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.