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 5:35 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 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$42).
From Peking Man to modern man inside Zhoukoudian's museum.
Chinese excavations at Zhoukoudian halted in 1937, as the Japanese marched near Beijing. Fossils from the site were placed in a safe at the Peking Union Medical College for wartime safekeeping.
Bound for the U.S. in 1941, the fossils vanished. Countless authors and dreamers have speculated as to their fate. In 2005, Beijing established a committee to recover the bones - 60 years after the Second World War.
Zhoukoudian's gift shop boasts Peking Man t-shirts, Peking Man playing cards and ballpoint Peking Man pens.
Beijing's come a long way since the cenozoic.
I searched for Zhoukoudian - Olympics cross-marketing. The gift shop hasn't stocked Peking Man ping-pong paddles...yet.
(Note: After visiting Zhoukoudian, my friend and I proceeded to Yinhudong ('Silver Fox Cave'), another Fangshan District attraction. On our way back to Beijing, we encountered a police checkpoint. Not having brought our passports along, we waited two hours for a foreign affairs policeman to arrive. She had us sign a slip of paper admitting we'd broken Chinese law. Our taxi driver wasn't surprised. "Why such strict security measures? For the Olympics!")
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
July 28, 2008 3:54 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
"Agh!" the Beijing Guo'an striker shouted, watching his shot skip wide.
"Welcome Olympics - Embrace Civilization - Reject Cursuing" the jumbo screen at Fengtai Stadium flashed.
"Stupid @*$#! Stupid @*$#!" three hundred emerald-clad groupies screamed.
So much for propaganda. Welcome to professional soccer in China.
Beijing Guo'an fans take in a soccer match at Fengtai Stadium.
A club of Guo'an supporters - the 'Capital Cursing League' - ran afoul of Olympic organizers last year.
When Beijing Guo'an met Qingdao Jonoon for an evening tilt July 6, it was the qiumi ('ball fans') who stood out.
Their heroes - perennial contenders for China's 'Super League' crown - looked sluggish at best, spraying balls off target between doubtful dives. Beijing won, 1-0, on a tall Brazilian ringer's goal.
Days from the opening ceremonies, asthmatic marathoners, prying reporters and plotting terrorists rate among Olympic organizers' most pressing concerns. Qiumi don't.
But qiumi do worry the Beijing brass. Liu Jingmin, the city's vice-mayor, launched a campaign against foul language last year. According to Liu, boorish Beijingers pose a threat to China's gracious Olympic image.
(Note: For more on the campaign, see 'Beijing's Olympic curse' on Blogging Beijing.)
Raucous Chinese crowds could undo Beijing's seven-year campaign in global public relations, officials fear.
Beijing's Fengtai Sports Center complex will host Olympic softball in August.
It's unclear whether the festival spirit of Guo'an soccer matches will carry over to the Olympics.
Organizers here have campaigned hard for proper match-time behavior, sponsoring corporate cheer trainings, promulgating an official 2008 cheer and selecting a 400-member platoon of booty-shaking Olympic cheerleaders.
Concepts like 'mutual respect' and 'international friendship' have received top billing at elementary schools across Beijing charged with implementing Olympic education.
(Note: For more on Beijing's unique brand of Olympic education, see 'We're proud of Beijing' on Blogging Beijing.)
National pride is one thing, name-calling another. Riots broke out following Team China's bitter loss to Japan in 2004. Next month, Beijing will crack down on disorder of any kind.
Chinese students held xenophobic demonstrations from Dalian to Shanghai following controversial Olympic torch relay stops in London and Paris this spring. Sino-Japanese relations remain shaky. Then there's the 2008 Olympic slogan: 'One World, One Dream.'
"There are still hard feelings between China and Japan," said Wu Peng, a university student in Beijing. "But when the Japanese arrive for the Olympics, we'll make friends with them."
Chinese supporters should dominate the 2008 Games - four years ago in Athens they propelled China's delegation to a record 32 gold medals.
How exactly they'll cheer, no one knows. Beijing's Olympic test events attracted a different sort of crowd than frequents Guo'an bouts. If the Games unfold without incident, it may be because communist party members and mannered business-people have hoarded all the tickets.
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
July 25, 2008 10:51 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
China's remaining 250,000 Olympics tickets went on sale at 9am Friday in Beijing. Enormous crowds turned out for the rush - sports fans and ticket-seekers grasping for a piece of Chinese history.
Thousands camped outside the iconic new Bird's Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube (National Aquatics Center) - obscured by sweltering smog cover - overnight, determined to snag spots at the front of ticketing lines.
"Haha! Got'em!" exclaimed a middle-aged man wearing sandals and glasses Friday afternoon. "I feel great. I waited 15 hours standing for Bird's Nest tickets - 24 hours in all."
"I got'em! Bird's Nest here I come!"
Enormous crowds collected on Beijing's Olympic Green Friday - many spent Thursday night waiting in line.
Tempers flared in the midday heat, as security guards struggled to prevent stampedes.
The Bird's Nest will host the 2008 Games' opening and closing ceremonies, sandwiching track & field. The Water Cube will host swimming and diving - a popular sport in China.
Friday morning dawned hot and hazy. Some ticket-seekers sat on newly poured concrete curbs to play poker and wave breezy Chinese fans. Others surged forward in line, pressing impatiently against each other and police barricades.
"It's like we're riding on the subway," chuckled one man, face planted into another man's sweaty back.
An atmosphere of confusion hung over Beijing's Olympic Green, site of the Bird's Nest, Water Cube and other top venues. A steady trickle of exasperated Beijingers wandered past line after tangled line, searching for helpful signage in vain.
"This is the line for water polo, right?" asked a young woman twirling her parasol. "What? This is the line for equestrian? Isn't that going to be held in Hong Kong?"
Thousands of uniformed policemen and security guards swarmed the complex, charged with keeping order. But few were able to answer questions regarding ticket prices and availability.
"Bu tai qingchu," one policeman repeated over and over again, smiling through gritted teeth. "I'm not sure."
A group of security guards, pimply teenagers mostly, held hands to form a human barricade when fans in line for modern pentathlon tickets threatened to stampede.
"I've had enough," muttered one man, turning back.
"Hooray, one less person in line," remarked another ticket-seeker gleefully.
Conspicuously absent from the Olympic green Friday were Beijing's snazzy-dressed Olympic volunteers. Close to one million volunteers will work the 2008 Games. Many are university students, and have already deployed across the city.
"Yeah!" a tiny volunteer waiting to buy handball tickets snorted. "I don't know why there aren't volunteers helping here. It's bizarre."
"There are a bunch of Olympic volunteers here," explained another. "They're just not wearing their uniforms, because the ticket windows won't sell to uniformed volunteers."
By 1pm, a number of sports had sold out and Beijingers clasping precious tickets streamed toward the city's recently opened Subway Line 10. Sales will continue Saturday and Sunday.
"Mei zhunbei hao le," an older woman grumbled, glaring at the Olympic ticket booths. "Totally unprepared."
Photographers took precarious perches to document the ticket rush.
Surprising, only a few of Beijing's million Olympic volunteers were on hand.
A young security guard stares down water-polo ticket seekers.
Security guards form a human barricade.
Sitting out the Olympic heat.
Beijing's most determined Olympic fans camped out for days.
Nearby, a weapons installment - organizers are worried about terrorist attacks during the 2008 Games.
July 25, 2008 9:40 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijing Capital Airport's monstrous Terminal 3 opened months ago, but these next two weeks will serve as its real debut. Most of the 200,000-plus foreigners expected to attend China's first-ever Olympic Games will touch down at 'T3.'
Designed by celebrity English architect Norman Foster, the 986,000 square meter structure resembles a 'flying dragon.' It rests on smooth crimson pillars and boasts a warped, scaly golden roof.
It just got easier for Seattleites to visit T3. On June 10, Hainan Airlines launched its new nonstop service between Seattle and Beijing.
So book a flight - check out East Asia's answer to London Heathrow and New York JFK.
Or, if a quick jaunt to China sounds infeasible, scroll through Blogging Beijing's photos of T3 below.
Beijing Capital Airport - Terminal 3
'T3' at night - 50,000 workers toiled nearly four years on the world's largest airport building.
Beijing's new terminal claims 300 check-in counters, 451 elevators and a system of luggage carriers able to move 20,000 bags per hour over 60 kilometers of track, at 7 meters per second.
Beijing's new terminal hosts 64 restaurants and 84 shops. Planners say it will accomadate 50 million passengers a year by 2020.
Why construct a US$4.6 billion airport terminal? For the Olympic Games!
T3's arrivals concourse in moonlight - Beijing's air traffic is growing 20 percent each year.
Night shift at T3 for a group of Beijing university students turned 2008 Olympic volunteers.
The terminal's biggest tenants: Air China, Oneworld and Star Alliance.
July 24, 2008 6:19 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
China's Olympic organizers will set up special protest zones for use during the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Liu Shaowu, security director for Beijing's organizing committee, declared Wednesday plans for protest zones in three public parks: World Park, Purple Bamboo Park and Ritan Park. None lie adjacent to Olympic venues, although all three are located near the city center.
"This will allow people to protest without disrupting the Olympics," Ni Jianping, director of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, announced. "We're giving people a platform to express their views."
Concerns that protestors and Chinese security forces could clash have swelled in recent weeks.
Human rights, press freedoms and religious-ethnic issues - particulary those involving China's Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions - remain contenious issues ahead of the 2008 Games (for more information see "International furor, domestic solidarity" and "Protests and counter-protests" on Blogging Beijing).
China's ties with oil-rich and war-torn Sudan have also come under fire.
Hoping to shield the Olympics from terrorism and dissent, organizers have brought Beijing under strict control. Subway sniffing dogs, highway checkpoints and random visa inspectations are among the security measures now in effect.
Ni and Susan Brownell, an American expert on the politics and culture of Chinese sport, urged leaders here to consider Olympic protest zones.
Supporters of the plan say organizers have taken a meaningful step, opening the city and China's government to criticism. Detractors and realists, Brownell included, contend that Beijing will use the zones to isolate and monitor disruptive activities during the Games.
"It was about placating the West. They were really concerned about social order," Brownell, an anthropologist from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told the Associated Press.
(For more perspective from Brownell, see "Beijing 2008 Q&A: Dr. Susan Brownell" on Blogging Beijing.)
Addressing reporters at a press conference, Liu revealed that groups wishing to protest would be required to apply and receive permission from local officials first. The Olympics begin in roughly two weeks.
Protest zones were adopted for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but little used.
Western press coverage of ethnic violence in Tibet this March, and demonstrations against China's global Olympic torch relay in Paris and London this April, sparked patriotic counter-demonstrations and xenophobic outrage among Chinese from Guangdong to Beijing.
Fengtai District's World Park is three miles from the Olympic softball field; Purple Bamboo Park is two bus stops south of the Beijing Institute of Technology's Olympic volleyball venue.
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
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 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 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...
June 26, 2008 10:36 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Come August 8, Beijing will swarm. Its sports stands...and its snack stands. At least 17 million call China's capital home; 3.1 million more will visit during the 2008 Summer Games.
Even worse, Beijing leaders have begun to shut down curbside commerce. It's untidy and mostly illegal. Diarrhea and banana peels - an Olympic organizer's worst nightmare.
If you're a real epicure, however, squirm on. Barrel through crowded Beijing. Get your mouth round a crisp 'candy ear' (tang erduo) or a plump 'donkey roll' (ludaguan'er).
Or quick-fried tripe (baodu), or soy milk (douzhi), or stinky tofu (chou dofu), or sticky rice (aiwowo). Just follow your nose. There's no telling what fantastic snacks you'll find.
'Snacks of Beijing'
"There are so many Beijing xiaochi (snacks or 'little eats'), I can't name one favorite," a middle-aged woman strolling down Jiugulou Dajie ('Old Drum-tower Boulevard') beamed. "I just love the Beijing flavors."
Beijing occupies an odd throne when it comes to Chinese cuisine. A capital for centuries, the city surprisingly claims few famous dishes as its own. Beijing's emperors dined on the best China's far-flung food foci offered.
"Beijing...what kind of place is it? I'll tell you," a sage old man counseled. His three pals nodded approvingly, bellies bare in the summer heat. "It's a place of many people, a place of many customs. Beijingers enjoy snacks from all over China and the world."
Many of the city's most popular dishes are Sichuanese (in the U.S., sometimes spelled Szechuanese) - from Sichuan province. These are hot, spicy snacks, often loaded with enough ma peppers to turn your tongue numb.
There's mapo dofu (pock-marked old lady tofu) and malatang - a fashionable plate. Malantang refers to a boiling vat of deep red brine. Pick your kebab poison - robins' egg, chicken foot, cow tendon. Then plunge it in.
"We're waidi ren ('outsiders')," two Sichuanese construction workers apologized. "Beijing snacks? How would we know?
We're fans of food from Sichuan. Sichuanese treats are great. Malatang, hot pot...it's easy to find such dishes in Beijing. Sometimes we even cook for ourselves."
In the winter, wind-burned men on creaky tricycle carts ply Beijing's alleys, bouncing columns of candied hawthorne fruits in tow. They come cheap - like all street food - two yuan for seven-haw skewer. When Spring Festival arrives, kids clamor for 15-haw towers at the city's temple fairs. Fired sweet potatoes (check for worms) are a filling cold-weather stand-by.
There's a special food for every Chinese holiday: Spring Festival dumplings, moon cakes mid-Autumn and zongzi - sopping sticky-rice triangles swaddled in bamboo leaves - during the Dragon Boat Festival. Beijingers scarf these dishes at home and on the sidewalk.
"Know how to make zongzi?" wondered a powerfully-built man with gray sideburns, cleaning birdcages down an alley near Houhai (Beijing's 'Back Lake'). "You've got to use a special sort of rice - jianmi, and mature bamboo leaves.
Head up to Huimi Xiaochi - it's a restaurant that sells Beijing snacks. It's right next to a McDonald's and a KFC - American garbage!"
No 'Olympic Festival' snack has cropped up yet. There's still time. Perhaps five-colored shaved ices will carry the day. Maybe fresh mangos. Or cold basketball bubble tea. Popsicles sell here for 1 yuan a pop.
Where world soccer goes beer drinkers follow, and these 2008 Olympics should prove no exception. Beijingers load up on Tsingtao and Yanjing - light Chinese beers. Around midnight, they pour out of the city's clubs and restaurants in search of cumin-covered mutton kebabs – yangrou chuan'er.
Beijing boasts a ton of corner chuan'er grills, and they're unmistakable. After dark, you'll notice orange neon cords coiled and hung like a giant kebab - the Chinese character chuan'er. Often, Uyghurs - a Mulsim, Turkic ethnic minority - or Chinese Hui Muslims man the chuan'er grills.
Heavy, flaky cakes (unsweetened pastries) dominate Beijing's snack scene - set in neat rows behind cloudly glass cases. Bing - Mandarin for cake - exist in an overwhelming number of shapes, sizes and flavors.
There's jianbing, crunchy and limp, ludoubing, with green bean filling, shaobing (flat and salty), niuroubing (beef-stuffed) and dabing, plain and big. That's just the beginning.
"Foreigners love dabing because it's so big," joked one snack vendor. "So big you can't take it to-go. You have to eat it right here. And you have to share - it's a social sort of food."
Among the city's reputed 200 snacks, ludaguan'er reigns supreme. Best with a touch of powdered sugar, these rice-flour plus red bean paste lumps are fun to chomp.
"My favorite Beijing treat is ludaguan'er," confirmed a teenager, between bites of malatang and sips of beer. "Why? Because it is delicious."
"Why do we call it ludaguan'er ('donkey roll')?" the sideburned man asked eagerly. "Because you roll it up...just so. And then you cut it...like this!"
There are stories behind all of Beijing's inexpensive treats - how they were invented, who favored them most. Finding a Beijinger old enough to remember those tales is difficult, however.
"Of course there are stories," a red-faced man with a flat-top haircut chuckled. "But I'm not the right person to ask. I'm too young. Go on - see if you can find an 'old head.'"
So grab a youtiao (fried breadstick) and consider yourself lucky. Happy Olympics and merry munching!
June 23, 2008 3:47 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijing's migrant workers rely on few constants. Their jobs are typically short-term. Their friends - here today, gone tomorrow. Their savings - easily spent. Their quarters - often temporary.
It's a blessing and a curse, Beijing's dynamism. Unregistered workers dream of returning home - pockets bulging yuan of course. No more smog. No more crowds. No more condescending city slickers. And yet, back home is precisely where most migrants would rather not be. It's tough in the country.
If there's one thing Beijing's dagong ('hired hands') can count on, it's this: hometowns are for dreaming about and cities for living in.
"I came to Beijing because my parents came," a gregarious 16-year old from Anhui province explained, grabbing hold of his friend's shoulders for a rough embrace. "My parents came to work, to earn money."
June is a stressful month for eight graders at the capital's privately run migrant schools . Most of them will head home for high school, leaving parents, teachers and pals in Beijing.
"My students were so quiet last week," said Meg Cassedy-Blum, a volunteer English teacher from Maryland. "I'm not sure they want to leave middle school."
According to students at a K-8 migrant school, fewer than ten of 40-plus eighth-graders will test into Beijing public high schools this year.
"Our (middle) school is okay," a 14-year old seventh-grader said. "It's in bad condition, but we like our teachers. Actually, back home the schools are better."
"If you'd stayed in Sichuan with your grandma you wouldn't be in school," a tiny, 13-year old boy interrupted, referring to that province's devastating May 12 earthquake.
Years ago, children without Beijing residence permits were categorically excluded from public schools. Now migrant quotas and high entrance fees hold enrollment down.
The Chinese government has poured money into rural education - projected US$35.9 billion between 2006 and 2010. In March 2007, Premier Wen Jiaobao promised to eliminate tuition costs in the countryside.
"School is free in my hometown," a 15-year old from Jiangxi province remarked. "And the schools are way nicer. When we left I told my mom - we shouldn't go to Beijing."
The city grows on you, though. Many un-registered children move to Beijing young. China's harsh, sweaty capital is what they know.
"When I grow up, I'll live in Beijing," said the burly 16-year old. "My hometown is old. Beijing is new."
"I'll probably head home for high school - I'm still not sure. I want to stay in the city. There are more opportunities. Beijing is better."
A classmate disagreed.
"There are big differences between my hometown and Beijing," she said. "It's easier to buy things here. The food is good, but the traffic is bad. I'd rather live in the country, where friendships last and the air is clear."
Meanwhile, summer has arrived - school is almost over. Will the city's migrant kids return home or stay in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics? In 2006, Chinese officials announced, then retracted plans to 'repatriate' unregistered workers during the Games.
"We really love the Olympics, because our families will earn money and because the Games are China's pride," a 15-year old girl answered. "Go Olympics!"
"Go home? Why would we go home? The Games are happening here!" her friend chimed in." Anyway, if you go home before the Olympics, the government won't let you back into Beijing. I don't know why."
June 20, 2008 2:30 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
China's love affair with the English language didn't begin with the 2008 Olympic Games. It merely gained momentum...a lot of momentum.
In 2001, the same year as Beijing's successful Olympic bid, China declared primary school English compulsory. By 2005, nearly 200 million Chinese were formally studying the language. Educators, parents and employers now regard English as essential - like writing, science or math.
Roughly 500,000 Olympic volunteers - mostly Chinese university students - will recieve roughly 500,000 foreigner visitors to Beijing during the 16-day Games. Why not retired doctors? Why not middle-schoolers? Why not housewives?
It's Beijing's university students who understand, and in many cases speak, English.
The city has demanded they perfect their English ahead of the Olympics, to better guide and assist athletes and guests from abroad. Beijing's cab-drivers, hoteliers and police-officers are in cram-mode - squeezing in study-sessions before, after and during work...often by audio-tape.
More on English learning in China and the 2008 Olympics:
'Crazy English - The national scramble to learn a new language before the Olympics'
'Learning to Speak Olympics in Beijing'
'Mad about English: Chinese flock to learn'
'Zhang Hanzhi, Mao's English Tutor, Dies at 72'
'Beijing Decides Poor Translations Won't Do' (2007)
'Foreign Language Fever Hits Beijing' (2005)
'Beijing Launches English-Learning Programs' (2001)
The 2008 Games have given birth to a new genre of paperbacks here: 'Olympic English' phrasebooks. They're selling fast in Beijing, where a handful of giant, state-run bookstores monopolize the reading scene. China's Olympic organizers have pumped out texts tailored to volunteers', seniors' and security officers' specific needs.
What qualifies as 'Olympic English?'
Here's a sampling from 'Aoyun Yingyu Sanbaiju' ('300 English Sentences for Olympic Games'):
Welcome to Beijing.
How do you do?
Did you come to China for Olympic Games?
How long will you stay in China?
China's porcelain and silk are famous.
It's very hot in July and August in beijing. The air temperature is around 30 degrees centigrade.
Are you lost?
Beijing Shooting Range? Not far from here. You can go by walk.
Do you see that white house? The public toilet is over there.
It is electronic. You can touch the screen, the map is there.
I will go to the Capital Indoor Stadium, too. Follow me please.
It's raining cats and dogs.
What's your name?
It's August 8th.
Sorry, I'm really/so/terribly sorry.
It's my fault.
Will you ever forgive me?
Being a taxi driver
Where to, sir?
Please stop smoking.
Here's your change. Bye-bye.
Are you carsick?
Let's open the window.
Working in a restaurant
Here's an English menu.
How do you want your steak?
Enjoy your meal.
Selling at a store
The red t-shirt fits you.
This is the latest fashion.
The purse is cheap.
I'm afraid I can't bring the price down.
Topics for sports
Let's go watch the football match.
Could you teach me something about equestrian?
I'm a green hand at handball.
I like rhythmic gymnastics. How about you?
Topics for Olympics
What's the slogan of the 29th Olympics?
One world, one dream.
Watching a game
The excellent athlete was eliminated in the preliminaries.
Hi, Mike. What a game! I'm sure that our team will win for the final.
Why did Cameroon's team lose to French's team.
Wang Tao overtook his counterpart 3 to 1.
China may win the gold medal.
My heart is jumping!
Our team losed to the Japanese team.
Beijing's English train derailed temporarily this month, under criticism from Paralympians and disabled fans. The city's Olympic organizers pulled the English version of a 200-page volunteer manual offline, citing insensitive language and the inclusion of offensive stereotypes.
The manual described persons with physical disabilities as having "unusual personalities because of disfigurement."
"For example, some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially when they are called 'crippled' or 'paralyzed,'" the manual counseled. "never stare at their disfigurement."
Organizers recalled the booklet and issued a public apology.
Other booklets on sale in Beijing employ more tact. China's Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press has translated an American-authored text - 'Aoyun Yingyu' ('Olympic English'). Chapter 5 is titled 'Sharing Cultural Information: Stereotypes.'
It begins, "In this chapter, you will learn to: desribe the people from different countries, make generalizations, qualify or contradict generalizations, talk about sterotypes." 'Aoyun Yingyu' introduces the English proverb 'don't judge a book by its cover.'
Oral practice sentences from the chapter include:
- Americans like baseball, and soccer too.
- Brazilian boys play soccer, and Brazilian girls play soccer too.
- Russians are tall, but Yelana isn't tall.
- Children like television, but my young son doesn't watch it.
Unlike 'Aoyun Yingyu Sanbaiju,' 'Aoyun Yingyu' contains few Chinese footnotes. Clearly, 'Aoyun Yingyu' was written for advanced Chinese learners of English.
June 15, 2008 11:20 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
(A shorter version of this entry appeared as a story in the June 14 print edition of the Seattle Times, and online here at www.seattletimes.com.)
No matter how far you go, Beijing welcomes you back/
One plus one plus one is three/
In Three, In Three, In Three
Bringing the true Beijing style/
Watching the old heads play Chinese chess/
Keep on speak-singing the true Beijing way/
Enough of these brothers with phony spirits/
Stick to speak-singing the true Beijing way/
In Three is dropping a beat
So begins 'Beijing welcomes you back,' as rapped by the soulful Chinese act In Three (Yin San'er). Chen Haoren, Meng Goudong and Jia Wei want the world to remember their city and the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Blast In Three and you'll hear Olympic China - east and west, old and new.
"Maybe a year from now you'll cry when our song comes on," said Chen, 25, who's lived all his life in Beijing.
The Olympics, fast approaching, have inspired all sorts of Beijingers: athletes, scientists, salesmen, dissidents...even rappers struggling to nourish a hip hop scene. This August, 3.1 million potential In Three
fans will visit Beijing.
Sugary pop ballads dominate Chinese music; teenagers here worship superstars from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most Beijing venues rock to an expatriate beat. In Three are drawing crowds against the odds.
"In China, hip hop is relatively unknown," said Dr. Jin Yuanpu, who heads the Humanistic Olympic Studies Center at People's University. "But if hip hop catches anywhere, it'll catch in Beijing. Beijingers love to talk."
According to Angela Steele, a rap researcher, Beijing spawned China's first hip hop artists between 2000 and 2004 - rappers like Yin Tsang and turntablists like DJ Wordy.
Jia, Meng and Chen share a colorful pad north of Beijing.
The Olympics...everpresent. The 2008 Games could blow the lid off Beijing hip hop.
Rather than imitate American hip hop, In Three have developed a sound based on traditional Beijing shuochang ('speak singing' or rapping). Mule drivers invented shuochang centuries ago. Comedians and salespeople perform the art today.
"We're not about Chinese hip hop, or American hip hop, or English hip hop," explained Meng, 26. "We're about Beijing hip hop.
"We lead different lives than rappers in the United States. We brag less. We're from a socialist society. We're less competitive."
Although Chinese pop stars borrow from rap - Taiwanese heartthrob Jay Chou, for example - record labels here rarely sign raw hip hop acts like In Three.
"We rap about our environment, about Chinese development," Chen said. "We try to make meaningful music. Beijing's hip hop scene is trash - too many pretenders.
"When I see Chinese kids wearing hip hop clothing - kids who are empty inside, I feel uncomfortable."
In Three's 'Beijing welcomes you back' live from Beijing.
Chen, who speaks a slack-jawed Beijing drawl (sanlitun becomes sanlituan'er), has dreaded hair and pierced ears. Meng sports a fitted baseball cap, Jia stylish t-shirts.
Posters of Tupac and Bob Marley hang inside the trio's smoky, two-story apartment - one light-rail stop from outer Beijing.
Chen and Meng have known each other for years.
"For a while we listened to hip hop, danced and drank in the same circles," Meng said.
African friends - from Nigeria and Burundi - turned Chen onto hip hop. He promoted for local nightclubs. That led to freestyle rhyming alongside Meng.
The pair approached Jia, 21, in 2007, at a nightclub in northwest Beijing.
"We heard him flow, and he was...wow," Meng said.
"In Three is the quintessential underground Beijing crew," Steele said. "They rap with Beijing accents, their lyrics represent the lives of Beijingers and they're outspoken, yet humorous.
"I saw In Three live in Guangzhou. Jia is smooth on the microphone," Steele said. "Chen keeps the crowd hyped. And Meng's delivery is fierce. You felt that they loved their music, and the crowd loved it too."
Chen plays a mean clarinet. In fact, he studied music theory at China's Central Conservatory.
"At first we weren't sure about our son and hip hop," Chen's father said. "We were hoping he'd stick to clarinet.
"We encouraged him to go one route and he went another. But we didn't stand in his way. We wanted him to be happy."
Chen got his start as a DJ - here mixing it up at home.
In Three walk a fine line between Beijing's rap underground and pop stardom.
Chen calls his father an 'ex-bad boy.' Chen Shu was 12 years old when China's leaders launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). A music-lover like his son, Chen Shu listened to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky behind closed doors.
"Western music wasn't allowed," said Chen Shu. "It was a dangerous time. When my classmates went out to drill with the Red Guards I stayed at home and studied music."
Thousands of fans bounced to In Three's MIDI Music Festival set last year. Now Beijing authorities have postponed MIDI 2008, citing security concerns ahead of the Olympics.
On 'Beijing welcomes you back,' nevertheless, Chen, Meng and Jia wax patriotic.
From track & field to swimming/
From the Bird's Nest (National Stadium) to the Watercube (National
China's people are realizing an Olympic Dream/
Participating determinedly, achieving victory/
Winning glory for our socialist country/
Our national flag rises above Tian'anmen with the sun
The song fits China's manicured Olympic image - grand and upbeat. In
Three are proud of their city.
Then again, Chen, Meng and Jia speak frankly about the Games.
"The Olympics are a business, you know," Chen said.
"There's so much hype," Jia said. "If you yell OLYMPICS, the guy next to you will pull off his headphones."
Children of the early 1980s, Chen, Meng and Jia remember a different Beijing - grayer and quieter. The city and Communist China opened in 1978, under Mao Zedong's successor Deng Xiaoping.
"Hosting an Olympics is like opening your window," Jia said. "You get a nice breeze coming in. And when the wind picks up, you're covered in dust.
"Some older homes have been knocked down. Some people have been asked to move. So the Games...there's good and bad."
Chen, Meng and Jia listen to American hip hop - Chen wants to see Brooklyn. Beijing's Olympics could lend In Three (and Beijing rap music) global exposure.
"Don't count on it," Chen smiled. "For us, the Games are niubi - of great consequence. But streets will be blocked, nightclubs shut down. There won't be hip hop in the Opening Ceremonies."
Maybe there should be.
Nothing's impossible in 2008, listen to In Three/
Beijing is your home/
Let's cheer together for the Chinese team/
Friendship matters most/
Have fun in Beijing/
We'll welcome you back
In Three music online
In Three music video online
In Three on YouTube
For more information on Chinese hip hop, visit Angela Steele's research blog - 'Dongting'
June 12, 2008 4:38 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
A magnitude 8.0 earthquake ripped western China one month ago today, wrecking schools, homes and lives in Sichuan province. It shook up Olympic preparations as well; Beijing suspended the 2008 Torch Relay out of respect for those Sichuanese dead and/or buried. An entire country mourned (see previous Blogging Beijing posts 'Three days of mourning' and 'China shaken - reactions from Beijing').
The May 12 earthquake - also known as the Wenchuan County earthquake - won China friends and sympathizers abroad, as columnists, pundits and politicians from Seoul to Seattle softened on Beijing's Games. Here in the Middle Kingdom, tragedy took center-stage. And, for a fleeting moment, the impossible happened. The Olympics were forgotten.
Brave soliders, tireless nurses and kindly leaders performed miracles rescues on camera. Sichuan's survivors straggled into clean, orderly tent cities. The Chinese, battered by snowstorms and ethnic unrest, swelled with pride.
China contains nearly 400 million televisions; video reports from the earthquake zone absorbed Beijingers for days. Soon enough, earthquake tributes appeared alongside the city's ubiquitous Olympic displays.
A banner for the 2008 Games...a banner for Sichuan's 70,000. A neighborhood blackboard encouraging Olympic participation...a neighborhood blackboard encouraging relief donations. A street mural celebrating China's coming-out party...a street mural lamenting Sichuan's disaster.
Olympic t-shirts haven given way to super-patriotic threads as well.
AN AIRBRUSHED WALL INSIDE PEOPLE'S UNIVERSITY (check out previous Blogging Beijing post 'The People's wall' for a slideshow of Olympics-themed graffiti)
China's earthquake left 5 million people homeless; about 7,000 school classrooms collapsed.
Many Beijing university campuses boast colorful stretches of wall.
According to the Associated Press, Chinese police moved to quell earthquake-related protests one month after the disaster. Some Sichuanese parents are blaming shoddily constructed schools for their children's deaths.
NEIGHBORHOOD BLACKBOARDS IN BEIJING (check out previous Blogging Beijing post 'Odds and ends' for a look at 2008 Games propaganda)
"Inner west neighborhood community-member Wenchuan earthquake disaster donation list (names and amounts)"
"Profound condolences to those compatriots who passed away in the big Sichuan earthquake"
PRE-QUAKE, POST-QUAKE FASHION
"I heart the Olympic Games. Go China!"
"I heart China more than ever."
Earthquake newslinks - one month later:
June 4, 2008 6:22 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Suddenly, they're everywhere...trendy green totes, bulging with corn, pork and bok choi.
China's government has declared war on the thin plastic shopping bag. A nation-wide ban took effect Sunday - one that could drastically reduce 'white pollution' here; for years, tossed bags have carpeted Beijing. According to a survey, Chinese people use 3 billion plastic bags every day.
Sunday's ban arrived in time for the 2008 Olympics; organizers have promoted environmental awareness and responsible consumption ahead of the Games. Only three months remain. On Monday, authorities in Beijing fined a shop 10,000 yuan (US$1,200), citing a plastic bag violation.
Supermarkets and cornerstores now must charge for thicker, reusable plastic bags - in most cases 0.2 to 0.5 yuan. The government has encouraged Chinese shoppers to bring their own bags, preferrably cut from environmentally-friendly materials.
Ireland, Rwanda, Guatemala and San Francisco beat China to punch; a growing number of countries and cities around the world are considering (anti) plastic bag legislation. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin have proposed a punitive 20-cent tax on plastic and paper bags. No nation-wide ban exists in the United States.
"We brought our own bags today!" crowed a young woman outside the Shuang'an branch Chaoshifa - one of Beijing's most popular grocery chains. "We heard about the ban from T.V. - it's a good thing. We want to protect the environment. We want to host a successful Olympic Games."
"I brought a bag here today," a middle-aged woman said. "Why? To protect the environment - the same as you foreigners do."
Chinese shoppers haven't revolted yet; 77.5 percent of respondents to an online survey conducted by CIIC-COMR, a market research firm, supported the ban.
"I'd say about 70 precent of our customers have been bringing their own bags," said a Chaoshifa checker. "It's great. I've been really impressed. Before the ban, few people brought their own bags. Very few."
Some of Beijing's smaller, cheaper stores will resist the ban...or lose business. Try charging 0.2 for a bag and 0.5 for a snack. It's possible that shoppers here will relapse.
"This plastic prohibition? Inconvient!" a elderly woman complained. "So inconvenient. I don't like change."
"I didn't bring my own bag today," said a young man. "I guess I forgot. I'm all for the ban. Next time I'll remember.
"What's the ban got to do with Beijing's Olympics? We need to protect the environment - that's part of hosting a Games."
"What a great idea," a young woman exclaimed. "I brought my own bag today - I'm not going to throw it away. It may take some time for everyone to get used to the ban, though."
A Chinese Amway pitch-man hovered outside of the Shuang'an branch Chaoshifa - promotional pamphlets in hand.
"We're a green company," he explained, pressing close. "We want to show the Chinese government the advantage of environmental protection. See, our slogan: huanbao xianzai, luse huilai (protect the environment now, enjoy a green tomorrow)."
"That'll be liang mao (0.2 yuan)," said a cornerstore owner. "We're charging for bags now. Not for profit - to reduce 'white pollution.' It's a big problem in Beijing. Hopefully now it'll start to improve."
June 2, 2008 5:28 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
An East Asian capital. A proud, persevering country. A resurgent economy. A people eager to strut their stuff. A landmark Olympic Games.
Xie Yuxin has seen it all before.
One of China's best-loved soccer players, Xie prowled the midfield for his country at the 1988 Games in Seoul.
The first Chinese player to compete professionally abroad - with Dutch club PEC Zwolle in 1982 - Xie appeared in more than 100 international matches for China between 1987 and 1996.
Sweden and West Germany blanked his 1988 squad, 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. The Chinese held Xie and Tunisia scoreless - a 0-0 draw. It was China's first Olympic soccer appearance, three games and out.
Xie enjoyed Seoul, nonetheless. He was 19 years old.
Two decades later, Xie is coaching middle-schoolers in Shenzhen - China's under-15 national team.
Xie and I recently talked generation gaps, the 1988 and 2008 Games, his career, China's sports system and soccer strategy. Check out our conversation below.
(Note: Zeng Jianguo, a Chinese university student, contributed to this report)
A young Xie poses in his national team uniform
Xie (left) holds a soccer ball beside one of Beijing's Olympic mascots
Why soccer? What attracted you to the game? How did you achieve success?
Soccer was - and is - really popular in my hometown, Meizhou (Guandong province). My family was so poor. I loved playing soccer and recognized it as a way out. I began playing when I was seven years old, maybe six.
I had great coaches. They were smart, and helped me improve. The number one reason for my success: hard work.
I joined a team in 1980. Five years later, I was selected for the under-17 national team. In 1987, the under-22 national team. In 1988, I represented China in Seoul at the Olympics.
You played in a lot of competitions - which will you always remember as special?
Of course, the 1988 Olympics. Those games were incredible. Our 1989 World Cup qualifiers, too.
As an athlete, there's nothing bigger than playing for your country at the Olympics. The 1988 Games really left a deep impression on me. I'm glad I was able participate.
I joined the national soccer team just in time for the Olympics. Before Seoul, I thought I was a pretty good player. I had never been abroad. Our first game was against Sweden.
It was shocking. The foreign teams we competed against and watched were amazing. I realized I still had a long way to go. When we returned to China, I worked even harder. I knew what I had to do.
Abroad, China is known for its state-sponsored sports system - how has the system changed since you were young?
Things are very different. Today's kids benefit from a better environment, a better situation. Look at China's economy. When I was young and part of the system, all we did was practice. All we did was play soccer. We weren't so happy.
Today's kids are happier. The play soccer. They study. They do whatever else. Their lives have balance. On the other hand, today's kids don't know how to chiku ('eat bitter' - endure hardship). They have it easy.
So the 14-year olds you coach - they lead charmed lives?
Not exactly. They're very busy.
They wake up at 7am. By 8am they're in class. They rest after lunch. More class from 2-4pm. We have soccer practice until 6pm. They eat dinner, study 8-9:30pm and then go to sleep. That's the schedule, and it's set.
How do the kids like it?
They have really good attitudes. Some of them really like school. Some only like playing soccer. Personally, I agree with the arrangement. It's good for the kids' development. No one required me to study when I was young, and I regret it. If they do well in school, they'll be able to find a job outside of soccer.
What about the term 'Little Emperors?' Has China's 'One-Child Policy' turned out a generation of overachieving spoiled brats?
I wouldn't go that far. There are kids like this, of course. Some parents are extremely pushy. Most aren't. It's different family to family.
How do you relate to your players?
I'm their coach, first. I'm also their teacher. When they're in trouble, I help. We talk about life, about school...about many things.
How good exactly are your players?
In China, this school is tops. It's a foreign language & sports school. Many of my kids will play professionally. Some will probably join the national team. I really believe in them.
Some of my players want very badly to go pro - they're clear on this. They want to make money and become famous. Some of my players aren't so sure.
Who gets to play for you? Who gets to attend the school?
The school is selective, and expensive. There are kids who play soccer very well, but can't afford to attend the school. It just goes to show - China's sports system is imperfect. What's lacking? Government investment.
Which athlete best represents China's current sports system, and where the system is headed - Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang or NBA basketball star Yao Ming?
Yao Ming, because he plays in the United States. Young Chinese athletes should go abroad, build relationships with foreigners and observe different ways to play and train. That's how to develop China's sport system further.
What are your expectations for China's 2008 Olympic soccer squad?
I hope they succeed. They're a more balanced team than we were in 1988. But what's more important is that they work hard for China. If they show a fighting spirit - that'll be enough.
Earthquake newslinks - China's May 12 disaster:
Earthquake response organizations - donations/volunteers wanted (via www.danwei.org):
May 30, 2008 3:18 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
On May 14, I accompanied six Chinese civil servants on a trip to Tianjin. We took in the sights, strolled down Gu Wenhua Jie ('Ancient Culture Street'), scarfed fish-scale salad and doughy dumplings (baozi). We also attended the 2008 Gymnastics World Cup - an Olympic preview.
"Twenty civil servants. Sixteen provinces. Eight apartments. Three hundred hours of English instruction. Four eye-opening months in Olympic Beijing."
Which does the above passage best describe?
a). Chinese television's newest reality show
b). An intensive English program sponsored by the State Council's Office of Legislative Affairs
Surprisingly, the correct answer is 'b'. For the past three years, the State Council has plucked bright young bureaucrats from China's backwaters for extra education.
The 'Middle Kingdom' is crazy for English; people value the language here, where English speakers net cushy jobs and vocab equals money.
Like it or not...English has facilitated China's post-1978 economic surge and three-decade dance with the West. Cab drivers, hoteliers and volunteers are now immersed in study. More than 500,000 overseas tourists will visit Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Nearly 200 million Chinese took formal English classes in 2005 (China made primary school English compulsory in 2001). Tack on 'English Corners,' private academies and the country's wacky English-learning magazines. By 2025, China will boast more English-speakers than the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom combined.
This February, at Beijing's behest, an unlikely group took the English plunge - provincial law-clerks determined to further or escape that most mundane of careers.
What does a Chinese civil servant dream about becoming, besides a civil servant?
a). A philosopher
b). A businessman and father
c). A central government official
d). A fashion designer
e). All of the above
You guessed it. The correct answer is 'e' - all of the above.
"When I was a little boy, I thought I'd grow up and start a business," said Ted, a 34-year old from Yunnan province. "So many things come between you and your dreams, though. So many things you don't expect."
Ted's classmates like to tease him - the former soldier, married years ago, is desperate for a son.
"I don’t want to be a civil servant my whole life," he remarked softly, smiling. "The job is monotonous."
Halfway down Gu Wenhua Jie, Ted ducked into a Taoist temple. "He's going to pray to Mazu, the sea goddess," explained Bryan, a native Tianjiner. "Ted's going to ask her for a son."
Bryan, chubby and friendly, is young for the program. In July, he'll return to Tianjin. Unwillingly.
"I've always dreamed about becoming a fashion designer," he giggled on the bullet train back to Beijing. "I wish I could move to Tokyo and make clothes for a living. I make clothes now - in my spare time. Men's clothes. Women's clothes. It's a childish dream, maybe. But it's my dream.
"Beijing is more fashionable than Tianjin. There are more people from outside China in the capital. They can wear something new. Of course, I like Tokyo fashion best. I like Tokyo's style."
Paul - short, muscular and restless - fidgeted with his cell phone a few seats away. The program's only participant based in Beijing, Paul speaks excellent English. He works for the State Council. His favorite phrase is - 'Yes, I know.'
"Yes, I know," Paul began. "As a boy, I hoped to become a philosopher. When I was in university, I discovered law."
Paul hails from Ningxia, a poor, sandy autonomous region northeast of Tibet. He spent six years in Xi'an - where China's famous Terracotta Warriors dwell - earning a master's degree.
When I dropped a coin into the mouth of a jade temple toad for good luck, he assured me "you'll acquire many shares in your future company." Paul is a fierce badminton player.
He's also what Linda, from smoggy Chongqing on the banks of the Yangtze, wishes she could be.
"I took the central government exam and passed four years ago," Linda recalled sadly. "Then I failed my interview. It was such a pity. I missed my chance to work in Beijing."
Paul examines an old-time 'Spring Festival' scene, in Tianjin.
Vivian grew up in Urumqi, the biggest city in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
How will China's Olympic gymnastic team perform this summer in Beijing?
a). Very well
d). Very poorly
e). Yayyy! China! Yayyy!
Both 'a' and 'e' are correct.
Chinese gymnasts tear up Tianjin:
Lu Shanzhen, who coaches the Chinese women, recently lamented her squad's difficult Olympic draw - Lu's gymnasts will open the 2008 Games against Romania. Judging by their performance at the FIG World Cup, however, the Chinese are ready.
Ted grinned, Bryan cheered and China dominated - out-spinning, out-vaulting, out-balancing the planet's best in Tianjin.
Bryan bounced off his seat for Chen Yibing, Tianjiner and World Champion on the still rings.
"China won't win the overall medal count in 2008," Bryan admitted. "We don't have many great runners or swimmers. The U.S.A. will win, as usual.
"The Chinese team will place second or third, though. We're good at gymnastics. Our bodies are suited for tumbling."
Outside the stadium (think Kremlin meets Kingdome) a platoon of grizzled workers spent the afternoon heaving paver-stones. Inside, sleepy ushers shuffled past dated posters of body-builders. The whole place stank of urine.
Chen Yibing, Bryan's favorite gymnast, on the still rings.
A custodian sleeps between rounds of the 2008 FIG World Cup in Tianjin.
A Chinese gymnast mid-flight - the uneven bars.
What is the relationship between China's central government and provincial governments?
e). Any of the above
Once again, 'e'. Which is to say, there's no correct answer. Even Chinese bureaucrats disagree.
"I think the role of the central government is to guide," Bryan said. "China is not a dictatorship. The local governments have some autonomy. We in the provinces can determine some things. This is something that people outside of China often don't understand."
"I don't know that," Linda chimed in. "I think the central government does have so much power. We have very little power in the provinces. We do what the central government tells us to do."
If you answered 'c' - yourre like most Americans. China is the Three Gorges Dam. China is state censorship and propaganda. China is Chairman Mao. You've read about Beijing's 1989 crackdown on student protests in Tian'anmen Square. You know what China's central government demands, what it has accomplished.
Yet many people familiar with China would call you uninformed - naive. "Heaven is high," the old Guangzhou (Canton) saying goes, "and the Emperor is far away." China is immense; Beijing can't manage the country alone. And so, half the policies the central government drafts...are ignored.
Autonomy has its advantages and disadvantages. Some people argue that loosening the reigns on local Chinese politics encourages democratic reform. Others say Beijing's admirable 'green' regulations will remain worthless until properly enforced. A stronger central government, they contend, could save China's environment from dirty politicians and corrupt factory bosses.
"I'm glad that local officials don't always listen to the central government," Bryan said. "If local officials don't protect the environment, they're making a personal mistake. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the system."
Chinese civil servants believe English is awfully important.
True or False?
"I believe English is awfully important," Bryan confirmed.
Would Bryan or Ted, or Linda or Paul - I inquired - use English much after returning to their regular jobs?
"I don't really speak, read or write English at work," Ted apologized.
So why the training? Why should China's civil servants learn English? What does the central government care?
"We must learn English," Bryan said. "How else can we communicate with people outside China? How else can we help our country develop? How else can we learn about the world? If we don't learn English, we'll never understand America."
Ted, walking past Tianjin's brand-new Olympic soccer stadium, sends a text message to his wife in Yunnan province.
May 21, 2008 7:08 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Last Monday's destructive earthquake staggered China. For more than a week, soldiers, goods and supplies have streamed into Sichuan province - located 900 miles southwest of Beijing, near Tibet. For more than a week, gruesome photos snapped amid the rubble have streamed out.
The disaster has absorbed foreign correspondents and citizen journalists. Chinese reporters have covered the earthquake diligently, out-pacing state media censors. A number of distinct Sichuan story-lines have emerged.
The earthquake itself
When Sichuan shuddered and shook May 12 at 2:28pm - sending smaller earthquakes north to Beijing and east to Shanghai - thousands of Chinese Internet users jumped online. Within minutes, news of the earthquake was widely available. Mainstream newspapers and television stations, bloggers, instant-messagers, chat room posters and micro-blogging 'twitterati' all contributed . The tremor spooked Sichuan's capital, devastating smaller cities and towns north of Chengdu.
Early accounts from stricken Sichuan reported 'thousands dead.' As soldiers slogged past mudslides, reaching hard-hit but isolated hamlets, the number of lives claimed by the earthquake began to swell. Headlines in China and abroad wailed '10,000,' then '15,000,' '25,000,' '50,000.' The death toll will continue to increase (now closing in on 75,000). Thousands of people remain missing; hundreds of thousands have been injured.
Woeful and wonderful tales
Concerned readers and viewers from Beijing to Bellevue have shed tears over collapsed school buildings and marveled at successful rescues. On video, a girl was pulled from beneath her school - dead, still clutching a pencil. In the city of Pengzhou, relief workers extracted a 60-year old woman from a ruined temple 195 hours after the earthquake.
'Tiny bodies in a morgue, and grief in China (New York Times)
'In rubble, couple clung to eath other, and life' (New York Times)
'With China quake toll rising, an unexpected rescue' (International Herald Tribune)
Front page - Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Centerspread - Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Sons and daughters, father and mothers, friends and colleagues have yet to be accounted for; China is mourning. Already, though, reporters and researchers have begun to assess the earthquake's economic impact.
According to one European news service, direct disaster losses will tally around US$10 billion - less than those incurred when freak snowstorms hit southern China early this year. Experts expect reconstruction work to compensate for factories closed and jobs lost. The country's Ministry of Finance has allocated US$357 billion in temporary allowances to support earthquake victims.
However, the earthquake has left five million Sichuanese homeless. The disaster may affect China's labor pool, as well. Nearly 20 million people from the province work as migrant laborers elsewhere. Many will return home to help Sichuan recover.
Energy and the environment
Initially, Sichuan's giant pandas demanded loads of foreign ink. A May 12 Associated Press story assured readers that 60 pandas - interned at a Chengdu breeding center - were safe...paragraphs later reporting that fifty bodies had been pulled from the debris of a school. The province is home to 1,200 endangered pandas - 80 percent of the surviving wild population in China.
According to National Geographic, the earthquake buried 32 radiation sources - mostly materials used in hospitals and factories. Sichuan contains no commercial nuclear power plants, but does host military and nuclear weapons research facilities.
On the other hand, Sichuan's earthquake may have seriously damaged 400 dams. Additionally, 22 coal mines in western China were affected. Sichuan produced 27 percent of the country's natural gas in 2007. No Chinese province generates more hydro-electricity. More environmental analyses are surely forthcoming.
Questions and allegations
Sadness has defined China's reactions to the earthquake. This Monday, folks around the country bowed their heads for a three-minute silence. But the disaster has elicited anger as well.
Some people believe that scientists and officials knew the earthquake was coming. A contingent of parents wants to know why so many Sichuanese schools crumbled May 12. Recently, false aftershock warnings caused thousands of Chinese to needlessly flee for cover and panicked tent-seeking crowds in Chengdu.
Slow government responses have garnered harsh criticism in China before. It appears that won't be the case this time.
'Frog march sparks new China quake alarm' (Agence France-Presse)
'Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children's Deaths' (Wall Street Journal)
Pacific Northwest dispatches from Chengdu (Seattle Times)
'A tale of two disasters - China's rescue mission shames Burma' (The Independent)
'Beijing's quick response to disaster won't cover cracks of corruption' (Guardian)
Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Media set free?
China's state-controlled media has - for decades - steered clear of unfolding disasters. "In 1976, after an earthquake razed Tangshan in the northeastern province of Hebei, the death toll of 240,000 was treated as a state secret for years," Maureen Fan of the Washington Post wrote May 18. Fan, like many Western reporters and 'China-hands,' has praised domestic earthquake coverage.
"Journalists have covered the disaster with unprecedented openness and intensity, broadcasting nearly nonstop live television footage, quickly updating death tolls on the Internet and printing bold newspaper editorials calling for building industry and other reforms."
It appears that, at least temporarily, Chinese media was given free reign. Why and for how long? Theories are circulating.
'Chinese media take firm stand on openness about earthquake' (Washington Post)
'China quake critics make voices heard online' (Agence France-Presse)
'Wen Jiaobao - man of the moment' (Newsweek)
Reporting bad news in China' (US News and World Report)
'Beijing's balancing act with the press' (Variety)
Fresh news - of refugee camps and buckling dams - will continue to receive top-billing from Chinese newspapers and television programs, even as editors in other countries move on. According to www.danwei.org - an English-language website dedicated to Chinese media and advertising - Guangzhou's Information Times newspaper notified its readers May 20 that it would postpone publication of a high school entrance exam guide - in order to "fully devote itself to reporting the earthquake."
Heavy rains, landslides and aftershocks may hamper further relief efforts in Sichuan. On May 20, UNICEF announced that the earthquake put 14.5 million people at risk and toppled 6,989 schools. According to that organization, tents are the disaster area's most-needed aid item. Infectious disease among those Sichuanese displaced could become a problem.
'Aftershocks create panic in China's earthquake region' (Times of London)
UNICEF relief report - Sichuan
'China scrambles to help homeless as quake death toll climbs' (Agence France-Presse)
'China to probe builders after quake collapses' (Reuters)
The country's three official days of mourning for the victims of the May 12 earthquake have now come and gone. Students and teachers observed frequent remembrances. Work units collected untold cash donations. Online gamers and entertainment seekers were redirected to disaster relief websites. Bowling alleys closed. On Monday, an afternoon crowd clogged Tian'anmen Square for patriotic chants and communal heartache. China's newspapers ran solemn front pages - black and white. University students held candlelight vigils.
'In grave grief, China mourns quake dead' (China Daily)
'Front page of the day - black and white' (www.danwei.org)
'UW earthquake vigil' (Seattle P-I)
'Wave of unity and patriotism sweeps China' (CNN)
'A day in the quake' (McClatchy)
Beijing Evening News (May 21)
Beijing Evening News (May 21)
A disastrous Olympics?
Although no Olympic venues were damaged in the May 12 earthquake, nor Olympians injured, this is China's Olympic year. Already, some of the 2008 Games' staunchest opponents have declared a ceasefire. What two weeks ago resembled a global conflict - over human rights violations, press freedoms, Tibet and Darfur - now resembles a global discussion.
The Olympic torch will resume its journey towards Beijing from the Chinese seaport of Ningbo tomorrow, after a three-day hiatus. Bloggers and 'netizens' (online users) here urged their government and Beijing's Olympic organizers to shut down the relay.
China has endured a series of crushing hardships this year, from riots to train wrecks. Beijing's Olympics symbolize national strength and unity; in the wake of 2008's worst calamity, many Chinese people crave a successful Games now more than ever.
Others maintain that the Olympics are to blame. It's the Bird's Nest - Beijing's new National Stadium - some claim...the structure's fengshui is all wrong. Or perhaps the Fuwa - Beijing's Olympic mascots - are bad luck. There are five Fuwa. One represents Sichuan's giant panda. Chinese folk traditions link natural disasters to important political events.
'China shaken - reactions from Beijing (Seattle Times)
'China's disasters by the number' (Asia Sentinel)
'Rat causing China's tough Olympic year?' (International Herald Tribune)
'Olympic torch relay resumes' (Seattle Times)
May 19, 2008 7:22 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Today, China began to officially honor those people who perished as a result of the May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake in Sichuan province. At 2:28pm, the country observed three minutes of rememberance - seven days after the natural disaster began.
According to the Associated Press:
China stood still and sirens wailed Monday to mourn the country's tens of thousands of earthquake victims, as the search for survivors increasingly became a search for bodies. Construction workers, shopkeepers and bureaucrats across the bustling nation of 1.3 billion people paused for three minutes at 2:28 p.m. - exactly one week after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit central China. Air-raid sirens and the horns of cars and buses sounded in memory of the estimated 50,000 dead.
Millions of Beijingers paused. Workers stopped working. Students lowered their heads. Drivers parked their cars. Behind a chorus of horns and sirens, the city's birds kept on chirping.
Sympathetic Sounds (original audio) - Haidian District, Beijing
China's central television stations, CCTV1 through CCTV9, ran earthquake coverage all day. Beijing's television stations followed suit. For the most part, programming consisted of: live updates from the relief effort in Sichuan, compassionate messages from viewers, graphic rescue montages set to music, interviews with survivors and heroes, and scenes from today's three-minute observance.
Sypathizers packed Tian'anmen Square in central Beijing for a rally in solidarity with the earthquake's victims. Thousands chanted Zhongguo jiayou, Sichuan jiayou ('Go China, Go Sichuan' - lit. 'Add gas China, Add gas Sichuan').
Three Minutes to Remember (CCTV News)
An emotional Tiananmen Square (CCTV News)
A television reporter conducted interviews outside of the Bird's Nest - Beijing's new National Stadium, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games will be held. One interviewee remarked, 'In spite of the earthquake, the Olympics will succeed."
May 18, 2008 4:14 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Tomorrow (Monday) at 2:28pm, one week after a devastating series of earthquakes first shook Sichuan province, China will observe a three-minute silence. The Olympic torch relay, currently winding its way to Beijing, will be suspended for three days - out of respect for those affected by the disaster.
Interactive map of Beijing/China (including the earthquake's epicenter) - follow up on posts and get oriented:
More earthquake links:
May 15, 2008 5:46 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijing quivered. Sichuan collapsed.
A powerful earthquake - registering 7.8 by the Richter scale - struck western China's Sichuan province Monday. Nearly 20,000 people have died; at least 40,000 remain buried; thousands more are missing.
The tremor ripped through roofs, wrecked factories, splintered dams and brought buildings down. In the city of Shifang, two chemical plants crumbled, leaking liquid ammonia. In Dujiangyan city, several schools fell. Hundreds of students were killed.
High-rises swayed here in the capital, 930 miles northwest of the earthquake's epicenter - a rugged country, Wenchuan. Sichuan's rumble triggered a smaller earthquake near Beijing, registering 3.9 by the Richter scale. Few Beijingers noticed, though white-collar workers evacuated a grove of skyscrapers downtown.
But word spread quickly - via text and instant message, flitting between cell phones and cell phone towers. Television sets and radios blared. "Thousands of Chinese troops deployed west." "Premier Wen Jiaobao arrives on the scene."
Beijingers are fond of figures, obsessed with numbers. This year's Olympic Games will begin at 8:08am on August 8 - that's 8/8/08. Days after the earthquake, a grislier statistic commands the city's attention - everyone knows the death toll will continue to rise.
The earthquake has dominated newspaper headlines in Beijing, as in Seattle.
Television coverage of the relief effort in Sichuan, aboard a Beijing bus.
A series of tragedies have shaken China this year. Freak snowstorms startled Spring Festival travelers in February, damaging 602,000 houses, stranding 600,000 migrant workers, leaving hundreds dead. A month later, Tibetan protestors/rioters set fire to Lhasa.
European activists hounded China's Olympic torch relay in April. This month, 70-plus were killed in a train crash between Beijing and the Yellow Sea. Hand Foot & Mouth disease, an intestinal virus, has claimed scores of Chinese children.
People here, however, seem confident that China will emerge from the rubble to host a memorable 2008 Games.
"It is horrible," said a construction worker from Hebei province, perched on a mud-caked folding chair eating lunch. "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."
"We're all very sad," remarked a young woman from Inner Mongolia, who attends Beijing's Central University of Nationalities. "I have Sichuanese friends - none from Wenchuan. Their families are okay. China has endured many hardships in 2008. Even so, this earthquake won't affect the Olympics. We are determined."
"We're very upset," a waitress explained. "It's hard to comprehend - so many people have died."
Students at Beijing's Central University for Nationalities collect earthquake relief donations.
Photographs from and well-wishes for Sichuan's disaster zone displayed on campus at the Central University for Nationalities.
Road-blocking landslides, caused by the earthquake and subsequent downpours, have hindered relief efforts in mountainous Sichuan. Soldiers and rescue workers didn't penetrate Wenchuan until Wednesday.
Running food, medicine, tents and blankets down the county's muddy, winding roads has proven difficult. As of Thursday night (Thursday morning in Seattle), 130,000 soldiers and police, aided by 150 military helicopters had been deployed.
"I'm from Sichuan," said a man in Beijing, sitting concernedly on the curb inspecting a newspaper. "My hometown is far from the earthquake's epicenter. No one in my family was killed or hurt.
"I've just been reading," he added, nodding to his newspaper - a grief-stricken mother photographed on its front page. "It's so sad. At least China can handle this sort of disaster now - it's been 30 years since gaige kaifang (Deng Xiaoping's 'reform and opening.')
On the outskirts of Beijing, a man from Henan province leaned against an outdoor pool table.
"Sichuan has a whole lot of people. China has a whole lot people," he said. "Sichuan is like this pool table, and Wenchuan - it's just one pocket. This earthquake is a relatively small thing."
"We have a few kids from Sichuan," said an English teacher from Anhui province who works at one of Beijing's 'migrant schools' - fringe institutions that enroll children belonging to un-registered workers. "They've tried calling home...nothing."
"Yes, we left family back home," a Sichuanese migrant to Beijing said. "We've heard from them. They're alive. But they're scared. They've been sleeping outside in the rain."
A Beijing policeman from Yunnan province is worried about his former work-mate and friend.
"He's in Chengdu," the policeman said. "I've tried calling him. My calls won't go through. We've been out of touch for a while. Still, I want to know he's safe."
Students wash their hands before eating lunch at an elementary school in Beijing (no students attending the school photographed have caught Hand Foot & Mouth disease).
A poster encourages students to keep their hands, feet and mouths clean.
According to China-hand Peter Hessler, a New Yorker correspondent, many Chinese associate major earthquakes with political events. Monday's disaster is the largest here since 1976, when an earthquake in eastern China killed 240,000 people. Mao Zedong died the same year, and with him the Cultural Revolution.
This summer, Beijing will host the 2008 Olympics - China's first.
"It's a bad-luck year, a mouse year," said the English teacher (referring to the Chinese zodiac). "First, the snow. Then the violence in Tibet. Many children have died from Hand Foot & Mouth disease in Anhui."
"There's no relationship between this earthquake and the Games," an elderly man washing his hair outside answered angrily. "No relationship."
"There's been a lot of trouble in 2008," said a 40-year old migrant worker from Zhejiang province. "It's got nothing to do with the Olympics, though. That's pure superstition. Earthquakes are completely natural."
A pair of students fundraising for earthquake relief inside the Central University for Nationalities agreed.
"A natural disaster is a natural disaster - that's all," one said. "An earthquake, people don't control. The Olympics, people control."
China has scaled back its domestic torch relay, set to visit Sichuan in July. Yesterday in Ruijin, Jiangxi province, torchbearers and supporters observed a moment of silence in honor of the earthquake's victims. The International Olympic Committee has donated US$1 million to the relief effort.
"Since the earthquake, all I've done besides work is watch the news," said a teacher from the Central University for Nationalities. "There are so many people still trapped. I've donated clothes and money."
May 15, 2008 12:54 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
On Monday, a deadly earthquake - magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale - shook western China's Sichuan province apart.
As of 8am Beijing time Thursday morning (5pm Wednesday in Seattle), the earthquake's reported death toll had surpassed 15,000. Nearly 26,000 people remained buried under collapsed buildings and wreckage.
The earthquake triggered landslides that blocked roads to hard-hit areas. Rugged Sichuan is one of China's poorest and most populous regions. Heavy rain raked the province following the earthquake and tens of thousands of victims are currently homeless.
Some 2,000 Chinese soldiers are working to plug cracks in a two-year-old dam; flooding threatens downstream communities still reeling from the earthquake. In one town of 10,000 people, as few as 2,300 may have survived.
The earthquake has dominated headlines and news broadcasts in Beijing, where a minor earthquake caused no serious damage on Monday. According to Chinese spokespeople, no Olympic venues were affected.
China has scaled back its domestic torch relay, less than 100 days before Beijing's Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has donated US$1 million to the earthquake relief effort and committee president Jacque Rogge has written a letter of condolence to Chinese leaders.
China has faced one crisis after another in this, its Olympic year. Fierce snowstorms buffeted south China just before February's Spring Festival, when millions of migrant workers board trains and head for home. In March, protests/riots in Tibet stirred international concern. Last month, activists in Paris and London opposed China's Olympic torch relay, angering Chinese nationals. In early May, a train crashed between Beijing and Qingdao, a city on the Yellow Sea, killing more than 70 people. More than 40 children in China have died from HFMD (Hand Foot & and Mouth Disease), an intestinal virus, this month.
Migrant workers from Sichuan - who man construction crews everywhere in China - are struggling to reach their loved ones back home.
Journalists and bloggers are praising China's notoriously close-lipped government for the unprecedented freedom it has given local media covering the earthquake.
The Internet and 'new media' played a noteworthy role post-earthquake.
China-hand Peter Hessler of the New Yorker has suggested that many people here will draw connections between the country's bad luck and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
After speaking with Chinese friends, I'd have to agree. According to other reports, however, the disaster has released China's Olympics - at least temporarily - from international criticism.
Check back with Blogging Beijing tomorrow for earthquake reaction in Beijing.
May 13, 2008 11:14 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
A muscular knot of bright white socks and shaggy black heads surges onto the grass at Beijing's National Stadium - the Chinese Olympic soccer team. Their fans roar with patriotic delight.
When a second group of players take the pitch, confident in royal blue, the stadium grows silent. "France, %$@& you!" someone shrieks. Ten thousand voices join him.
Welcome to Liu Jingmin's worst nightmare. A year ago, Beijing's vice-mayor launched a campaign against foul language. According to Liu, boorish Beijingers pose a threat to China's Olympic image.
"Beijing ball-fans do swear a lot," observed a student from the Capital Normal University. "Some of them are fengkuang - crazy. Go to a game. You'll hear 60 percent of the people around you swearing.
"We don't swear, though. We're college students - educated. I mean, $%@*...there's been enough propaganda on the subject."
Construction workers from Henan curse. So do businessmen from Fujian, bakers from Xinjiang and bartenders from Anhui. Yet Beijing boasts an uncouth lexicon all its own: jingma ('capital cursing').
Some Beijingers consider jingma part of their heritage - an earthy way of speaking that's casual and free. Children break into jingma before they know what &%%# means.
Nonetheless, many Beijingers object to jingma; they liken it to Qing dynasty foot binding, an ugly relic of the city's dark past.
"Jingma is a problem we should address," another Capital Normal student asserted. "Jingma isn't a custom we should preserve."
"Beijingers curse all the time," said a young migrant worker from Shandong province. "You get used to it, though."
"Swearing is definitely a problem in Beijing," a Capital Normal freshman from Heilongjiang province chuckled. "*&*# this, *&*# that - it's all you hear."
A smoky, underground Beijing pool hall...and jingma stronghold.
Older interviewees shared a different account.
"Beijingers don't curse very often," declared one grizzled porter, resting his tricycle cart against a shady wall. "Jingma included - we don't use that sort of language."
"People curse on the ball-field, I suppose," an elderly chess-player said. "Fans curse in the stands. We don't curse. We're a bunch of lao tou'er ('old heads'). We don't attend ball-games."
Beijing's Olympic organizers are scrambling to ensure clear skies this August and keep 'Free Tibet' protestors at bay. But rowdy Beijingers worry them too.
Aggressive nationalism is on the rise, thanks to Olympic torch relay demonstrations in Paris and London. China, as host, stands to gain or lose an enormous amount of 'face' in 2008. Fiery fans could ruin the party.
"Taunting would be in poor taste," said a 32-year old accountant from Inner Mongolia, enjoying his lunch break. "We ought to welcome all the Olympic athletes."
"Cursing? At the Games? Impossible!" a middle-aged woman accompanied by two friends exclaimed. "That would be impolite."
"We Chinese are civilized," explained a young Beijinger, breathing hard from pick-up basketball. "There's no cause for concern.
"European soccer fans swear. That's just soccer culture. Americans swear too. At the Olympics - no. In China - no."
The right way to cheer for China's Olympians...
Jingma and the Games first made headlines in 2001, weeks before Beijing was awarded the 29th Olympiad. An article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) began:
Beijing officials fear they have an image problem. When fans are unhappy at football matches, they have a habit of chanting an obscenity. A very lewd obscenity. It is a commonly heard insult on the streets of Beijing, but when thousands of people in a stadium yell the phrase in unison, which includes a crude reference to the female anatomy, the effect is rather overbearing. The Beijing Economic Daily has warned that the curse has damaged "Beijing's reputation as a modern international city with an ancient history and culture. People from top to bottom regard it as a disgrace to the capital."
According to the SCMP report, Beijing's Office of Spiritual Civilization would launch a campaign "to clean up the fans' language and restore the city's image." The newspaper quoted Zhao Dongming, head spiritual civilizer.
"If they say our fans are barbaric and rude, this isn't good for the Olympics bid. If we don't guide the fans in the right direction, they'll become soccer hooligans."
Last March, Liu pounced on the issue.
"It's way out of line to have 30,000 people shouting and swearing en masse," said the vice-mayor.
Soon afterwards, 'Starting New Trends to Welcome the Olympics' commenced. One of the campaign's eight aims: reduce cursing.
In July, a Beijing soccer fan was detained after organizing an uncouth online campaign. According to Beijing Today, the 20-year old administered a Baidu.com forum, encouraging Beijingers to curse Guo'an FC opponents and referees.
Members teamed up at home games, calling themselves the 'Jingma League.'
"I've been using jingma since I was a little boy," the fan told Beijing Today. "For our team, it really raised their spirits."
Also in July, Beijing police announced they would punish discourteous soccer fans - days before a friendly match pitting local props Guo'an against Spain's Barcelona.
"There will be a police officer in each stand videoing the crowd during the match in order to collect evidence of fans' bad behavior," Liu said, dubbing the Barcelona bout "a drill for the Olympics."
"I watched China's soccer league final last year on TV," recalled a college administrator. "Every time the ball went out of bounds, the crowd shook and swore."
A Beijing taxi driver pled ignorance.
"I watch soccer all the time and I've never noticed," he said.
Opponent baiting is hardly a Chinese phenomenon; ask any Mariners' fan who's visited Yankee Stadium. But here in China, hooliganism is on the rise.
In 2000, a mob of soccer fans rioted over officiating in Xian, setting police cars on fire. In 2004, Beijing Hyundai fans knocked a referee in the head with a bottle. The same year, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai International players brawled.
Four years before the 2008 Olympics (to the day), soccer fans-turned-rioters poured out of Workers' Stadium in Beijing following China's 2-1 Asian Cup loss to Japan. Prior to the game, boos drowned out Japan's national anthem. Post-contest, a crowd hurled obscenities, surrounded the opposing squad's hotel and burned Japanese flags.
Last September in Hunan province, Chinese soccer fans rallied behind Germany for that country's win over Japan...and cursed the Japanese.
Many here still resent Japan's invasion and occupation of China between 1931 and 1945. President Hu Jintao recently visited Japan - the first such trip in a decade. China suspended high-level contact with Japan during the premiership of Junichiro Koizumi from 2001 to 2006.
France irked Chinese nationalists when protestors disrupted the Paris leg of China's 2008 Olympic torch relay this April.
"I’m a big ball-fan, but don't swear," said a young real estate agent trolling for home-hunters in Beijing. "If the Chinese team plays France or Japan, a few of us will turn rowdy - most of us won't. On the other hand, the Olympics have been politicized, thanks to the Dalai Lama. People are angry now. It's hard to say what could happen."
Most interviewees differentiated between Beijing's soccer crazies and the city's common folk - laobaixing.
"We care less about sports and politics, more about making money," a rail-thin fruit seller remarked. "We laobaixing don't swear. What would be the use? Swear, and afterwards you're still poor."
China's top taunters beg to differ.
"If the referees were fair, we wouldn't curse," one Beijing fan informed the SCMP. "Cursing is a way to show love," argued another. "If you aren't cursed, no one cares about you. That's a tragedy."
Wang Wen of the Beijing Soccer Fan Association doesn't think cursing will spoil the capital's Olympic image. Cursing allows fans - under pressure at work or at home - a kind of release, Wang told China Daily.
(Note: For one Beijinger's eloquent defense of jingma, click here.)
Liu's anti-cursing campaign belongs to a larger 'civilizing' movement sponsored by Beijing's government ahead of the 2008 Games. Billboards, banners and blackboards throughout the city encourage Beijingers to support the Olympics and jin wenming ('advance civilization').
For people here, jin wenming has meant resisting the impulse to spit, litter, cut in line...or curse.
"Beijing is changing," an elderly woman said. "We've been educating the laobaixing for years now - preparing for the Games."
"Cursing is common at soccer games - if you're a defender, you'll be heckled for sure," admitted a man from Hebei province. "But in general, people curse less these days. The television PSAs delivered by athletes and film stars have been effective."
Beijing's Federation of Trade Unions runs Olympic cheer classes for local firms. Beijing University has contemplated a student ban on Internet cursing.
"We win, we cheer; you win, we boo - that's not right," a sports journalist and cheer coach advised Agence France-Presse. "This is just training...They don't have to use these slogans or moves. Just as long as they behave well in front of the whole world."
"I only curse among my best friends, and when I'm fighting with my girlfriend," said the Capital Normal freshman from Heilongjiang. "When I watch sports? Yeah, I guess I do swear...a lot!
"But I'd never curse Olympians. None of us will."
May 9, 2008 7:24 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Confucius and Mencius. Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong. Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini?
Beijing's athletic, cuddly Fuwa - mascots for the 2008 Summer Games - are making Chinese history.
Since 2005, they've appeared on posters and t-shirts, backpacks and bottle-caps, hats and coins, neckties and airplanes, key-chains and sneakers. There's a Fuwa television show. A Fuwa song.
China's official Olympic ambassadors will greet half a million foreign tourists in August. Long ago, they won over Chinese children.
More importantly, the five Fuwa - a panda, a fish, the Olympic torch, a Tibetan antelope and a swallow - promise a friendlier Beijing and betray China's bid for soft power. According to Jon Brilliant, an American Fulbright researcher, the Fuwa are above all else...propaganda.
Brilliant, who has lived in Beijing and Shanghai, says official portrayals of Huanhuan - the Olympic Flame - particularly recall Mao Zedong, former Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the father of 'New China.' Historians often refer to the patriotic adulation reserved for Mao during the 1970s as a 'personality cult.'
I recently discussed the Fuwa, propaganda and Beijing's 2008 Games with Brilliant for Blogging Beijing.
What is 'propaganda'? In China? In Beijing?
Propaganda is any material used to coerce people into believing. According to Hannah Arendt, the point of propaganda is to organize people around a fantasy - not to convince them of a fantasy.
Prescriptive art boasts a long history in China, from Confucianism to Maoism. Post-Mao, the official Chinese word for 'propaganda' has been xuanchuan - also translated as 'public affairs.' Xuanchuan is a vestige of totalitarianism in form and function, but today its content is so benign and its aesthetic so corny - xuanchuan is not much of anything anymore.
In Beijing, Olympic campaigns are performing propaganda-like functions. I believe that Beijing's 'Olympic spirit' is actually nationalist spirit and that (don't laugh) Huanhuan is a reincarnation of Mao himself.
What are the Fuwa? What do they represent?
The Fuwa are 'good luck dolls' and Beijing's 2008 Olympic mascots. Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini - together their names form a sentence: 'Beijing huanying ni' ('Beijing welcomes you'). So, they're a living slogan for the Olympics.
There were earlier designs for the Fuwa that were much cooler, but official aesthetics trumped those of their designer, Han Meilin.
People, especially Chinese people, think I'm crazy to be studying the Fuwa. But they are important! They are merchandise as well as propaganda, turgid with political meaning and market strategy. They belong to a form of mass media - the collectible item - rarely used for political ends.
They remind me of Mao badges. They reveal the Communist Party's dream-image of China, a utopian cartoon for Chinese society.
Why have the Fuwa been centrally featured ahead of the 2008 Games?
The Fuwa are everywhere because, in the minds of their creators, they present a good picture of China to foreigners - an innocuous one. The Fuwa are cute. China is widely reviled abroad; it's a strategy to reinforce a nicer image of China.
What 2008 Beijing propaganda have proven most popular or successful?
The Fuwa are ubiquitous, and that's a success in one sense. But the Fuwa have also been targeted by counterfeiters, whose activities have cut the Beijing Olympic committee's profits. I think Adidas' 2008 Beijing ads have been very powerful, although I personally find them disturbing.
Why do you find Adidas' 2008 Beijing ads disturbing?
I look at them and see fascist aesthetics. While I don't think Adidas intended to do so...showing 'the many' organized around 'the one' here in China, Adidas tapped some very ugly totalitarian ideologies. The ads resemble propaganda from China's communist revolution - just as I believe the Fuwa reify Maoist iconomania.
What about the Fuwa television show and other 2008 Beijing films?
I own every Fuwa episode! The opening theme song of the show is an amazing a capella arrangement which I hum all the time. I also own an Olympic etiquette DVD set. It's literally 40 hours of a 'professor' teaching one how to behave in a civilized manner (not spitting etc.).
What is the strangest 2008 Beijing propaganda you've seen?
It's all very strange; I've seen the Fuwa made out of everything from plastic to wheat gluten. But the funniest propaganda I've seen - by far - was a competition to see who could prepare food that incorporated the five Olympic colors (red, black, blue, yellow and green). None of it looked good.
The song 'We are ready' (which debuted last August) is bizarre. It's a defensive anthem sung by an army of pop stars...yikes.
What is your favorite Chinese Olympic slogan?
The slogan for the (Shanghai 2007) Special Olympics was 'Let us celebrate love' - I've never felt so comforted by a slogan. 'Let us celebrate love'! It sounds like an invitation to a Bacchanal. But hey, it's colorful!
Lele, a cow, is the mascot for Beijing's 2008 Paralympics. Was there a Shanghai 2007 Special Olympics mascot?
'Let us celebrate love' was accompanied by a cartoon character: San Mao: the three-haired child. It was cute but sort of equated the Special Olympics with children, which was unfair. I don't think this was malicious, though.
What 2008 Beijing propaganda have proven unpopular/unsuccessful?
The campaign 'ten dos and ten don'ts' for the Olympic Games has failed to some extent. One aspect concerns intellectual property rights. There are fake Fuwa dolls everywhere. That aspect has been completely ignored.
How is Shanghai's Olympic propaganda different from Beijing's?
In Shanghai it's sloppier. You see a lot of fake Fuwa dolls, for example. In Beijing things seem more regimented and the Fuwa are used together with xuanchuan/sloganeering.
Who creates the Olympic images?
Usually one official designer has a team; they create an image. Then it is remade by official artists of much less skill, and by counterfeiters of incredible skill. Authorship has never been a central pillar of propaganda production!
What are China's leaders and Olympic organizers hoping to accomplish through 2008 Beijing propaganda?
They want to cultivate a united front - Chinese of all regions and ethnicities rallying behind the Games and the nation.
What three words best describe Beijing 2008 propaganda?
Nationalistic. Nostalgic. Plush.
(Note: Beijing's selection of five Fuwa followed an intense mascot competition. Originally, organizers planned to pick just one animal. Sichuan's giant panda, Tibet's antelope and Yunnan's golden monkey led the pack.
May 2, 2008 6:48 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
'Olympic Dream,' carefully penned and posted, was photographed in a Beijing middle school classroom where the sons and daughters of migrant workers learn.
The story celebrates Xiao Ming, a Chinese student who speaks excellent English and treats foreigners with respect. Ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing's young people have been encouraged to volunteer, study English and identify themselves as 'citizens of the world.'
Protests of China's Olympic torch relay in the West and disagreements over Tibet have challenged such lessons. Many students here feel disillusioned (see 'Protests and counter-protests' - April 18). Will Xiao Ming welcome the planet's top athletes this summer? Or will Beijing's wounded, nationalistic youngsters?
April 10, 2008 1:38 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
It's been four months since Blogging Beijing's first post, which means the 2008 Olympic Games are four months away.
Since December, snowstorms have buffeted, Tibetans protested, marathoners abandoned, Hollywooders disowned and meteorologists questioned China's Olympic push.
Since December, sponsors have milked, hurdlers glorified and Chinese politicians championed the Games.
If a city can change in just four months, Beijing has. Underground, where migrant workers scraped out new subways. High above, where unique stadia shine. Among Beijingers too. Some warmed to the Olympics - so exciting, so colorful, so important for China. Others cooled.
Beijingers, sensibly enough, went on living as well. Teaching, learning, cooking, cleaning, dancing, biking, working, eating, crying, kissing, sleeping, playing. Not for the Olympics, or China, or Communism. Rather, for the same reasons Seattlites did - family, friends, honor, confusion, jealousy, love, boredom and necessity.
They'll likely keep it up, from now until August 8. And there's nothing right or wrong with that.
A Tiananmen tourist gets behind Beijing's Olympic motto 'One World, One Dream.' (below)
Join the discussion:
Four months in, Blogging Beijing welcomes comments and suggestions.
What aspects of life in Olympic China have you found interesting thus far? What posts have you enjoyed? How has Blogging Beijing failed to deliver? Moving on, what would you like to read?
Thank you to all readers who have commented or offered suggestions already.
(Note - A long-planned post on grassroots environmental protection ahead of the 2008 Games in Beijing will appear online soon.)
April 3, 2008 4:23 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
As the screen flashed unsettling images, ten rows of dark-suited bureaucrats stiffened, frowned and laughed nervously.
The awards ceremony for 2007's best amateur Olympic shorts had begun (see 'Olympic films - part one' for more coverage).
Coordinated by an cultural clearinghouse in Beijing, the '3-Minute Olympic DV & Cartoon Competition' - now in its third cycle - performed an unexpected function last year. Rather than broadcast Olympism to China's masses (as intended), the contest brought academics and officials face-to-face with a new generation's hopes and fears.
Most amateur film makers here are 'reform babies' - heirs to a blossoming Chinese economy and a pressurized post-Mao society. They've been asked to 'embrace the Olympics' and promote President Hu Jintao's twin watchwords: harmony and stability.
Yet change is what China's twenty-somethings know best. Buildings rise and fall every day where they live. New lifestyles are born. Trends come and go.
They've no quarrel with Beijing's Olympic slogan 'One World, One Dream.' But their worlds continue to heave and split. Their dreams aren't fully formed. Their craft - digital video - is foreign itself, and long on potential.
The second-annual 3-Minute awards were held last November, in conjunction with an international forum on Olympic education. Some of the top films stick to conventional themes: Tang Dynasty gowns, smiling peasant children and Beijing's five Fuwa mascots - the 'Olympic Friendlies' (see 'Olympic films - part three' coming soon).
Others, however, take risky turns and avant-garde twists.
In one film, an angular skateboarder zips down computer and amplifier wires. In another, Michael Jordan takes his younger self to the rim. From interpretive dance to clay-mation and alienation, the shorts kept Beijing's Olympic educators guessing.
Ultimately, a third yearlong competition was launched and those present - young and old - cheered.
Back in January, Blogging Beijing featured two films from 2006 and one from 2007. "Dreaming," re-posted below, follows a dancer from China's past into modernity. Minzu feng - 'Nationality wind' fuses today and yesterday. And Wo zui xihuan... - 'I most like' asked elementary students a simple question.
Here are three more award-winning shorts, representing the competition's quirkier side.
In Kuafu zhuiri - 'Chasing the sun' a mythic hero flies skyward. He fails once, fails twice...and from his failure, the world as we know it is born (end omitted).
In Jinbi shilide aoyun guanjun - 'Jailhouse Olympic champion,' a baby left alone finds itself running track for China (end omitted).
In Dui zhan - 'To battle,' a uniformed high-schooler goes to war with a robot in his apartment kitchen.
In Zhu meng - 'Dreaming,' a man from times long gone wakes up in a modern hutong and discovers Olympic Beijing.
April 1, 2008 3:28 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
What are your thoughts on the Olympic Games?
Grimacing, a craggy South Asian tailor betrayed himself and his city - then resumed pacing Hong Hong's notorious Nathan Road.
"Olympics? China Travel Tours," he shot back, disappearing beneath heavy eyebrows. "My thoughts? Go away."
Hong Kong - a dense island metropolis of 7 million people, rising deep green from the surf off China's south coast - will host the 2008 Olympic equestrian events from August 9-21.
The world's nimblest horses and ablest riders should enjoy Hong Kong. They'll trot right around Beijing's crowds and pollution. What's less sure is this: will the citizens of Hong Kong enjoy Olympic equestrian?
Some Hong Kongers are frustrated. Some aren't. Most all of them recognize what co-hosting in 2008 means: the Mainland Chinese have arrived...and plan to stay. Hong Kong, formerly a British colony, passed to the People's Republic in 1997.
"We're excited for the Olympics," a middle-aged woman selling gag gifts - fake spiders and rubber hot dogs - at Stanley Market crowed. "The Games are good for us, because Hong Kong is part of China. China is the father and Hong Kong is the son."
An old man pouring over newspaper stock reports disagreed.
"I'm not so keen on the Olympic Games," he said, crossing one slender, bony leg over the other. "They've become a meddlesome political affair, not a sports competition.
"All these (Mainland) Chinese in Hong Kong are very hot about it. The city has completely changed. Hong Kongers have become a bunch of yes men - we've lost our morals. I prefer the old Hong Kong, yet China is a giant. What can we do?"
In 2005, Olympic organizers moved the equestrian contest 1250 miles from Beijing to ensure a disease-free zone for the horses. Substandard quarantine procedures and health concerns nessecitated the switch.
Hong Kong Olympic committee president Timothy Fok embraced the decision.
"Hong Kong is delighted to have this opportunity to contribute further to the Olympic Movement," Fok, a Hong Kong legislator aligned with the city's pro-Beijing wing told Xinhua. "Supporters of equestrian sport can rest assured that we will do everything we can to host them in the best possible way."
A colony for 135 years and a global financial center, Hong Kong boasts its own unqiue culture - fast-paced and cosmopolitan. Here, wedged between skyscrapers and tropical hills, British, Chinese and South Asian personalities dance.
Apprehension gripped Hong Kong a decade ago as the island prepared for its return to communist China. Declaring 'one country, two systems,' PRC leaders granted the government of Hong Kong responsibility for its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, immigration policy and delegates to international organizations (e.g. the International Olympic Committee) - at least until 2047.
Hong Kong had established strong economic ties with the Mainland already - serving as China's main source of foreign investment following that country's 1978 reforms. In 1979, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping designated Shenzhen, then a Mainland fishing village just north of Hong Kong, a Special Economic Zone. But the handover's political implications bothered Hong Kongers who valued the island's British heritage and those who advocated democracy.
Of the 25.25 million tourists who visited Hong Kong in 2007, 13.58 million were Mainland Chinese. Thousands commute from Shenzhen to Hong Kong every day. Despite expectations that Hong Kongers would gain universal suffrage by 2012, Beijing announced last December that a 400-member committee would select the city's Chief Executive Officer until 2017.
The 2008 Olympic Games - for many Mainland Chinese a source of national pride - have recieved patchy support from Hong Kongers who claim complicated identities.
"We don't know much about horse jumping," said a young Hong Kong hosteler, speaking English (most of the city's citizens speak Catonese rather than Mandarin Chinese. "We like football and horse racing. We Hong Kongers think local. The Olympics are coming and we don't really care. If you want to know more about horse jumping you can go to the Jockey Club."
Few Hong Kongers are familiar with equestrian, an extremely expensive sport. According to the Tapei Times, Hong Kong contains just 1,000 to 1,500 regular riders. Legislators, concerned about the 'lukewarm' reception the Games have recieved, earmarked US$20 million for Olympics promotion last year.
In fact, horse-racing is a wildly popular pursuit in Hong Kong - where the sport collects over 10 percent of the metropolis' annual tax revenue. Hong Kongers like horses, and like to bet. Still, a series of international horse shows at facilities in Hong Kong's New Territories were sparsely attended in 2007.
The city - working with Mainland organizers - has sponsored a number of stunts to build excitement around August's Games.
In February, Hollywood Kung Fu star Jackie Chan pulled on riding boots and a hard helmet to publicize Hong Kong's Olympic role. Last month, more than 3,000 participants, including 1,000 members of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison, planted trees for the Games.
Eighteen life-sized horse statues designed by local artists - one for each of Hong Kong's districts - rode forth on March 3 to engage a disinterested public. Also in March, 548,000 people attended Victoria Park's annual flower show. The theme this year: Beijing's Olympics.
"We're all proud of the Games," said an elderly woman tacking a 2008 Olympics poster up by Hong Kong's waterfront. Splintered fishing junks bobbed in the background. "Before we considered ourselves Hong Kongers first. That's starting to change."
On the one hand, Hong Kong is a jewel in China's crown - a brilliant, sophisticated jewel. But the city's co-hosting of the 2008 Olympics carries certain risks for an anxious government in Beijing.
Switzerland's equestiran team has announced it won't attend the Games and two bronze-medalist Canadian riders told a Toronto newspaper that Hong Kong's August heat would keep them away as well.
Protestors for an independent Tibet and/or Chinese intervention in Sudan's Darfur are planning to disrupt the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay - history's most ambitious. As the Torch winds its way to China, there's only so much Beijing's organizers can do. But here in the PRC...
A high-profile stop on the torch's domestic tour, Hong Kong is no stranger to political protest. The torch arrives on April 30.
For Hong Kong, the Olympics are becoming a balancing act. In early March, Chinese reporters and consumers blasted Adidas - the global sportswear brand - for a line of sports bags and polo shirts released in Hong Kong. The bags and shirts featured an Adidas logo...on China's national flag.
Chinese law forbids using the flag for commercial purposes - something Adidas claims it was aware of. The bags and shirts, according to the company, were marketed only in Hong Kong and not on the mainland. Hong Kongers are often stereotyped as trendy and materialistic.
"They're ready for the Olympics in Beijing - we're ready here too," a middle-aged woman said. "Head to a sports bar if you're a fan of the Games."
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
March 27, 2008 12:48 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijingers don't read the Seattle Times.
Few subscribe to Newsweek, Spiegel, Asahi Shimbun or the Washington Post - publications competing to cover a suddenly holy headline: the 2008 Olympics, Darfur and Tibet.
Riots in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, set the world's top presses a-churn on March 14. Counter-protests and arrests kept them churning.
Last month, American film-guru Stephen Spielberg resigned as artistic advisor for August's Opening Ceremonies, linking Sino-Sudanese relations to violence in Darfur (a region of western Sudan). While angry Tibetans spoke out, their exiled spiritual leader - he of the crimson robes and grandfather spectacles - reaffirmed China's Olympics and rallied Western leaders to his cause: open talks with Beijing.
On Monday, members of activists broke up a flame-lighting ceremony and a torchbearer withdrew from the Olympic relay in sympathy with Tibet. Meanwhile, the European Union's president told a German newspaper that EU nations should consider a boycott. Scores, possibly hundreds, of Tibetans and Chinese have died.
All news considered, the 2008 Games are veering toward scandal abroad. Here in Beijing, however, anxious government media have released soothing reports and a plebeian Olympic passion burns on.
'Local spring harvests smoothly carry on - Tibet overcomes adversity and makes way for the plow' testified one headline atop the March 24 edition of China's biggest newspaper - the People's Daily. 'Longing for the flame, welcoming the Olympics' read another.*
"This mess in Tibet, it's insignificant," said a young woman, resting between weight machines in a north Beijing park. "We Chinese just want to participate in the Olympics."
The Darfur-Olympic connection hasn't received much publicity in China, where Sudan ships two thirds of its exported oil. Spielberg's move attracted attention, of course. But Beijingers may regard Africa's wars as mysterious and irrelevant.
"We Chinese love peace," a young man explained. "And what about the U.S.A.? You Americans invaded Iraq and killed many people for oil. All countries need oil. Yes, China deals with Sudan - this is the nature of global trade."
For more than a year, activists and politicians - Hollywood actress Mia Farrow included - have demonstrated against the 2008 Beijing Games on behalf of Darfur, where government forces and a militia known as the Janjaweed have killed or displaced hundreds of thousands.
Farrow and others want Beijing to power United Nations peacekeeping efforts. According to Human Rights First, a U.S. nonprofit, China sold Sudan US$55 million worth of weapons from 2003-2006 and has provided 90 percent of that country's small arms since 2004, when a U.N. embargo took effect.
Beijing has objected to criticism on Darfur - claiming impartiality when it comes to trading partners' internal affairs. Liu Guijin, China's special envoy to Darfur, has praised a Chinese engineering unit - in Sudan for a year, installing a water system for U.N. peacekeepers.
"What's happening in Darfur is not our fault," an elderly woman walking through Beijing Academy of Agriculture Science said. "In fact, we've helped keep the peace in Sudan. It's just that the world likes to blame China."
Civil unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as in the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan, sustained a weeklong media frenzy here. Whereas most reports abroad tied Lhasa's riots/protests to the 2008 Olympics, domestic coverage and online forums stressed Tibetan attacks on Han Chinese.
On March 18, the Beijing Morning Post ran a story titled 'Presently, the Tibet situation remains steady.'
"The government has taken effective action and restored law - Xinhua News Agency," the report began. "In Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, a small number of people have smashed, looted, burned etc. They have sabotaged and harassed the social order, jeopardizing the personal safety and property of others. Departments of the Autonomous Region involved have taken effective, lawful action to maintain Tibet's social stability, defend the sanctity of the legal system and protect the broad masses' fundamental interests. The situation is already under control."
Next, the Morning Post story recapped the events of March 10 and March 14 in Lhasa.
"On the afternoon of March 10, 300 Buddhist priests of the Lhasa Zhaibung Monastery, showing disregard for national law and temple regulations, attempted to enter the city's urban district and create disturbances. They dashed at and verbally abused police officers on duty, showing complete arrogance.
Also on March 10, student priests from the Sera Monastery unfurled a 'snow lion' flag outside of the Jokhang Monastery square and shouted 'Independence for Tibet' and similar slogans. From March 11 to 13, individual Buddhist priests continued to gather, shout reactionary slogans, try officers' restraint, throw stones, splash lime with boiling water and injure several dozen on-duty police officers severely. Three Zhaibung Monastery Buddhist priests also took photographs of each other after performing self-mutilation in an attempt to cover the truth and mislead the public.
On March 14, more trouble was stirred up. Hoodlums gathered at Lhasa's Bakuo Street to shout separatist slogans and carry on beating, smash, looting and burning wantonly. They also assaulted the local Public Security police stations, governmental agencies, banks, stores, gas stations etc. According to preliminary statistics, these hoodlums burned three elementary and middle schools, 22 buildings in all. They also burned dozens of police and civilian vehicles, killing ten innocent people and wounded 12 police officers, two of who are in critical condition. Overall, both national and personal property suffered great losses."*
Various Chinese interviewed for Blogging Beijing reacted strongly to video footage of riots/protests in Tibet and Sichuan broadcast on television and online.
"On T.V. you can see how all the foreigners in Lhasa ran for their embassies," an older man working out near his apartment complex said. "They were afraid of the Tibetans.
"Have Tibetans died? No way. We've all been watching T.V. If they had, we'd know. Just turn on your T.V. - see for yourself. This stuff is on all day."
That Tibet's instability could overshadow or perhaps ruin the 2008 Olympics is an argument made frequently in Europe and the U.S. - and an argument many Beijingers oppose.
"All countries deal with these kind of disturbances," declared the young woman. "Our Tibetans want to kill many people and their ambitions aren't right - independence and disruption. The Dalai Lama is not a spiritual leader - he is a fugitive who directly interferes in Tibet.
"There is no relationship between the Beijing Games and unrest in Tibet. The Olympics are the Olympics."
State-sponsored Chinese media have asserted that Tibet's most famous Lama secretly orchestrated the violence in Lhasa last week. Yesterday, Xinhua released a report called 'Questions and answers about the course of the recent Dalai-backed riots.'
This background, courtesy of the Beijing Morning Post:
- The Dalai-group rebelled in 1959...unwilling to see new Tibet flourish more and more every day.
- In the 1960s, the Dalai-group reorganized and rearmed, launching harassing attacks at the border.
- In the 1980s, the Dalai-group planned a disturbance in Lhasa, attempting to split Tibet from the motherland.
- In recent years, the Dalai-group has promised orally that it has given up 'Tibetan independence,' but in fact has not stopped its separatist sabotage. During visits to Europe and America last year, Dalai declared many times: "Perhaps 2008 is the essential year, these Olympic Games are the Tibetans' last chance." He also appealed to foreign countries, relating the 'Tibet question' to Beijing's Olympics.*
"I've heard about the boycotts - on T.V. and in the newspaper," the older woman said. "The people campaigning for a boycott think China is a bad country. They think our government treats minorities poorly.
"We are just as moral as the next country. The Dalai Lama has petitioned foreigners to join a boycott, but his program will not succeed. It will fail. The 2008 Games are un-boycottable."
Not all Beijingers follow international sentiment so closely. Yet every person interviewed for Blogging Beijing toed the Party line.
"Boycott? I don't know about that," said a puzzled Beijing Institute of Technology student. "Is it really true? This is just business as usual in Tibet, mere politics. It shouldn't affect the Olympics.
"There's a small war between the government and the Tibetans. Maybe people will protest the torch relay near Mount Everest. Protest or no, the torch will pass through Tibet."
"I haven't heard anything recently about Tibet," a 19-year old restaurant worker mopping up said. "Don't boycott the Games. Human rights in China are pretty good."
On March 24, the flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia was awarded top billing by both the Beijing Morning Post and the Beijing Star Daily - a light, subway newspaper.
A half-page photo of the ceremony accompanied the Morning Post's headline - 'Sacred flame to be lit today.' 'Flame-lighting ceremony moved ahead one hour' ran the Star Daily's bold-faced alert. Tibet didn't make the Star Daily's front page. That newspaper's editors pushed '33 museums now offering free admission' and 'Small ads send real estate business a warning' instead.*
"What a chaotic place," another young woman commented of Tibet. "We Chinese give the Tibetans so much. They shouldn't make trouble like this."
"I've read about these potential boycotts," laughed a sportswear clerk. "It's the Americans and...well, I forget. At any rate, too many people are considering this. They don't understand China. If they did, they wouldn't want to boycott our Olympics.
"Tibet's like Taiwan - it's always been a part of China. So don't boycott the Games. If you do, it's your own loss."
Beijingers don't read the Seattle Times. Like Lhasa's Tibetans, Han Chinese see in these 2008 Games a chance. They're hoping to banish forever that infamous colonial image - China, 'Sick Man of East Asia.'
"I hope the Olympics aren't boycotted," another older man said, shaking his head. "We've waited a hundred years for these Games, and we need them."
* Amateur translation by Blogging Beijing
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
March 21, 2008 8:07 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
According to Technogym, fitness equipment supplier for Beijing 2008, 300 million Chinese can afford to work out in private gyms. Only 0.6 percent do.
"We old Beijingers prefer to exercise outside," said a 72-year old man stringing his kite for a flight above Ditan Park, near the city's largest Buddhist temple. It was afternoon and the sky a dingy gray. "The air is better out here. And look at all these trees. It's great."
Technogym, an Italian company founded in 1983 (Technogym USA is located in Seattle), owes its global success to a series of stylish hi-tech machines. Favored by sports and Hollywood celebrities including (Forumula 1 race-car driver) Michael Shumacher, (European soccer star) Paolo Maldini, Madonna and Brad Pitt, Technogym previously equipped the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Turino 2006 Olympics.
On account of China's enormous population, significant fitness culture and overwhelming support for the Games - these 2008 Beijing Olympics represent Technogym's biggest break to date. The company will install and operate 12 training centers at locations convenient to athletes and reporters.
"China is a really important market for Technogym. We see the Games as a starting point for growth," Federica Cortezzi of Technogym said. "We're hoping that after the Olympics many new gyms will open in China and more people will buy fitness equipment. In fact, we expect an explosion."
Around the world, practices related to physical and mental fitness are among the best-known aspects of Chinese traditional culture. Each morning, Beijingers stream into the city's leafy parks for calisthenics, meditation and song (see 'A walk in the park' - January 18).
Time-tested Chinese exercises employ patterned movements and are considered health building. People here understand fitness as part of a comprehensive philosophy.
"I exercise a lot - perform taijichuan (tai chi) and hike," said a middle-aged woman resting in Ditan Park. "But we approach fitness from a different angle than you in the West. We exercise in order to maintain balance. Your body, my body - all human bodies are of two qualities: yin and yang. So when we exercise, we attend to both.
"I can't say that you Westerners are wrong, but you pursue a different objective. Whereas we aspire to health, you aspire to size, speed and strength."
According to Cortezzi, Technogym promotes a 'wellness philosophy' that's congruent with traditional Chinese fitness values. Yet the company harbors no false illusions when it comes to China’s older generation.
"The Chinese know wellness - the elderly know," Cortezzi said. "They prefer exercising outside, for free. They've made up their minds. And for them, that is beautiful. However, we have a new generation in China."
Technogym is excited about the Chinese fitness market for a number of reasons. The country's post-reform economic surge has driven up salaries. People here are searching out luxury products and services - like trendy gyms - more than ever before. They're also eating Big Macs and working longer hours than under Mao.
"Our kids and young adults don't watch their health so well," said a 56-year old retiree who swims and stretches at her neighborhood gym twice a week. "All those burgers are bad for them. They spend too much time at the computer. Even as students, their lives are pressure-packed and painful."
Changing Chinese lifestyles aren't Technogym's only cause for optimism. In 1995, Beijing enacted a nation-wide 'Physical Culture Law' proposing that all citizens, particularly children, engage in at least one sports activity each day.
By the end of last year, a National Fitness Program targeted 37 percent of all Chinese (481 million people) were to be participating in physical exercise daily. As of 2000, there were 100,000 part-time sports instructors and 620,000-plus sports facilities in China.
Of course, the country's sports scene remains restricted - by design. Since 1949, China has funneled its most promising athletes and coaches into an elite, centralized system. Most Chinese people enjoy limited access to fields, gyms and courts.
There, from Technogym's perspective, is where the 2008 Olympics come in. From government spending to product placement, the Games have spread a sport gospel throughout China.
"We care little for the Olympics," Ditan’s kite-master said. "But young people are different. Very few of them play traditional sports. They're ashamed of us old guys. And because of the Games, many facilities have been opened to them."
"Everyone wants to participate in the Olympics," explained a 25-year old Beijing gym attendant. "More and more people are joining our gym, because they want to improve their body civilization. They participate in swimming and kickboxing."
"Everyone knows about the Games," said one woman reading at a McDonald's in Beijing. "So everyone's physical health is improving. We're motivated to exercise because we want to help China win many golds."
Beyond Beijing, huge numbers of Chinese still live in poverty. Technogym, Cortezzi said, is not for them. Olympics or not, China's peasants don't possess the necessary money or time.
"I like to play basketball, but these days I can't," a 20-year old security guard from Yunnan province said sadly. "I've worked a 13-hour night shift since November, when I moved to Beijing."
"Our economy is developing and life is better than before," began Ditan's tai chi enthusiast. "And for those who can afford such unusual sports, perhaps the Olympics Games are affecting their exercise patterns.
"But gyms aren't so popular - it's a question of cost. We poor people have different priorities. If your salary is 25,000 Yuan a month - then maybe you'll buy a 10,000 Yuan fitness machine. Otherwise…"
Technogym is looking to white-collar professionals - aged 25-40 - for the bulk of its China business. The company has launched advertising campaigns in upscale Shanghai office buildings and has embarked on a 10-city tour of China's glitziest shopping malls.
"We want to connect with people who are younger, and who have money," Cortezzi said. "Our signature 'KENESIS' machine runs about 116,000 Yuan. It's expensive because we're committed to high-performance and hi-tech. If you don't earn 600 Euros (6,600 Yuan) a month, it's tough to join a gym."
According to Cortezzi, Technogym hopes to sell not only fitness equipment but also a 'wellness philosophy' in China.
"We're here to bring people to the gym and we're here to support local fitness entrepreneurs," she said. "People should understand that to live well you must be healthy."
Beijing has sprouted a number of health clubs large and small over the past few years, as have other cosmopolitan Chinese cities.
"We have a weight machine, and we go to a gym for ping pong," a 30-year old mother from Sichuan province said. "We don't have a treadmill, but our friends do."
China's market will challenge Technogym, however. To date, more working Chinese fantasize about kicking back than running in place.
"Some Western companies in Beijing make their employees work out," another park-goer said. "But Western style exercise is dangerous. I've read about CEOs in their 40s dying from heart attacks. If you want to run and become very strong, that's okay. But you could get injured."
Beijing's Olympic organizing committee was of a different mind when it invited Technogym to design an Olympic Village fitness center. The average Beijinger won't be allowed inside. Fortunately for Technogym, Chinese millionaires are made every day.
"We'd like to work with all of China," Cortezzi said. "But those 299 million people who can afford to join a gym and haven't - they're enough for now."
March 18, 2008 6:42 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
As ethnic conflicts escalate around China and dusty winds rake Beijing, the Olympic Games are becoming more than ever a 'universal signifier' - an event by which we the word's citizens may represent/explain/resolve anything.
The Olympics have always involved competition, dialogue, entertainment, fitness and health - not to mention politics (despite what the International Olympic Committee claims). From Atlanta's pipe-bombings to the Moscow boycott, high drama tends to trail the Games.
But these 2008 Beijing Olympics have busted the bell-curve. Just pick up a newspaper. Athletes and activists, actors and advertisers, Chinese and American - people of all stripes are jostling for position vis-a-vis this year's Games.
Blogging Beijing will follow suit, posting on Olympics/exercise habits, Olympics/Shenzhen and Olympics/local hip hop very soon. Until then, enjoy these 'odds and ends' - fragments of life in Beijing ahead of the 2008 Games.
More Paralympics (See 'Beijing's Paralympics' - March 12):
Below you'll find the Beijing 2008 Paralympics mascot Funui Lele - Lele the Happy Cow. According to the official Beijing 2008 website, Lele's design "derives its inspiration from the farming cultivation culture of ancient Chinese civilization..."
"Cows," the website explains, "symbolic of a down-to-earth, diligent, staunch and never-say-die spirit, are adopted to show the unremitting spirit of athletes with a disability in being the best they can be."
Lele was unveiled by a number of high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials and Liu Qi - president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee - on September 6, 2006 at the Great Wall, exactly two years before the Paralympic Games.
Also below you'll find the Beijing 2008 Paralympics logo.
Snapped around town:
In some ways, Beijing looks like an American city - square blocks, department stores and thundering highways. Upon closer inspection, though, strange/unfamiliar sights abound.
On Chang'an Jie, outside Beijing's cavernous Military Museum - admission 20 Yuan (US$2.75)
"2008-Olympic-Beiijing --- Olympics Cartoon Police Display --- Please install window protection net in first floor. Please be alarm of breaking into the second floor (upper-left). Park with the bicycle in the parking lot that somebody keeps watch on, please (upper-right). Please lock your door and close your window when going out or sleep at night to prevent from breaking into your house (lower-left). Prevent the bicycle from being robbed" (lower-right).
Migrant laborers from China's countryside sleep in this tent, pitched between two Beijing apartment buildings. They're landscaping a small park.
A Coca-Cola bus stop banner from February - the theme was Chinese New Year's. Notice National Basketball Association star Yao Ming on the left and gold-medalist hurdler Liu Xiang on the right. Coca-Cola is a Beijing 2008 Olympic sponsor.
A community blackboard - "'Development is for the People / Development depends on the Peoplew / Development is the People's shared achievement' - North Neighborhood Residents' Committee"
"Harmonious Olympics water service / Saving water for later starts with me"
"World Water Day / China Water Week / March 22-28 / Develop water conservation / Improve the people / Safe water service / Safe Olympics"
Scraps of news:
Thanks to 'Beijing Olympics Blog' for highlighting an interesting report way back in January. China Daily (the country's biggest English-language newspaper), published the results of a survey asking people what they most wished for from the Games this year.
Among the top ten wishes: 'to become a torchbearer for the Games,' 'to see Liu Xiang (the Chinese hurdler) win Olympic gold in person,' 'to pose for photographs in front of newly built Olympic stadiums' and 'smooth traffic during the Games.'
For a complete 'top ten' list and more commentary, link to Beijing Olympics Blog above.
And then this story, originally published through Xinhua (China's government sponsored media outlet): "No rats for Beijing, even in the 'Year of the Rat'".
Rights activists have decried a (tentative) government plan to forcibly sweep beggars, prostitutes and migrant workers from Beijing in August. So far, no one has rallied behind the city's rats.
Beijing's Olympic organizers are determined to prepare a clean, wholesome city - they will host more than 500,000 overseas guests during the Games. With thousands of foreign reporters soon to arrive, poverty's representatives in Beijing - human and vermin (not to actually compare the two) - may be dealt with severely.
According to Deng Xiaohong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, the campaign will begin on February 26, targeting Olympic venues. Rat poison will be employed and distributed around the city at non-Olympic areas including apartments, wet markets and fowl breeders.
"Beijing health workers will send teams to inspect the rats-killing work, and will impose fines on those who failed their job," Deng said.
March 15, 2008 6:18 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
For years, China has poured money down Beijing's boulevards, flushed resources through Beijing's subways and cast about for legislation capable of solving Beijing's traffic problems.
Now shiny 'green' buses barrel down freshly paved streets and a new subway line cased in blue/white porcelain is nearly complete. But less than five months ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, the host city's thoroughfares remain jammed, its subway cars packed.
After losing ground for years, bicycles are suddenly back in fashion - try slipping between lanes in a clunky sedan.
"It takes me about an hour by bus to get from my home to work - I'm an interior decorator," said a young man buying fruit near Beijing's Third Ring Road.
"The bus is crowded and I wake up at 6am. The Olympics should help. 'A positive influence on our society' - that's what all the news programs say. I've heard that by 2010 a subway line will run by my home, in Daxing (District)."
In west Beijing's Gongzhufen subway station, a hurried high-school teacher slowed down to talk.
"I ride the subway something like 10 times a month," she said. "It's convenient - more so recently thanks to the Olympics. No traffic jams down here. I usually ride with my husband to work. He drives our car.
"But I prefer the subway. Take the subway and you won't be late. It's cheaper and safer too. Of course, the subway is very crowded - too crowded."
Following its successful bid for this summer's Games in 2001, Beijing launched an ambitious subway construction program. Seven years ago, the city's light-rail system consisted of just two lines.
A north-south line opened last year in east Beijing and three more will begin operation before August, including an 'Airport Line' and an 'Olympic Spur Line.' Work will begin on yet another new subway line next year.
"My morning commute is only ten minutes, by private car," said a Beijing CEO, who perused a high-end department store trailed by three eager underlings. "It takes me 40 minutes to get home. As the city has built new subway lines, rider-ship has increased.
"In theory, this should alleviate our traffic problems. But we're buying private cars even faster."
"Traffic on the Third Ring isn't getting better - it's getting worse," a young man said. "The city is developing rapidly. Too many people are buying cars. Waiting for the bus takes a long time, and you never know when yours will come. If I leave home for work after 8am, I often arrive late."
With the exception of the Olympic Spur Line, planners have calibrated recent improvements to Beijing's infrastructure for the future. When the subway expansion is done, lines will criss-cross most of the city.
Today, Beijingers hop subways and buses wielding the city's efficient yitongka swipe-card, introduced in 2006. To further promote public transportation ahead of the Games, Beijing cut ticket prices last summer, reducing bus fares to 4 Mao (5 US cents) and subway rides to 2 Yuan (25 US cents).
Beijing has also marched toward stricter fuel standards - requiring local gasoline and diesel retailers to meet the Euro II standard in 2002, the Euro III in 2005 and the Euro IV for 2008.
And since 1999, the city has deployed more than 1,900 buses running on compressed natural gas; at 4,000, Beijing's fleet is the largest of its kind in the world. Meanwhile, nearly 79,000 new low-emission taxis troll the capital for passengers.
Beijingers have in general applauded the city's late transportation initiatives. Any progress - just ask an I-405 or I-5 commuter - beats no progress at all.
"There are fewer people waiting at stops these days," a Beijing bus driver said. "The city has added more lines."
It would be wrong to claim, however, that Beijing's traffic has markedly improved. Try to cross town after 4pm on a weekday and you'll sit forever.
"It takes me two hours to get home from school," said a young woman who studies at Capital Normal University. "I take a bus, then the subway, then another bus. Rush hour is awful. And why? Beijing has too many people."
"Traffic on the Second Ring is deadly," a 65-year old grandfather groaned. "My son bought a car three years ago - he really loves to drive. But he got so tired of Beijing's traffic; he sold it back last year.
"My other son works at the airport, and rents an apartment out there. When the airport subway line opens he'll probably move back into the city. By car, it's an impossible commute."
Bankrolled by China's economic boom, moneyed Beijingers are pursuing 'the good life' - as prescribed by Hollywood America. 'One family, one child,' has given way to 'one family, one child, one car.'
Beijing has yet to impose heavy taxes on vehicle owners, as similarly challenged cities around the globe have done. But staggering gas prices haven't curbed car sales yet.
"It costs more to drive than to take a taxi everywhere, everyday," one Beijinger remarked.
In a city where dust storms buffet bus stops and subway patrons trample each other, Audi and Hyundai are synonymous with sanctuary. Last month, Reuters reported furor over a Beijing subway ad. The ad read: 'Squeezed in? Then go buy a car!'
"Private cars are clogging Beijing and ruining the environment," said a skinny young man. "Still, I'd buy one myself if I could afford it."
Sadly, there's no room in Beijing for another 3 million vehicles. Desperate to pull off an efficient Olympic Games, the city's leaders are resorting to clumsy, short-term tactics.
Like Sydney and Athens, hosts of the 2000 and 2004 Games, Beijing will rope off more than 280 kilometers of road for Olympic use. Beginning in July, certain cars will be banned from the city's streets entirely.
First, vehicles from some government departments and state-owned agencies will face restrictions. Then cars with even and odd-numbered license plates will alternate - one or the other banned every day.
During a test last August 17-20, 1.3 million vehicles were ordered off the road daily, reportedly reducing traffic by 30 percent.
Such measures could certainly transform Beijing into a drivable city for two weeks. Indeed, the traffic ban has become a hot conversation topic among Beijingers.
"One day odd, one day even - that's a great plan!" said a garbage man who lives by Beijing's Qinghua University. "Will the ban remain in place after the Olympics? That's hard to say."
"During the Games, the government will impose a whole bunch of restrictions," commented an aerospace engineer and Olympics volunteer. "Afterwards, traffic will return to normal."
"The government has tried hard to beat Beijing's traffic and pollution for the Olympics," the Capital Normal student said. "But it's very hard."
A high-school boarder exiting the subway at Gongzhufen was more cynical.
"The Olympics haven't changed my life or my weekend trips home," she said. "We write stuff about the Games on the blackboard, but it doesn't mean much. It's just propaganda."
Four elderly men ambled by, laughing together.
"The traffic is bad, sure," one chuckled. "But we walk everywhere. We're old and we're friends. We don't need to go far."
March 12, 2008 6:37 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
You've probably heard that Beijing will host this summer's 2008 Olympic Games.
For months already, editors - in China and abroad - have splashed the event onto magazine and newspaper pages. Television pundits have picked apart the host city on environmental and political issues. The Internet has buzzed with Olympic scandal.
Thanks to that hype, the Games' sister event has been greatly ignored. After the Olympics end, Beijing will stage the 2008 Paralympic Games (September 6-17).
The Paralympic Games were first held in 1960, in Rome. That year, 400 athletes from 23 countries participated. In Athens in 2004, 3,806 athletes from 136 countries took part.
According to the International Paralympic Committee, the Paralympics are "elite sport events for athletes from six different disability groups." Some Paralympians are wheelchair bound. Some have suffered serious brain damage. Others are amputees. Rather than emphasize the participants' disabilities, the Paralympics are intended to highlight those athletes' athletic achievements.
Of course, the Paralympics have never generated excitment as have the Olympic Games. Operating on a much smaller scale, they've always been an afterthought.
But - here especially - where social commentators have compared Beijing's Olympics to a global dinner party and where people with disabilities receive minimal state support, the Paralympic Games are significant.
Much fuss has been made over China's environmental woes. In fact, the Paralympics could just as well ruin the party.
On the one hand, more than 120 Beijing hotels had nearly completed renovations designed to accommodate people with disabilities as of March 4. According to the Beijing Tourism Commission, those hotels will offer 170 wheelchair friendly rooms this summer. Additionally, the city spent around US$10 million retrofitting sixty-plus popular tourist sites in 2007.
Chinese athletes dominated the 2004 Paralympic Games, capturing 63 gold medals and 141 medals overall to second-place Great Britain's 35 and 95. Beijing's Paralympics will be the largest in history and the city's Olympic organizing committee held a mobilization meeting regarding Paralympics preparations last month. As with the Olympic Games, the Chinese are determined to hold a first-rate Paralympics.
Yet for 2008 Paralympians and their fans, not to mention Beijing's large disabled population, considerable barriers remain. Few banks, buses, malls, shops and subway stations here are wheelchair accessible. The footbridges and overpasses which slice across the city's wide streets are quite steep; most may only be accessed via stairs. Navigating a Beijing sidewalk is dangerous enough on foot, with bicycles and pedestrians cutting past, hefting large loads.
A huge number of people live with disabilities in China - between 60-83 million according to various estimates. In rural areas, where disabled people may lack financial and infrastructural resources, most rely on their families.
In cities like Beijing, blind street muscians and amputee beggars dragging themselves on makeshift carts are fairly common. Reportedly, municipal officials plan to drive/help these people off the city's streets for the Olympic Games.
Additionally, people with disabilities in China often struggle to overcome prejudice and discrimination. In Chinese, as in English, the language of disbability is revealing. The most common word for 'disability' in Mandarin is canji, meaning deficient or deformed. Members of the China Disabled Person's Federation have advocated the use of canzhang (incomplete or obstructed).
Other terms, including canfei (crippled and useless), yaba (mute) and shazi (idiot) remain popular, according to the BBC World Service Trust.
A national law protects Chinese disabled persons, but implementation varies. Some people with disabilities have complained that state support is considered a matter of charity rather than of responsibility. Others say disabled people are often exploited in the context of political publicity.
The city's Olympic organizers will heave a sigh of relief on August 24 when the Games are done. If Beijing is less than barrier free when the 2008 Paralympians arrive, however, criticism over China's human rights record could surface again.
Check out the two signs below. The first photo was taken in May 2006 outside Beijing's Ancient Observatory, a tourist site. The second was taken this month. What important phrase has been changed?
March 2, 2008 3:21 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
About 1,000 Chinese households will host foreign tourists during the 2008 Olympic Games. Organizers have suggested that the home-stays could complement Beijing's traditional lodgings - sure to be booked right through August.
"I hope the families can become friends with their guests," Xiong Yumei, deputy director of the Beijing Tourist Bureau, told CNN last month. "They need to introduce the history and culture of Beijing to the foreigners, making them understand and get closer to Beijing and the Olympics."
China's capital expects to accommodate at least 330,000 visitors every day during the Games, more than 500,000 foreigners in all.
None will be staying with Mr. Zhu, however.
Mr. Zhu lives in a poster shop.
So many Beijingers do. Not only poster shops - but beauty parlors, phone booths and convenience stores as well. Real estate prices have soared ahead of the Olympics, pushing city-dwellers into the suburbs and suburbanites onto the streets.
Now that China's New Year celebrations have passed, the search is on for home-stay locations. According to Xiong, each host need provide a well-lit extra room, good ventilation and sanitary conditions. In other words, they must have money. Additionally, each home-stay need include an English-speaker.
Mr. Zhu is friendly, and generous too. He smiles at strangers and bargains half-heartedly. He works in the city. He has a wife and a daughter in school.
Unfortunately, his shop has no space for a German trio or an Argentine couple.
Actually, Mr. Zhu rents a small apartment in Beijing's northern suburbs - a real home. His wife and daughter live there. So does he...one or two days out of seven. He usually treks back, three hours each way, on weekends. Mostly, Mr. Zhu pads down a half flight of wooden stairs at the rear of his shop to a closet-like bed.
He rarely sees his daughter, a high school sophomore. She wakes up every morning at 5am, sleep-walks to class and doesn't return home until 10pm. If she's lucky, the 16-year old spends five hours per night in bed.
She's studying English and testing quite well. Mr. Zhu is quietly proud of his child. Perhaps she'll go to college. Perhaps she'll land a high-paying job, he says. Perhaps she'll move to Shanghai and host a foriegn guest during the 2028 Games.
Or perhaps, a few foreign tourists - sweaty and bothered Olympic fans - will happen upon Mr. Zhu's shop, where they'll dawdle among heaps of black-and-white movie posters and bask in genuine Beijing hospitality.
February 28, 2008 1:19 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
China's slender, sculpted Olympic divers may very well spring, twist and somersault their way to eight gold medals at this summer's Beijing Games. Only eight gold medals will be awarded. In other words, the Chinese expect to dominate.
Beijing's sudsy new National Aquatics Center, nicknamed the 'Water Cube,' may very well prove these Games' most memorable attraction. A perfect rectangle cased in ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene (ETFE) membranes, the Water Cube was designed to resemble a natural collection of soap bubbles. In other words, it is one of a kind.
Last weekend, at the FINA Diving World Cup - a test-run for the Water Cube and diving's final Olympic qualifier - both facility and squad were on display. The crisply patterned pool impressed, as promised. But it was China's athletes who sparkled brighter.
"Our divers are really the best," one spectator, a young Chinese man, proclaimed. "They‘re quite fearsome."
On Saturday, February 23, I stopped by the Water Cube hoping to purchase tickets. But the competition, a volunteer informed me, had already sold out. I turned away, more than a little disappointed. Half a block later..."Yao piao ma? - Want tickets?"
I'd just watched two policemen run down a skinny man in slacks. Here was his twin.
We parled for a minute or so, eyes cast down self-consciously. I strolled away and edged back. He strolled away and edged back. My money ended up in his hands. His ticket settled into my pocket.
The next day, I squeezed through a makeshift gate onto Beijing's Olympic Green for the women's three-meter sychronized springboard contest. Everyone seemed excited - very few people have seen the inside of the Water Cube (only the 2008 Swimming China Open, held at the facility January 31-February 5, preceded FINA's event).
It was cold and the sky a dark gray. Compared to the renderings (computer-assisted) posted online, the real life Water Cube's globular sides appeared smudged, if not grimy, with construction dust and pollution.
The National Stadium, or 'Bird's Nest', this year's second-most peculiar and expensive project, is not yet completed. It and the Water Cube are located north of downtown Beijing, along the city's (philosophically significant) east-west axis.
"I don't think the Water Cube looks dirty," a Beijing woman told me. "It's pretty, especially when the walls light up blue, at night."
"I think the Water Cube is very good," said an 18-year old Qinghua University student, FINA World Cup / Olympic volunteer and Art/Design major. "It's a wonder, becuase it incorporates aspects of Chinese culture. For example, we believe that water characterizes gentleness. In ancient times, gentlemen were compared to water. The Water Cube resembles a Dragon's house, as well. It is certainly monumental."
Designed by Sydney, Australia's PTW Architects, the Water Cube was built at a cost of more than US$200 million. Unlike the Bird's Nest next door - price tag: US$425 million, the Water Cube may be converted into a shopping and leisure center after the 2008 Games.
Some Beijingers fear that the Bird's Nest, which will seat 91,000 people, could become a 'white elephant' post-Olympics. The Water Cube, 62,950 square-meters in area, will accomodate 17,000 spectators for the Games.
China's Olympic organizers brought the FINA Diving World Cup to the Water Cube as part of a year-long test series - 'Good Luck Beijing' (Check out 'Good Luck Beijing - table tennis,' published 12/21/2007 - another Blogging Beijing report).
After passing quickly through security - I left a package of bread from Xinjiang at the door - the Water Cube's polished interior opened up before me. White, stylish and bare, the lobby reminded me of a video IPod...super slick, but a pain to maintain.
A single cross section of the structure's eco-friendly, hexagonal plates was visible above the lobby, where baseball-capped volunteers helped me to my seat, their fanny packs swaying earnestly.
The pool was gorgeous - elegant, well lit and strikingly blue. National flags hung over both grandstands, though only the south stands were full. Across the water, I picked out Great Britain's backups lounging in sweatpants and short-sleeved red tees, laughing and dancing the YMCA.
"We've seen so many Goodluck Beijing games," boasted a ten-year old boy sitting with his mom and grandma. "Gymnastics, swimming, athletics, beach volleyball...and now diving. We've got tickets for the Olympics too! Those are hard to get. We ordered them early."
The crowd was relatively quiet, modestly partisan and 99 percent Chinese. Only for Wu Minxia and Guo Jingjing did they put up substaintial applause. According to the competition's judges, perched poolside atop grown-up high-chairs, it was applause well-earned.
The superstar pair, aged 22 and 26, earned six 9s, two 8.5s and a 9.5 on their fourth dive of five, slicing clean through a reverse 2.5 somersault pike.
"I'm here with my son today because of the Olympics," a 62-year old man from Henan province explained to me. "The Olympics are a world event and diving as a sport is representative of that. Personally, I prefer soccer and basketball, but with diving you're closer to the action. Olympics tickets are so hard to buy. We figured this would be a fun alternative."
Beijing's Olympic organizers have held two ticket lotteries for the 2008 Games, thanks to unprecedented demand. A third lottery will be held before the Olympics, later this year. Those lucky enough to score tickets could witness Wu, Guo and their teammates make history.
Last Sunday, however, provided cheap thrills aplenty - particularly once the synchronized springers were done. Joined by half the crowd, I lingered long enough to witness a dozen divers - Chinese, Ukranian, British, American - launch themselves, spinning, off boards and platforms of every height, over and over again.
Practice it may have been. In the eyes of the uninitiated - myself included - their relaxed, mid-air maneuvers nearly outstripped the real contest. Check out the video below and judge for yourself.
Water Cube diving practice (please allow time for video to load):
"Diving is my favorite Olympic sport," admitted another young spectator, also a student at Qinghua University. "As divers, we Chinese really excell. Of course, all of today's dives were beautiful. The American divers performed very well too."
I asked whether she hoped to become a Beijing 2008 Olympic volunteer - the majority of whom are university students.
"I really do," the 21-year old answered. "I've applied, but haven't heard back yet. I'd like to support China. Volunteering is what we college kids can do."
"I joined the volunteer corps because I'm a native Beijinger," a sleepy Mechanics major told me. "This probably won't advance my career. I just want to help others. We all feel this way."
Had he enjoyed the competition?
"It was ok - kind of boring."
On my way out of the Water Cube, I stopped off at a bathroom. The floor tiles were muddy and the toilets strictly 'eastern.' I wonder how many Olympic tourists will choose to postpone their 'business' rather than squat.
It was past time to leave when I approached - yet another - volunteer. 'Do you think,' I inquired, 'it's worthwhile to construct such a costly facility, when people across China go without enough food?'
"The Water Cube is worth what was spent," he said. "These Olympics are very important for our country and besides, the building's beauty entertains our laobaixing (common people)."
Deep in thought, I exited the Water Cube and made tracks for home. As I passed, a tall, well-fed man in street clothes whipped out his camera phone.
"Here, take my picture - with the Water Cube," I heard him say, handing his mobile to a tiny, affable construction worker.
Flash. The two men huddled close to examine the shot. They both grinned.
Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:
February 7, 2008 2:14 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Dr. F. Alex Carre, a University of British Columbia professor and member of Canada's Olympic Committee, believes 'Western' news reporters are picking on China ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.
David Liu, a former Associated Press executive and esteemed China Hand, says only a minority of foreign journalists are looking to bash Beijing.
Liu joined the AP as a New York City copyboy and retired, 38 years later, as the news service's foreign-language publications head. Now a professor of journalism at Long Island University, he re-opened the AP's Beijing bureau - absent 30 years - following Chairman Mao Zedong's death in 1979. Liu recently returned to the U.S. after a Fulbright lectureship in China.
Carre has visited Beijing frequently over the last five years in order to research, observe and lend Chinese Olympic educators advice. A FIBA (International Basketball Federation) administrator and former president of Canada Basketball, he currently directs the School of Human Kinetics at UBC and is a visiting professor at Renmin University of China.
I recently chatted with Liu and Carre (separately) about Beijing and China's first Olympics. Check out excerpts from those interviews below.
Dr. Alex Carre - Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
How did you become interested in the 2008 Beijing Olympics?
I've been a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee for more than 18 years now and was drawn to Olympic Education thanks to my background in sports pedagogy. I've now attended five different Games and gained a real orientation to the Olympics and Olympic Education.
Vancouver (B.C.) will host the 2010 Winter Olympics. But I believe that Beijing's Games are the most anticipated ever. China is so big, was closed to the 'West' for so long and possesses such a rich culture - we'll never see an Olympics like this again.
Six months before China's Games, what don't Seattleites and Vancouverites know?
Many North Americans are convinced that the Chinese are suffering from a lack of openness - there has been a huge media cry about how hard it is to access certain parts of China. But I've never been stopped from going to see Olympic facilities. It seems plenty open here to me - as open as in other countries.
An improved infrastructure is also in evidence here. China now has some of the fastest trains in the world, and Beijing will soon boast a subway system as good as I've seen anywhere. Crowds are what 'Western' visitors will find most annoying during the 2008 Olympics - along with certain Chinese sounds and behaviors. Fortunately, I think the tourists will be impressed with the friendliness of Beijing's people and with the city's culture.
What has it been like to work on the Olympics in Beijing?
I gave a small talk at Renmin University of China on the history of terrorism and safety in the Games. It was on campus. About 100 people showed up. I didn't think much of it. Then, two weeks later, I got a phone call. A Chinese 'professor' wanted to talk. He took me to dinner in a black limousine. As it turned out, he was with the Party, and his area was terrorism. He wanted to know everything I could tell him.
These organizers and officials - they're after information, all the details. The average guy here is so proud. He doesn't want anything bad to happen during the Olympics. I've been impressed with peoples' overwhelming support for the Games. You don't see that in North America. It's all about face, I believe. There's no way Beijing is going to lose face.
Has Olympic Beijing been fairly portrayed by the 'Western' press?
Many reporters from the United States are attempting to present these 2008 Olympics as another 'Holocaust Games.'
(Note: Above, Dr. Carre refers to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, also known as the 'Nazi Olympics.' According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
"Adolf Hitler's Nazi dictatorship camouflaged its racist, militaristic character while hosting the Summer Olympics. Soft-pedaling its anti-Semitic agenda and plans for territorial expansion, the regime exploited the Games to bedazzle many foreign spectators and journalists with an image of a peaceful, tolerant Germany...With the conclusion of the Games, Germany's expansionist policies and the persecution of the Jews and other 'enemies of the state' accelerated, culminating in World War II and the Holocaust."
A number of non-Chinese organizations, including the Paris-based international NGO Reporters without Borders, have attacked Beijing's human rights record and called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games. The group primarily campaigns for greater press freedom around the world.)
In fact, a lady from CNN working on a big series here asked a Chinese colleague of mine to defend Beijing. She used the term 'Holocaust Games.' I told her that was uncalled for - sensationalist journalism - particularly when the story was a basic-interest one.
These issues being tossed around by American journalists - like China's role in Darfur - capture readers' attention. These are easy stories to write. But the Olympics are supposed to be apolitical.
(Note: In recent years, activists and politicians, including American movie actress Mia Farrow, a good-will ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, have demonstrated against the 2008 Beijing Games. They have done so on behalf of Darfur in southern Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by government forces and a militia known as the Janjaweed. Farrow and others want the Chinese government to push international peacekeeping efforts along. China retains large petroleum investments in Sudan.)
What is Olympic Education about? Why is it important?
Olympic Education is about transmitting the Olympic values, and about presenting an unbiased picture of the Games - the strengths and weaknesses of Olympism. The Olympic values - which include peace, respect, fair play, equal opportunity and the pursuit of excellence - are worth teaching, critiquing and defending.
Sometimes these values come into conflict with each other - equal opportunity and the pursuit of excellence, for example. Olympic Education can help to resolve those kinds of conflicts.
Olympic education is about publicizing the benefits of health and fitness, and involving all people in sports. Most Olympic funding around the world involves elite athletes, but the Games are supposed to be for everyone.
What has been your impression of Olympic Education in China?
The Chinese have made Olympic Education a focal point of their preparation. Not only did they say 'we're going to reach every child in China,' they have encouraged individual school districts and schools to develop their own Olympic Education programs.
I've been happy to see how much Beijing has done - more than any other country, I think. Consequently, most every student here has some idea of what's going on. China has succeeded, in part, because the Chinese government is present in all aspects of people's lives. It can really push forward these types of initiatives.
After 2008, China's people will better understand the Olympics. The Games are opening their eyes to the world. Because, when you talk Olympics you talk almost every country in the world. There is no other event like it.
Having attended previous Games, how do you think Beijing 2008 will be unique?
I think the cultural element of these Games will really be what stands out. There is an effort going on here to raise outsiders' awareness of Chinese history, culture and art. Beijing's Olympic organizers also talk about technology and the environment, but their slogan 'One World, One Dream' is about making China a cultural hub as well as an economic one. Other Olympic host cities and countries have tried to infuse the Games with local culture, but not like the Chinese.
The 2008 Games will also exhibit the accomplishments of China's athletes. If the Chinese do not perform best, it will be very close. They will sweep the medals in more than one event - like diving.
And then there are the new facilities - the Water Cube (Beijing's National Aquatics Center), for example. I'm excited to see it, although it looks like it's going to be hard to clean. The Water Cube is something special.
How will Vancouver's Games be different from Beijing's? What does hosting the Olympics mean for a city?
Vancouver's Games will be much smaller - in scale they won't compare. They will be cleaner than the Olympics in Beijing. And, because Vancouver will host the Winter Games and Beijing the Summer Games, our Olympics will attract a different type of spectator. They will be less global than Beijing’s - only 13 countries do well in the Winter Games.
The 2010 Olympics will also enjoy less local popular support. The people of Vancouver were not entirely for the Games when they voted on it. In fact, the Olympics barely passed.
(Note: In 2003, 64 percent of Vancouver voters said they would support their city's bid to host the 2010 Olympics.)
That initial lukewarm response is building now, but there won't be any events outside of Vancouver and Whistler (B.C.). Outside the area, Canadians haven't shown much interest in it - whereas popular support for the Beijing Games across China is overwhelming. I don't know whether that support is real or not - the CCP's influence here is so strong. Either way, I've really noticed it.
Additionally, it has been mind-boggling to catalogue all the new changes that have occurred every time I visit Beijing. Essentially, preparing for an Olympics is like launching a whole bunch of (Franklin Delano) Roosevelt-era public works.
Building stadiums generates interest and gets people working. But most businesses lose money during the Olympics. It's hard to believe, but studies have been done - the Games deal a negative economic impact. Without public money, they wouldn't occur.
A few big construction companies usually benefit, and politically connected firms. The Olympics are valuable in terms of infrastructure and public relations. Yet, even those projects may not be well placed. What does a city need more - a bunch of new hospitals or a nine-lane airport expressway for Olympic tourists?
You end up with these specialized facilities. A velodrome - that's a white elephant and always will be. Australia (2000 Games host) is currently losing money right, left and center on its facilities. Greece (2004 host) has already closed down many of its facilities. I'd like to see a public/private approach - on the Los Angeles model.
Of course, every host prepares differently. In Canada it's 'what site is available to build our stadium?' In China it's 'let's build where we want, after clearing away what's already there.'
Visit Vancouver 2010's official website here.
Mr. David Liu - Former Associated Press Foriegn-Languages Newspapers Chief
Walk me through your career - what steps led you toward the AP and Beijing?
I'm a veteran journalist - worked at the AP for 38 years before I retired. I started as a copy boy at the AP's headquarters in New York City, and climbed the corporate ladder from there. Most recently I was in charge of the AP's foreign language newspapers. But I spent time as a copy editor and a biographical editor. At one point I edited a lot of obituaries - that's where I got my start.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Sino-American relations resumed, I was a member of the first entourage to establish the AP in Beijing. Since then I've traveled back and forth between the U.S. and China many, many times. Actually - 167 times roundtrip. My jobs involved building bilateral journalistic ties. I supervised a lot of multinational events, advised corporate executives in the media industry.
I've seen and done a lot. For instance, I helped save the AP's status when Tian'anmen took place. I began teaching at Long Island University in 1980, and retired fully from the AP in 2005. I taught briefly at Shanghai's Fudan University and then applied for a Fulbright.
(Note: In 1989, thousands of Chinese protestors, largely students, set up camp in central Beijing's Tian'anmen square. They were dispersed by military force and many were killed. The incident is still taboo - kept from the public's attention in mainland China.)
What was it like to set up shop so soon after Mao's death in China?
I'll tell you. We were housed in the top floor of the Beijing Hotel, which was open only to foreigners. You'd look out your window after dark and all the lights in the city would be off, except for the streetlamps along Chang'an (Everlasting Peace) Road. It was so dark. If you ventured out during the day, you'd see no colors at all. The only colors you'd detect would be on undershirts worn by children. Adults wore almost no colors. It was so different than today. If you wore a shirt with any color they could immediately identify you as an outsider. When you ventured out, you'd have an escort to keep an eye on you. If you wanted to go outside of the city, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to give you permission to leave Beijing. Our cars were driven by chauffeurs dispatched by the government.
At that time, UPI (United Press International - a now-defunct* U.S. wire service and news agency) was still around. In Beijing, we were housed in the same building. We shared a single cable. We'd use the cable in the morning - they'd take it for the afternoon. Or vice versa. In 1963, a UPI reporter and the AP's Bob Johnson were riding behind President John F. Kennedy's car. When he was shot, they went for the same phone. Bob grabbed the phone but was pushed back. They started slugging each other. By the same token, we were fighting over a single cable in Beijing.
How has foreign reporting in Beijing changed? What's different about China today?
Now you can go anywhere you want as an American journalist - since 2007. You can roam the countryside without having to stop for permission. So that's quite a difference. Beijing is much louder these days, and brighter after dark. The whole city is illuminated. In fact, there is no real night.
Also, there is this new generation of Chinese - my students when I was just in Beijing. They are quite different. They were born after 1980, when the market economy began to take off. They are well educated - these single children in China. They are enjoying many more luxuries than their parents.
Some journalists say it is still quite difficult to work in China under the current regime. What do you think?
It depends on how and where you look for stories, and on what questions you raise. A year ago, China's central government announced it would let foreign correspondents move freely around the country. They could interview anyone - provided that the interviewee didn't object. This has given a tremendous boost to journalists from the 'West.'
Of course, the irony of the situation is that domestic correspondents - Chinese journalists - must still ask the government for permission to go out into the country. If they go without a permit, they may not emerge again. So Chinese newspeople feel frustrated.
Therefore, some reporters are enjoying tremendous freedom. Some aren't.
What is the relationship between press freedoms in China and the 2008 Olympic Games ?
Right now, things are moving along smoothly. There have been no huge, sensationalist stories so far. After the Games, I think the Chinese government will re-evaluate the situation. If they believe lifting restrictions on foreign reporters has caused trouble, they might act. But I wouldn't bet on that. There is a lot of pride wrapped up in the Olympics. The Chinese do not want to damage their reputation. I believe the opening up to 'Western' journalists will continue.
Foreign journalists in China still face challenges, however - right?
Yes, they do. There was a New York Times story a while ago - a writer went to check out a Guangdong province factory, where workers crank out products for overseas consumption. The reporter wanted to find out what was going on inside the factory compound. For some reason, there was a misunderstanding and he ended up being held. He called for help and local security responded. But they couldn't get in. 'It's the factory boss' jurisdiction,' they said. 'We can only assist you outside the compound gates.'
China today is a 'centripetal state' - do you know what that means? There is a central government in Beijing, but each provincial government retains authority. It's like our federal government and our states. Local governments here have certain rights and things they can do.
Some people would like to protest Beijing's Games. Do you foresee a Tian'anmen-like incident occurring in conjuction with the Olympics?
I don't expect that. I don't see anything looming on the horizon. There could be a natural disaster or something, but in terms of a large protest I don't see it happening. Journalists without Borders - these guys want us to boycott the Olympics. A bunch of splinter groups - environmentalists, some from Taiwan - they are trying to gang up together against Beijing. In the mainstream media we don't do that.
What phenomena have caught your attention as Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Olympics?
I enjoyed my time as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in China very much. I stayed on campus (at Renmin University of China) and immersed myself in campus life. I got a very good look at this young generation - how they live. I chatted with them, and ate in their mess hall. I joined in their activities. I really heard and saw a lot of things. You can't learn only through reading. You need to listen and observe.
So many college students in Beijing rushed to volunteer for the Olympics a year ago. But now some are backing out. The organizers are still recruiting because volunteers have quit. These students are tired and frustrated. Why is that?
Not too long ago, the municipal government decided to spray chemicals on Beijing's flowers - those that bloom every spring. They're retarding that process until August, in honor of the Games. What about environmental and health concerns? What about the guys spraying those chemicals on? The government has forced nature to change its course. Is that right? What will happen after the Olympics?
Basically, there is this big rush. The government accomplishes what it wants by decree - it doesn't have to account for public opinion. How people respond is beside the point. The government can stop a whole highway without warning people. There is no way for the public to protest.
For example, because of the Olympics, all of Beijing's universities were asked to adjust their schedules. They will open two weeks earlier than usual this winter. Instead of opening on March 1, they will open on February 18. And in turn, they will close two weeks earlier - so the city's student volunteers can prepare for the Games and lend their full support.
There won't be any missed classes, but the change has certainly caused disruption. When the students begin this winter, the Chinese New Year will not yet be over. Beijing's students will have to return from their homes early. This has made many of them very uncomfortable.
Read longtime TIME Magazine journalist Melinda Liu's China retrospective "Mao to Now" - the piece includes memories similar to David Liu's from 1980.
*See Comment #1
February 1, 2008 3:35 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
According to many people here - particularly academics and officials - Beijing's 2008 Olympics will showcase "5,000 years of Chinese civilization." The Games are to be a cultural extravaganza, loaded with references to China's long, proud history.
Like its Forbidden City, Beijing's Olympic Green has been constructed along a north-south axis that, according to Chinese tradition, connotes spatial harmony. The National Aquatics Center - nicknamed 'Water Cube' for its odd, sudsy facade - was designed to reflect Chinese philosophy as well.
(Note: Check out the official description of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Emblem for a taste of Chinese-Olympic symbolism.)
The 2008 Opening Ceremonies are, likewise, sure to be soaked in historical allusions - a final crescendo to China's re-emergence as a global power and its first Olympic Games.
Of course, history is a selective science. Certain bygone morsels won't be on display this August. The 1989 Tian'anmen incident, for instance, will remain absent from most Beijing tours.
Another, albeit less sensitive, historical happening seems to have been forgotten - crowded out by Confucius' birth, Marco Polo's arrival and hurdler Liu Xiang's gold medal performance in 2004.
In 1963, in Jakarta, Indonesia, China bankrolled and headlined GANEFO - the Games of the New Emerging Forces. Highly politicized, GANEFO were intended to challenge the International Olympic Committee and protest the Olympics.
Four years earlier, in 1958, China had withdrawn from the International Olympic Committee over that organization's recognition of Taiwan. By 1962, the Chinese had gained an ally - Indonesia.
Playing to Chinese and Arab interests, Indonesia's ambitious founder and president-dictator, Sukarno, barred both Israel and Taiwan from the 1962 IOC-sponsored Asian Games held in Jakarta.
According to GANEFO archives, Sukarno had, prior to the Asian Games, received pointed correspondence from China.
The Chinese government sincerely wishes that the Asian Games held by Indonesia would be a great success. But the Chinese government cannot ignore those imperialists and their followers who want to use the Asian Games to create 'two Chinas.' These activities will not only harm the friendship between the PRC and Indonesia, but also harm the stand of Indonesia's fight with Imperialism.1
When, in 1963, the IOC responded by suspending Indonesia's Olympic committee, Sukarno struck out on his own. Two days after the IOC's decision, his country's Sports Ministry declared that:
The exclusion of Indonesia from the Olympic Games will not harm Indonesia. On the contrary, Indonesia will now have the freedom to organize a new games without the participation of imperialists and colonists. The new games is the GANEFO - the Games of the New Emerging Forces - Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the socialist countries...It is time that the newly emerging countries should have a revolution to destroy the spirit and structure of the international sport movement which is controlled by the imperialists and colonists.2
Indonesia withdrew from the IOC and announced it would organize GANEFO, with Chinese and North Korean assistance. In 1963, China's president, Liu Shaoqi, visited Jakarta and signed a joint declaration in support of GANEFO. The Chinese also agreed to donate US$18 million toward the games.
The GANEFO allowed China to exert new influence over the rest of the 'developing world' and assume a leadership role. The Chinese were particularly interested in rallying African, Asian and Latin American support at the time, having begun to split with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s.
Until the 1960s, the Soviet Union had supported China in its attempt to expel Taiwan from the IOC. Now the Chinese were alone. In order to compete with the 'first world' - the United States and Western Europe, and the 'second world' - the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, China looked to the 'third world.'
A number of developing countries had recently gained independence and embraced socialism. GANEFO, the Chinese hoped, would bring these 'newly emerging forces' together.
Where the IOC claimed to value the separation of politics from sport, the GANEFO were purposefully political. The games also gave Chinese athletes a chance to flex their muscles - they hadn't done so on the international level for years.
The first (and last) GANEFO took place in Jakarta in September 1963 - 2,404 athletes from 48 countries participated, including China, Cambodia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Mali, Pakistan, North Vietnam and the United Arab Republic (Egypt).
China sent by far the largest delegation - 238 athletes, coaches and officials, and the Chinese collected 66 gold, 56 silver and 46 bronze medals. The Soviet Union sent low-caliber athletes in order to preserve its relationship with the IOC.
A second GANEFO was planned for 1966 in Cairo, and qualifying tournaments were held in North Korea and Cambodia. But financial trouble kept the games out of Egypt and Beijing plunged head first into a Cultural Revolution.
In some ways, the renegade Jakarta games of 1963 seem silly now. When Beijing hosts the 2008 Olympics this summer, China will symbolically rejoin the global mainstream. In all other aspects - politically, economically, culturally - it has done so already.
Most Beijingers, like most Seattleites, have never heard of GANEFO ('juban xinxing liliang yundong').
"Juban...xinxing...liliang...yundong," a forty-year old woman dragging her teenage son down the street read from my notebook, puzzled. "I don't know what that is."
"No," a seventy-year old man wearing a navy Mao cap and slippers apologized. "I'm not familiar with GANEFO. I'm very sorry."
"I hear what you're saying," admitted a thirty-year old car wash attendant, after I filled him in. "But it's new to me."
A handful of Beijingers looked truly perplexed when I asked them about GANEFO.
"Wo bu tai qingchu," more than one person answered - "I'm not so clear."
"I know about that," a newspaper-stand owner said when I brought up China's quarrel with the IOC. "But I don't know GANEFO. Why? That stuff is irrelevant now."
"I've already forgotten what I read in the newspaper yesterday," a crossing guard chuckled. "Anyway, in 1963 I was only three."
And yet, there are parallels between Jakarta's GANFEO and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Once again, China is preparing to flex its athletic muscles. Once again, the Chinese see themselves as an underdog nation on the verge of great things. Once again, China will play to a suspicious international audience.
Jakarta's 1963 games were politically driven - no doubt about it. And these 2008 Olympics? That's up for debate.
"If you want to know about GANEFO, go ask a historian," a 13-year old boy from Beijing suggested.
In 2008, you'll read Confucius. You'll study China's communist revolution. You'll certainly hear about Liu Xiang. And you'll have the Olympics to thank.
Other episodes - like GANEFO - will go un-referenced. After all, Beijing has a lot of material to work with - '5,000 years of Chinese civilization.'
1 Diyijie xinxing liliang yundonghui gexiang gongzuo zhongjie baogao' ['The working report of the 1st GANEFO], in Guojia tiyu zhongju danganguan [National Sports Bureau Archives], 135 (1963).
2 Diyijie xinxing liliang yundonghui gexiang gongzuo zhongjie baogao' ['The working report of the 1st GANEFO], in Guojia tiyu zhongju danganguan [National Sports Bureau Archives], 135 (1963).
January 29, 2008 2:42 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijing's ayis are headed home for the holidays, leaving dirty dishes and cranky babies behind.
According to China Daily, thousands of white-collar families will go maid-less during next month's Spring Festival - beginning February 7 on Chinese New Year. And they'll do so reluctantly.
Most ayis (live-in maids - lit. 'aunts') here spurn double or triple wages when fleeing Beijing, ignoring their employers' desperate pleas. Very few have roots in the capital - the vast majority are migrant workers.
The ayis' annual exodus inconveniences over-worked, wealthy Beijingers - so much so it's acquired a headline-appropriate name: 'maid shortage.' Spring Festival, China's most important holiday, sweeps 20,000-30,000 "indespensible" ayis away from Beijing every year.
"Chunjie ('Spring Festival') is my one chance to go home every year," an ayi from Hebei province told me, waiting to buy a train ticket in Beijing's West Railway Station last Tuesday. "I've worked in Beijing for five years - my first three, I didn't go home. I don't earn much. Rather than spend on a train ticket, I saved for my family."
According to the London Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald, Beijing's maid shortage is part of a larger trend in China today. The country's labor reserves are nearly spent. Rural migrants - who have powered China's economic revolution - aren't so expendable anymore. Consequently, their wages are rising.
Still, Beijing ayis and other migrant workers here have it rough. With the exception of Chunjie, most receive very little time off. That's why the city's trains and train stations stay crammed from January until March.
"I work construction," said a middle-aged dagong (migrant worker) killing time outside Beijing's Main Railway Station before an 18-hour train back to Jiangsu province in southern China. "Last year I worked on an Olympic stadium, although I don't know what sport it will be used for."
"This is my first trip home all year," he explained. "My wife and kids all live in Jiangsu. I send them my money. During my vacation, I won't get paid. We dagong love Beijing - it's so beautiful. And it's our country's capital. It's really great. But I'm always happy when it's time to go home."
The holiday season started January 16, amid widespread concern. Experts estimated that 30.09 million passengers would pass through Beijing - up 7 percent over last year. The capital, unfortunately, is set to handle just 21.03 million.
As a result, tickets are hard to come by. Every morning, huge queues form outside Beijing's railway stations and neighborhood booking windows. On the second day of the season, Beijing police nabbed 17 train ticket scalpers operating out of restaurants and phone booths around the city's West Railway Station. I visited the station with an English-speaking Chinese friend.
"I don't think I'm going to get my ticket today," a migrant worker sitting on her luggage sighed. "I work every day from 7am to 10pm (as a security guard, paid to keep squatters out of newly constructed buildings) in Beijing. My husband lives in Henan. At least my two sons are grown. One's a dagong in Zhejiang province. The other is in high school."
Across China, 178.6 million people are expected to ride the rails this Spring Festival season - making Chunjie the world's most massive annual migration. For perspective's sake, the United Kingdom's total population is about 60 million. In 1994, 40 passengers died and 44 others were injured in a train platform stampede. Even those Spring Festival travelers with tickets push and shove to board first - there's never enough room.
On Monday, snowstorms and ice had stranded more than 500,000 Spring Festival passengers in Guangzhou - a large southern city and railway hub. Temporary shelters were arranged and police dispatched to handle the frustrated crowds. Most stuck in Guangzhou were migrant workers returning home. Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province, a center for China's export industry.
"I've been working in a Beijing family," the Hebei ayi I spoke with said. "But the old man of the family died yesterday and I'm out of a job. When I return to Beijing next (lunar) year, I'll have to look for work. I have four children. My husband cares for them at home."
According to the Telegraph, maids in Beijing make between 800-1,500 yuan (US$100-180) per month.
"There is an big income gap between China's rich and poor," said a bleary-eyed People's Liberation Army janitor on his way home to Chengdu. "Many migrant workers live very hard lives."
Three friends I chatted with at Beijing's Main Railway Station were particularly excited to usher in the Year of the Rat.
"We're just dagong, so we have no real connection to the Olympics. But we're really happy the Games are coming to Beijing. Our families back home in Anhui like the Olympics too - the Games are helping China's economy."
A friendly man wearing all black, in line for a ticket at the West Railway Station, expressed a similar opinion.
"I go home once a year to see my family in Jiangxi province," he said. "But today, I'm not sure whether I'll be able to buy a ticket. I enjoy all the Olympics sports. I think all Chinese people should participate in the Games. Myself, I try to do small things - like picking up garbage. The Olympics are very important to our economy - they have boosted China's development."
I asked if the 2008 Games had or would change his own life.
"There's been no change to my personal economic situation," he replied.
"I work for an electricity company in Beijing, and I've noticed the government has invested a lot in our electricity system for the Games," a tall young woman from Hubei province's capital city, Wuhan, told me.
"I've been living in Beijing for one and a half years. I've been really impressed by the new stadiums and the environmental programs. Of course an income gap exists - every developing country faces that problem. It's natural. Generally speaking, we live in a harmonious society."
My Chinese friend helped me ask a young man from Anyang, a city in Henan where Chinese civilization began, his thoughts.
"Income gap? I've never heard of it."
Some travelers were dismissive of the 2008 Games.
"I'm just switching trains here. We in the military don't care about the Olympics," a young Hubei-bound PLA solider told my friend and I. "We protect the Motherland. We don't care about other things."
A billboard beside Beijing's Main Railway Station reads "New Beijing, New Olympics" (see photo below).
Yet many people leaving Beijing for home are taking the Games with them. I counted more than three official Olympics stores inside Beijing's Main Railway Station.
"These Olympics are very significant for China," a young salesman wearing a red Adidas shirt told me. "People want a piece of the Games for themselves. There are more and more people coming through our store now that it's Spring Festival season. Our most popular items are Olympic dolls - for family members - and Olympic coins - for friends."
"I like sports," said the Hebei ayi. "I like arm exercises, leg exercises. I like using the exercise machines in the park. I've watched the Olympics before, and now I want to see with my own eyes. I want to see what the Games are really like. But I probably won't get that chance."
Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented:
January 21, 2008 1:22 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Few foreigners know Chinese sports and the Olympic Games like American anthropologist Dr. Susan Brownell.
Since her championship performance in track & field at China's second annual National College Games in 1986, Brownell has worked to build cultural bridges between Beijing and the 'West.'
Her first major work - "Training the Body for China" - was well received in 1995, and her second – "Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China" will hit bookshelves this March."
A member of the International Olympic Committee's Selection Comittee and anthropology department chair at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, Brownell feels, more or less, at home here. From 2002-2006, she translated Olympic diplomat He Zhenliang's biography.
I spent an afternoon with Brownell at her current base of operations - Beijing Sport University. A Fulbright U.S. Research Scholar for 2007-2008, she is working closely with Chinese academics and officials. Below: a truncated version of that interview.
What do you recall from your first year in Beijing - 1985-1986?
I first came here in 1985 to study Chinese at Bei Da (Beijing University). At that time I was a national-class track & field athlete in the United States - in the heptathlon. Actually, I had just competed in an international meet. I'd already begun my Ph.D at the University of California - Santa Barbara, I'd studied Chinese for two years and written two master's theses. My plan was to research sports in China.
After arriving, I went to the coach of the track team at Bei Da. He said I could join. I still remember that conversation - him asking me my best performances and times. My Chinese wasn't good at that point and he had a thick provincial accent. I had trouble understanding him. He couldn't believe that I'd just been training at such a high level - only a few weeks before. He kept thinking I was a retired athlete, because in China at that time you just didn't see high-level college athletes. All the athletes with promise were tracked into the state sports system, where their education was de-emphasized. In fact, that was a major problem back then. The state sports system was producing more high-level athletes than could be absorbed back in as coaches and administrators. They called it an 'exit problem' - chulu wenti. Even at that time, people were making efforts to hook up the state sports system with colleges - like in the U.S.
Anyway, as it happened, China's second National College Games were to take place that year. Other universities had been recruiting student athletes like crazy - accepting those with low admission scores and, in some cases, waiving entrance exams. All the universities hoped to gain face from the Games. But Bei Da (generally considered China's top university) had refused to lower its admission standards. The coaches there were worried that Bei Da was about to lose face.
That year, the Games were to consist of only two sports: track & field and basketball. So when Bei Da's coaches and administrators realized that they had a legitimate student on their doorstep who had passed all the requisite tests and who was a heptathlete capable of setting records and medaling in a number of events (Brownell), they were ecstatic. I was the answer to their prayers.
How was Beijing different back then?
At that time, though China's 'era of reform' had officially begun in 1978, there was still a state-planned economy. There were very few private markets on the streets and few private enterprises. You could get vegetables, peanuts - some kinds of food and clothes, especially in the embassy district. That was about it. I don't think there were any privately run Beijing restaurants in 1985-86. Going outside of campus for a meal was really quite an endeavor. All the public restaurants closed at 7:00 or 7:30 in the evening. We'd go out early and even then the restaurants would always be full. The service was bad. The food was bad. The standard of living was also much lower than it is in Beijing today. In the foreign students' dorms at Bei Da we had hot water for two hours in the morning and in the evening each day. The Chinese dorms didn't have any hot water. I learned how to take cold showers that year.
There were specific places to buy stuff with foreign currency. When you changed your American dollars into Chinese currency you didn't get 'People's money' - renminbi. You got 'foreigners' money' (FEC - Foreign Exchange Currency). With foreigners' money, you could buy things that renminbi couldn't buy. A black market developed. The rate was one U.S. dollar - to three bills of foreigners' currency - to eight renminbi. So we foreign students all went to the black market and changed our U.S. dollars into renminbi. The Uyghurs (a predominantly Muslim Chinese ethnic minority) were mostly the ones handling those transactions. Anyway, it was just this whole way of being a foreigner in Beijing that's gone now. Now you have to elbow out the Chinese businessmen at the five-star hotels - they're everywhere and they aren't very respectful of foreigners.
At that time there was also a job assignment system. You were assigned your job by the Labor Bureau. You weren't allowed to choose on your own. And it was pretty much a lifetime assignment, so people had very little hope for the future. College students, for example, were really pessimistic. It was depressing. I remember meeting very few, if any, happy people. My Chinese friends all wanted to leave China - get graduate degrees in the U.S. They mostly live abroad now. Of course, they were the cream of the cream of the crop. It's different today. There isn't the same desperate desire on the part of China's top students to get out. Now people here have so much hope for the future. Whereas this generation of young Americans are, for the first time in U.S. history, doubting that their standard of living will be higher than their parents' standard, Chinese students seem sure of it.
What about China's sports scene? What was it like in 1986?
I felt that my coaches at Bei Da were very well trained - probably better than the average American coach. There was a centralized training system in China. Presumably, all my coaches had graduated from Beijing Sport University. They were extremely professional. In that sense, their view of sports was not really that different from that held by American coaches.
However, 1985-1986 was the height of women's volleyball fever here. So that was a phenomenon unlike anything I'd ever seen in the U.S. The Chinese national team had won its fourth straight world championship. Their victories kicked off this huge wave of patriotic fever. They were national heroes. There were regular campaigns to "learn from women's volleyball." Back then everyone still had to attend weekly political study sessions. So, in your politics class, for example, you might have "learned from women’s volleyball." You were taught to "eat bitterness" and "struggle" like them.
The team visited Bei Da in 1985 and I was there. There was a mob on the sports field. Actually, that's something I really remember from my first year here - the mobs. You don't see those as much now. I was caught in crowds multiple times. It was scary, especially that day. There were 3,000 students on the field to watch the volleyball players give speeches. I was on the periphery and the mob was undulating back and forth. The people on the outside would press in until the people on the inside were getting crushed. Then the people on the inside of the crowd would press back. If you were in the middle, it was potentially dangerous. Whenever Bei Da held a function like that people would get hurt. I remember a Chinese friend asking me matter-of-factly later that day how many people had gotten hurt. Nevertheless, there was this general feeling that China had rejoined the world, and that Chinese athletes had led the way.
What is the relationship between the 2008 Olympics and Chinese politics?
In general, I think the outside world doesn't realize that the 2008 Olympics are being used to press China's government to do things for the Chinese people. Change usually occurs slowly here, but the Games have sped Beijing's political process up. There has been a huge push to clean up the city, for example.
There is a lot of inertia in Chinese government. A big reason for that is China's enormous population. The country is so big - it takes a lot of effort to accomplish anything. And the nature of Chinese politics contributes to that inertia as well. In Beijing, government consists entirely of guanxi wang ('webs of personal relations'). When you do something, as an official, you must consider how that something will affect everyone connected to you and everyone connected to them - ad infinitum. So political actions are like stones dropped into ponds. They send ripples moving outwards. No one particularly wants to make waves, and so only very slowly do things normally get done.
Consequently, Chinese leaders have, for decades now, used big events to accelerate change and get things accomplished. This is not just true for the 2008 Olympics - it's been done for years and years. Foreign reporters keep making a big deal of Beijing's Olympics-related politeness and anti-spitting campaigns. But those campaigns are decades old. They were certainly around in the 1980s. I was here right before the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and at that time Beijing was doing similar things - there were campaigns to improve the politeness of taxi drivers, to curb spitting and to improve public health and hygiene. Just before the 1990 Asian Games, disposable chopsticks were finally adopted citywide in Beijing restaurants. In China, events are often agents for change. It's just that the Olympics are bigger.
If China's leaders are using the 2008 Olympics to get things done, what have been their objectives?
The government has really pushed forward both environmental protection and Olympic education. In the context of Beijing, Olympic education has meant training China's next generation to be 'international.' Many young Chinese have been trained via Beijing's Olympic volunteer programs.
But what does 'international' mean? Good question. 'Becoming more international' is a great all-encompassing slogan, but to realize it is a bit more of a problem. If you list what is being emphasized to these college students in Beijing, who account for most of the volunteers, the main thing is 'you need to learn to dare to talk to foreigners.' It's 'don't be afraid of them - go up to them - speak English with them - open your mouth.' The IOC pinpointed Chinese volunteers' English abilities as an area of concern a few months ago. But investigations here have showed that language isn't what's wrong. What's causing trouble is intimidation. Those volunteers observed by the IOC were afraid to open their mouths. In the end, young peoples' language abilities and attitudes are getting a lot of government attention.
Besides 'internationalism,' the Olympic ideals most emphasized in China with respect to the 2008 Games have been friendship, understanding, unity and peace. Olympic education here has been aimed at two distinct groups - volunteer college students and schoolchildren. The government has invested a lot in the teaching of the Games in Beijing primary and secondary schools. Basically, the idea is to teach international friendship and world peace through the Olympic Games, while also preparing young Chinese people for the world. Here in Beijing, the history of the Olympics is taught in a way that emphasizes first the Games' western origins, then China's slow incorporation into the Olympic movement, and finally China's ascendance to its place as an equal partner in that movement with these 2008 Games. It's not only Olympic history - it's a narrative of China's relationship with the outside world as well.
A clear day at Beijing's Beihai (North Lake) Park - 'I participate, I serve, I am happy.'
How did you become interested in sports? In the Olympics? In anthropology? In China?
Actually, I think my interests in anthropology and sports stemmed from the same basic motivation: I wanted to be a citizen of the world. That was what drew me to Olympic sports as an athlete. I grew up during the cold war. I competed in track & field. The big meet every year was the USA-USSR dual meet. It was a way of meeting Soviets you couldn't otherwise meet. For my generation, Olympic sports were really one of the few channels for international understanding - one of the few channels for communication with the 'Eastern Bloc.' I gravitated towards anthropology for the same reason. I wanted to understand people unlike myself. Anthropologists study those people who are most unlike them - western anthropologists typically focus on the non-western world. So I was first drawn to anthropology, and later to China.
I'd always been interested in China. My grandmother grew up in the Mississippi delta - her father was a prominent politician in, and at one point the governor of, Mississippi. He was known as a fair-minded lawyer and at that time there were a number of Chinese in the state. The Mississippi Chinese Association invited him to be their lawyer because they knew he'd defend their rights. So my grandmother grew up close to the Chinese community. Every Christmas Eve, they would knock on the door of her father's mansion and present him with a present. My grandmother kept the presents and gave one to me fifty years later - a woven silk tapestry with garden and pavilion scenes.
I decided to work here in China when I was at UC Santa Barbara. A classmate of mine was one of the first scholars to visit the mainland after diplomacy was restored in 1979. I settled on sports because things were really tightly controlled in China when I arrived here. You couldn't necessarily do fieldwork on most things. Sports were less politically sensitive than other areas of study - I suspected they might be my entree into Chinese society and that turned out to be true. I never encountered the problems and restrictions others did. In fact, I've never had trouble at all. I've been amazed at my access to top officials through the years. Sports have really been a leading realm - the leading realm - in China's 'opening up,' China's 'internationalization,' if that's a word you like.
How so? What role have sports played in China's 'opening up'?
Well, the main thing to realize is that the Chinese government is not stupid - you can't supervise rapid economic growth alongside an amazing level of social order and be stupid. People in the Chinese government know what they're doing. And one way they've always operated is to experiment.
They target certain areas with which to test out ideas and later implement those ideas throughout. That's what they did with the Special Economic Zones in Shenzhen and Xiamen, for example.
Sports have been a major experimental area. China's Sports Ministry was its first to do away with 'eating from the big pot' when it initiated an incentive system in the 1980s. Other ministries look to the Sports Ministry as a model. Why choose sports with which to implement the incentive system? Two reasons. First, in sports there is a clear winner and a clear loser. Performance may be judged on the field - where guanxi ('personal relations') doesn't matter. Second, sports are entertainment. They attract media attention. There is a level of transparency associated with sports that other realms of Chinese society don't naturally enjoy. If someone fails on the field, it's easier to hold them accountable.
In a way, sports have served as a model for how some of China's leaders would prefer Chinese society to function as a whole - transparent, emphasizing efficiency and performance. They want to get away from guanxi and zou houmen ('going through the back door' - relying on bribes, favors and guanxi). Sports have come to represent a non-corrupt, fair and upright society.
In the West, we tend to associate sports like basketball, tennis, track etc. with 'fair play.' Is that what you mean?
Not quite. The YMCA missionaries and administrators who introduced (western) sports to China were clearly hoping to teach Chinese people democracy and fair play. But they were naïve. Things didn't play out how they expected. Even today, I don't think Chinese people have the same notion of fairness that we have. It's not that they lack the notion - it's just that our notion of fairness is different from theirs.
Basketball, tennis, track and the rest - western sports have been domesticated here. They've been modified to fit Chinese culture. Look at Olympic education in Canada and Germany - fair play is stressed more than anything. Yet fair play comes second for Beijing. In the U.S., we teach our children to share - 'I give you my toy and you give me yours.' That's fair play. In China, humility is emphasized from the beginning and, consequently, Chinese teach their children self-confidence. American kids are raised to excel and taught to share. Chinese kids are raised to share and taught to excel. 'Faster, higher, stronger' - that’s been a focus of Olympic education here.
Who is He Zhenliang and why does he matter?
He Zhenliang is China’s 'Mr. Olympics.' He was born in 1929 and educated at a French Jesuit school in Shanghai. He joined the communist student underground during the period just before Liberation (1949) and met his wife. When the new (communist) government was formed, he was brought to Beijing. By 1950 he was working with the Chinese Democratic Youth League and soon became a high-level French interpreter. Mr. He assisted both (Premier) Zhou Enlai and (Chairman) Mao Zedong. That's how he got into diplomacy.
His first major assignment was the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki. These were the first Games China had ever taken part in - and the last for years to come. The Chinese didn't participate in the Olympics again until 1980 and 1984. The cause of that drought was a conflict involving China, the IOC and Taiwan. Mr. He spent 30 years trying to get China recognized by the IOC as the sole legitimate government of mainland China. He was co-opted as a member in 1981, which seems kind of amazing after you've read the letters he drafted to then-IOC president Avery Brundage back in 1958 - their correspondences were amusingly rude.
(Note: The Chinese withdrew from the IOC after pulling out of the 1956 Melbourne Games when the IOC allowed Taiwan to participate.)
A few years ago, I started to feel that the story of China's relationship with the Olympic Games during the Cold War needed to be told in English. What had been written in English at the time barely included Chinese sources and Chinese points of view. The English literature presented China's absence from the Games in the 1960s and 1970s as a boycott - which it wasn't. The West was shutting off mainstream diplomatic channels to and from China. At that time, China reached out to the 'Third World.' The Chinese built lots of sports stadiums during the 1950s and 1960s in Africa, for example. These days, people are upset about China's role in Darfur, in Sudan. But if the West is upset, it's the West's own fault. We drove China there. I really feel that China wanted to be a player and be part of the international community. They were excluded.
If the Chinese had agreed to co-exist with Taiwan, would China have been excluded from the IOC?
No, I don’t think they would have. But, to me, it's important to look at the situation from the Chinese point of view. People like Mr. He remember life in the communist underground. They were in danger of being grabbed by nationalists and executed at any time. Some of Mr. He's friends were killed.
Back before Liberation they had a keen sense of social justice. They looked around and saw Chinese society falling apart. The nationalists were corrupt. So Mr. He and his friends fought back. Years later, after a bloody civil war, they emerged victorious. They'd risked their lives to win it. They thought they had finally gained control of their own fate. And then the nationalists withdrew to Taiwan, claiming to be the sole legitimate government of China. And the rest of the world supported that claim. You can understand Mr. He's predicament. They'd fought a long, hard battle and they wanted their victory to be recognized.
How did you end up translating Mr. He's biography? What was that like?
Initially, I was going to try and write the story of China's relationship with the Olympic Games myself. I contacted Mr. He for an interview. The day before we met, I saw his biography on a bookshelf (Mr. He's biography was penned by his wife). I assumed it would be another boring piece of propaganda about a Chinese official. But I bought it and when I started reading it I was amazed. Here was a real insider's account.
I hadn't known it was possible to be so candid in China. That's when I realized I didn't need to do the research myself - my story had already been written. The next day, I asked Mr. He if he had plans to translate the book and he said I could do it. That was in 2002. I spent four years of my free time working on the translation. The book launched in April 2006 with a celebration at the Great Hall of the People in Tian'anmen Square attended by current IOC president Jacques Rogge.
Dr. Susan Brownell and China's Mr. Olympics - He Zhenliang. (Xinhua photo)
In terms of Chinese Olympic history, where do we stand today?
In 1993, Mr. He and China made a bid for the 2000 Games to be held in Beijing. They failed. Why? There was a huge amount of anti-Chinese sentiment in the world at that time, of course - but today there is probably more. The real reason may have been the money that Australia gave two African IOC members the night before the vote. At that time, what they did was quasi-legitimate - they accepted money for their national committees' sports development programs. However, it wouldn't be considered legitimate now. China lost by two votes.
What people don't understand is that a huge number of IOC members are African. A huge number are from the Third World. Those men and women don't care much about pollution or human rights violations in China. In 1993, a western bloc voted for Sydney. It was solidly against China. And still, Beijing nearly won.
What made the difference in 2001 was eight years of steady economic growth. In 1993, China wasn't ready to host the Olympics. By 2001, it unquestionably was. In 1993 no one knew whether the country's economic growth would continue and there were questions about political stability. By 2001 those weren't really issues. Organizationally, Beijing had the ability. It had hosted many international competitions by then.
So, what do the Olympics mean to China? How do various sorts of Chinese people view the 2008 Games?
Well, the first written record of a call for an Olympic Games in China dates from 1907. So, for Chinese patriots, the idea of hosting the Games has been a fixation for 100 years now. In that time, the U.S. has hosted eight Olympics, starting in 1904. It's hard for Americans to understand what the Games mean to China.
I think that for all Chinese people - officials, intellectuals, common people - hosting the Olympics is the culmination of a 100-year desire to see China take its place as a major player in world politics. Because of that, people here who may have specific complaints about aspects of the Olympic Games differentiate between personal interest and national interest. National pride and support is so widespread. And that's not just true of Chinese people living in mainland China. It's also true of those living in Taiwan and overseas.
Why the Olympics? How will the 2008 Games confirm China in its new role as a global heavyweight?
How do you know that you have become a major actor on the world stage? That's tough. There aren't a whole lot of symbolic markers. Where's the proof? In many ways, the Olympic Games can serve as the proof. Tokyo marked Japan's emergence by hosting the Games in 1964 and Seoul did the same for Korea in 1988. Now it's Beijing's turn in the Far East.
If you take a look at the U.S.'s first Olympics - St. Louis in 1904 - you'll find a lot of the same rhetoric being used in Beijing today. The U.S. had just acquired its first colonies, including the Philippines (in 1898) following the Spanish-American War. The Games were held in conjunction with a World's Fair, which featured a display on the people of the Philippines. 'We are a major civilizing force in the world,' the Americans were saying at their first Olympics. 'Look at us.'
And the U.S. hadn't been nationally humiliated. We still haven't been. The Chinese have. Their understanding of modern history is that China, a great empire, was brought to its knees by the West and by Japan in the mid-19th century. At that time, we called China 'the sick man of East Asia.' That label has loomed large in the Chinese imagination for over 200 years. 'The West and Japan do not respect us,' the thinking goes. 'They don't respect Chinese culture.'
This is a big deal because, for the Chinese, symbolic respect between nations has always been extremely important. In China there have long been highly ritualized ways for polities to express respect to each other, and the West lacks those traditions. The Olympic Games have a meaning here they don't have in western culture. Here the Games are like a big party. You're inviting people into your home. You are showing them hospitality. You are gaining 'face.' Mr. He argued this to his fellow IOC members a long time ago. 'You have hosted us many times,' he said, 'and we haven't yet hosted you. This has embarrassed us. We want to repay our debt to you. We want the chance to invite you to our home.'
This is China's moment to be the host and to express its respect for other nations. China will do this very well. But guests are also supposed to express respect to their host. When the western press comes and criticizes China on human rights or Tibet, the Chinese become angry. From their perspective, a big party is not the occasion to express those kinds of feelings.
What about regular people here in Beijing?
Common people here don't think the Olympics affect them too much. They feel rather distant from the whole process. Most anticipate that they may not be able to buy tickets, for example. But recently the Games have served as impetus for improving the environment and local infrastructure. You can look around and see the energy and optimism the Olympics have encouraged in people here, and you can see the construction.
What is one crucial misconception held by most Americans when it comes to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing and China?
The stereotype Americans have is that China is a dictatorship - that Chinese leaders don't have a lot of popular support and are therefore using the Olympic Games to legitimize themselves. None of that is true. It's not a dictatorship - it's a pretty well-run, open society. In some ways, the Chinese are more open than we are in the West. China's government has a lot of popular support. I think that Chinese people believe in government more than we do in the U.S. The government's primary goal here is not to legitimize itself. I think it is trying to shape the next generation of Chinese people to be international - which will benefit China economically and politically.
January 15, 2008 2:57 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Now that the 2008 Olympic Games are less than one year away, foreign reporters are beginning to descend on Beijing (more than 20,000 will cover the events in August).
Only the world's largest, wealthiest media outlets maintain permanent bureaus here. The New York Times, the Washington Post, Agence France-Presse, the Times of London, etc. Aside from the men and women who run those bureaus - known as 'China hands' for their intimate knowledge of Sino affairs - foreign reporters assigned to Beijing must 'parachute' in and quickly take stock of the capital's Olympic preparations.
Their stories, which appear in newspapers daily, follow a certain formula: cab ride into Beijing - high-level interview - night at a four-star hotel - trip to Tian'anmen Square. On the one hand, these are experienced, talented newshounds - they deliver the facts and figures we readers crave, and the bare-bones news we need to know.
But, in terms of real truth-seeking, 48 hours is not enough - it's a whirlwind tour. Lacking both depth and context, the quick-hit narratives penned by parachuting foreign reporters may lead readers astray. Some sensationalize Beijing's air pollution problem, for example.
"During a recent visit to Beijing," one American journalist recalled, "I was struck by how gray and dark it was in the morning when I opened the draperies in my hotel room. It must be raining, I thought. But there was no moisture on the pavement. Those were not rain clouds. That was pollution. You feel it in your throat as you hail a taxi upon arriving at the airport; you smell it on your clothes at the end of a long day in Beijing."
Most newcomers (foreign and Chinese) react to the city's smog that way - I know I did. Beijingers don't. By and large, they wake up ready to face pollution. By and large, they believe the quality of Beijing's air is improving. By and large, they're confident gritty skies won't ruin the 2008 Olympics.
Beijingers' comparative indifference to smog hasn't blown it away. The city must continue coming to grips with a serious pollution problem. However, local attitudes and perspectives deserve 'western' readers' attention. Foreign journalists need only to listen.
Many visiting reporters blaze trails for tourists. 'Headed to Beijing in August 2008?' they ask. 'Here's what to expect.'
"The smog and traffic are what get to you on a first drive into Beijing. That, and a suspicion that the international airport's foreign exchange counter has given you a raw deal and that the man who has talked you into taking his limousine taxi is going to rip you off. On a good day, it might take up to an hour to get into the heart of the city at Tiananmen Square along the Avenue of Everlasting Peace," another American journalist warned.
Such descriptions are relatively harmless. The journalist quoted above, for example, neither understands nor purports to understand the myriad social and economic currents coursing through Olympic Beijing. Neither does this Bay-Area T.V. news reporter (excerpt from her blog):
"June 26th - Up at 5 a.m. Off to the Forbidden City. It already has to be 80 or 90 degrees outside. No breeze. Humid and completely smogged in. No one was at the gates to the Forbidden City when we arrived and it was a quite an experience to have the huge plaza to ourselves. By 7 a.m. the Chinese tourists start to arrive. We had a great time trying to do interviews with our interpreter. Lots of laughs and a lot of people who were very shy of the camera. On the other hand, a lot of people asked to take their picture with me. I think the combination of my blonde hair and the NBC microphone made me a tourist attraction as well. I felt a bit like the Giant Panda at the Zoo."
It's when 'parachuting' journalists stray from hands-on reporting that formulaic rhetoric and questionable punch-lines sneak in.
"There may be times next year when China will appear like a nervous host who hopes party guests will leave without staying too late or causing trouble," opined a Canadian sports-writer last year, offering little evidence to back up that claim.
Although 2008 will bring some of the world's best reporters to China, I've read stories dispatched by journalists here that read as if they were composed on airplane tray tables half-way to Beijing - 'city sweeps human rights and environmental abuses under the proverbial carpet as chivalrous western media arrive to cover civilizing Olympic Games.'
According to USA Today, Chinese officials are "evicting tenants to make room for visitors, shutting down factories to reduce pollution, plotting to control weather, staging rallies to teach English and ordering Beijing's brusque citizens to mind their manners. Whatever it takes, the organizers of the Beijing Olympics are determined to put on the grandest Games ever...and make them a symbol of the communist nation's arrival as a global economic power."
The newspaper's assessment may be dead on - less than a 'China hand' myself, I'm not one to argue. But loaded phrasing ('plotting,' 'staging,' 'ordering,' 'whatever it takes') - repeated across publications - bespeaks lazy reporting.
With regard to the Chinese government, in particular, one quick-hit narrative struck a decidedly patronizing tone.
"China and its 1.3 billion prospective soft-drink and credit-card consumers will open themselves to the world in a way that the Chinese government might not yet fully comprehend," a visiting American journalist wrote. "International corporations are salivating at the thought, which is, of course, the main reason China won the right to host these Olympics. For perhaps the first time in its history...Chinese leaders will be unable to control the message being sent from their borders. Until now, various Western news bureaus have butted heads with the Chinese thought police. But this summer, thousands of foreign journalists from every spot on the globe will demand to play by their rules, not China's."
The August arrival of a feisty world press may give Beijing some trouble. Still, I'd call the argument quoted above naive. China may be a developing country, but the men and women running Beijing's Olympics aren't dumb. They've been prepping for nearly a decade.
As the Games approach, more reporters will 'parachute' into Beijing. Weighed downed by interpreters, jet-lag and deadlines, they'll be hard-pressed to deliver cutting cultural commentary. One U.S. journalist assigned to cover August's Olympics put it this way:
"If the Games are a facade, a Potemkin village, how would I know? If I had gone to the Olympics in Mexico City, I might not have known about the students shot in the Tlatelolco protests 10 days earlier until I read about them in a history book. People still don't agree on whether a few hundred or thousands of people were killed. I doubt I could have sorted out the details in the hours between the 100-butterfly heats and the balance-beam finals."
It's not only visiting reporters who find themselves hemmed in by constraints and restrictions. Even the 'free world's' Beijing bureaus will have their 'China hands' full this summer. Already, admirable but time-strapped foreign correspondents ditch out on neighborhood interviews to cover important press conferences. When your beat is a country 1.3 billion strong...
"Covering China is like trying to drink from a fire hose gushing at full blast," said Tim Johnson, China correspondent for the McClatchy Company, which owns newspapers like the Kansas City Star, Sacramento Bee and Tacoma's News Tribune. "I simply can't keep up with all that I would like to. And I'm just speaking about the combination of English language media, press conferences, academic seminars and other events around town."
Then there are government-imposed press regulations. Since December 2006, foreign correspondents have been free to interview any and all persons or organizations inside the country. Nevertheless, more than 180 reporters working here say they've faced interference, according to a survey recently conducted by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.
All this is not to say that stories and columns flowing back to Seattle from Beijing are in general phony, or incomplete. Only that affairs here ahead of the Olympics - economic, cultural, environmental, athletic - are complex.
You already turn a critical eye on Xinhua (government-sponsored) news reports. Why? Because Chinese reporters are censored. Because Xinhua media may bow before a political agenda. So the next time you read a snappy 'western' story with a Beijing byline, proceed with caution. Foreign journalists face obstacles as well. Foreign journalists are capable of formulaic prose too.
(Note: Compare "Face-lifting Beijing stops to retrieve its ancient flavor" (Xinhua) and "A new Beijing is rising" (Vancouver Sun) . Both stories concern residential construction and demolition here. Neither author seems to have fabricated statistics. Neither seems to have faked interviews. And yet, the two stories convey very different messages. It just goes to show - there's room for multiple perspectives in Olympic Beijing.)
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January 7, 2008 7:58 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
This blog's first entry introduced a Beijing public education campaign called "Embrace the Olympics - study the 'ten dos and ten don'ts.'" Below I've posted all 20 'dos and don'ts' - gathered from a subway poster.
Do protect Olympic intellectual property rights - don't buy or sell pirated imitations.
Do observe regulations regarding the use of Olympic symbols - don't abuse the Olympic flag or songs.
Do defend traffic safety - don't jump guard-rails or barge through red lights.
Do line up according to the rules - don't push and shove.
Do beautify the city - don't spit all over the road.
Do treasure the capital's ancient cultural sites - don't post messy advertisments everywhere.
Do cherish the sport stadiums and facilities - don't stir up trouble or create a scene.
Do safeguard security and order - don't bring your own beverages to competitions.
Do struggle to be a civilized, lawful audience - don't threaten the peace by gambling.
Do improve others' awareness of Olympic law - don't let illegal activities ruin the whole thing.
(Note: not a word-for-word translation.)
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January 1, 2008 5:04 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Controversy continues to swirl around Beijing's historic neighborhood south of Tian'anmen Square (see 'Heart of the city - part two).
For some time, the uproar concerned forced evictions and gentrification. Recently, much ink was spilt over the demolition of an old opera house; its egg-like, glowing replacement (China's new National Theater), opened last week. Some Beijingers have also protested the construction of a swanky commercial development in Qianmen where hutongs once stood.
According to Susan Spano of the Los Angeles Times, Qianmen will soon feature "a pedestrian mall, complete with a free tourist trolley and underground parking garage. When work is completed, visitors will be able to stroll along the tree-lined, marble-paved thoroughfare and visit more than 80 renovated shops selling a variety of wares -- steamed buns as well as antique porcelain."
The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) themed development has provoked equal doses of high praise and venom. Some Beijingers refer to the street as a 'hutong Disneyland.' The project's sponsors, eager to attract wealthy tourists, are calling it 'cash.'
Meanwhile, a number of interesting stories - big and small - have trickled out of Beijing.
Two weeks ago, a Beijing municipal court stuck computer Liu Peigui with a US$271 fine and six months in jail for operating a phony Olympics ticketing website. (China Economic Review) Police arrested a prominent political activist, social critic and blogger last Thursday, prompting swift condemnation from advocacy groups like the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. The 34 year old dissident had been under house arrest in Beijing.
"We are against anyone politicizing the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games," Jiang Xiaoyu, the Executive Vice President of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee, remarked Friday to journalists. "If anyone is to try to violate the Olympic spirit, they will not succeed." (Los Angeles Times)
On New Year's Eve, Chinese hurdler and media darling Liu Xiang greeted well-wishers at Beijing's Millenium Monument. A large crowd enjoyed fireworks, singing and dancing to commemorate 2008 - China's big Olympic year. (International Herald Tribune)
The same night, Chinese television's top sports anchor was embarrassed during a special Olympic broadcast. As Zhang Bin, CCTV 5's news director, hosted a ceremony marking the launch of a 24-hour 'Olympics Channel,' his wife Hu Ziwei, also a famous sports anchor, burst onto stage and accussed him of conducting an extra-marital affair. (London Telegraph)
December 31, 2007 5:27 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
I recently visited three hutong districts (see 'Heart of the city - part one' for an introduction).
Just south of Tian'anmen Square, where old men fly kites and the 'great liberator' - Mao Zedong - lies embalmed, is a neighborhood known as Qianmen. Qianmen means 'Front Gate.' Originally Zhenyangmen ('Noon Gate'), the neighborhood's massive namesake was built in 1419. For centuries it served as the entrance to Beijing's imperial city.
Today, there's a McDonald's across from Qianmen (the gate) and a mall. Beyond those, Qianmen (the district) begins. One of 25 neighborhoods labeled 'historic' in 2002 at UNESCO's advice, the 1.45 square-kilometer space is criss-crossed by hutongs. Beginning in the Yuan dynasty, Qianmen housed the bulk of old Beijing's brothels, shops and theaters.
Fresh off the subway, I ducked behind McDonald's and bumped into an elderly lady. She was sweeping the steps of a sagging, wood restaurant. How long had it been there? She didn't know.
"It's coming down soon," she chuckled. "It's coming down soon."
Having been marked with the Chinese character chai, the restaurant was in for a serious makeover.
"See that peeling paint? Ugly." I was told. "Thank goodness for the Olympics. Now it's going to look beautiful."
A curious waitress joined us outside. I asked her opinion.
"I can't really say," she answered. "I just moved here last month - from Hebei (a Chinese province close to Beijing).
Nodding goodbye, I wound my way further south, deep into Qianmen. I eventually found a cluster of residential quadrangles, traditional homes known to Beijingers as Siheyuan. There weren't many people around. I latched onto an octengenarian.
"These houses will never fall," the retired doctor said confidently. "They're too famous, too old, too historic."
And the others? The hutongs now under seige, the homes already gone?
"Different." Her tone was final. "They needed to go. Those neighborhoods were always worthless."
When did she move into Qianmen?
"I was born here," she replied. "I'm Manchu. Do you know what that means?"
The rulers of China's Qing dynasty were Manchurians, who swept down from the north to capture Beijing in 1644 and weren't overthrown until 1911.
Days earlier, I'd ventured down a different sort of hutong. Located well beyond Beijing's old city walls, on the banks of a man-made canal, Wanshousi (Long Life Temple) once served as a rest stop for emperors. Bound for the Summer Palace, the emperors traveled by boat. Now Wanshousi houses an art museum.
A small hutong neighborhood, built in and around the remains of an unpreserved temple, stands between Wanshousi and a block of new flats. I pulled out my camera and ducked under an open, stone-bordered door. Unlike Qianmen, the neighborhood recieves little outside attention. A wheezy old man stopped wheezing to stare.
At first I passed pigeon coops, broken-down bicylces and half-collapsed shacks. But the further I walked, the nicer the hutong became. Hutongs aren't wide - it's nearly impossible for one car to pass another parked on the side. Yet, here were Audis and Hyundais. Hutongs are so quiet, I thought to myself - spying two woodpeckers perched high up a tree.
An elderly couple had trouble understanding my Chinese - initially, the woman frowned while the man gaped at me. They'd shared the same home for 40-plus years.
"Our house is too old," said the woman. "We're too old, too."
Stepping out of the alley, I asked a busy shopkeeper about the unpreserved temple. Annoyed, she shot me a scowl.
At last, I set out for the hutongs at Qianhai and Houhai (Front and Back Lakes), where scholars once lived and tourists now swarm. I headed for one home in particular - the former residence of 20th century author Guo Moruo. Being unfamiliar with the area, I'd decided to spring for a cab. Unfortunately, my soft-spoken driver knew Qianhai no better. We soon found ourselves lost.
Most hutongs, which twist this way and that, are maze-like by design. To make matters worse, they often dead-end. Many of Qianhai and Houhai's hutongs were being redone. We reversed back down alleys and begged locals for help. Once, caught between a wall and a manhole, we barely scraped through.
It was hard to tell which homes were truly historic and which were restored. Either way, the hutongs were charming. After saying goodbye to my cab driver, I met a lady on her way to buy fruit.
"I live in an old house by Xizhimen," she said. "But I'll have to move out very soon - in the next month or two."
"It's been marked for destruction," she said. "For the Olympics."
I asked if she would recieve compensation.
"Yes, yes," I was told - enough for a flat past the Fourth Ring Road. "But I don't want money. I want my house. Living out there just isn't convenient. Where will my grand-kids go to school? Where will I buy vegetables? I'm not used to life on the outskirts. But, I have little choice."
'Hutong Chronicles: Danwei TV Hard Hat Show':
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December 28, 2007 3:00 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics will herald the emergence of a new, modern China.
But here in the capital, the Games will also symbolize China's recovery from a century defined by suffering, chaos and war. Chinese civilization has survived, and thanks to Beijing's Olympic organizers, the world won't soon forget it.
Where do the city's crumbling, residential alleys - its traditional hutongs - fit in? They represent China's past and, months away from the Games, their fate still isn't clear.
Most hutong homes are cramped and old. Few enjoy central heating or running water. But they're clustered around downtown Beijing - where construction firms dance to the tune 'location, location, location.' Paid off by developers, many Beijingers have willingly bolted their hutong houses for modern flats in the suburbs.
Hutongs are part of Beijing's cultural heritage. Like the Forbidden City and the Great Bell Temple, these Qing dynasty blocks memorialize Asia's most storied capital. The Qing were Manchurians, who swept down from the north to capture Beijing in 1644.
(Note: Some hutongs pre-date the Qing. Hutong apparently comes from the Mongolian hottog, meaning 'water well.' Mongolians ruled China during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).)
It's hard for some 'hutongers' to imagine living anywhere else. They stroll arm in arm just before dusk, smiling to old friends and waving hello. The hutongs' narrow brick walls shelter a rare sense of community.
Hutong homes scheduled for demolition are marked with the character 'chai' - which means 'to dismantle.' Residents leave. Bulldozers move in. Neighborhoods disappear overnight.
Consequently, Beijing looks less (architecturally) 'Chinese' each day. Where graceful roofs once curved towards heaven, concrete storefronts cast blocky shadows.
According to the Communist Party, all land is state land. But legislators here, citing China's rapid economic development, have passed laws designed to protect private property (the first of their kind). Adopted in March, the measures may benefit opportunistic officials and dishonest developers as much as they aid poor homeowners and farmers. Legally, however, they've nudged Beijing towards a market economy.
No private firm, Beijingers have told me, may kick a 'hutonger' off his or her property. Stubborn Chinese who stand up to developers are called 'hard as nails' - dingzi hu.
From the municipality of Chongqing - perhaps China's most intrepid dingzi hu. According to a Chongqing native I know, this home's owner hauled his meals up in a bucket and waved a Chinese flag out his window to fend off demolition teams.
But public firms - those carrying Olympic development contracts, for example - may force 'hutongers' to move. In 2002, workers were leveling 600 hutongs per year. More than 62 square kilometers in central Beijing have been cleared since 2004, according to UNESCO. And Switzerland's Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions has suggested that, by August 2008, 1.5 million people will have been displaced. Beijing's vice-mayor Liu Zhihua, who once oversaw Games-related urban planning, was dismissed for corruption in 2006.
(Note: Estimates differ with respect to Beijing's total hutongs, According to a 2006 NPR special, there were 3,000 hutongs standing 50 years ago - and only 1,000 today. Another report suggests that 1,330 hutongs existed in 1949. However, a Chinese source claims the city still contains 4,500 or more. These discrepancies are complicated by the absence of any official criteria. Some hutongs are ten meters wide. Others span less than a meter, wall-to-wall.)
On the one hand, Beijing's Olympic preparations have accelerated the hutongs' demise. Ordered to 'clean up' the city before 2008, Beijing's leaders have forced forward a modernization program based on construction. The capital's most decrepit hutongs, branded unsound and 'backward,' were always destined to go.
Yet the Olympics have also revived interest in Beijing's traditional culture.
"The Games are an opportunity to teach China's history," I've been told here time and again.
Few cities boast such a colorful past - next August will likely resemble a glorified tour. Half a million foreign tourists are expected to attend the Olympics.
Local leaders have promised to host an event both 'world-class' and 'uniquely Chinese.' To that end, they've ordered a number of hutong districts preserved. In some cases, 'preserved' has meant 'left as is.' In other cases, it's meant 'razed and rebuilt to international regulations.'
So where do the crumbling, residential alleys fit in? Squeezed tight between China's glossy future, tumultuous past and Olympic present, it seems.
Check out 'Heart of the city - part two' - coming soon - for a look at three hutong neighborhoods.
'Hutong Chronicles: Danwei TV Hard Hat Show':
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December 21, 2007 5:44 PM
Posted by blog
The lights went dead inside Beijing University's new gymnasium a week ago, plunging some of China's best table tennis players into sudden darkness.
"I felt like the whole world had shut off," said Chinese star Chen Qi, who won a gold medal three years ago in Athens (Xinhua). "At that moment, I could see nothing at all."
Twenty minutes later the situation was resolved and Chen's International Table Tennis Federation ProTour match resumed. He and his partner Wang Liqin, ahead 3-0 against a pair of Singaporeans when the blackout occurred, quickly wrapped up a 4-0 victory. Eventually, Chen and Wang struck gold - Chinese paddlers placed first in all four of the tournament's events.
China's Guo Yue and Li Xiaoxia defeated Tie Yana and Zhang Rui of Hong Kong Tuesday. (Xinhua photo)
While Beijing's Olympic organizers failed to predict the outage, they've been waiting for something like it to happen. Both the 2007 ITTF ProTour and the 2007 International Table Tennis Invitational (also held at Beijing University) were scheduled in concert with 'Good Luck Beijing.'
'Good Luck Beijing' refers to a series of 42 international athletic competitions currently underway. These tune-up events are designed to help Olympics athletes, organizers and volunteers prepare. Interpreters are drilled, teams are formed, new venues are put to the test - and next August's Games are HYPED, HYPED, HYPED!
Hoping for an Olympic preview, I snagged tickets to the Invitational's finals - set for Wednesday evening.
I'd never attended a big-time table tennis match. Like most Americans, I equate the sport with flip-flops and laughter. It's different, less casual here. Most everyone plays table tennis in China. Children worship pro 'paddlers,' who frequently appear on TV.
"In table tennis, we're the best," one satisfied man explained Wednesday. "It's China's game."
More than 300 million Chinese take part, according to one report. Nearly 30,000 receive formal training and 2,000 compete professionally.
Table tennis is a spectator sport - check it out (please allow time for video to load):
I arrived late to the tournament. Beijing University is located near the city's high-tech sector, blocks from a monstrous Wu-Mei (Wal-Mart) and two manic malls. It sits on Zhongguancun Dajie (Zhongguancun Big Road), which during rush hour turns into a parking lot. Between angry honks I heard someone mutter, "You see? There are too many people in China."
Off Zhongguancun, I ran into a band of perky 'Good Luck Beijing' volunteers. They beamed and spoke perfect English. "This way," "thank you," "of course," "to your left," "here you are," "enjoy!"
The gymnasium, less than half-full, was bright and new. Most of my fellow fans looked rich - well groomed, well dressed, well acquainted with luxury. Their collective disinterest made for a quiet event. I took in the facility's jumbo-tron and drank from a clean water fountain. It hardly felt like Beijing.
Each time a paddler wound into his or her serve, the crowd hushed. Vicious rallies followed on a few occasions, forcing both players (all four during doubles) back away from the table. I gasped for breath. But the surgical slams and serious spin applied by Chen and his dominant teammates kind of ruined the fun. My 50元 seats (US$8) were upper level - out of earshot and removed from the action. From the outset, it was clear the Chinese would win.
Local government officials doled out the awards. Out on the concourse, I approached a middle-aged man and launched into my spiel - 'I'm here to research Beijing. What about that last match? Why table tennis? Got tickets for the Olympics?"
"I'm from San Diego," he replied.
A few Beijingers gathered around.
"Tonight was great. I'm glad the Chinese won," one woman said. "I've already ordered Olympic tickets. Now I'm just waiting for them to arrive."
I walked up to a heavyset man with whiskers.
"Oh, this was great!" he said. "Fearsome table tennis! The ushers were wonderful. Are you an American? Tell your friends to watch the Olympics. They'll get to know China."
"If tonight was any indication, the Olympics will go very well," an older man assured me.
One volunteer, a Beijing University psychology major, is also planning to work the Olympics next year.
"It has nothing to do with my studies," she said. "I just want to help out, have fun and represent my university - these competitions are very important for China."
I headed back to Zhongguancun Big Road puzzled. Had I received a realistic Olympic preview?
"Aoyunhui, zaijian!" a line of waving volunteers yelled. "Olympics, goodbye!"
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December 15, 2007 1:06 AM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
You shuffle through the sliding glass doors at Beijing's Capital Airport and a gust of dusty December wind whips round your ears and neck. You take a look around.
Big, cold and gray.
You and your rumpled driver merge onto Beijing's Capital Expressway. He coughs loudly, coughs again, clears his throat and opens his window. A wad of gunk comes apart in mid-air. He rolls up his window. Coughs loudly. Coughs again. You take a look around.
Big, cold and gray.
Your cab inches into Beijing - a forest of concrete apartments and high-rise office buildings. Crowds form at every corner. A siren sounds, then a jackhammer. City girls and country stiffs text-message down heaving sidewalks. You take a look around.
Big, cold and gray.
That's one version of Beijing.
Another version is vibrant and colorful. It boasts palaces and museums. The Great Wall looms nearby. And crouched between its busy thoroughfares, 17 million people tend to a unique urban culture.
Squeeze close to that Beijing, and here's what you might hear, meet, touch, taste or see:
- Taiwanese pop blaring from a 24-hour karaoke bar
- A toothless pool hall attendant, bored out of her mind
- The smooth head of an elephant idol
- "Tang erduo" (candy ear), a deep-fried street-side snack
- Magpies wheeling overhead
- The rumble of an elevated train grinding down its tracks
- An elderly man with his 'erhu' (two-stringed instrument)
- The prickly mane of a fruit-cart pony
- Cow's tendon and robin's egg kebabs
- Clear blue skies
Since arriving in Beijing one month ago, I've often wondered: which verison of the city will its Olympic guests see?
Neither, most likely.
Beijing's officials are spending US$40-60 billion on the Games. They've built impressive stadiums (the colossal 'Bird's Nest' cost US$500 million alone), moved heavy industry outside the city and sponsored an inclusive English-learning campaign.
Why? In the words of one Chinese scholar, to guarantee "a robust, modern Beijing" is the version that foreigners see.
Next up...a construction discussion.
Interactive map of Beijing - follow up on posts and get oriented (please allow time for features to load):
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
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