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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

China's Olympic ambitions falter with protests

August 5, 2008

By Charles Hutzler, Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
August 2, 2008

BEIJING -- The short, catchy film commissioned by the Chinese
government was designed to plant a new, positive image of China in
foreigners' minds for the Beijing Olympics.

But instead of airing worldwide more than two months ago as planned,
the 30-second TV spot is only now about to reach viewers, having been
delayed repeatedly by Tibetan riots, a devastating earthquake and
foreign criticism buffeting the games.

China's hopes that the Olympics starting Friday will be a pivotal
moment in national glory and global acceptance have been battered by
unforeseen events. The disappointment has left some in China hurt and
feeling unjustly treated.

The Chinese "tried hard to impress the world and to prove the country
deserves respect and appreciation," said Xu Guoqi, a China-born
historian at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. "But the West used the
Olympic torch relay and the coming games to shame the country and
frequently remind the Chinese they were not good enough."

The August Olympics still may appear picture-perfect on global TV,
despite concerns about air pollution, overbearing security and media
restrictions. Enthusiasm among Chinese for a strong showing by Team
China remains high. But where officials once spoke of hosting the
greatest games ever, they now seem ready to settle simply for an
incident-free event.

"A safe Olympics is the biggest indicator of the success of the
games," Vice President Xi Jinping, the senior-most Communist Party
leader overseeing preparations, told a rally of volunteers last month.

Worries about terrorism and protests have come to the fore. Beijing
has taken on a strange air: Its new venues, skyscrapers and roadways
hung with banners sparkle in anticipation while police expel
political critics, some migrant workers and foreigners deemed suspect.

The Olympic letdown stands in contrast to the ambitious buildup. From
the outset, Chinese leaders saw the games as a chance to boost
China's image, to redefine it as a worthy, humane global partner —
and not a menacing behemoth. Ordinary Chinese thought it a ripe
opportunity to mark the tremendous strides made in casting off
poverty and totalitarianism and building the fourth-largest economy
in the space of a generation.

In their bid for the Olympics seven years ago, Beijing officials said
the games would increase interaction with the international community
and spur improvements in human rights and media freedom. The Chinese
government called on party image-makers to devise ways to appeal to
foreigners and on officials to stoke popular enthusiasm at home.
"Integrate with the world" became a catch-phrase.

The longest ever torch relay was planned. In a $40 billion makeover,
Beijing invited top foreign architects to design futuristic sports
venues, a new airport and other eye-catching modern landmarks.
Residents were told not to spit in public and to obey traffic rules.

The country rolled out the most extensive Olympic education program
ever, developing a special curriculum taught in more than 550 schools
and encouraging tens of thousands nationwide to teach Olympic values
and take part in sports meets and signature campaigns.

"The Olympics is about unity," said 10-year-old Miwei Ruoye, a fifth
grader at the Nanjing Road Primary School in Nanchang city, 780 miles
south of Beijing's Olympic venues. "It's all about peace and
friendship," said her 11-year-old classmate, Wan Zhao.

In the school courtyard sits a 3-foot-tall model in bamboo and
spray-painted silver of the new National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest.

"We're teaching them that the Olympic spirit is international, that
it doesn't just belong to one country," said Zhang Renzhi, a teacher
and pingpong instructor in charge of the Olympic curriculum. "It's an
international, humanitarian spirit."

The promotional film was a key part of this effort and the first ever
commissioned by the government for overseas markets. Dubbed "a
national image film," the government planned for a May airing on CNN,
the BBC and other broadcasters with international reach. The piece
would mix images of ancient picturesque towns with shots of
ultramodern Beijing and Shanghai.

"At the time we thought we were making history," said one participant
who, like several interviewed, requested anonymity because of a
confidentiality agreement signed with the government agency
overseeing the project. "They said this was the first time that China
was communicating to the outside world rather than waiting for the
world to come to us."

Then events intervened. Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg
withdrew as an adviser to the opening ceremony to draw attention to
China's support for the Sudan government, which is waging a civil war
in Darfur. The uprising by Tibetans brought a tide of critical
reporting by the foreign media and turned the torch relay into a
melee of protests.

Suddenly, the talk overseas, especially in the West, was of boycotts
and Beijing's suitability to host the games.

"We hoped that the Olympics would help people understand our
country's achievements, that this ancient civilization has started a
new chapter," said Luo Qing, a media expert in Beijing specializing
in China's national image. "But from the torch relay, we suddenly
realized that we were preparing to open the nation's front door to
welcome people who do not wish us well."

Even ordinary Chinese felt spurned.

"Here, we build sports venues, fix rail lines and construct airports,
hurrying like a raging fire to prepare. There, people use Darfur one
day and Tibet the next to fan the flames of protest and boycott.
What's going on?" Liu Songjie, a 24-year-old Beijing railway
department employee, wrote in late March in his online diary, where
his usual musings are about movies and pop culture.

"This is a hot face pressed on a cold rump," Liu wrote, using a
coarse saying for unrequited love.

China's standing tumbled in at least three polls overseas. A spring
survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that favorable views
of China slipped in nine countries out of 21 over the past year, the
steepest in France and Japan, while "there were signs of apprehension
about the country and its growing power."

The uproar made poor timing for global outreach, and the promotional
film was temporarily shelved. After more than 69,000 people died in
the Sichuan earthquake in May, the broadcast was delayed again.

"It was because of CNN and BBC's attitude so we did not broadcast at
that time," Guo Changjian, the State Council Information Office
official in charge of the project, said of their critical reporting
of the Tibet riots in March. "It was because the earthquake happened,
the March 14 beating, smashing and looting incident happened. The
timing was up to us."

Guo said contracts with CNN and the BBC have been reached to air the
film just before the Olympics opening on Aug. 8; both networks
declined comment.

Still, the mood has shifted sharply from the friendly
internationalism Chinese leaders hoped to display. Many Chinese are
casting a critical eye on Western governments and media for what they
see as tarnishing the Olympic moment.

"These Olympics will perhaps hurt the feelings of other countries.
But it will be good for Chinese," said Wu Jiaxiang, a former
government researcher and now a blogger and businessman. "We care
less about human rights than other countries and more about
sovereignty. That's bound to create an awkward feeling among other countries.

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