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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Could the Olympics Widen the Gap Between China and the World?

August 10, 2008

Jun Wang
New America Media, News Analysis,
August 8, 2008

Editor's Note: The Summer Olympics are supposed to be China's coming
out party on the world stage. But it's brought into sharp focus how
differently Chinese think the world views them, and how the world
actually views China. And even the most hospitable gestures by
Beijing residents might not be able to bridge that gap, writes Jun
Wang who monitors Chinese media for New America Media.

As the curtain rises on the Summer Olympics in Beijing, the gulf
between China and the world seems to be growing wider.

A recent Pew Research Center poll, which surveyed 24,000 people in 23
countries, found that majorities in only seven of those countries
have a positive attitude towards China. In nine countries, China's
popularity has declined in the past year. It's gone up in only two.

This when 77 percent of Chinese believe that "people in other
countries like China." That percentage has actually grown by nine
percent from 68 percent three years ago.

It's a stinging surprise for the vast population in China that
statistically, most foreigners view their country with suspicion. The
Beijing Olympics were meant to engage with the world. They are, in
effect, China's calling card to the world.

It was why so many in China have rushed to learn English. According
to the Guangzhou Daily, China has been in an English-learning mania
for some years. In the summer of 2001, 68-year-old retiree Jingxiu
Yang's dream was answered when he learned that Beijing was to host
the Olympics games. He wanted to be an Olympics volunteer. Yang
followed his grandson who was learning English and became a student
as well. Like him, at least a million Beijing residents have been
learning English, hoping that would prepare them for better
communication with foreign tourists during the Olympics.

The Chinese are going out of the way to be considerate to their
foreign guests' sensibilities. The capital recently banned dog
eating. And for those who can't read Chinese, there are suggestions
for a standardized English menu for tourists, reports the web-based
media, Online Shanghai. No more "Bean Curd Made by a Pock-marked
Woman", "Husband and Wife's Lung Slice" and "Chicken Without Sexual
Life." Now they've become the much less exotic "Spicy Tofu", "Beef
and Ox Tripe in Chili Sauce" and "Steamed Pullet" on restaurant menus.

Beijing doesn't just have brand new stadiums and subway lines.
Beijing residents are also being taught to stand in line. People have
been practicing waiting in line for buses since the government made
the 11th of each month "Waiting-in-line Day."

Beijing residents have also opened their homes. The Beijing Times
reported that Jichang Jing and his wife made four rooms in their
traditional courtyard house available to host tourists. The couple,
both in their 50s, hired an English tutor and studied the language
for two years to better communicate with their prospective guests.
The family even special-ordered over-sized beds for foreign guests,
and charges them $60 US dollars per day, breakfast included.

Jing's family is admittedly rare. With the skyrocketing real estate
prices in Beijing, average residents can by no means afford a
traditional courtyard house valued from millions to tens of millions
US dollars. Average families in Beijing don't have the ability to
host foreign guests. But the host family initiative launched by the
government has been widely considered an expression of genuine
hospitality and a desire to know more about foreign people and cultures.

But there's plenty of issues the Chinese are uniformed about which
foreign media focus on -- Tibet Independence, ethnic unrest within
China, human rights issues regarding religious and civil liberties.
Chinese people truly believe their efforts to welcome visitors have
been well perceived by people around the world.

Those stories are underreported in Western media. Instead, one reads
more about the Chinese government's power to mobilize and control.
For example, 100,000 security personnel are working in Beijing to
keep everything under control, authorities have swept away protesting
residents whose ramshackle homes are now kept hidden behind nets and
brick walls, and protesters have been arrested.

It's the control that's made an impression on China's foreign guests,
not the country's hospitality.

The Olympic games were supposed to be China's coming out party on the
world stage, but in some ways, it might have backfired.

By the time the Games are over, will the gap between China and the
world shrink? Or, despite Beijing's best efforts (or maybe because of
it), could that gap get even bigger?
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