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.
July 21, 2008 5:31 PM
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."
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
July 19, 2008 7:33 AM
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 Sohu.com'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.
July 17, 2008 3:43 AM
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:
July 14, 2008 2:45 PM
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.
RULES #98, #99 and #100 FROM THE 'BEIJING OLYMPIC GAMES LEGAL HANDBOOK'
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?"
NOTICE ADDRESSED TO LOCAL LANDLORDS, POSTED TO APARTMENT BUILDINGS
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
July 14, 2008 2:19 PM
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.
July 11, 2008 5:01 AM
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 you...you 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."
July 8, 2008 6:56 AM
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 www.futuregenerations.org.cn.)
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
July 3, 2008 1:49 AM
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...
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