The two faces of the Olympics

By MALCOLM FOLLEY

Last updated at 20:25 10 May 2008


In Tinanmen Square,

where Chairman Mao still

draws huge crowds 32 years

after his death, a sizeable

group of students could be

seen cleaning the paving on

their hands and knees last week.

Those queuing to go into the Mao

Mausoleum took no notice of the

volunteers as they inched towards

the entrance to the Forbidden City

at the eastern edge of the vast

square.

The students, dressed in boiler

suits, were armed with wire

brushes and paint-scrapers. No

detail, it seems, is being overlooked

in the desire of the People's

Republic of China to showcase

Beijing to the outside world as a

modernised, polished society

when the Olympic Games open in

89 days' time.

When Paula Radcliffe begins her

quest to atone for her failure in

Athens in China's Olympic

marathon, a global audience of

billions will see a different image

of Tiananmen Square from the

shocking pictures of Chinese

tanks rolling into the heart of the

city to crush pro-democracy

demonstrations by students and

workers 19 years ago.

No one can

be certain what happened to the

young man who stood defiantly in

front of a column of tanks in that

spring of 1989. No one can give

you a definitive body count from

the day the demonstrations were

put down. In China, the past is

another country conveniently

erased from the map.

Life is unrecognisable in Beijing

today. The students occupying

Tiananmen Square last week are

part of a burgeoning, prosperous

middle class, representative of a

new and hopeful China.

They are fiercely patriotic, viewing

the Olympics as a defining

moment for their nation of 1.3 billion

people. Since winning the

right to stage the Olympics seven

years ago, Beijing has undergone a £100bn makeover.

The four-lane

highways dissecting the city are

choked day and night with three-and-

a-half million cars, many

from the luxury end of the

market.

The skyline, when not masked

by leaden-misted pollution from

heavy industry, cars and sandstorms,

is a high-rise replica of

any modern city in the West. New

apartment blocks and shopping

malls sprout from the ground

almost by the month.

A $6bn airport terminal has been

opened without the fiasco that

embroiled Terminal 5 at Heathrow,

and Beijing's underground

system has doubled in size.

Yet the power of the Chinese

State remains all-encompassing,

despite a greater sense of freedom

undeniable in the everyday

lives of many of the 15.3 million

inhabitants of the nation's capital.

All China's newspapers are

owned by the State, along with

Chinese TV. On Friday, just one

story dominated. The momentous

journey of the Olympic flame to

the summit of Mount Everest was

celebrated as a symbol of 'the

determination of the Chinese

people to hold a successful

Olympic Games'.

The other story from Tibet —

the one featuring bloodshed in

the capital, Lhasa, where monks

protested against the Chinese

government and demanded the

recognition of their spiritual

leader, the Dalai Lama — was

subjected to a news blackout.

Expect unwelcome questions

during China's Olympics to be

similarly censored.

'The Olympic Games are for

athletes, not for politicians,'

argued Deng Yaping, the deputy

director of the Olympic Village,

last week. 'There are no politicians

competing in the Olympics,

and we don't want them to use the

athletes as their tool.'

Yaping, 35 and less than 5ft tall,

is the most recognisable woman

in the country. After winning four

Olympic gold medals in

Barcelona and Atlanta at China's

national sport of table tennis, she

was voted her country's female

athlete of the last century.

She is now close to completing a

PhD at Cambridge University,

having already attained a Masters

in Contemporary Chinese Studies

from Nottingham.

'Winning Olympic gold medals

changed my life,' said Yaping at

her office close to the Olympic

Stadium. Her first medals from

Barcelona brought her the

reward of a new three-bedroom

apartment.

Success in

Atlanta won her sponsorship

from the Chinese Olympic Committee

to be educated in England

after she retired at the age of 24.

Yaping is testimony to the way

successful Chinese athletes are

feted by their government, who

interpret gold medals as bullion

in the propaganda war against

the West.

'Generally, living standards are

much improved,' she said. But

she acknowledges the reality

behind the Party line. Beijing, she

admits, is light years distant from

rural China, where the lives of

millions are far removed from

the wealth under creation in the

capital.

'We have one-fifth of the

world's population, and while

there have been enormous

changes in the cities, especially

in Beijing, we have many people

in rural areas who are still

fighting for survival,' said

Yaping. 'Life for those people is

tough every day.'

All those involved with China's

Olympics are mounting an ideological

offensive.

National pride

has been enraged by foreign

reporting on the riots in Tibet,

infuriated by attacks on the

Olympic torch relay, and mystified

by criticism of China's

refusal to act against the

genocide in Darfur, where the

Chinese government is Sudan's

biggest customer for oil.

Wang Hui, 53 and the

woman who will

become the face of the

Olympics as the

Games' official

mouthpiece, insisted:

'China hasn't killed anyone in

Darfur or ruined the area.

'The people who tried to harm

the journey of the torch have hurt

the feelings of the Chinese people,'

she added. 'But they chose the

wrong stage. It has given the

Chinese people an even stronger

desire to show the world they can

put on a successful Olympics.

Those wanting to harm these

Olympics will fail.

'I'm not going to say China

doesn't have problems. But it

doesn't make sense to link these

problems to the Games. People

don't understand how much China

has improved on matters like

human rights.

'Just 30 years ago, a short time

in history, China was unable to

provide sufficient food and shelter

for everyone who lived here.

Now, we can say we have satisfied

the most basic of human

rights for 1.3 billion people.

'With a population the size of

China, it's natural there will be

some dissident voices. There are

journalists in jail, but not just

because they have a different

opinion to the Chinese government.

They are in jail because

they have broken Chinese laws.'

Momentarily, her voice

becomes more strident. 'Three

factors have to be taken into

account when considering the

Beijing Olympics,' said Hui. 'One,

China is a country in development;

two, we have the right to do

things our way; and three, there

are cultural differences between

China and the West.'

It is not hard to find them. In the

hutongs of Beijing, the cramped,

decaying and barely habitable

houses in the oldest part of the

city, you find the other face of

these Games.

Guo Fuze, 81, sat outside the

ramshackle house that has been

his home for 47 years and offered

a story from China's dark history.

'In the time of the Cultural

Revolution under Chairman Mao,

we lived on 50 Yuan (less than £4)

a month,' said Guo, a bricklayer.

'Now my three sons make 2,000

Yuan a month (£160).'

A neighbour added: 'Look, the

new public toilets across the

street are better than the houses

here.' Fuze puffed at his pipe and

with a weary smile, observed:

'The whole world is welcome to

Beijing for the Olympics.'

Pride is a powerful force in this

city. From July 20, the fight

against pollution will be significantly

increased. Construction

work will stop and 1.3 million cars

will be ordered off the roads. Coal-fired

power plants will be turned

down. One steelworks has already

been relocated 350 miles away.

By some foreign estimates, a

million people were also be

relocated to make room for the

Olympic Stadium, the aquatic

centre known as the Water Cube,

and the Olympic Village.

'It was no more than 10,000,'

insisted Hui. 'And they all have

new homes and were provided for.'

This view is at odds with

reports that people who objected

to being forcibly moved have

been detained for 're-education',

an Orwellian euphemism for

being sent to a labour camp.

Yet, with the Olympics now less

than three months away, the

people of Beijing have fallen in

love with the Games and interpret

their arrival as a sense of

China's growing stature in the

world.

As those students happily

toiled in Tiananmen Square last

week, it is clear that the biggest

winner of the 2008 Olympics has

already been decided: the

Chinese Communist Party.

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