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 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."
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