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 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?"
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