Archive for the ‘olympic torch’ Category

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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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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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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A three minute silence was observed today at 2.28pm Beijing Time (6.28 GMT), one week after the terrible earthquake in Sichuan. This was accompanied by three minutes of noise by drivers of cars, ship and trains blasted their horns for three minutes of noise.

Here you can see a CCTV report which includes coverage of the three minutes from across China:

You may have noticed national flags at half-mast in this footage. This is one of the steps taken by the Chinese government to follow the wishes of China’s huge netizen population. CDT tells: “For the first time in PRC’s history, the government has lowered flags to half-mast in honor of civilians instead of national leaders”.

There has also been pressure from within China’s online communities to scale back the Olympic celebrations. It is likely that this democratic voice has been influential in prompting the decision to pause the Olympic torch relay for three days.

West Lake Hangzhou

Yesterday the Olympic torch passed by Hangzhou’s famous West Lake (left), and crowds of thousands showing their support for the earthquake victims.

Beside the Games’ slogans like “One World, One Dream”, they held up banners bearing “One Home, One Concern” and other self-created slogans in support of rescue efforts in Sichuan.”

From Hangzhou the torch is set to head to Shanghai, but it will not be relayed there until Wednesday.

In Shanghai support is being shown in other ways, including a candlelight vigil that has probably finished by the time of posting this.

Image thief also points out how the sombre sentiment in the country has articulated through the television, with non-news international channels suspended and little but quake news coverage on the domestic channels.

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It seems rather futile blogging about other issues in light of the fact that thousands of people still left buried by the Earthquake in Sichuan. The death toll now exceeds 12,000 and is sure to increase. The Olympics seem relatively trivial.

The New York Times (via CDT) describes how many people in China have been incensed by jubilant celebrations of the Olympics Torch relay in Fujian Province. This post has subsequently been updated with news that “Chinese officials announced that the relay will be scaled back while remaining on schedule, a nod to the thousands of victims of the earthquake”.

It also anounces that “Donation boxes will also be set up at future stops of the torch”.

If you are interested in making a donation see the information below (via TIME and Shanghiist):

“For those who are looking to contribute to current aid efforts underway, you can now donate money to the Red Cross Society of China which has formed a disaster relief working group to be dispatched to the earthquake-stricken Wenchuan County in Sichuan.

They have also published an emergency relief hotline, along with bank account information to receive donations to assist their cause:

Account name: Red Cross Society of China

For those who want to donate in RMB: you can send money to the RMB account at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China branch below:
人民币开户行: 中国工商银行 北京分行东四南支行
人民币账号: 0200001009014413252

For those who want to donate in foreign currency, you can send money to the foreign currency account at the CITIC Bank branch below:
外币账号: 7112111482600000209

Hotline: (8610) 65139999
Online donations: Red Cross Society of China website: http://www.redcross.org.cn
Click the tab for online donations “

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A fun Olympics feel-good story from Xinhua News today; Quintuplets bring Olympic mascots to life.

As the Olympic torch reaches their home city of Shantou, Guangdong, Lin Zhonghua and her fellow quintuplets will play Fuwa (Olympic mascots) during the day’s opening ceremony.

“It is very lucky for the city to have the quintuplets to play Fuwa,” says Li Shugai, the children’s kindergarten head teacher, thus dashing any suspicions that the birth of cute quintuplets in time for them to reach kindergarten age by 2008 had been part of any pre-Olympic planning!

It is unlikely that Lin Zhonghua and her siblings have many other classmates with 4 brothers and sisters, so in getting a whole set of Fuwa from one generation of the same family perhaps is lucky for the city of Shantou…?

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