete, steel and innovation.

From squat imperial village, to socialist stage, to global metropolis, Beijing certainly grown. Nearly 18 million people call the municipality home, a third of them migrants from China's countryside.

From the backseat of a Lincoln Town car or the window seat of an Air China jet, Beijing looks magnificent. It's 'Bird's Nest' (National Stadium) and 'Water Cube' (National Aquatics Center) will dazzle curious Olympic audiences.

So will Rem Koolhas' puzzling CCTV Center. Four impressive new subway lines snake out from inner Beijing, servicing the capital's sprawling suburbs, as do countless highways.

But according to Neville Mars, Dutch architect and chairman of the Dynamic City Foundation, Beijing's exceptional Olympic environment is synthetic, the capital itself doomed.

Hailing from the Netherlands' Delft Technical University, Mars moved to China four years ago. His foundation, Dynamic City, is an international urban research and development platform; his goal is to combat the 'build now, plan later' attitude driving Chinese development.

(Note: Check out Dynamic City's website for more information on the foundation and Mars' book The Chinese Dream.)

Mars, 32, agreed to answer a few questions for Blogging Beijing.

How did you end up in China?

I was trained as an architect in Holland, where I set up a small architecture research company, planning small projects. Then one day I came across an article online; it said that China wanted to build 400 new cities by 2020. That ambition triggered something in me.

Something had been missing for me in Holland. I wanted the chance to do really large-scale research on high-speed urbanization; rather than focus on the glitziest new buildings, I wanted to explore the direct and profound relationship between building environments and the way societies are shaping.

I started calling around for specialists who knew China - specialists in a whole range of subjects, from architecture to engineering. We built a team, raised funds for a year in Holland. When we got the green light we moved our foundation to China. That was in 2004.

How did the Dynamic City project evolve?

For four years, we basically had a big studio research space in 798 (a sprawling neo-industrial artists' commune north of Beijing). Most of the foreigners on our team have finished and moved home. Our book was published. We joined forces with firms here that do 3-D renderings and are now busy trying to construct some buildings.

Our approach is unique - we've made a huge effort to combine in-depth research with realistic proposals and designs. Most foundations/companies are either too scholarly or produce plans lacking research base. A handful of people in Asia do more wishful, utopian artistic projects. We're somewhere in between. Although we've come up with some fairly crazy schemes, we take into account what's happening on the ground in China's market and what might happen if we don't act now to modify urbanization.

Right now in China, people are too busy cashing in on this economic monster to think about what is actually desirable for the future. It's a serious problem. We're responding ad hoc to existing needs; this can't deliver sustainability. And when I say sustainability, I don't even mean 'going green. That's almost too ambitious. I only mean providing Chinese people with living environments that can suffice for more than on generation.

So, what does Dynamic City recommend?

What we're suggesting is an integrated solution that accounts for five levels of environment, five level of policy - individual, block, city, region and nation.

The 'fortification' of housing - gated communities - is a huge problem in Beijing. People always tell me that China has a long tradition of building walled cities and courtyards...5,000 years.

And that was extremely effective for a long time. But now, more than some people like to acknowledge, China must adhere to a market reality. Those building residential spaces must respond to the needs of customers. The original 'gated block' model no longer fits when individuals possess voting power by way of their wallets.

It's funny, because the Chinese market today suggests that people wanted walled communities. Perhaps for the short term, that's true. But Beijing will soon have to find how to provide quality living not just on a block-by-block basis but also at the citywide level. That means alleviating traffic, making the air breathable. If you want to achieve quality at the citywide level, you need to think of the city as a collection of buildings, rather than a bunch of isolated blocks.

Instead of building in grids, Beijing is building closed bubbles. Politically, these make sense. They are easy to manage, easy to define. But from an infrastructural standpoint, they are horrific. You have one entry and one exit. You create bottlenecks. Like in have the same amount of roads as before, just enclosed. It's so inefficient. The only people using those roads are the people on their way from Dashanzi to work, or on their way home.

In terms of planning and design, what is Beijing doing well?

I like to point out - to a Western audience - things that the Chinese are doing well - things we in Europe and the United States should consider learning from. What Beijing has always had going for it is density and a very compact center - less so since 2005.

This means that you can offer the city public transport and other services easier. In fact, Beijing is rapidly losing its density to the suburbs. But there are heartening examples. Even in the city's suburbs, the types of buildings and compounds going up are extremely dense.

Take Tiantongyuan (a high-rise development north of Beijing constructed along Subway Line 5). A neighborhood of half a million people has emerged out of nowhere, its growth facilitated by mass transportation. This is what cities should be trying to achieve everywhere. It proves we need to look at suburbanization in a different context. In the West we're scared of suburbanization because to us it means sprawl. But Tiantongyuan shows that classic sprawl can quickly rejuvenate itself into healthy city tissue.

How and why is suburbanization happening in Beijing?

The city is fragmenting...on two levels. Beijing as a whole is fragmenting at its periphery, as the suburbs grow. And central Beijing is fragmenting as well, cut up by giant highways.

Beijing has always been a purely mono-centric city, with concentric rings emanating from a dense center. Mono-centric cities are much more efficient than polycentric cities, with multiple hubs. Naturally, when a mono-centric city grows beyond 5 million people, it begins to fall apart. You can plan for that, or you can watch it happen. Beijing has watched it happen.

Instead of developing a strategy for the future, Beijing policy makers continue to wait...then make retroactive decisions. Back in 1952, planners here proposed that the city, already growing, construct suburban satellites - the idea being that your satellite communities eventually expand and fuse together.

First, 40 satellites were recommended. The government failed to act. Now suburban satellites ring Beijing haphazardly. Planners here have latched onto the 'satellite city' concept again, but only after the fact. It's too late. We call this 'post-planning.'

Who are the players in Beijing urban planning and development?

That's a good question. There's a long answer and a short answer.

The short answer is...well, I can say who should be involved - four parties: government, developers, designers and users. These four should form a closed loop. There should be full dialogue. It's not so efficient for quick decisions, but it ensures that what's built meets the city's needs.

If you were going to be crude, you might say that in China two of these four parties don't participate at all: the designers and the users. The government and developers fill all four roles, ambiguously, between them. The government is often developer and policy maker all at once. Or the government and developers are one and the same. It's one guy with two hats or two guys with one hat.

The reason why China can develop urban space so quickly is that the government can shift gears between public and private functions in a flash.

The long answer is...well, there's a long and detailed chain of command, which involves state-sponsored design institutes etc. In a way, who does and decides what is very clearly spelled out. But there is no real mechanism for working together, so you get departments and institutes vying for power and protecting their turf.

One thing I will say is that the top levels of government are really quite aware of the planning and design problems that exist in Beijing and other Chinese cities. They are aware on a sophisticated level. For instance, in our book I quote the mayor of Beijing saying that his city suffers from a disconnect between real estate development and infrastructural development. He really understands what's going on.

But China's top policy-makers have trouble forming progressive strategies to tackle these problems and have even more trouble implementing those strategies. In China, mid-level politics is really the jawbreaker. It's a bit sad but true.

And understanding is not the same as solving. Many of the urban planning policies in place today are counterproductive. For example, Beijing practices 'policy sprawl.' The term has a double meaning. First, there are so many rules and regulations it's impossible for anyone to adhere to all of them. Second, those rules and regulations, which are supposed to prevent sprawl, encourage sprawl.

How do policies in place encourage unhealthy sprawl?

China's hukou (residence) system (see "We're proud of Beijing" on Blogging Beijing) is at the heart of this problem. The country is still very divided between people who are urban citizens and people who are rural citizens. This completely contradicts reality. In reality, there is no more city vs. countryside, only a blur. The system bans people from moving to urban areas. The idea is to prevent the growth of slums around China's big cities.

In a way, the hukou system has worked. Suburban slums don't exist in China to the same extent as they do in other countries. But the secret truth is that the whole Chinese countryside is undergoing suburbanization; the whole countryside is becoming an enormous suburban slum. And this is leading to an ecological catastrophe.

Is 'Old Beijing' in danger? How and why is 'Old Beijing' disappearing?

There are a lot of contradictory forces at work in 'Old Beijing' - same as everywhere. Much of it is officially protected and there are incentives in place that encourage preservation. Some people are receiving state money to renovate buildings using traditional materials and techniques etc.

But at the same time, the edges of the hutong (see "Heart of the city" on Blogging Beijing) are still being eaten away at a dramatic rate. For someone like me, who is involved in the future of Beijing and on new urbanization, 'Old Beijing' is a sticky situation and a bit of quagmire.

So, how to deal with the old city? One surefire way to take pressure off 'Old Beijing' is to offer Beijingers a healthy new city. Unfortunately, at the moment, 'Old Beijing' remains part of the city's urban plans for the future.

The reasoning currently being applied to 'Old Beijing' is simply horrible. The planners are saying 'the old city is congested with people and cars, so what we have to do is move people out to the suburbs.'

But this has a negative effect. You're moving people, few of whom own cars and most of whom lived very efficiently together in Beijing's historic core with no transportation needs, outside the city where suddenly they begin driving cars and traveling long distances to shop, work etc.

In their place you are raising towers and laying down roads. You are decongesting 'Old Beijing' when to be efficient it should remain as densely populated as possible. The only way to fix the old city's problems without disrupting what's right is to move public administration beyond the third or fourth ring. There are 400-some government structures in 'Old Beijing' sucking in thousands of bureaucrats who drive black Audis. Of course, this will never happen.

How have the 2008 Olympic Games fit into Beiijing's urban plans?

The Games are just a mammoth example of the city's general approach to urban planning - that is, the 'stepping stone' approach. The idea is to realize a large, quality project very quickly...and then wait for the areas nearby to follow.

The reality is these projects don't really work as stepping-stones - they remain islands, unconnected to the urban fabric. The ideal scenario would be for these giant monoliths, like the Bird's Nest or Water Cube, to be part of living city tissue, embedded within real communities where people can walk past and through them.

But in Beijing, these Olympic monoliths are highway-oriented and strangely conceived. I'm in favor of infusing these structures with Chinese identity. But the idea that a round stadium (Bird's Nest) and a square swimming pool (Water Cube) fixed to Beijing's ancient north-south axis makes the 2008 Games Chinese? Please.

The axis is completely invisible if you're a user. You can't even walk along the axis. Plus, Chinese traditional philosophy emphasizes working with, not against, nature. Beijing's Olympic Green is the most egregiously exploded landscape I've ever seen. It's a desert. I like the Water Cube - it's a beautiful building. But why not impregnate it in within the real city.

The Olympic planning has been driven by fear of people congregating - to party or revolt or whatever. There's no incentive to create breathing public space. In Beijing, public space is only for pushing through more cars.

What will Beijing look like in ten years?

I think it will boast an extremely flashy center and some slightly livable areas - exceptions to the rule and pricey exceptions at that. The rest of the city will look nice as long as you're not stuck in traffic. the middle of the night.

How does Beijing's water shortage affect urban planning?

Water availability should be a big part of planning here, because you need to give people clean water. It was predicted that once Beijing reached 18 million people, it couldn't give them clean water. Beijing has reached 18 million people.

But now there are water pipelines running into Beijing from the south. Beijing is an artificial environment; the 2008 Olympics will be artificial as well. Financial and natural resources have been drained from other areas of the country. Even Beijing's air will be fake - factories which have nothing to do with the city's economy are shut down.

Planners don't need to consider Beijing's water shortage anymore. The city has already missed that opportunity. Now the people who have to worry are in the south.

Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:



'In Beijing, a cop for every five visitors'

'Beijing Olympics broadcasting center evacuated'

'Beijing cracks down on fake guns for Games security'

'Beijing hires Catholic priests for more Games masses'

'Eight fierce rivalries sure to heat up the Beijing Summer Games'

'Beijing hotels snip rates as Olympics demand falls'

'Bush wishes U.S. Olympians good luck at Beijing Olympics'

'Beijing has first workday under car restrictions'

'Beijing's Special Corrections Operation'

'The Fuwa That Were Not

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July 21, 2008 5:31 PM

Beijing's Olympian experiment

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijing's Olympian experiment went live Sunday. The city ordered private vehicles with odd-numbered license plates not to budge.

One million carbon dioxide belchers - those bearing even-numbered license plates - sat out Monday's commute.

Motorists will observe alternating restrictions through September. Only clear skies and streets on August 8th, for the 2008 Games Opening Ceremonies, will prove organizers' hypotheses correct.

Beijing contains 3.3 million private cars. The city's environmental protection administration has claimed restrictions will reduce emissions by 63 percent.

(Note: For more on Beijing's traffic woes, see 'Higher, Faster, Stronger...Commuter?' on Blogging Beijing.)

It's back to the bicycle for some car-deprived Beijingers - no fun in this heat.

Gazing north on Beijing's oft-jammed Zhongguancun Dajie Sunday morning.

Subway Line 5 riders held tight and pressed together Monday afternoon.

"Traffic today has been much better," said a Beijing taxi-driver, between grateful puffs on a cigarette. "See those clouds up there? See that blue? We're cleaning up the city for the Olympics...for you."

The odd/even numbered restrictions - in Chinese, danshuanghao - are bound to unclog Beijing's major arteries. Violators will pay a US$14 fine.

"There are fewer cars on the road today," a middle-aged man on his way to work remarked. "I'm a big supporter of this plan."

Skeptics have questioned the city's ability to serve a million more bus and subway riders each day. A new, $2.3 million subway line, which loops north and east of central Beijing, opened just in time, on July 18.

"We rode the bus to class this morning," whined one young woman, arm-in-arm with a friend. "There wasn't much traffic, but the bus was so crowded we were nearly crushed."

Beijing has also added 2,000 buses and extended hours of operation for mass transit.

"There's plenty of space on the subway right now," a tour guide who'll accompany Snickers' corporate delegation to the Games (the candy bar company is an Olympic sponsor) admitted. "Although, I'm running late. We'll see how things go tonight during rush hour."

"If the subway is packed, so what?" remarked an older woman in passing. "It's always been packed."

Subway ridership barely increased Sunday, but jumped for Monday's commute.

Three new subway lines and 2,000 additional buses will operate during the 2008 Games.

Subway Line 10 now connects Beijing's technology hub and booming business district.

All things considered, Beijingers appear to be taking the restrictions in stride.

"Usually I take the bus," said a sweaty, balding man. "Today I decided to walk."

Many here are eager to sacrifice. They're praying for a successful Olympic Games.

"This should be good for the athletes," explained a university student and Olympic volunteer. "Anyway, the subway is really convenient. Soon I'll be riding the new Olympic line."

Beijing has reserved a 264-km network of Olympic traffic lanes for use during the Games.

"I'm a teacher on vacation," a friendly woman shared. "So I've got nowhere to go. Yeah, I have a car. But if I need to, I can take taxis here and there."

Aside from this summer's Olympic athletes and V.I.P.s, for whom the experiment was designed, taxi-drivers here may benefit most. Liberated boulevards, fresh local riders and an Olympic customer base...August is shaping up nicely.

"The restrictions don't apply to taxis," a cheerful taxi-driver said Sunday. "Whoo-hoo! I don't know what tomorrow will be like. I'm not sure how long this is going to last. I've heard September 20th. So, I'm enjoying today."

Emergency and diplomatic vehicles are also exempt. According to state-sponsored media, 70 percent of government cars and trucks will comply.

Road and vehicle taxes will be waived until September.

"The restrictions are necessary," a young man shopping with his girlfriend said. "We can't have traffic as a pressure during the Games.

"In fact, I think the restrictions should stay in place after the Olympics. In terms of transportation and air quality, they really benefit Beijing's common people - the laobaixing."

Traffic newslinks:

'Olympic city cuts traffic to clean up the air'

'Beijing traffic curbs stifle trade, may ripple to U.S.'

'Beijing subway seizes up as traffic taken off road'

'Security checks rile drivers in Beijing'

Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:



'Two dead, 14 injured in Kunming bus explosions'

'Introducing the Beijing Air Quality Widget'

'No earthquake in Beijing during Olympics, predict seismic experts'

'Nowitzki books Germany's ticket to Beijing'

'Games hurdles for Beijing businesses'

'Diaoyutai State Guesthouse Faces Court Fines'

'No blacks or Mongolians for bars, or no sources for SCMP?'

'Olympic pinhead in Guangzhou'

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July 19, 2008 7:33 AM

Texts, banners and bunting

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijing has run up roadside banners for the 2008 Games, and unveiled a new fleet of double-decker public buses blanketed in Olympics-themed advertising.

A few days ago, I received three rapid-fire copies of this text message from 10086 - apparently a public service number:

"The Central Propaganda Department, the Central Civilization Office and the Foreign Propaganda Department declare July 16th the kickoff for - 'I pray for the Olympics, I add color to the Olympics, I cheer for the Olympics' - an online signature activity. Please register on the Civilization Office website to participate."

Beijingers call the city's pedestrian overpasses tianqiao - 'sky bridges.'

Chinese Internet giant and 2008 sponsor's slogan: 'Watch the Olympics, surf Sohu."

Beijing's Olympic bunting appeared a week ago.

Chinese computer firm Lenovo's 2008 Games slogan: "Together Olympics, together Lenovo."

China Mobile is another highly visible 2008 sponsor.


'Beijing 2008 Olympic Games posters available July 20'

'Fears of a 'no-fun' Olympics in Beijing'

'Five-ring circus'

'Beijing focuses on quake heroism'

''Sanhedrin' against Beijing Olympics'

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July 17, 2008 3:43 AM

Harmonious but not the same

Posted by Daniel Beekman

There's an old Confucian saying, 'he er bu tong.' Literally, it means 'harmonious but not the same.'

According to Yan Xin, a doctoral candidate in Chinese philosophy at Beijing Normal University, 'he er bu tong' could also mean 'a successful 2008 Olympic Games.'

"Confucius taught that we can all learn from one another," Yan said. "He believed in solving problems through dialogue. That's what the Olympic are all about - international dialogue. We compete, yet preserve mutual respect."

(Note: Confucius was a scholar who lived during the 5th century B.C. His conservative, moral, pragmatic lessons on life, relationships and society are basic to traditional Chinese culture.)

China's government has spent billions of yuan on its athletes, transformed Beijing and risked 'face' for these Games. Why? Ask any Beijinger or Olympic volunteer. 'So that the rest of the world may better understand our China,' they'll answer.

It's important to set goals, and Beijing's goals are crystal clear.

But how, I asked a trio of student-volunteers, will China gain the world's understanding - aside from Tang dynasty floor shows, lavish Peking Duck banquets and giant panda sightings.

"Umm," they answered.

Beijing's gorgeous Confucian Temple (Kong Miao) might be a good place to start. Located in north-central Beijing, the leafy complex has been painstakingly renovated ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

Beijing's Confucius Temple and Imperial College

Qufu, a medium-sized city in Shandong province and Confucius' birthplace, boasts China's largest and most magnificent Kong Miao. Kong was Confucius' surname; miao translates as temple. Duke Ai of the state of Lu converted the Kong family home for worship in 478 B.C.

But Confucius, who many Chinese still refer to as the country's first or greatest teacher, was a traveling man. He bounced from ancient fiefdom to fiefdom (there was no unified 'China' in the fifth century B.C.), tutoring monarchs wise and weak in the fine points of benevolent rule.

Confucian temples - usually associated with learning or scholarship - eventually sprouted in Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia. When the Mongols made Beijing their Yuan dynasty capital in the 14th century, they erected a Kong Miao as well - a version of which remains today.

For centuries, Beijing's visited the temple's sweeping Dachengdian ('Hall of Great Achievement') to offer sacrifices in the name of Confucius.

"Although Confucius did not advocate revolution," Yan explained. "He argued that an emperor is like a boat, and the people like the water. The water may support the boat, or toss it over."

These days, Yonghegong - known to foreign visitors as the 'Beijing Lama Temple' - attracts more foot traffic than Kong Miao. Yonghegong, the capital's largest Tibetan Buddhist structure, sits at the corner of Yonghegong Street and North 2nd Ring Road.

Stroll a few blocks south of Yonghegong's mighty red walls and hang a right. You'll pass under the a gilded gate onto Guozijian alley or hutong. The Kong Miao complex is enormous and clean; sage cypress trees afford some shade.

If you're into history, follow a tour group through the temple's many pavilions. If you prefer peace and quiet, arrive early and claim a wooden bench. Watch out for Chujian Bai, Kong Miao's legendary mind-reading tree. A treacherous Ming dynasty official lost his hat to its branches.

If China had saints, Confucius would be the patron saint of Chinese students and scholars. It was he who advised the land's monarchs to dispense with nepotism. Officials, Confucius asserted, ought to be selected on merit. And to determine merit...tests, tests, tests.

In 2008, 10.5 million high-schoolers sweated out the gaokao, China's university entrance examination. Millions of college graduates took the national examination for officials, our century's answer to the tests Confucius championed.

"It's a well-established fact that Chinese people do well on exams," said Zhang Xinmin, 25, who's seeking a job in Beijing. "Our whole education system is test-oriented. We're accustomed to exams."

Next door to Beijing's Confucius Temple is the Imperial College, where would-be officials tested into China’s substantial bureaucracy. Candidates completed their exams locked in small, stone cubicles designed to prevent cheating; often they wrote and revised for days.

"Confucius was the first person to teach not only emperors, but common people as well," Yan said. "That's why we revere him."

The Imperial College also played host to emperors, however. Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasty rulers worshiped Confucius there. Tradition called for each emperor to compose a work of calligraphy in honor of Kongzi.

The Qianglong emperor and Kangxi emperor left their mark, as did Guomindang (Kuomintang) leaders after 1911. Emperors delivered Confucian-themed lessons from the Imperial College annually.

After 1949 and China's communist liberation, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, Confucian values came under fire here. China's economic surge and participation in a global market economy has further opened country to competing philosophies.

One important facet of Confucianism is filial piety - respect for and devotion to one's mother and father. Some social critics now bemoan a lack of filial piety among young people. Every day, millions of rural Chinese wave their parents goodbye, then board trains for the country's booming cities.

"How is China Confucian or not Confucian today," Yan pondered. "Confucianism is still present in the structure of our government hierarchy.

"But Confucius instructed people to act morally - to do the right thing, regardless of personal loss or gain. Today many Chinese act according to personal benefit."

And the 2008 Olympic Games - if he were alive to attend Beijing's Opening Ceremonies, what might Confucius think?

"If Confucius could see these Olympics, he'd be very happy," said Yan. "Confucius always encouraged his disciples to 'welcome guests from afar.'"

Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:



'Stand-off at Beijing 'nail house''

'Int'l volunteers regard reported Beijing air pollution as misconception'

'China bans patriotic banners during Beijing Games'

'Chinese vice president stresses safety for Olympic venues outside Beijing'

'NBC And Online Olympic Ad Sales: 85 Percent Sold Out'

'Beijing Orders Pollution to Vanish'

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July 14, 2008 2:45 PM

Bracing for the Games

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Waist-deep in preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing's organizers are engaged in risk managment.

So much could go right - the Chinese have promised to deliver an unforgettable Olympis.

And so much could go wrong. Smoggy skies threaten, as do terrorists hailing from inside China and abroad. China's imprisonment of dissidents and ties with war-torn Sudan lurk just off-stage. A wide array of activists may protest in Beijing. Journalists from America and Europe are set to snoop around.

Somewhat understandably, the city has responded by stepping up security at subway stations, monitoring online forums and withholding visas. The People's Liberation Army is on high-alert.

And what about China's common folk? Deeply invested in these Olympics, they're itching to help. As one ubitquitous Beijing billboard blares, '2008 Olympic Games: I participate, I support, I am happy.'

Many Beijingers haved joined the Games' volunteer corps. According to the city's organizers, the best way for other citizens to lend a hand...know and follow the rules.

Here's a taste of pre-Olympics legal awareness promotion in Beijing.


Rule #98 - Do foreign reporters interviewing wtihin the boundaries of our country need a related government department's authorization?

Foreign reporters interviewing in China need only to obtain permission from the work unit or individual they are interviewing, and need not apply to a related government department for authorization.

"As a Chinese athlete, what special feelings do you have about participating in the Olympic Games?"

Rule #99 - May foreign reporters hire Chinese citizens to assist with interviews and work?

Foreign reporters may hire Chinese citizens through the external affairs service unit assigned to assist foreign reporters.

"I need a hand." "I am an official from the external affairs service unit assigned to assist foreign reporters. This is Ms. Xiaoli."

Rule #100 - Will the stipulations for foreign reporters in China during the period of the Olympic Games still apply after the Games conclude?

The stipulations were applied January 1, 2007 and will be abolished October 17, 2008.

"Will the stipulations still apply?"


Warning for property rental during the period of the Olympic Games

A peaceful and safe Olympic Games are as important as Taishan mountain is heavy
A peaceful and safe Olympics are everyone's responsibility

Resident friend: Hello!

The world's gaze is on Beijing for the 29th session of the Olympic Games. At the appointed time, our capital Beijing will welcome masses of foreign friends here to watch the Games and travel. In order to build a good social environment during the period of the Olympic Games, and also in order to safeguard your rights, the rights of your tenants and overall security, if you have rented property go through the registration formalities, please promptly report to your community service station and notify personnel of the rental and your tenant's situation. If you rent to a foreigner, you must supervise public security and visit your local police station to handle temporary lodging registration.

Thank you residents for your general cooperation and support. Your cooperation and support represents positive participation in the Olympic Games in the form of practical action, and also guarantees that we can perform our duty to keep the Olympic Games safe.

Office of the Beijing Transient Population and Rental Management Committee
Beijing Police Department
Beijing Construction Committee


'Beijing Briton says China deported her'

'Chinese VP stresses security, quality service in serving Beijing Olympics'

'Report: Ronaldinho will break his contract with Barcelona to go to Beijing'

'Chinese divers expected to dominate in Beijing'

'Cityscape recommendations for Beijing'

'Opening Ceremonies dress rehersal'

'Beijing Reconstructs: Photographs of Lois Conner'

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July 14, 2008 2:19 PM

Ad wars / 'Medals & Rights'

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Blogging Beijing is a research blog, not a news-aggregator. Rather than analyze the many reports generated every day in and/or about the 2008 Olympic Games, Blogging Beijing explores China's dynamic culture, landscape and people.

I include a list of 'newslinks' below each Blogging Beijing entry for readers who want to know more about the city and the Games. But once in a while, a story or work of research calls for extra attention.

This ongoing report from Danwei (a Beijing-based English language website) and this comprehensive book review for The New Republic speak to the myriad questions spectators, journalists, academics, politicians, activists and athletes are asking about next month's Olympics.

The former deals with a series of outdoor advertisements that juxtapose China's human rights violations and Olympic Games, placing violent images of abuse in sports settings. The ads were alledgedly produced for Amnesty International by the Paris-based advertising firm TWBA.

TWBA has also been credited with producing Adidas' popular and patriotic Beijing Olympics ad series. The Adidas ads feature Chinese Olympians soaring above China's blurry masses. Whether TWBA's other series has gone or will go public isn't clear. Regardless, images from the series have circulated the Internet in China and provoked some angry responses from Chinese online.

These two campaigns represent two ways of looking at China and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

(Note: For more on Adidas' Olympic ads, see 'Beijing 2008 Q&A: Jon Brilliant' on Blogging Beijing.)

The latter discusses six recently-published books on Beijing's Games and modern China: 'Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City' by Lillian M. Li, Alison J. Dray-Novey and Haili Kong, 'Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China' by Susan Brownell, 'China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges' edited by Minky Worden, 'Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Comtemporary China' by Anne-Marie Brady and 'Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China' edited by Monroe E. Price and Daniel Dayan."

(Note: For an interview with Brownell, an American anthropologist and expert on Chinese sports, see 'Beijing 2008 Q&A: Dr. Susan Brownell' on Blogging Beijing.)

Andrew J. Nathan, the reviewer (a Columbia University professor and Human Rights Watch in China board co-chair) covers a lot of ground - from the imprisonment of Chinese activists, to International Olympic Committee history, to upward mobility in China's party bureaucracy and the Chinese propaganda apparatus.

Nathan argues that, since Richard Nixon reached out to China decades ago, the People's Republic has 'modernized, 'Westernized,' 'civilized' and yet remained apart. According to Nathan, China has grown into the 2008 Olympics independently, and the world has no choice but to live with a distinctly Chinese Games.

UPDATE: This story from London's Telegraph sheds light on Amnesty's graphic ad series.

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July 11, 2008 5:01 AM

Line up, line up

Posted by Daniel Beekman

It's November 2007. You're strolling down Zhichunlu, a windy boulevard in north Beijing. A bus rattles past, blowing swirls of Gobi Desert dust your way.

And then you gasp. Up ahead, where the bus has screeched to a stop, mittened Beijingers are silently, patiently, neatly...queuing up.

In all your strolls through the city, you've never seen anything like it.

'Boarding a Beijing bus'

Flash-forward - it's July 2008. Wrinkly retirees in red baseball caps have invaded Beijing's bus stops and subway stations. They're whipping nylon flags to and fro, barking out instructions, charged with the unenviable task of maintaining curbside order and wenming ('civilization').

Back in 2002, Beijing launched a comprehensive 'civilization improvement campaign' - part of an Olympic Action Plan designed to ready the city before its 2008 Olympic Games. Among the campaign's lead initiatives: crusades against spitting, littering, smoking and...queue jumping.

Local organizers are working to ensure Beijing shows a modern face to the world this August - their pride will suffer if too much spit flies and foreign Olympic tourists are offended.

According to Xinhua, China's official news agency, Beijingers' 'civic index' jumped nearly 10 points to 73.38 in 2007. The index theoretically measures compliance with city rules involving public health, manners, etiquette at sports events and Olympic participation.

"There's been a big change," confirmed Mr. Zhang, queue guard and former factory worker. "It's due to the Olympic Games. We want traffic to flow unimpeded."

"Things really got going last year - when the government designated the 11th of every month 'line-up day' and the 22nd of every month 'offer your seat to an elderly person day.'

Beijingers' notorious distaste for queuing has horrified many an overseas visitor since the city re-opened its doors to the outside world in the late 1970s. People here favor a tooth and nail approach to everyday life - perhaps necessary in crowded Beijing.

"Yeah, there's been more queuing because of the Olympics," a young man waiting for his bus near the transportation hub Gongzhufen shared. "Before, even last year, it was really bad - dangerous. Like, if you had a child with worried he might be trampled."

Mr. Zhang is a retired factory worker and volunteer 'queue guard' in Beijing.

'Olympics welcome you - please line up to get on the bus - thank you' reads the handpainted sign.

Thirty-four new bus routes will begin service this month in Beijing. Buses running on lithium battery power will help accomodate an incredible bump in ridership (4.1 to 21.1 million per day) when the city's Games-period traffic restrictions take effect July 20.

What's it like to board a bulging Beijing bus sans-queue? You've got your 'divers' and your 'shovers.' The former cut in line - avoid if you can their ultra-chic, ultra-high heels. The latter don't like to wait - ignore their hands on the small of your back.

"There are still a lot of people in a big hurry," said a balding man, massaging his socked feet on a park bench. "Maybe on the 11th each month everyone lines up. Mostly it's closer to 30 percent. Those who don't - the other 70 percent? They're going to work! They've got stuff to do!"

Space is tight below ground as well. It's squeeze or be squeezed when rush hour hits Beijing's expanding subway system. Don't be surprised when a wall of harried commuters flood onto the train at your stop, blocking the way out.

Volunteer queue guards have brought jostling under control; the city's Olympic organizers are committed to safety. Beijing security officers and 30 sniffing dogs began subway station baggage checks June 29. X-ray machines, positioned just past the system's new ticket turnstiles, were in evidence.

"It's better than before," one subway queue guard insisted. "Now I'd say 90 percent of riders queue up - a real improvement.

"Things get complicated, however. People from different parts of the country queue differently. China is a big country. Here in the capital, Beijingers must set the example."

"The Olympic Games are closely related to wenming suzhi - quality of civilization," remarked Mr. Zhang, gazing up Beijing's 3rd Ring Road. "The Games are about China playing host. Beijingers are more civilized than people from other parts of China, because of all the xuanchuan ('propaganda')."

Beijing's subway system averages 3.4 million riders per day.

New subway lines eight and ten, along with an airport line, will open before the 2008 Games.

Less than two months before the Opening Ceremonies, Beijing is plastered with Olympic-themed posters and banners, urging citizens to mind regulations.

"The propaganda has been effective, definitely," said a vacationing college student from Shanxi province. "We line up. We pick up trash and throw it away. Five years ago, queue-jumping was a big problem. It's been our custom since the Qing dynasty, actually. These campaigns are related to cultural differences between East and West.

"Our queue guards...their intentions are good," laughed the young man, still waiting for his bus. "But China is China. There are so many people. Such customs never change as fast as we wish."

'Beijing Subway Guide'


'Beijing wants dogs off menu during Olympics'

'China shoots dead five 'holy war' militants'

'EU Parliament president to boycott Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing'

'Canadian cycling team avoiding Beijing's pollution'

'Cheerleaders prep for Beijing Games'

'Quake Revealed Deficiencies of China's Military'

'James Fallows: We are ready'

'One World, One Dream, One Bike'

'China Prepares Olympic Bible Giveaway'

'Adidas Bets Big on Beijing'

'Nightclubs to Open Up Private Rooms and Cover Up Staff'

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July 8, 2008 6:56 AM

The Green Long March

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Seven decades and four years ago, a ragged pack of Chinese idealists took flight. They trekked on foot through forests, deserts and valleys, preaching a practical, convincing backwoods gospel.

Charasmatic young leaders, including Mao Zedong, emerged. Farmers listened.

Or so the legend (Long March) goes: a weakened Red Army, an unhealthy land, a suffering people...reborn.

This month, a new generation of doers will trot across China - a 'green' army of environmentally-conscious students and volunteers. They'll preach a practical, convincing gospel: faith in the Olympic spirit and conservation.

It's the 2008 'Green Long March.'

"We want a sustainable future for China," said Frances Fremont-Smith. Fremont-Smith's NGO 'Future Generations/CHINA' partnered with Beijing Forestry University to organize the GLM project. "We're encouraging local people to set lofty goals, just like the athletes. We're passing on that Olympic 'can-do' spirit."

(Note: Future Generations/CHINA is a Hong Kong registered NGO affiliated with Future Generations, a non-profit and graduate school located in West Virgina. Since 1985, Future Generations/CHINA has conducted conservation and community-building activities in China's Tibet Autonomous Region. For more information on Future Generations/CHINA, visit

This month, Green Long Marchers will engage China's future generations.

Volunteers from Beijing Forestry University planted trees last year.

Environmental problems plague Chinese development.

The Green Long March is China's largest youth environmental movement.

Last year's inagural GLM engaged thousands of students from 43 Chinese universities, ranging across 22 provinces and 10 'eco-zones.' Consisting of 10 distinct 'routes,' China's largest youth conservation movement will cover 2008 kilometers in 2008.

In preparation for the march, Future Generations China and BFU carried our environmental education on Earth Day and Wolrd Environment Day. Volunteers will revisit villages surveyed last year to assess the impact of 2007's GLM. They'll also recognize outstanding 'green enterprises' within each community.

As part of another GLM program, the Future Generations China - BFU team will select representatives from 50 Chinese communities to participate in conservation and leadership training.

"Reporters tend to focus on what's broken...we like to focus on what's wokring," Fremont-Smith said. "We're trying to help these communities become models. Rather than crusade against offending factory bosses, we're highlighting 'green enterprises - enterprises working to reduce their own pollution."

In 2007, 10 sets of BFU backpackers trained, bused and walked between rallies, enlisting local university students along the way. Things are heating up in Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games - Future Generations has decentralized its project.

Hundreds of provincial volunteers will march this year, traversing routes like 'The Grand Canal' from Beijing south to Hangzhou, 'Northwestern Forests' from Harbin south to Shenyang, and 'National Treasures' through Chengdu in Sichuan province to Guizhou's Guiyang.

Future Generations/CHINA dispatched two staffers to Sichuan following May 12's devastating earthquake. Green Long Marchers will stomp through Sichuan as planned, but Fremont-Smith says her organization will expand its activities in the province to encompass disaster recovery and youth development.

(Note: Check out GLM's online route-map for 2008 here.)

They'll visit parks, malls, schools and retirement homes to mediate discussions, distribute fliers and solicit opinions on how environmental protection should move forward in China.

"Chinese youth have been inspired to protect the environment for years and years," Fremont-Smith said. "Now, using the Olympics as a platform, they're attracting support around the world.

"With the 2008 Games, there's been such a wealth of energy among young people here. Our idea was to borrow from the original Long March to harness th

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July 3, 2008 1:49 AM

Technical problems

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Technical problems have derailed the 'Blogging Beijing' train. Expect to see new posts here next week. For now, catch up on previous posts. Feel free to comment - start an online discussion. Suggestions are welcome. Corrections too.

Upcoming posts will cover Beijing's queue-up revolution, a Green Long March and the city's eldest Olympic fan. Meanwhile...


With China and Dalai Lama Talking, Sarkozy Says He May Attend Games'

'Fireworks, acrobats to highlight Olympics opening'

'IOC: Beijing fight to stop doping cheats will be best-ever'

'Athletes Announce Open Letter on Darfur and Olympic Truce'

'Volleyball: Short Pants and Long Faces for U.S. Men'

'McDonald's Reveals Olympics Ads, Menu; Gay Says He'll Aim for Record'

'Rights advocates risk backfire in Olympic activism'

'Mutant seaweed may sink sailing hopes at Beijing Olympics'

'McDonald's Beijing Olympic events to include reality game, kids' program'

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Recent entries

Jul 30, 08 - 04:05 AM
Beijing 2008 Q&A: Dr. Stevan Harrell

Jul 28, 08 - 03:54 PM
Olympic cheers, Olympic jeers

Jul 25, 08 - 10:51 AM
Olympic ticket madness

Jul 25, 08 - 09:40 AM
T3 - Beijing's dragon-inspired airport

Jul 24, 08 - 06:19 AM
Beijing agrees to Olympic protest zones







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