Archive for June, 2008

Xinjiang Mosque

The Olympic torch is continuing it’s path to back to Beijing via every province in China, and the most recent legs have been passing through the country’s largest province, Xinjiang. However the atmosphere of the relay appears to have been unusually quiet, as many local people have been told to stay away. There has been little coverage of this section of the torch’s journey, but James Reynolds has blogged about it’s passage in Urumqi and Kashgar.

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is a hugely interesting but little known part of China. You can compare the position of the local Uighur’s to their southern neighbours, the Tibetans. An ethnic minority with strong religious ties and some history of separatist sentiment, both have been at the receiving end of strong handed treatment from the Chinese government. The Muslim Uighur people and the Xinjiang deserts have not caught the international attention that the Tibetan cause has, but for good coverage of the situation there try Simon Elegant’s writing for TIME’s China blog:

The Other ‘Tibet’ – 16th April

In China’s Wild West – 17th April

The High Cost of Control – 3rd April

In order to prevent any more embarrassing protests the government has strictly controlled movement within the cities of Xinjiang that the torch has visited. As James Reynolds explains:

“The authorities here didn’t want reporters wandering away off on their own during the relay [in Kashgar]. So, just after dawn, we were all driven to the square outside the Idkah mosque for the start of the relay (to help identify us, local officials gave each of us two red stickers and politely told us to put one on our chests and one on our backs).”

Foreign journalists were not the only ones with access to see the torch limited:

“most – if not all – shops and businesses were shuttered. There were no cars on the road. Local people had been told to stay indoors.”

The Chinese authorities have managed their PR related to Xinjiang well – they have avoided much coverage of Uighur protests, and have been able to portray the Uighurs as Islamic terrorists rather than a supressed minority. Events like this torch relay do seem to undermine the positive impact that the Olympics are meant to bring, it’s certainly not evident that the 2008 Games will help the case of the Uighurs.


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You’ve heard the songs, now check out the Beijing Olympics Rap ‘Beijing welcomes you back’, by local group In Three.

From track & field to swimming/
From the Bird’s Nest (National Stadium) to the Watercube (National Aquatics Center)/
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

Blogging Beijing has a full interview with In Three, or check out the rap here:

The topics of their rap are not uncommon for China. Chinese rappers do not tend to rhyme about ‘guns and hos’; partly perhaps because they wouldn’t be speaking from any experience, but also for cultural reasons. The current social climate is such that topics tend to centre around daily life – as The Times’ Jane Macartney puts it “the right to party is still controlled by the Party”.

Rap in China is a relatively new phenomenon in China – pop music is dominated with sickly-sweet ballads sung by cute, clean-cut stars. However Bob has been lucky enough to see one Chinese crew spit when Beijing’s Dragon Tongue Squad came to London to play the Royal Opera House. As part of the China Now festival in London – a programme of cultural events leading up to the Olympics – DTS came over and spent a week collaborating with British born Chinese (BBC) artists DJ Phat and Suki Mok.

About the topics of their raps DST’s Kirby Li (aka Verbal Confucius) tell Jane Macartney:

“We have to keep our lyrics real,” Li says. “The life of people in China has nothing to do with drugs, guns or violence but it’s more about how hard it is to find a job and how you feel when your boss curses you or your girl dumps you.”

‘Beijing welcomes you back’ is suitably patriotic and upbeat to fit the profile of an Olympic tune; In Three know that “The Olympics are a business, you know”. But asked about this bringing them global exposure they respond: “Don’t count on it… streets will be blocked, nightclubs shut down. There won’t be hip hop in the Opening Ceremonies.”

Finally, for a historical look at the origins of rap in China see this informative advertisement:

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Dayron Robles World Record Breaker

Cuba’s Dayron Robles has toppled Liu Xiang’s 110m hurdles world record. The 21-year-old clocked 12.87 seconds, beating Liu’s time by just 0.01 seconds and smashing his own personal best. Liu was not racing.

Check out Robles’ reaction here:

Olympic favourite in more ways than one, Liu Xiang is not only expected to successfully defend his Olympic title, but is one of the most popular athletes in the host country. If the pressure from 1.3 billion people’s expectations was not great enough, Liu now has to contend with a new world record holder. Many Chinese hearts will be beating a little faster when they hear the news this Friday morning…

Liu Xiang Dayron Robles

Much has been said about the pressure Liu will face this year; seeing him win gold in the Bird’s Nest was number one in a poll of the Chinese public’s Olympic dreams. Comparisons have been drawn between Liu and more traditional Chinese heroes.

Despite having started his season well, Liu missed two races this week through disqualification and a slight injury. Meanwhile Robles could not have timed this form better, and will join Usain Bolt as a new favourite come August.

The main events in Beijing certainly look to be hotting up! Let’s hope the athletics can outshine the drugs rumours and protests after all!

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The Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have released the official ‘cheer’ for the 2008 Games (via Danwei). For this vital task BOCOG have teamed up with the Party Office of Spiritual Civilization Development and Guidance (GODPP), the Ministry of Education and CCTV.

With this huge amount of expertise, a highly advanced cheer has been developed.

“Olympics, let’s go!

China, let’s go!”

The technical diagram below does it’s best to demonstrate the complex movements that follow the words:

Official Olympic cheer

If this is too complex for you the BBC have kindly tasked their top designers with simplifying things:

Official Olympic Cheer from BBC

To explain the importance of this cultural landmark the president of the Beijing Etiquette Institute, Li Ning (not the same Li Ning who featured in the 10 Chinese people you should know about) was called in. From Beijing News (via Danwei):

“At yesterday’s ceremony, Li Ning explained that the uniformity of the cheer contained a multitude of variations. It could be “Go Olympics! Go China!” as well as “Go China! Go Yao Ming!” or “Go Brazil! Go Ronaldino!” It will work to give encouragement to every country and athlete in competition.”

Bob is sure that anyone else who has been to a sports event – particularly a school sports day – will be very familiar with the chant “加油” (“jia you” / “let’s go”). As Meg at Beijing Olympics FAN! points out “jia you” can be directly translated as “add oil”, but is very regularly used as “let’s go” or “come on”. This may not really be new, or revolutionary, but it is a nice little piece of modern Chinese culture.

Check out the CCTV introduction video, including demonstrations from many people in coloured t-shirts, at Danwei.

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On his blog BBC Beijing correspondent James Reynolds has carried out an impromptue and “unscientific” poll to find the “top 10 Chinese people you should know about“.

Made up from contributions from readers the list includes three Olympians (past & present). Liu Xiang and Yao Ming, readers should all be familiar with, but another name may be less recognisable outside of China; Li Ning.

Li Ning won three gold medals in the 1984 Olympic Games as a gymnast. Impressive in itself, but his inclusion in this hit list is due to his entrepreneurial success with his own sports brand. Visitors to China – particularly anyone who has taught in China – should be familiar with the Li Ning ‘squiggle’ logo (in the background of the image below).

Li Ning Olympic Athlete and Businessman

The rest of the top 10 were, Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Yuan Longping, Yang Liwei, Zhang Ziyi, Li Jiacheng and Zhang Yimou.

Investigate the full list for yourself; obvious ommissions may include Ang Li, Jackie Chan and Jay Chou. Two years ago Jay Chou was certainly the biggest celeb going and a huge part of Chinese popular culture, and Bob’s students certainly regarded him as Chinese. In fact there does seem to be a bit of favouritism to mainland stars here… hoping to avoid debate over who is and is not Chinese perhaps?

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Dwain Chambers Olympic AppealIn the BBC Olympic blog Adrian Warner revealed on Friday that key figures in Athens “think Dwain Chambers has a good chance of winning his drugs appeal against the British Olympic Association and making it to the Beijing Games”.

Drugs is an issue that has come to overshadow track and field athletics (amongst other sports of course), and shows little sign of disappearing. On either side of the Atlantic there are high profile stories in the news at the moment; while in the US Antonio Pettigrew (gold medalist in men’s 4x400m in Sydney) has just admitted to using performance-enahncing drugs (let’s call them PEDs), in the UK Dwain Chambers’ quest to compete in Beijing is controversial news.

The situations, for those who don’t know:

  • Having completed at the highest level for many years, and won World Championship medals, in 2003 Chambers tested positive for the anabolic steroid THG
  • As punishment Chambers was banned for 2 years by UK Athletics, banned from representing Great Britain at the Olympics, and stripped of all medals won since 2002 (whilst using PEDs)
  • Having served the two year ban (and in the mean time tried his hand at American Football and Rugby League) Chambers is now competing again, and hopes to contest his life-time Olympic ban

Last week Chambers ran 100m in 10.26 at a competition in Greece, and thus qualified to compete at the British Olympic trials in Birmingham on 11 July. Should he run the qualifying time of 10.25 (distinctly likely judging by his speed in Greece) the only thing standing between Chambers and Beijing is the UK Athletics ban, which he plans to challenge in London’s High Court.

Dwain Chambers Rugby League

If Adrian Warner is to be believed there is a good chance that Chambers will be successful.

Dwain Chambers and Seb CoeThis situation has polarised opinion, with pretty much every British athlete (past or present) asked, backing the ban and emphasising the importance of a zero-tolerance approach to PEDs. On the other hand (according to Warner) even”the former head of the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada) Dick Pound has often said that it’s hard to legally justify punishing an athlete for the same offence twice.”

Bob does have sympathy for Chambers, who has clearly been punished greatly for his mistake, and now believes that he could win an Olympic medal (though he might struggle to keep up with Usain Bolt). For any athlete, the frustration of not being able to prove themselves on the Olympic stage must be enormous – just look at what Oscar Pistorius has been going through. And his efforts to warn people away from making his mistakes should be applauded.

However, as the Olympics approach it looks only too likely that there may be more stories of athletes on PEDs beating athletes who have resisted the temptation to cheat. Will the presence of athletes like Chambers muddy these waters further…?

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China Stop - No Entry

In recent weeks there has been a lot of confusion and discussion about the rules for applying for a Chinese

visa. Although few public announcements have been made, more and more stories have emerged from people having difficulty in getting hold of a visa. In particular (short stay working) ‘F’ visas have been tough to come by.

Bob may be a little slow in picking up on this story, but has been well and truly caught up in the confusion. For weeks now colleagues in Shanghai have been trying to advise Bob about whether it will be possible to acquire an F visa for a working trip this summer, which will coincide with a spell in Beijing for the Olympic Games.

The Chinese Embassy in London have been particularly opaque: the website contains no update since April, the telephone number does not appear to work (or is constantly engaged) and an email enquiry into the current length of stay F visas are being granted for brought the response, “The information you require can be found on our website”. Really?

Getting to Beijing this summer could be harder for Olympic fans than for Oscar Pistorius at this rate. In fact Bob is beginning to think that it may be easier to get some running spikes and work on making one qualifying for Team GB.

No such worries will befall families of athletes, who will not require a visa to enter China. Maybe Bob could marry an athlete…?

China Visa ChangesThese restrictions seem like a very effective way of deterring and alienating potential visitors to China’s showcase. Rumours from colleagues in Shanghai also suggest that travel on public transport may be restricted into and around Beijing to anyone not possessing a ticket to an Olympic event. You can’t help but fear than such bureaucracy and control will feed into the hands of anyone with reservations over China’s Olympic credentials, and could mar a spectacular event. However Bob does not wish to fan the flames of speculation too much at this stage…

On a final lighter note, Danwei has summarised BOGOC’s guidelines about the kinds of foreigners who will not be welcome in China for the Olympics as:

“No hookers, pimps, dealers, terrorists, activists, revolutionaries, missionaries, demonstrators, pornographers, gun nuts, maniacs, sufferers of mental diseases, carriers of infectious diseases, poisonous snake collectors, beggars or drunkards.”

As long as you don’t fit the above criteria and were thinking of applying for a visa, Shanghaiist and The Beijinger have pretty decent summaries of the situation.

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