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Archive for July, 2008

Yao Ming has returned from injury to compete for the first time in 5 months just weeks ahead of the Olympic Games in his home country. However in the same week the groups for the Olympic basketball competition have been announced and Yao’s China team will face an extremely strong line up to qualify for the quarter finals.

Yao made his come back at a tournament in Hangzhou where China narrowly lost to one of their rivals in Group B, Angola. The other teams to make up Group B will be the USA, Germany, Greece and Spain – four of the six will make it through to the next round.

The Olympic basketball event will be kicked off by the huge clash between China and USA on 10th August. Bob would hate to speculate on how much those tickets could fetch…

Teaching in a middle school in China there was one sport that clearly dominated above all others, and it was not ping pong! The baggy shorts, the rows of hoops in the playground, the English names like Kobe and LeBron; basketball may as well be China’s national sport. And Yao is their greatest star – huge in physique, fame and respect Yao’s popularity is rivalled only by that of Liu Xiang within China and his return will have doubled the price of the China v USA game alone.

The update on Yao’s injury from China’s head coach Jonas Kazlausk is:

“Yao still cannot play a full game because of his foot injury. I exchange information about his injury with his doctor as much as I can. I hope he’ll take the full recovery at the Olympics.”

Of the Olympic Group B challenge Yao also talks a good game (via China Daily):

“I am very sure we can beat Angola. We lost to them in Hangzhou, but we were not in our best shape last week,” he said. “Their players are not very competitive, and I don’t think they are able to pose us any real threat at the Games.

“We are not afraid of Germany either. Yi Jianlian has improved tremendously after playing one season in the NBA and he can limit Nowitzki. And I can take care of Chris Kaman.”

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Few people would argue that China is controversial choice of host country for the 2008 Olympics – something the Chinese government are only too aware of. With high profile protests greeting the Olympic torch’s global relay and rioting in various western provinces by ethnic Tibetans there is a very real threat of unrest spoiling the sporting showcase of the Olympic Games.

However, many believe that the security measures imposed by the authorities in Beijing may actually do more to sour the spectacle themselves. In the first guest post for the Beijing Olympics Blog a friend of Bob’s and a prominent Chinese Studies academic writes that this March tension was high and the atmosphere was poor in Beijing because of the prominent security presence:

I have never known Beijing as tense, the police and military presence as overt and aggressive, and Tiananmen Square as controlled, as it was in March. We had a lot of hassle about bags and searches before going up onto Tiananmen at the end of the Forbidden City visit, which made me wonder if anyone had tried to get up there, or even succeeded, with a Tibetan flag or leaflets, and then when leaving the Forbidden City, we were all funnelled over one marble bridge lined with a dozen armed men all urging us to hurry up – I think they were trying to make sure no-one whipped out a banner or flag under the Mao portrait, and again, it made me wonder if anyone had done just that, or tried to. It must have made an awful impression on first-time visitors, though – they were almost pushing people along over the bridge, even elderly and disabled tourists.
Then as we were walking east on Chang’an Avenue to where we could catch a cab, still at the top of the Square, we passed a middle-aged migrant woman, who looked as if she might have been Tibetan, who was refusing to let two police officers search her bag. They twisted her arms behind her back, threw her on the ground and knelt on her, pulling her by her hair, just eight feet away from half a dozen horrified British students. When they started to let her up, she threw a punch at one of them, so they repeated the performance, and other police came over to move everyone on, so we didn’t find out what, if anything, she had in that bag – she looked to me like the kind of woman who sells maps and postcards on the Square, not that many of them were allowed onto it to do that this year, but I guess she might have looked a bit Tibetan to the police as well, hence the search. All rather horrible, but I’m glad the students saw it.
We went onto the Square the next day, the day before the torch arrived, and the top half was already closed off in preparation. Locals and tourists were heavily outnumbered by police and soldiers, and police cars cruised the Square broadcasting in English and Chinese instructions not to come to the ceremony if you weren’t invited! Not terribly welcoming, then, and a plain-clothes police office filmed me for 50 minutes while I was talking to my students (should have asked him for a copy – it would have made a nice podcast). The Monument to the People’s Heroes was also closed off and had armed sentries posted all over it – I think that’s new since last year.
I can’t see how they’re going to get through the Games without incident, judging by March-April – things like this are bound to be seen by loads of foreign visitors, including the press – which is partly why I want to be there for the start, at least, although of course it’s the only country in the world where whatever happens either won’t be on the evening news at all, or in very particular form.

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The Lost Ring is a brand new ARG (which apparently stands for Alternative Reality Game) centred around the Beijing Olympics and jointly sponsored by the IOC and one of the 2008 Games’ official partners.

Bob is no expert in ARG’s and was informed about The Lost Ring by a colleague (thanks Liz), so decided to do some research. According to Liz:

“The internet is aflutter with rumours about a new alternate reality game…The Lost Ring began last week [Bob has a feeling this may be a little out of date], when certain gamers received a package in the post with a web address hidden in a ball of string.”

Intriguing…

Upon visiting the site – www.TheLostRing.com – you are shown a fantastic fantasy video (think Lord of the Rings meets ancient Greece) that sets a dramatic scene but gives few answers…

…so on a mission to find out more Bob found a post on Global voices which lead to the Virtual China blog, which happens to have an excellent introduction to the Game courtesy of Lyn Jeffery.

The Game is centred around eight main characters from China, Japan, Germany, Spain, US, UK, Brazil and France and the big idea is collaboration. These characters have super powers and mysterious pasts and are ‘played’ in real time online so that other players can interact with them – see their profile pages here.

So far there are apparently 15,000 people playing in China alone. According to Lyn:

“The game is designed to be impossible to make serious progress in unless you can figure out how to be part of a collective… It is fascinating to watch how this kind of highly emergent, non-rules-based, collaborative game is diffusing into China. In China, where this kind of gaming doesn’t exist, it’s hasn’t been so easy to engage a distributed community and link it up to a global community of players who mostly don’t speak Chinese.”

A number of issues face Chinese players, including language (much of the content is user generated, and so not necessarily provided in Chinese) cultural (Chinese gamers aren’t used to this kind of collaboration) and political (the Great Firewall prevents access to some resources that the players use, including The Lost Ring’s very own wiki). However Lyn observes:

“What seems to be happening, however, is that the translation problem is becoming a feature of the game, not a bug, which is perfect.  The community is self-organizing to deal with the communication problems, which appear to be most acute with the Chinese language materials.”

So it looks as if this by-product of the Olympics is building bridges of communication between the people of all countries, and particularly between them and Chinese people. That can only be a good thing.

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Today the British Olympic Team to compete in Beijing this summer was announced by the British Olympic Association. This news has been overshadowed somewhat by uncertaintly surrounding Dwain Chambers and Paula Radcliffe, but at this stage let’s just extend congratulations and lots of luck to the team. View the full team here.

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Beijing National Stadium

Beijing National Stadium

Beijing is a city reshaped, and the 2008 Olympic Games will leave a lasting impact on the landscape of one of the most historic cities in the world. Coming at a time of huge economic growth and large-scale

rural-urban migration (legitimate and unofficial) the Olympics has come as a spur for adventurous architecture on an ambitious scale.

For an introduction into the new landmarks reinventing Beijing’s identity check out a new interactive guide from NYT (thanks Rusk for pointing this out). Click ‘play audio’ for a succinct analysis of each project.

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The slide show of the National Aquatic Centre (Water Cube) shows how the beautiful bubbles/cells were generated. One other thing that Bob didn’t know was that there is a water park within the Water Cube that will remain in use after the Olympics – a definite must on the Beijing to do list!

Apart from the Water Cube and the National Stadium – aka the Bird’s Nest – the guide also covers the new Airport terminal, the National Theatre and the CCTV tower.

For more information on the Water Cube and comments from one of the architects of the Bird’s Nest take a look at these past posts.

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

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Attending an Olympic Games hosted by China was always going to throw up some interesting challenges for the Taiwanese team, and the China’ Taiwan Affairs office have decided to spice things up. The controversy revolves around the name that Taiwan competes under at the Olympics…

The situation is this: in 1989 China and Taiwan agreed that the latter would be referred to as Zhonghua Taipei (中华台北) which translates as Chinese Taipei. Bob’s understanding is that Zhonghua does mean ‘China’ but is not used to refer to the nation that we know today. This week however “Yang Yi of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has suggested that Zhongguo Taipei (中国台北) is just as valid as an Olympic designator” (via Shanghaiist). Zhongguo being the name used to refer to modern China, as we know it.

The implication of the change in semantics is probably best put; it’s like changing from ‘Chinese Taipei’ to ‘China’s Taipei’.

This is not the first time that the Chinese Olympic organisers have tried to use the Beijing Games as a PR tool for implying Taiwan’s belonging to the mainland. When organising the (fated) Olympic torch relay an invitation was extended to Taiwan: the Taiwanese were very happy to be part of the international leg, which passed through London and Paris along it’s way, but were less pleased to find out that they had been scheduled between Hong Kong and Macao as part of the domestic route (which also climbed Everest and ghosted through Xinjiang). Funnily enough Taiwan refused.

These stunts are clearly lined up to reinforce the official Party line in China that Taiwan is part of the same country. This is an opinion held very strongly within the general population, who will often express a deep wish that Taiwan would ‘come back to its family’. Bob is unsure of who the PR machine is trying to convince; the Chinese population who are already on side, or the ignorant international community, many of whom may not know what Taiwan’s status is.

Bob is not unfamiliar with the complicated way in which the Chinese view Taiwan; a couple of stories come to mind from teaching in China. The first being a polite scolding from a politically aware colleague that we had better go back to Google images to find a different map of China (one that included Taiwan!).

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

The second event being a discussion of landmarks which turned to the subject of the world’s tallest buildings. The students seemed puzzled when Bob suggested that indeed China was already home to the world’s tallest building. “No” they said, “that will be in Shanghai, but it’s not finished yet”. A little confused and cautious of what to say Bob pointed out that Taip – ei was home to the current tallest skyscraper and so of course it was Chinese. At this point the students also seemed confused at whether the tower was in fact Chinese; perhaps it was a Zhonghua tower, but not a Zhongguo tower?

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

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This week the Boston Globe has a collection of photos from various anti-terrorism exercises and demonstrations (thanks to Rachel for pointing this out). A number of these come from “a week-long series of anti-terrorist drills called “Great Wall 5″, in preparation for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games”, so the Globe claims.

Although this may just be an excuse to put images of the Chinese military in the western press, it is a very striking collection of pictures. This does not appear to be another case of the media pulling out misleading images to portray its own story – as was picked up by the Chinese bloggers at anti-cnn.com – as most images are sources from the Chinese press and come with detailed explanations of where and when the were taken.

Here are a few to feast your eyes on:

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Preparations

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Preparations

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Display

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Display

Chinese Armed Anti-Terrorism Police In Preparations For The Olympics

Chinese Armed Anti-Terrorism Police In Preparations For The Olympics

And finally a picture that tells a thousand stories, taken in Xinjiang during the Olympic torch relay through the capital Urumqi that was commented on here for the high levels of security.

Chinese Police Presence In Urumqi For The Xinjiang Leg Of The Torch Relay

Chinese Police Presence In Urumqi For The Xinjiang Leg Of The Torch Relay

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