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.
August 24, 2008 2:08 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
The Olympics are nearly through, and I'm headed back to Seattle. This is my last and 100th blog entry. Feel free to browse Blogging Beijing's archives - just click on 'Daniel Beekman' above.
China's politicians, magnates and athletes hogged the Olympic spotlight in 2007 and 2008. I hope Blogging Beijing afforded common Chinese voices a measure of respect.
There's more to Beijing than the Yao Ming, Wen Jiaobao, the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, just as there's more to Seattle than Ichiro, Greg Nickels and the Space Needle.
Whether we consider China a threat, sinister and fascistic, or a partner, dynamic and strong, understand China we must. It's the world's most populous country and an economic power.
In 2001, Beijing's leaders promised a 'Humanistic, People's Olympics.' Perhaps they delivered. Perhaps not.
Regardless, let's follow their lead. Let's match their commitment. Let's exceed their good will.
As we in America and the Pacific Northwest strive to understand China, let's concentrate on the Chinese people.
Your correspondent in Beijing
Thank you to the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Institute of International Education and the United States Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs - for funding and guidance.
Thank you to the Humanistic Olympics Studies Center at Renmin University of China and Dr. Jin Yuanpu - for sponsorship.
Thank you to The Seattle Times - for space to report.
Thank you to my family and friends, Chinese and American - for love and support.
August 22, 2008 8:43 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Ai Wei Wei says these Olympic Games are a waste - of money, of passion, of goodwill.
Ai likens China's Olympic effort to a forced smile.
"I was questioning whether it's possible for a society that doesn't have democracy to excite the joys and celebrations of its people. And is it possible for such a society to win international recognition and approval when liberty and freedom of expression are lacking? There are all kinds of efforts under way that are means for stricter and tighter control. When these new security rules and restrictions are put in place, how can one smile and perform, cheer and pose?" - from NYT interview
"In the Olympics, we expect to witness new heights of effort and hope, speed and strength, that will inspire China to lift the pace of reform, to be more determined, more courageous, and more at peace with ourselves. To reach this point, China has endured disasters, suffering, humiliation, and a darkness that made people hopeless. Almost 60 years after the founding of the People's Republic, we still live under autocratic rule without universal suffrage. We do not have an open media even though freedom of expression is more valuable than life itself. Today is not the time to dwell on our problems, but neither should we accept those who tell us these games are not political." - from Guardian column
China spent $40 billion on the 2008 Games. According to Ai, the country's freedom was never for sale. Other Chinese see things differently.
"I like diving best," a young woman walking near Zhongguancun, 'China's Silicon Valley,' exclaimed. "China wins so many gold medals in diving. Actually, China will probably finish first in the gold medal count. We already have won more than 40.
"It's clear that Chinese sports have developed. We're all very proud. As Chinese sports develop, our country as a whole develops. Our economy, our culture, our living standard - these all may rise together."
Ai the artist trashed an invitation to August 8's Olympic opening ceremonies - spurning spectacle in the 80,000-seat 'Bird's Nest' he once sketched.
"I've always thought of this ceremony as a product of government bureaucracy, rather than a natural celebration and expression generated among free citizens," Ai wrote in The Guardian.
"I'll never forget watching (Chinese hurdler) Liu Xiang drop out," remarked a Beijing BBQ snack vendor. "And I'll never forget the opening ceremonies - so strong, so beautiful."
"I saw the opening ceremonies on television, at home with my family," an elderly neighborhood volunteer, pivoting to use her one good ear. "The best parts were little Lin's song, Chairman Hu (Jintao)'s speech and all the Chinese flags."
"The opening ceremonies demonstrated China's ability as host," explained a young woman out shopping. "I watched them in a bar. There were lots of Chinese, lots of foreigners. Everyone was very excited."
A young Team China fan poses for his parents on Beijing's Olympic Green.
Nini, one of five Olympic mascots, joins the Chaoyang beach volleyball cheerleaders.
"I'm in love with Michael Phelps," crowed the Zhongguancun woman, employed at an Internet company. "He's won eight gold medals - so of course many Chinese people admire him."
A western-style cafe on one Beijing college campus has screened the Olympics on a projector screen every day.
"My favorite memory from the Games has been Team China's (men's basketball) win over Germany," a waitress at the cafe said.
"My favorite? The Chinese rowers' last 1500 meters," said a waiter. China took its first-ever rowing gold in the women's quadruple sculls.
In the run-up to the 2008 Games, Beijingers spoke about China's Olympics in terms of success and failure - after an earthquake 8.0 on the Richter scale devastated China's Sichuan province May 12, even more so.
"(The earthquake) is horrible," said a Beijing construction worker in May. "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."
Months later, China sits atop the gold medal count. We've had a week of cool, clear weather in Beijing. The opening ceremonies drew oohs and aahs.
On the other hand, Muslim malcontents have mounted a series of violent attacks in China's northwest. Free Tibet activists demonstrated near Tiananmen Square and the Olympic Green. Police roughed up a British reporter. Americans were assailed on the Drum Tower.
Three days and the Games will be over. Undoubtedly, China's leaders will count them a success. Undoubtedly, China's critics won't. As for the country's people...
"Of course we've supported the Games. Of course we've been welcoming. Of course we've watched the competitions here and there," a bent old man in inch-think saucer spectacles confirmed, gesturing at his wheelchair bound friend.
"But we're hobbled. We're poor. No tickets. No Bird's Nest. We don't really know whether the Games have been successful or not, you see."
Down the block, five lao tou'er ('old heads') sat hunched round a tiny courtyard table, playing Chinese chess. A younger man tinkered with his motorcycle in the dirt nearby.
"Some of you foreigners have been courteous. Some of you haven't been courteous," one of the lao tou'er said. "Guests in Beijing but you don't understand China."
He turned back to the chess game and WHOMP slammed down a wood disk.
"Even so - yes, we've hosted a somewhat successful Olympics."
And now that the Games are nearly done, I asked finally, how do you feel?
No answer. WHOMP WHOMP. The chess game continued.
August 18, 2008 12:23 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
There wasn't even time to gasp. China's swiftest son burst off his blocks, grimaced and disappeared.
Gold medalist hurdler Liu Xiang tweaked his Achilles tendon on a false start Monday morning, then quit the 110-meter heat.
"Four years," wailed a Chinese fan, peering down from the National Stadium's nosebleed section. "Four years waiting for this, and he's out."
Beijing's Bird's Nest National Stadium
Filial, humble and dashing, Liu has dominated China's Olympic imagination since Athens 2004. In Greece, he set a world record for the 110-meter hurdles, offering hope to sprinters of Asian descent across the globe.
(Note: For more background on Liu Xiang, see 'Liu Xiang vs. Lei Feng' on Blogging Beijing.)
"I want to prove that Asians can run very fast," Liu said then.
Liu ran the 110-meter hurdles in 12. 95 seconds in 2007, but scored bigger as China's most marketable man. He endorses everything from cleats to yogurt, soda pop to automobiles.
The 25-year old has, by all accounts, handled his fame gracefully. According to coach Sun Haiping, Monday's calamity had everything to do with Liu's injury. Yet few athletes have shouldered so much pressure.
A disappointing day of track & field in Beijing
Last year, 'I wish to see Liu Xiang become Olympic champion (again)' topped respondents' Olympic wish lists in an extensive Internet survey. 'I wish to become a torchbearer for the Beijing Games,' and 'I wish to watch the opening ceremonies with friends' lagged behind.
"To see Liu win is the dream of my entire family," one fan told the Beijing News last year. "We are confident that Liu will lead the pack and make our long wait worthwhile."
"He's our hero and China's pride," a retired schoolteacher lectured me this spring. "We Chinese all love him. We tell our kids - look at Liu Xiang. Work hard to improve your body. Do your best. Practice. Don't worry what other people say.
"Liu Xiang is a good boy. When he's not running, he helps people. He's our heart."
Back at the Bird's Nest - which seats 80,000 - silence greeted Liu's heat. For a flash, there he was on the stadium's big-screen - crumpled into a locker-room chair.
"Disappointing," a middle-aged woman remarked somberly. "So disappointing."
Another quarter-hour of women's hammer throw remained. The Bird's Nest emptied in five minutes.
"Oh no! Oh no!" whispered a young man, wrapping up a Chinese flag and shaking his head.
A paralyzing down day for China - so it seemed as Liu's faithful thousands poured onto the Olympic Green.
Only it wasn't.
Beijing's smoggy skies parted. Intense sunrays sailed in. And west of the Bird's Nest, a super-fun water fountain thrilled bunches of sopping-wet Chinese children.
One little boy clutched an umbrella, shrieking. Another slip-slid past delightedly - leaving a shoe. Two small girls held hands to splash around.
No winners. No losers. A wonderful up day for China. If only Liu Xiang could have seen it.
Water fountain fun on Beijing's Olympic Green
August 17, 2008 4:04 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Michael Phelps has swum. Yao Ming has jammed. Gold medal fever has gripped Beijing.
On the sixth floor of his modest brick building, in the living room of his modest apartment, Ha Yiqi picks a gorgeous dragonfly kite off the wall and flashes his modest smile.
Beijing's greatest kite maker will watch these Olympics on television at home with his family - "No tickets, no problem," chuckled Ha. "I'm just an artist."
But Ha, like China's veiny gymnasts, belongs to the 2008 Games. For seven years he's championed a truly Olympic cause - bringing Chinese culture to the world.
"You foreigners - visiting Beijing for the Olympics - have your own skyscrapers and bullet trains," Ha remarked. "What don't you have? Two thousand years of Chinese kite culture."
A fourth-generation kite-maker, Ha demonstrated his craft before the globe's best athletes August 1-7 at the 2008 Olympic Village. Other Chinese folk artists - singers, dancers and shadow puppeteers - performed beside him.
"The athletes were so civilized," said Ha. "They watched quietly, listened and asked intelligent questions. They were interested - they'd never seen art like ours before."
The first athlete to approach Ha was a friendly man from the tiny West African river nation Togo.
"I gave him a small kite - a present," Ha recalled. "He was very grateful."
Russian tread-marks lead into Georgia and Beijing's protest pens remain empty, but according to Ha, the Olympic Village felt blessedly free of political tension.
"I enjoyed the atmosphere - when the athletes arrived it became hot (as in cool)," said Ha. "Over 200 nations. So many languages. So many faces.
"We met famous Chinese athletes, German gymnasts and a French badminton champion. We met people from 50 different nations one day. We talked a lot, and treated all the athletes the same - the athletes from China and the athletes from Togo."
Ha Yiqi is a fourth-generation Beijing kite maker and Olympic fan.
Ha devoted himself to the Games following Beijing's successful bid in 2001, working on government-sponsored xuanchuan (advertising or propaganda) campaigns. He'll keep on kites when the races are run; these Olympics have boosted cultural pride domestically, awareness abroad and furthered heritage protection.
"The 2008 Games have provided everyone with a chance to think about China," said Dr. Kristin Congdon, professor of film and philosophy at the University of Central Florida. "The Chinese government wants the world to understand who the Chinese people are. That story can best be told through Chinese traditions and folk art."
Congdon leads ChinaVine, an educational alliance designed to teach English-speakers about traditional Chinese culture. She and her students have documented Ha's craft, and that of fellow folk artists in Beijing and Shandong province for ChinaVine's website.
"Because I have made so many friends in China, I was happy that the opening ceremonies were so successful," said Congdon, who's seen Beijing three years in a row. "I think the show honored Chinese traditions beautifully. They were an artistic statement beyond my wildest imagination."
ChinaVine, a partnership between UCF, the University of Oregon and the Shandong University of Art and Design, is part of the cultural renaissance these Olympics have sparked. Of course, Olympic organizers here planned the Games for China's future, not its past.
"Many of Beijing's new buildings are world-class and I applaud the way so many people are being lifted out of poverty there," Congdon said. "At the same time, I mourn the loss of the city's traditional life. Folk art and folklore change with time and place, but Beijing is developing so fast, its folk art and folklore may not have time to adapt."
Ha, 54, is more optimistic.
"Beijingers' attitudes have changed since I was little - changed for the better," he said. "Back then the status of folk art was very low. Now searching through our history for meaning, for identity.
"People appreciate our craft more today. Just as our society has developed economically, it will develop artistically."
Born in Beijing to a professional kite maker, Ha grew up painting. He didn't try kite making until the age of 10.
"My first kite was simple. My father helped me," said Ha, opening a washed-out kite book. "I still remember - a double fly kite."
When Ha was 20, a friend and fellow factory worker asked him for a special kite. So it began.
"At first it was fun," said Ha. "Nothing more, nothing less. But I did a good job. And the more kites I made, the more I grew to love kite making."
Ha's great-grandfather was a kite maker. So was his grandfather. In those days, kite makers in Beijing depended on rich patrons for business. The Ha family ran a small restaurant as well.
"Our kite shop opened during the Qing dynasty," said Ha. "In China, Beijing kites are number one. Quality and exquisiteness, that's what Beijing's lords demanded.
"Kite making is unlike other arts. It requires a combination of imagination and skill, physics and aesthetics. If your kite looks great but doesn't fly..."
In 1970 Ha founded the Beijing Kite Art Company. He's determined to keep his family's craft alive.
"Chinese people have flown kites for quite some time. In the beginning, kites were used only for war. Now everyone can fly."
Ha and other Chinese folk artists' patience and passion have inspired ChinaVine participants.
"(Ha) is more a 'kite scholar' than a 'kite maker'" gushed Myra Tam, 27, a Chinese national from Hong Kong and University of Oregon graduate student. "He respects his family's business - his respect reflects the core tenets of Chinese culture."
"From a westerner's perspective, what really strikes me as special about Chinese folk art is the generations and generations of tradition," said Blair Remington, 20, a UCF undergrad who traveled to China this May as a ChinaVine photographer.
"The styles change to fit popular taste, but the techniques and processes stay the same. In America, if you make the same cookies for Christmas every year, it's a tradition. In China, it's only a tradition if your great-grandfather did it. I wish we had the same respect for history that the Chinese do."
ChinaVine participant Erika Rydell filmed Chinese folk art this March.
When you think 'Olympics,' you might not think 'folk art,' but every modern Games has paid homage to its host city's culture. Barcelona's Catalan, Cubist sheep dog, Nagano's snow monkeys, Atlanta's...Coca-Cola dispensers.
Most people here see these Games as a showcase for Chinese history and culture. Ha, though, believes in a deeper connection between sport and art.
"There's a powerful link between the two," the kite-maker declared. "Sport is art. You hear athletes saying things like 'our gymnastic art,' 'our diving art.' What they're saying is true.
"How do I know? I've watched American basketball players - the Dream Team. Their movements are very artistic, very beautiful."
Asked what he thought of Beijing's Olympic Village, Ha smiled, then described the compound's sprawling tennis and basketball courts, it's streams and trees.
"We artists have worked so hard," Ha said. "Performing for the athletes, even letting them try...it was wonderful.
"They have banks inside the Olympic Village. They have Internet, restaurants and dry cleaners. We wanted to offer them something too - a tranquil, civilized space to appreciate art. I know they appreciated it."
Ha paints and tinkers with kites for art's sake. For tradition's sake. Mostly.
"For the Olympics we made a kite out of 205 different nations' flags," Ha said. "It stretched 103 meters, took seven of us 25 days. It looked so pretty, so harmonious up high. No animosity - everyone's flag in the same sky."
August 17, 2008 4:02 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
(Note: No attempt was made to contact the state-owned company referred to below, in accordance with the principal interviewees' wishes. This Blogging Beijing entry, therefore, speaks to one family's experience only. It does not constitute a full investigation. The principal interviewees also asked that their names be withheld. Ayi is the Chinese word for 'aunt.')
Her first day in court, Ayi heard someone say, "What a troublemaker! Does she want to ruin the Olympic Games?"
Months later, the native Beijinger hoisted an enormous Chinese flag above her splintered door.
"I put the flag there to make my heart less worried," she explained. "Seeing it helps me keep faith. I trust my country - I trust what's right.
"I don't want to make a fuss and spoil the Olympics. But I have no choice. That's what the flag means to me."
When it comes to property, modern Chinese law is all a muddle. Ayi is wading through the mud...waist deep.
Others have dubbed her a crusading dingzihu ('nail-house' fighter). A dingzihu can't be bought. A dingzihu hangs on to his or her property, whatever the consequences.
All Chinese land belongs, officially, to the state.
"We don't have private property in China," explained Matthew Gao, Secretary General of the Beijing Planner's Society. "The state wields a lot of power. When these disputes go to court, the common people usually lose."
In booming China, where hard-hat crews raze land faster than Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang flies 110 meters, dingzihu evoke a combination of pity, admiration and impatience.
Beijing boasted between 3,000 and 6,000 hutong - narrow, twisting alleys - in 1949. Less than 1,000 remain today.
"We're trying to preserve the city,' observed Gao. "But we can't preserve it all. Beijing is too big. Most of it will be torn down."
According to the government, some 500,000 Beijingers have relocated from the city's center since 1990. The Geneva-based Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions estimates 1.5 million - 165,000 per year since Beijing won the right to host the Olympic Games.
"I never intended to become a dingzihu," Ayi said.
"I put the flag there to keep my heart less worried," explained Ayi, an unwilling dingzihu.
Ayis's tiny courtyard - no heat, no water all winter.
The house in question, a crumbling, one-story jumble of wood and brick, fell July 15 - nearly after Ayi's battle began. Where it stood, workers are laying down a new road.
Ayi never owned the house. She and her husband were long-time renters. Nevertheless, she balked when their proprietor, a state-owned Chinese company, ordered them out last year.
"We were told a unit security guards would live in our home," Ayi said. "That's all. No notice. No paperwork. Nothing."
The company offered Ayi, her husband a son another place, outside Beijing's 3rd Ring Road. She refused.
"It was an inconvenient, dangerous building," said Ayi. "Plus, the apartment was tiny."
In November, a construction crew visited the neighborhood. After a day of digging, Ayi realized they'd cut her pipes - the house had no water or heat. All winter, she trudged five blocks to wash.
"Ten or twenty security guards settled in," Ayi said. "They sat around yelling and spitting. My son couldn't sleep.
"I asked a boss of the company how he could treat a child this way. I asked him - 'if it were your kid, what would you do.' 'My son is grown and abroad,' he answered. Pah!"
One chilly December day, Ayi remembers watching TV. Suddenly, her house began to shake. The demolition of Ayi's block had commenced.
"My husband ran outside with a knife and made them stop - they ran away," she said.
Ayi and her family received threatening, anonymous phone calls.
In January, the company took Ayi to court, claiming unpaid rent. Ayi explained she'd never paid on a month-to-month basis before.
The court advised she leave and requested that Ayi's suitor find the family another house. Again, Ayi demanded more.
Most of Ayi's neighbors - employees of the landowning company - vacated their condemned homes quietly.
"They didn't want to lose their jobs," she said. "The court, the police, the company - they were all in it together, for the money. Can you believe it?"
"Who should be involved in development? I'd argue four parties: government, developers, designers and citizens," said Neville Mars, a Dutch architect who runs a think-tank in Beijing. "Here, two of those four participate. It's the government and the developers alone."
According to Gao, developers run a gauntlet of red tape before Beijing allows them to build.
"We call it 'five permits and a document,'" he said.
Ayi's dispute dragged on. She moved her eight-year old son in with his grandparents and scrawled three lines of Chinese characters on the home's plaster wall.
"People live here! Proceed with caution! Demolishers will face consequences!"
"People live here! Proceed with caution! Demolishers will face consequences!"
Workers demolished Ayi's house in July.
June came and went. Workers erected a high, blue construction fence around the house - an attempt to "clean up the neighborhood for Beijing's Olympics," Ayi said.
And then, less than one month before the Games, it was over. The company showed Ayi to a new home 500 meters away.
"In most cases, I think people are happy to move," said a spokesman with high-end developer SOHO China (not the company involved). "What's at issue is compensation.
"SOHO generally acquires property already leveled. We don't want to be involved in the painful process of relocation. People get very attached to their land."
Ayi is half-furious, half-relieved. Her family's new house covers 100 square meters. It's larger than her previous place and closer to her son's primary school.
Still, its floors are unfinished concrete. There's a weedy courtyard and a trashed tool-shed. Worst of all, the house may not last long.
"My friend at the company told me this home scheduled for demolition next year," Ayi sighed. "We'll go through all this again."
Beijing will halt for the Olympics; most of the city's 5,000 building sites have already shut down. Organizers want clean air for the athletes - construction dust free.
As for Beijing's common people, they're looking forward to a breather. Because once the athletes leave...an army of bulldozers will, for better or worse, shudder back into gear.
August 14, 2008 11:26 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
The boos that filled Beijing's Gongren Tiyuchang (Worker's Stadium) Wednesday night had nothing to do with unrest in Tibet. Or biased western media. Or human rights.
Seven years ago, Amnesty International reported mass sentencing rallies at Worker's Stadium - death row parades. But Wednesday's Olympic crowd - largely Chinese and 50,000-strong - directed its rage at Sergio Batista in a scene less macabre.
Entire sections of striped Argentina supporters - soccer fans here love South America's blue and white squad - turned on Albicelestes. They chanted "MESSI MESSI MESSI," desperate to see the wonder-boy Argentine play.
Already through to the tournament's second round thanks to triumphs over Cote d'Ivoire and Australia, Argentina skipped past Serbia 2-0.
Chinese Olympic soccer fans wanted Argentine star Messi to play.
Nigeria advanced after an untimely red card crippled the U.S. squad.
Argentina-Serbia was supposed to be Wednesday's marquee bout, following Nigeria's gritty win against the U.S. earlier in the evening.
Batista's boys are supremely talented and Messi a delight to watch. The diminutive and quick-footed FC Barcelona attacker tallied a goal and an assist in Argentina's first 2008 Olympic match, against Cote d'Ivoire.
Young Chinese nationalists watching across downtown Beijing yelled themselves hoarse during Messi's opening ceremonies march into Beijing's National Stadium last week. My own men's league soccer team - a bunch of local 30-somethings - don modified Argentina kits every weekend.
Hungry fans of all nations jostled in line at KFC before Wednesday's doubleheader.
Looking for Messi, nicknamed El Pulga -'The Flea.'
It took 70 minutes for Gongti's pro-Argentine throng to rally behind the Serbs. Shouts for MESSI crescendoed after halftime, when he and Riquelme began to limber up. But Batista's three substitutions came and went without an appearance by either star.
An Argentine defender deftly flicked the ball backwards - toying with his Serb opponent to a smattering of boos. Soon enough, grade-schoolers and grandpas joined the frustrated chorus.
Whenever Argentina held possession, Worker's Stadium jeered. A bewildered but encouraged Serb team pushed forward to cheers.
Wild-eyed patriots are willing Team China to victory this summer, as numerous foreign journalists have described. Wednesday night was hardly a tribute to loyal collectivism with Chinese characteristics, however.
Wednesday was all about Messi. Wednesday night was all about star-power.
(Note: There were empty seats at Worker's Stadium Wednesday night, as there were Sunday at Beijing's Capital Gymnasium. Two weeks ago, Olympic officials accounced they had sold every one of the record 6.8 million tickets printed for the 2008 Games. So, what's going on?)
August 13, 2008 5:36 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
The balls were flying at Beijing's Capital Gymnasium volleyball venue Sunday night. The Germans clapping. The Poles spiking.
That's when Ms. Zhu, one of several thousand yellow-clad grandmas and grandpas - members of the 'Beijing Civilized Workers Cheering Squad' - turned to me and asked..."Are you an American? Are you a basketball fan? China is playing your Dream Team tonight."
Ms. Zhu then rattled off the U.S.'s starting lineup: Zhan Musi (Lebron James), Ke Bi (Kobe Bryant), Ji De (Jason Kidd), Huo Huade (Dwight Howard) and Kameiluo Andongni (Carmelo Anthony).
We'd just watched a lanky, fiery men's volleyball squad from Bulgaria dismantle China. Now Poland's giants went to work on Germany. Chinese flag folded neatly in her lap, Ms. Zhu relaxed. She began to pepper me with questions about basketball in the U.S.
"This has been fun," remarked Ms. Zhu, referring to men's volleyball at the Capital Gymnasium. "But I wish we were watching Wei De (Dywane Wade) and Yao Ming. They're great."
Olympic volleyball in Beijing - China vs. Bulgaria & Poland vs. Germany
Photos by Andy Ramdular
Anxiously patriotic during China's loss to Bulgaria, delighted by Poland's raucous fans and gaga for the NBA, Ms. Zhu reminded me why I wanted to attend these Olympic Games.
Security here is suffocating: police everywhere, no beer-gardens, wet markets and nightclubs shut down. Foreign reporters have dubbed the 2008 Olympics China's 'No Fun Games.'
Truthfully, Beijing lacks an Olympic carnival atmosphere. But here in the city of Mongol emperors and politico-engineers, people are having fun. Strangers are exchanging smiles. Athletes are performing miracles.
Ms. Zhu's quirky questions Sunday night didn't grant China's domestic press freedom. A spectacular parade of nations at Beijing's National Stadium last week didn't dampen human rights and Darfur-related fears.
Still, we're learning about China this Olympic month - as we never would have otherwise. We're learning what's wrong with Beijing, what's right and what we're willing to fight for. We're learning to respect another country. And judging by her NBA fervor, Ms. Zhu is too.
The World Cup is fun. So is the World Series. The Olympics can be fun too. But mutual respect and sporting excellence are the characteristics which make every Olympic Games special.
August 12, 2008 9:43 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Last month, Beijing's Olympic organizing committee (BOCOG) designated Purple Bamboo Park a special 'protest zone.'
"I haven't seen any protests," said a retired schoolteacher from Liaoning province, in China's capital to watch the 2008 Games with her invalid mother. "I haven't seen any protestors either. And I walk the entire park every day."
Blasted here and abroad for human rights abuses and press restrictions ahead of the Olympics, organizers promised to set up three protest zones in Beijing: Purple Bamboo Park, Ritan Park and World Park.
While Chinese police have scooped up and deported a handful of foreign protestors this month, Beijing's protest zones have yet to host a demonstration. On August 7, the city sent three Christian activists from the United States home. Six Canadians with ties to Greenpeace and Students for a Free Tibet were deported August 11. A number of American Students for a Free Tibet have been detained and booted as well.
"This will allow people to protest without disrupting the Olympics," Ni Jianping, director of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, announced July 23. "We're giving people a platform to express their views."
Authorities in Beijing normally punish all forms of protest. Demonstrations are banned outside of the city's Olympic protest zones. Posters, pamphlets, musical instruments and national flags larger than 1-by-2 meters are not allowed at the 2008 Games.
Ni and Susan Brownell, an American expert on the politics and culture of Chinese sport, urged Chinese leaders to make an exception for these Olympics. Protest zones have been a feature of every Games since Sydney 2000.
"I don't know what you're talking about," a young man watching taichi shook his head. "I don't think anyone wants to protest the Games anyway."
Weeks ago, supporters lauded the plan as a meaningful step for Beijing and a genuine concession to demonstrators. Others, including Brownell, predicted that organizers would use the protests zones to isolate and monitor disruptive activities during the Olympics.
Purple Bamboo Park swarmed Tuesday morning with baseball-capped 'public security volunteers' of military bearing, many equipped with earpieces and collar microphones. No protestors in sight, however. No protest zone signage. No protest zone.
"Yeah, the park's got a protest zone," answered an elderly woman playing jianzi (shuttlecock). "Over by the East Gate. Check there."
"Protest zone?" a public security volunteer posted at the East Gate repeated. "I'm not sure."
Protest-free Purple Bamboo Park
Back in July, BOCOG's security director, Liu Shaowu, revealed that groups wishing to demonstrate would require permission from local officials. Would-be-protestors must apply at least five days in advance, stating their purpose and program in Chinese. Slogan and posters need also pass review.
"Assembling to march and protest is a citizen's right. But it must be stressed that citizens must not harm national, social and collective interests," read an online BOCOG post attributed to Liu.
Even demonstrations held at the city's protest zones during the 2008 Games need satisfy existing Chinese law; the first stop for Chinese wishing to protest is the Beijing Public Security Bureau. Demonstrations that threaten the territorial unity of China are illegal, as are those that endanger public security.
Chinese without permanent or long-term residence in Beijing may not stage Olympic protests. Police here plan to detain for a month property rights activist Zhang Wei, who applied for permission to demonstrate in one the city's protest zones.
Zhang's application on behalf of her neighbors was rejected. Residents of Qianmen, a historic Beijing neighborhood near Tiananmen Square, Zhang and her neighbors say officials illegally destroyed their homes to make way for a pricey commercial complex.
Housing activists from Suzhou near Shanghai and a group which backs China's claim to a string of islands held by Japan were also denied permission to demonstrate. According to an activist from Shandong province who visited Ritan Park August 8, groups numbering less than five people need not apply.
"The whole park is an Olympic protest zone," a wiry man limbering up for kungfu with his friends declared. "Anyone can come here and demonstrate. But no one will. Why? Because the Games are not political. Because we all support Beijing.
"We old guys believe exercise is important. That's why we practice kungfu. Every morning we read the newspaper here and practice kungfu. Excercise is what the Olympics are really about. Exercise, friendship, peace, harmony! See my friends practicing kungfu - isn't this a harmonious scene."
Contrary to what a number of foreign reporters have written, at least one of Beijing's protest zones is located near an Olympic venue. Purple Bamboo Park's East Gate is across the street from the Capital Gymnasium, where a score of volleyball matches have already been played.
Anglers, boaters, joggers, babysitters and dancers filled the park Tuesday, enjoying a cooler-than-usual summer day.
"We all love China," smiled a grandmother. "Why protest?"
August 10, 2008 5:05 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
A Minnesota couple - parents of 2004 volleyball Olympian Elisabeth Bachman and in-laws of U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon - was attacked by a knife-wielding Chinese man while touring Beijing's 13th-century Drum Tower yesterday.
Todd Bachman was killed. His wife, Barbara, sustained stab wounds and was rushed into surgery. This morning in Beijing, the U.S. Olympic Committee reported her condition as critical but stable. The couple's Chinese guide was also hospitalized.
The attacker, Tang Yongming, took his own life - leaping off a 130-foot high balcony on the Drum Tower. According to U.S. officials in Beijing, Interpol and Chinese authorities, the stabbing was an 'act of senseless violence,' rather than a terrorist attack related to the 2008 Games.
"At the Drum Tower? What happened?" a Beijing breakfast cook asked Saturday. "Was it terrorist attack? If not, it shouldn't affect Sino-U.S. relations."
"Yeah, I read about the incident online last night," said a young Olympic volunteer and subway attendant. "It's really sad. The guy jumped afterwards, right?
"Every city that hosts the Games is vulnerable to these kind of happenings. Our country's police are working hard, but they can only protect most people. They can't protect every single person all the time."
An instant headline in America, the Drum Tower deaths have received little media attention thus far in Beijing.
"I don't think there was anything about it in yesterday's Wanbao ('Evening News')," a street-side drink-seller said Saturday morning. "I don't know why."
"No, no, no," an elderly woman wearing the red ribbon of Beijing's Olympic neighborhood guards on her sleeve responded. "I don't know what you're talking about."
This morning's Xinjingbao ('Beijing News') ran a short brief on Page A15 with the headline "Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses concern for attacked American tourists."
"I haven't heard anything - I didn't watch television last night," said a Chinese man strolling through Beijing's Olympic green.
"Nobody wishes for this sort of thing, especially all of us in China," a Beijing college student and Olympic volunteer remarked Saturday. "Although security is tight these days, preventing this sort of thing is impossible."
Beijing News brief on Drum Tower attacks (upper right).
Foreign fans seek tickets Saturday morning near Beijing's 2008 Olympic Green.
Front page of Saturday's Beijing News - China's first 2008 gold medalist.
August 9, 2008 5:12 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
I penned a story on Beijing's university student Olympic volunteers for today's Seattle Times - 'Army of volunteers powers the Olympics.'
It's an intimate look at the young men and women Beijing has asked to keep the 2008 Games running smoothly. This month, they'll attempt to bridge the cultural gap separating East and West. They are a fascinating group - China's future leaders.
An excerpt from the story:
BEIJING - Today and every day of the Olympics, John Marshall Wu will begin work before sunrise - interpreting for Ukranian martial artists and Georgian judo masters.
Wu, 22, is a Beijing university student and a 2008 Olympics volunteer. He is one of 75,000 fanny-packed volunteers who will wait on the top athletes and luckiest fans.
"Fun? I'm not sure the Games will be fun," Wu said. "At times I'll be bored. At times I'll be tired. At all times, though, I'll be happy."
Continue reading here.
August 9, 2008 5:30 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Those with money, power and press passes flocked to the Beijing's Bird's Nest National stadium last night for a radiant Olympic opening ceremonies.
Most Beijingers stayed home, pressed round televisions blaring the long-awaited news - success for China!
But the 80,000-seat Bird's Nest couldn't hold Beijing's patriotic young people. Nor could the city's five million televisions satisfy them.
Enthusiastic Beijingers poured into 26 jumbotron equipped 'Cultural Squares' Friday to sweat, hug and cheer - from Ditan Park near the capital's largest Tibetan temple, to cosmopolitan Chaoyang District's ritziest shopping mall, to suburban Fengtai's Lotus Flower Park, to the Avenue of Everlasting Peace and shopper's walk Wangfujing.
Watching the opening ceremonies at Wangfujing Shopping Street in Beijing
Thousands watched director Zhang Yimou's spectacular ode to the Chinese culture and civilization at Wangfujing, where 'Go China!' chants occasionally broke through an appreciative hush. Zhang's glowing scroll, air-bound astronaut and human hanzi (Chinese characters) won over the crowd.
Then a global marathon, as athletes from 204 nations marched into China's massive National Stadium. Applause for Australia, Hungary, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal, Ivory Coast soccer boss Didier Drogba, the NBA's Dirk Nowitzki and Russian politician Vladimir Putin.
Many Wangfujing youngsters booed Japan's Olympic athletes, and drowned out shouts of 'USA!' screaming 'Victory for China!' America's Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, favored to snatch a gold medal in basketball, stood tall.
Those who remained past midnight saw gymnast-turned-businessman Li Ning's stunning aerial sprint to light 2008's Olympic flame, and went wild with excitement.
August 8, 2008 8:53 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
American President George W. Bush opened a muscular new U.S. Embassy in Beijing today, the world's second-largest diplomatic compound (America's war-ready Baghdad Embassy ranks number one).
Hazy skies heralded the day of China's Olympic opening ceremonies and a fresh era in Sino-U.S. relations, one defined by close economic ties and increasing competition. A small group of Beijing neighbors turned up for the show.
But Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, slipped into the $434 million, 500,000 square-foot complex unseen, then presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony behind thick, sandy walls and bulletproof glass. Chinese servers donned red, white and blue lonestar shirts and cowboy hats for the occasion.
"I don't like Xiao Bushi ('Little Bush')," said a tailor squatting nearby. "He's too bull-headed. But Chinese-American relations have really improved.
"I'll admit it - I didn't like your government very much before. Now China and the U.S. are partners, though - friends."
President Bush arrived in Beijing early this week, and plans to attend tonight's Olympic opening ceremonies.
"I was glad to hear he'll attend," a Qingdao-based businessman said. "There are a few world leaders who've talked about boycotting Beijing's Games. It's so strange - why boycott a global sports event and offend everyone?"
Dominated by a central glass tower, the new embassy will house 700 staffers and more than 20 federal agencies. China unveiled its own bulky embassy in Washington, D.C. last week - the city's largest.
"China is developing fast," another spectator commented Friday morning. "Twenty-five, fifty years from now our GDP may exceed America's. GDP doesn't mean everything, though."
"I've never known an American well," said a caterer standing outside the embassy. "What are Americans like? I'm not sure."
August 8, 2008 8:11 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
They arrived in twos and threes yesterday afternoon, toting Chinese flags and digital cameras. A sizeable crowd formed round Ditan Park's southern gate.
"I'm here for the torch relay," a Beijing real estate broker exclaimed. "These are China's first Olympics. As hosts, we Chinese feel we should actively support the 2008 Games. Being here for the torch relay - it makes me happy."
Enthusiastic throngs have trailed China's Olympic flame through more than 100 cities along its domestic torch, which began May 2 in Hong Kong.
Chinese spectators rallied behind the relay this April, when politically minded protestors sought to snuff the flame in London and Paris, two of 20 international stops.
Eager fans pressed against security guards and police barricades at Beijing's Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) Wednesday, straining for a glimpse of China's celebrity torchbearers.
"Olympics! Peace! Flame!" beamed a young man selling 'Go China' headbands. "I sold a bunch at Tiantan - so far not many here."
Other Ditan opportunists peddled flags, stickers, pins, face paint and t-shirts - all China red.
"I rode the train in from my hometown today," a stooped migrant worker from Liaoning province said. "It took 12 hours - 'hard seat.' I'm here for two days. I don't have any tickets, so I'll just walk around.
"When I was young, I didn't even know about the Olympic Games. Now I'm in Beijing!"
Towering Basketball star Yao Ming will carry China's flag into the Bird's Nest (National Stadium), but organizers have kept mum on who will light the Olympic cauldron during tonight's opening ceremonies.
Candidates include Yao, gold medalist hurdler Liu Xiang and gymnast-businessman Li Ning. Some here have speculated that Yao will help a child finish China's relay, perhaps one of Sichuan province's earthquake orphans.
Luminaries like Washington's former Chinese-American governor, Gary Locke, and kung-fu legend Jackie Chan have served as torchbearers this summer.
"Liu Xiang, Yao Ming, whoever - I love them all," a woman in straw hat and sunglasses said. "Whoever runs past, I'll cheer."
Posters nearby advertised a two-minute jog through Ditan - the torch relay's final stop for the day. But an hour before the flame was supposed to arrive police pulled out bullhorns and advised the crowd to disperse.
"Zheli kanbujian," they shouted. "From here you won't be able to see. You might as well go home."
Only spectators carrying special 'passes' would be allowed to enter the park and cheer on the Olympic flame.
Local organizers have exercised strict control over the relay in Beijing, hoping to avoid unseemly disruptions. Yesterday morning, residents cursed Chinese soldiers after being forced from Tiananmen Square ahead of the Olympic flame.
"I'm a little disappointed that we won't be able to see," admitted a young 2008 Games volunteer. "Don't worry though, I won't lose my Olympic reqing ('passion'). I'm headed to the countdown at Tiananmen Square tonight."
"I heard the police just now, but I'm not sure they're speaking the truth," an elderly woman said. "Anyway, this is my last chance to see the relay. I'm going to stay right here."
August 6, 2008 5:46 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
(Note: Phone calls to the property developer referenced below went unanswered. This Blogging Beijing entry, therefore, speaks to one family's experience only. It does not represent a full investigation. The principal interviewees also asked that their Chinese names be withheld.)
"This courtyard has suffered three great dramas, three great crises," Tina H began solemnly.
Spectacled and graying, Ms. H spoke with her hands - as if she were literally reaching into her family's troubled past, plucking memories from a tree.
"They took our furniture. They choked our goldfish to death with perfume. They burned our apricot tree."
Ms. H has told the story many times.
Spanning a Cultural Revolution, an economic explosion and China's Olympic movement, the story is far from over.
The courtyard Red Guards took from the Hs in 1966, the courtyard Ms. H reclaimed decades later, is in danger again. A well-connected Beijing developer is determined to wrest it away.
Ms. H's younger brother has returned from Seattle; although they possess no deed to the courtyard, the Hs intend to keep their home.
"Our leaders want to build towers. They want to put on a show for the world," remarked Bill H, who deals software. "They want to earn money.
"The people who want our courtyard - we told them off. 'Just wait until the Games are done,' they said. Post-Olympics, the harmony you see in Beijing today will disappear."
Mr. and Ms. H, brother and sister, are mired in an unusual property dispute, their family courtyard casualty to a quirk of history. It was confiscated during China's chaotic Cultural Revolution, afterwards sold to a private firm.
While Chinese leaders later condemned the Cultural Revolution, the Hs were never recompensed. They've waited 40 years.
A young boy explores the H family courtyard, a forest of flowers and vines today.
An abandoned factory sags at the back of the courtyard, left from China's Cultural Revolution.
Mr. and Ms. H's grandfather with Mao Zedong (center right, wearing cap) in the Red Army' s stronghold Yan'an, 1939.
Ms. H remembers her grandfather well. A physician, he kept nine pretty bottles on a sandalwood table in the courtyard's west wing.
One day in 1966, the bottles - valuable antiques - disappeared.
"I asked my grandfather where the bottles had gone," Ms. H recalled. "He said Red Guards would inspect our home, that they'd consider the bottles old and wrong, that even under my bed the bottles wouldn't be safe. I was devastated."
On the evening of August 24, 1966, Ms. H heard jogging boots. Red Guards - Chairman Mao Zedong's young fanatics. They seized the courtyard and forced Ms. H's grandparents to kneel.
The Hs didn't stray far. They settled in a compound across the street, sharing it with five other families - more than 30 people. That's where Mr. H grew up. He lived within spitting distance of his former home for 16 years.
Red Guards targeted landowners and intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution; Ms. H's grandfather was both. In 1967, a radical 'counter-current' swept through Beijing.
"My grandfather wouldn't shut his mouth in defeat," remembered Ms. H. "So he bore the brunt of it."
Ms. H's grandfather was arrested, beaten and held for a year. The Hs shouldered his criminal reputation.
"The other families in our compound were very poor," said Ms. H. "They ate only steamed buns. Yet they taunted us. We had enough money to buy rice, but rarely smiled. I envied the other children, chewing their steamed buns."
Mr. and Ms. H were ridiculed at school. Ms. H remembers the Cultural Revolution vividly: red propaganda posters and neighborhood parades. Meanwhile, the courtyard served as a kindergarten and a state-run electronics factory.
Suddenly, in 1976, the Cultural Revolution came to a close. Ms. H was 20.
"One day, I reached an intersection," she said. "There was a crowd waiting to cross. Someone called my name. 'Your courtyard's been sold again.'
"The news hit me like a bolt from the blue. 'Now,' I thought, 'I have to snatch it back.'"
So began a second crisis. Aided by factory insiders, Ms. H snuck into the courtyard and took up residence. From 1982 on, she shared the space with the courtyard's buyer.
The buyer, an import-export company, took Ms. H to court. A district judge ordered her out. She appealed; a city judge concurred in 1990.
Six years later, China's supreme court tried the case. Ms. H lost again. Thanks to the People's Congress Overseas Chinese Committee, the suit disappeared.
Quarrels over property are common in China, where there's only one official landowner: the Chinese Communist Party. Residents who resist development are known as 'nail-house' fighters - dingzihu.
"We don't have private property in China," explained Matthew Gao, Secretary General of the Beijing Planner's Society. "The state wields a lot of power. When these disputes go to court, the common people often lose."
Sometimes dingzihu hold out for money; that isn't what the Hs are after.
"We're willing to negotiate," said Mr. H. "The bottom line is 'we want to live here.'"
Until 2003, Ms. H shared the courtyard with the import-export company. She often dreamed about what the home had been like decades before - a friendly, secluded abode.
"Our courtyard was peculiar to Beijing," Ms. H recalled. "It had three successive gates and a corridor of scientific design. In the summer, our roof blocked the sun. In the winter, the sun warmed my room."
Thousands of courtyards were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Thousands of blockish factory buildings were installed. Only one H family structure remains.
Today, market forces are finishing off Beijing's traditional neighborhoods.
"Beijing still had a city wall 20 years ago," said Gao. "It had 11 gates. Now three are left. The wall is gone."
Legislators have tried to restrict development ahead of the Olympics. They passed a comprehensive plan designating 31 'historical streets' in 2004.
But according to Hu Xinyu, director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, implementation has been spotty at best.
"We're working with neighborhood committees," said Hu. "We want to help the government enforce these measures.
"Unfortunately, awareness is low. Most people have no idea there are such laws."
Mr. and Ms. H's altered home falls outside the sphere of heritage protection.
Ms. H reminisces about her simple courtyard life before the Cultural Revolution.
In the courtyard's abandoned factory, a first floor hallway.
'No trespassing' read the faded characters on the H's back wall.
In 2003, an infamous developer purchased the courtyard.
"They're very evil," declared Ms. H. "A few years ago, they tricked a resident into the street, covered his head with a black handkerchief and led him away.
"When he returned, his home was demolished. They threatened him with a knife; that's how they relocate people."
According to Ms. H, many Chinese developers operate outside the law.
"Some developers in Beijing are very cooperative," admitted Hu. "Others are quite arrogant, completely neglectful of courtyard preservation."
"In most cases, we acquire property already leveled," said a spokesman with high-end developer SOHO China (not the developer involved), who asked to remain anonymous.
"Generally, the city handles relocation and compensation. We are very respectful of the law."
A third crisis commenced March 25 this year. Over 100 men assembled unannounced and pushed over the Hs' rear wall.
Police sent the gang packing, though no arrests were made. 'You don't own the place,' the police told Ms. H. Mr. H hired a handful of guards, installed cameras and strengthened the courtyard's front gate.
On April 1, the gang reappeared; police turned them back. On April 3, they showed up again, to slice through the courtyard's electrical cables.
Nothing has happened for months now. Local authorities, says Mr. H, want no part of the conflict.
"The Olympics are coming soon," he said. "If a violent incident were to occur, the police would be punished and the district leaders would lose face."
Mr. H worries that foreign fans of the 2008 Games won't see 'the real China.'
"Our government wants the world to think China is a developing country, a land of opportunity for Fortune 500 companies," he said.
"Supposedly, we've built a harmonious society. But we want harmony anchored in justice, not force."
Will the Hs retain their courtyard after the Games?
"If you can prove that you owned property before 1949 and can prove it was confiscated, you've got a chance," said H. "It's nearly impossible, because of the Cultural Revolution."
"Things here have changed thanks to the Olympics," said Mr. H. "China has opened up to the world.
"But we still have a long way to go. Can property belong to individuals, or only the state? China needs to answer this question."
Seattle Times in Beijing:
August 6, 2008 5:35 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Three months ago, the booted parking attendants and stilettoed saleswomen of Beijing's Modern Plaza (Dangdai Shangcheng) off North 3rd Ring Road played to a crowd of 100 domestic and international reporters.
An official 'Olympic mall,' Modern Plaza boasts staffers competent in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, English. As for the reporters, "neither language nor physical obstacles stood in the way of their interviews."
So read a report released by BOCOG - Beijing's Olympic organizing committee - the same outfit responsible for May's event.
Modern Plaza, a five-story jewel of a mall where grannies bring toddlers to play in an outdoor fountain and angular beauties bring husbands to visit Cartier, expects to see a spike in foreign shoppers during this month's Games.
"Some foreign customers visit our mall normally, but not too many," admitted one Modern Plaza manager. "Maybe less than five percent of our shoppers are from abroad.
"In August there will be more, because of the Olympics. We are located near Beijing's Friendship Hotel - a famous place to stay. Plus, our mall is outstanding. We have been evaluated as such in terms of English service."
Boasting high-end retailers like Cartier, Beijing's Modern Plaza is an official 'Olympic mall.'
Every morning, Modern Plaza's parking lot doubles as a dance floor.
Modern Plaza's salespeople began attending English-language trainings in 2004.
"The Olympics are for giving foreigners a look at China," said a smartly dressed Samsonite Luggage saleswoman, hired a year ago. "I've studied English. I've participated in our Modern Plaza team activities.
"Learning English isn't difficult. It's basically the same as Chinese pinyin. Anyway, the English I know is simple. 'Welcome,' 'thank you for coming' - that kind of stuff."
Two young saleswomen bent over a small counter out front of Modern Plaza's Hush Puppies store.
"Actually, we're studying English right now," one laughed, pulling out a laminated phrase-sheet - '30 Essential Sentences.' "We're all studying English and Olympic history in our spare time. It's about improving our suzhi ('quality') and serving our foreign friends."
One of the sentences on her sheet was 'Made in Italy.' Another, 'Please take your belongings with you.'
"Business has been up in our store since 2007," said the Samsonite saleswoman. "We're selling more and more of the most expensive luggage."
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
August 5, 2008 4:09 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Once Yao Ming lights Beijing's Olympic cauldron and the 2008 Games begin, you'll hear a lot of talk about 'China' and 'the Chinese.'
Rightly so, because these are China's Olympic Games - Tibetan dissent notwithstanding, a truly unifying, national moment.
But it's worth remembering how enormous and diverse the Middle Kingdom is.
Several hundred miles northeast of Beijing there's a sliver of rugged, green land where most every morning reveals a 'blue sky day' and peddlers peddle leisurely, sniping at passersby in accented Korean.
"What're you doing up here?" a leathery man selling pears in Yanji city asked Monday. "The Olympics are in Beijing. Want to buy a pear?"
Yanji is the capital of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin province, home to two million people - 850,000 members of China's Korean ethnic minority. Yanji and Yanbian are wedged between China, North Korea and Russia.
The 2008 Games have proved more contentious than even Zhongnanhai's critics expected. Spurned by princes and marathoners, championed by movie stars and dictators, China's first-ever Olympics have elicited ethnic unrest and intense media scrutiny.
Chief among the questions fueling pre-Games debate here and abroad: whose Olympics are these? Are they China's? Are they the world's? Do they belong to big business? Or to the Chinese people? To the rich? To the poor? To Beijing? Or to the entire country?
Years ago, Beijing's Olympic organizers bestowed on the 2008 Games a trio of didactic 'concepts' : 'Hi-tech Olympics,' 'Humanistic Olympics,' and 'People's Olympics.'
According to their official website:
"People's Olympics means that we will take the hosting of the Olympic Games as an opportunity to popularize the Olympic spirit...We will always give first consideration to the need of people...We will also encourage the widest participation of the people in the preparation for the Games, as it will greatly push forward the sports and cultural development nationwide and increase the cohesion and pride of the Chinese nation."
Chinese Olympic volunteers number over two million, from crossing guards to Internet nannies. Contrary to popular belief on the streets of Beijing, millions of tickets to the Games were sold at affordable rates.
Yet for the residents of isolated Yanji, less than 100km west of North Korea and culturally distinct from Beijing, what Olympic ownership is there to claim?
A statue representing longevity presides over China's border with North Korea.
Crossing into North Korea from China without a visa is strictly forbidden.
Tourists snap photos from China's half of a bridge; a faded poster of Kim Il-Sung.
China's partnership with North Korea has suffered in recent years.
Many ethnic Koreans here will cheer for China during Beijing's Olympics.
"I've got nothing to do with the Olympics personally," explained a newspaper seller in Yanji who belongs to China's Han Chinese majority. "I don't have the means to attend the Games in Beijing.
"Even when the torch relay came through Yanji, I stayed to man my newspaper stand. I support the Olympics all the same, though. I'm proud of China."
This summer's domestic torch relay represents organizers' bid to include all of China in the Olympics. The sacred flame passed through more than 100 Chinese cities on its way to Beijing. It will reach the capital tomorrow; on July 16 the torch relay visited Yanji.
"Yeah, I went to see the torch relay here," said an energetic, ethnic Korean man spitting seeds outside his Yanji cornerstone. "It was really great, although it rained."
An old ethnic Korean man exploded when asked about Beijing's Games.
"Jiayou! Jiayou! Aoyun jiaoyou! Aoyun wansui!" he shouted. "Go! Go! Go Olympics! Long live the Olympics!
"We're Korean - we are a minority in China. We welcome outsiders. We're just like you," he continued, then launched into another cheer. "Friendship! Harmony! WorldpeaceOlympicGamestenthousandyears!"
South Korean fashions dominate the small Chinese city of Yanji.
In Jilin province's Yanbian Prefecture, dog is a popular dish. Here, pet dogs for sale.
Yanji is buslting thanks to Chinese and South Korean investment.
Locals - Korean and Chinese - favor hikes on Mao'er mountain, near Yanji.
Green vistas, blue skies, fresh air...a world away from Beijing.
Traditional Korean culture, including dance, is alive and well in Yanbian.
There are rumors of ethnic competition, and possibly resentment, in Yanji. Decades ago the city was overwhelmingly Korean - a sleepy metropolis in North Korea's shadow. During the China's Cultural Revolution, it's said that some Yanji Koreans fled over the border.
Refugees cross from North Korea to China now, and Yanji's economy has taken off thanks to a booming Chinese markets and South Korean investment. South Koreans manage a top-notch university: the Yanbian College of Science and Technology.
"My older brother works for Samsung - a South Korean firm - in Guangzhou," said one recent graduate, a third-generation ethnic Korean.
In 1952 ethnic Koreans accounted for 60 percent of Yanbian's population - today half that. Yanji is a relatively prosperous city, and Han Chinese are moving in.
"Most Chaozu (ethnic Koreans) support China and the 2008 Games," the newspaper seller said. "The ones who don't, it's a personality problem. It's got nothing to do with their ethnicity."
"There are no ethnic problems here," said a female migrant worker from Liaoning province. "We're all for the Olympics and China."
"I've lived here 30 years," said a Beijing native and artist. "I was assigned to Yanji by the government after college graduation. We Chinese are peace-loving people. We avoid conflict. For all of us, these Olympics are a dream come true."
Koreans came to Yanbian in two waves - first in the 19th century, and again between the World Wars. Many sought refuge in China during Japan's 20th century occupation of Korea.
"My parents fled the Japanese, immigrated to Yanji," a 47-year old ethnic Korean said. "I was born here. The Olympics haven't really changed our lives. If South Korea were to face China during the Games, I suppose I'd cheer for the country with more athletic ability."
"We'll support China against Korea during the Olympics, of course," said a 16-year old boy. "Our family immigrated from Korea 20 years ago, but there's no difference between us and our Han neighbors."
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
August 5, 2008 5:05 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Blogging Beijing traveled north to Harbin and China's only Korean Autonomous Prefecture over the weekend. Meanwhile, back in Beijing...
On August 1, Chinese president Hu Jintao held a rare press conference for foreign reporters. Hu often speaks with the world press when abroad, but Friday's tete-a-tete was his first here in nearly six years as China's top leader.
Beijing lifted blocks on several long-barred websites Saturday, August 2. Following overnight talks with the International Olympic Committee, China's government agreed to make accessible a number of contentious websites, including those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and BBC in Chinese. For days now, a confusing debate has raged over what Beijing promised the IOC, in terms of Internet censorship or lack thereof, what the IOC understood and what all the fuss will mean for Olympic coverage.
(Note: All three websites mentioned above were, indeed, accessible via a Beijing coffee shop wireless connection Tuesday morning.)
An official Olympic-themed pin trading center opened Sunday, August 3, in Beijing. According to organizers, four such centers will operate during the 2008 Games.
News from Beijing soured on Monday, when two dozen Beijingers demonstrating against evictions ahead of the Olympics scuffled with police in the city's historic Qianmen district just south of Tiananmen Square. The area is under renovation. High-end retailers like Nike and Starbucks will replace many of Qianmen's traditional alley-neighborhoods.
(Note: For background on Qianmen's transformation, see 'Heart of the city - part two' on Blogging Beijing.)
Also on Monday, superstar American swimmer Michael Phelps touched down in Beijing. Phelps, sporting a new mustache, snuck past hundreds of fans and photographers onto a team bus at Beijing's Terminal 3 airport addition.
(Note: For more on the world's largest flight terminal, see 'T3 - Beijing's dragon-inspired airport' on Blogging Beijing.)
Tuesday dawned hazy in Beijing, between 90 and 110 on the city's pollution index. Organizers here refer to skies under 100 on the index as 'blue.' The Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday that Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe will not attend this week's Olympic opening ceremonies, at China's behest.
Headlines sprouted outside of Beijing as well. On Sunday, China's prolonged Olympic torch relay reached Mianyang in Sichuan province, where a devastating earthquake struck May 12. Yesterday, torchbearers jogged round a stadium that only weeks ago hosted thousands of diaster victims.
Today the torch relay arrived in Chengdu, Sichuan's capital. Sichuan is Washington's sister province in China; former governor and Chinese-American lawyer Gary Locke will serve as a Chengdu torchbearer.
Perhaps the weekend's biggest story occurred Monday morning in Kashgar, an ancient oasis city near Afghanistan in China's northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. According to Chinese sources, two assailants in a truck ran down a group of jogging Kashgar policeman, then tossed grenades and slashed at the officers with knives, killing 16. The assailants were arrested, but state media failed to identify them members of the country's Han Chinese majority or Muslim Uyghur minority most numerous in Xinjiang.
(Note: For more on the region, re-visit 'Xinjiang - living snapshots' on Blogging Beijing.)
Elsewhere in the world, Olympic fans have been swindled by an Internet ticketing scam. The families of Olympic athletes in both Australia and New Zealand were among those who fell prey to the bogus website.
August 2, 2008 12:39 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Since I began Blogging Beijing nine months ago, I've asked all sorts of Beijingers about the 2008 Olympic Games - teachers, students, peddlers, conductors, soldiers, beggars, doctors, rappers, athletes, farmers.
From recent arrivals - migrant workers, to Lao Beijing - tenured hutong dwellers, everyone has had something interesting to say.
I've particularly enjoyed engaging the city's elderly in Olympic conversations. Twenty years ago, even five years ago, Beijing was a different place. Their home has changed so much, so fast.
With the Games just days away, I decided to pay Beijing's oldest resident a visit. A trip to Zhoukoudian, I figured, would help put the Games in perspective.
Zhoukoudian is an archeological site turned museum/park 40 kilometers southwest of central Beijing, once home to Homo erectus Pekinesis - a prehistoric human nicknamed 'Peking Man.'
Peking Man in fact refers to a series of homo erectus communities based at Zhoukoudian, a cave-riddled limestone hill. Heavy-browed men and women hunted, fashioned stone tools and kindled fires near Beijing 500,000 years ago.
Accompanied by an American friend, I boarded a long-distance bus near the Temple of Heaven. We passed fields of newly planted trees, hundreds of nut-and-bolt shops, suburban villas and a compound marked 'Earthquake Command Center.'
Tickets to see what's left of Peking Man cost 30 yuan - around US$4. On this Monday morning, the museum's sprawling grounds were nearly empty. Huge busts of Peking Man, however, greeted us at every turn.
I approached an older man on his way out of the park. If he were still alive, what would Peking Man think of the 2008 Olympics? I wondered aloud.
"Oh ho!" our fellow tourist cried. "Peking Man! The Olympic Games! I'm certain he could've never imagined it. The Olympics don't belong to ancient Beijing. The Olympics belong to ancient Greece. And these 2008 Games...are for modern men."
A bust of Peking Man, Beijing Yuanren ('Beijing Ape-man') in Chinese.
Chinese archaeologists explore Zhoukoudian.
A pleasant scene near Zhoukoudian's 'Locality One.'
I collared an aged museum staffer and posed the same question.
"Of course, Peking Man would be happy for China," he answered. "Why? Because, years ago, foreigners called our country dongya bingfu - the 'Sick Man of East Asia.' Now China is hosting the Olympics. Now China is strong."
"He'd not only support Beijing's Games, he'd participate," asserted a Beijing Institute of Technology student and Olympic volunteer, stationed through August at Zhoukoudian.
The park/museum at Zhoukoudian consists of three parts: museum, excavation sites and gift shop.
The museum features oil paintings of a sociable, thriving Peking Man and a small collection of fossilized skullcaps. His contemporaries included woolly rhinos, saber tooth tigers and broad-jawed deer.
Leafy paths run between Zhoukoudian's various excavation sites. Local quarry men led Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and American paleontologist Walter W. Granger to the hill in 1921. Andersson recognized quartz deposits not native to the area and famously exclaimed 'Here is primitive man, now all we have to do is find him!'
Andersson and an Austrian paleontologist turned up molars at Zhoukoudian. A Canadian anatomist discovered skull fragments in 1928. Chinese archaeologists found more later on.
"I don't understand your question," a puzzled museum staffer told me. "Peking Man lived hundreds of thousands of years ago. He's got nothing to do with the Olympics."
We stood in the shade of a broad persimmon tree, admiring a life-sized plastic wooly rhino. Cicadas hummed furiously in the breeze.
"I brought my son here today," a middle aged man explained. "I want him to know Beijing's history."
So that's a woolly rhino? Peking Man shared Zhoukoudian with sabertooth tigers too.
Olympic volunteers from the Beijing Institute of Technology sleep off the smog at Zhoukoudian.
Treasure in the gift shop: yours for only 380 yuan (US$42).
From Peking Man to modern man inside Zhoukoudian's museum.
Chinese excavations at Zhoukoudian halted in 1937, as the Japanese marched near Beijing. Fossils from the site were placed in a safe at the Peking Union Medical College for wartime safekeeping.
Bound for the U.S. in 1941, the fossils vanished. Countless authors and dreamers have speculated as to their fate. In 2005, Beijing established a committee to recover the bones - 60 years after the Second World War.
Zhoukoudian's gift shop boasts Peking Man t-shirts, Peking Man playing cards and ballpoint Peking Man pens.
Beijing's come a long way since the cenozoic.
I searched for Zhoukoudian - Olympics cross-marketing. The gift shop hasn't stocked Peking Man ping-pong paddles...yet.
(Note: After visiting Zhoukoudian, my friend and I proceeded to Yinhudong ('Silver Fox Cave'), another Fangshan District attraction. On our way back to Beijing, we encountered a police checkpoint. Not having brought our passports along, we waited two hours for a foreign affairs policeman to arrive. She had us sign a slip of paper admitting we'd broken Chinese law. Our taxi driver wasn't surprised. "Why such strict security measures? For the Olympics!")
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
Aug 24, 08 - 02:08 AM
Personal note, thanks and goodbye
Aug 22, 08 - 08:43 AM
Olympic success for China?
Aug 18, 08 - 12:23 PM
Liu Xiang drops out
Aug 17, 08 - 04:04 AM
Beijing's Kite Master
Aug 17, 08 - 04:02 AM
Stubborn in Beijing