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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Beijing 2008 Olympics: China gets ready to smile for the cameras

July 12, 2008

The Telegraph (UK)
July 10, 2008

With the 2008 Olympics less than a month away, China is making every
effort to shed its austere image. Gordon Rayner reports from Beijing

Just 27 days to go until the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic
Games, and in Beijing nothing, but nothing, is being left to chance.
At the Changping Vocational School, 380 Olympic hostesses have been
relentlessly drilled in such complex skills as how to smile.

To pass muster, they must always show between six and eight teeth and
be capable of unflinchingly holding their grin for 10 minutes at a
time. Those who cannot manage this must train for hours with a
chopstick clamped between their teeth to build up their facial muscles.

Elsewhere, 800,000 students are being taught how to clap and cheer in
unison, and even the weather will be strictly controlled, using
"cloud-seeding" techniques to ensure it rains before, but not during,
the Games.

Yet the great irony of the communist party's instinct to control
every aspect of public behaviour is that the Chinese, of all people,
don't need lessons in how to conduct themselves.

Paying my first visit to China last week, my overriding impression of
the Chinese was that they are unfailingly charming, friendly and polite.

They're also the smiliest people I've ever come across (even without
the chopstick exercises) and they have an endearingly childlike
enthusiasm for the Games and for foreign tourists, which makes them
natural ambassadors for China.

Walking down Beijing's busiest thoroughfare, Chang'an Jie (a 30-mile
long avenue thick with hooting traffic and whistling policemen) I
made a point of stopping people in the street to ask them what they
hoped the Games would achieve.

There was, of course, a time when the only people allowed to speak to
Westerners would have been communist party members primed with
propaganda, but those days are gone, and I had no reason to doubt the
motives of Ma Bin, a 32-year-old salesman for a coffee company, who
said he hoped foreign visitors would discover "that China is a
beautiful place where they will feel welcome", or Sang Shigany, 25, a
law student, who said tourists "might be surprised to find how
cosmopolitan Beijing is".

And there were some dissenting voices - one man told me about what he
perceived to be corruption in the awarding of Olympics contracts, and
suggested many Games venues would turn out to be white elephants.

Alas, I can't give you his name, because freedom of speech is still a
distant dream in China, which locks up journalists, bloggers and
dissidents, allegedly torturing some of them, and uses violence to
crush independence rallies in Tibet.

Yet China is changing fast, and changing for the better.

It is worth pointing out that the man who told me about alleged
corruption had travelled extensively and had lived abroad, including
in Britain, but returned to China "because there are so many
opportunities here. All countries have problems, but this is a great
place to live."

Indeed, the changes in China since Chairman Mao's death in 1976 have
been so rapid that anyone who has never visited Beijing is likely to
have misconceptions that are 10 or 20 years out of date.

Beijing is full of smart shopping malls, where wealthier citizens
park their Audis and VWs (there are surprisingly few bicycles) to
shop in Max Mara, Burberry and Tiffany just a short walk from Mao's
preserved corpse in Tiananmen Square (how much less complicated
clothes shopping must have been in his day). And China's booming
economy, set to become the biggest in the world, has raised standards
of living in its cities to unimagined levels.

Hi Xiao Long, a tour guide barely out of his teens, told me: "When I
was a kid very few people had a television, and if they did, they
would have 10 or 12 families coming around to watch it. Now everyone
has three or four TV sets, people have cars and mobile phones. People
here are happy with their lives."

China is desperate to get this message across, hence my visit as a
guest of the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games
(BOCOG), but after 60 years of communist rule, Chinese officials
remain better at monologue than dialogue, lending a sometimes surreal
twist to our meetings.

On a visit to the new subway line serving the Olympic Park, I was
presented with a 52-page pamphlet on how to use the subway, including
instructions on what to do if you drop your handbag on the line (do
not jump off the platform for it, or electric shock or contusion by
trains may be incurred) and what to do in the event of a poison gas
attack (use handkerchief to cover your mouth, go away from the source
of gas quickly).

Failure to observe the rules (which include "being neatly dressed")
will result in you being "transferred to public security
departments". Perhaps foreign visitors would be better off walking after all.

The Chinese also love statistics - I was told the exact circumference
of each of Beijing's five concentric ring roads, the exact number of
workstations in the press centre (971) the total mileage of the
city's subway system by 2015 (561km), the improvement in the carbon
monoxide levels in the city since 1998 (39.4 per cent)… anyway, you
get the picture.

I began to suspect the Chinese officials were bombarding us with
numbers so there would be no time left for awkward questions about
Tibet, Sudan, the disastrous torch relay or anything touching on human rights.

In fact, the top brass did let us ask questions about such prickly
issues; Beijing's deputy mayor, the sharp-suited Chen Gang, remained
good-humoured throughout repeated questioning about how pro-Tibetan
demonstrators would be treated, though his answer wasn't exactly candid.

They would be dealt with, he said, in accordance with Chinese laws.
Anyone wanting to demonstrate must have a permit (cue wry smiles)
and, he said, "You will see during the Games how we will handle such
situations." A rather unsettling answer.

Yet it may come as a surprise that the question could be asked at all.

China is a country which, just four years ago, was so wary of the
media that it blocked almost all foreign internet sites, yet I was
able to call up the BBC and UK newspaper websites and even search
those sites for articles on China's human rights record.

Beijing, of course, wants the world to behold the impressive Bird's
Nest stadium and the funky Water Cube in the Olympic Village, the
showpieces of the Games.

Sadly, visitors may struggle to find them through the unrelenting
smog, which is so thick here that, on a bad day, it seems to cling to
your face like a mask. Forget the blue-sky publicity shots of the
Olympic venues you might have seen; when I visited the Bird's Nest it
was shrouded in a miasma and already appeared to have a thin film of
grime coating its steel exoskeleton.

The officials seem to be in denial about this, quoting endless
statistics to prove how safe the air is. They don't seem to realise
that if the world sees this murk beamed into their homes every day,
prospective tourists might choose to go elsewhere.

And that would be a great shame, as they would miss out on a country
which deserves to be seen first-hand.
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