The 2008 Beijing Olympics
|Chang An Street at Tiananmen, Beijing (Digital Vision/Getty)|
In China, eight is a lucky number and the Zhang Yimou choreographed Olympic opening ceremony will commence on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008, seemingly automatically securing success but, just to be sure, Beijing has been doing everything it can to prepare for its 16 days in the world spotlight. Incredible new structures are popping up all over the city (and indeed the country), none more impressive than the trio of extraordinary buildings in the Olympic Green – the National Stadium, the Aquatic Center and Digital Beijing. Urban planning has stepped up a notch and all the major sights are getting a facelift, along with improvements to the transport system and the closing down of heavily polluting factories. Satellite cities are being built to contain Beijing's ever-spiraling population and the "Green Great Wall" of trees is being planted to try and reduce the dust storms that tear through the city every summer. When researching this book, almost everywhere I went around the capital was being spruced up and everything, it seems, will open in time for the Olympics.
However, while much is being made of the advantages of this infrastructural investment, the additional US$1 billion revenue that will be raised during Olympic year and the 1.8 million jobs that will have been created during the whole project, there is an uglier side to the Olympic picture. Human rights groups around the world were appalled when Beijing was awarded the event, as it seemed to condone abuses as long as money was being made. I was here when the Olympic committee came to inspect Beijing as a potential venue in 2000 and witnessed first-hand the walls erected to hide the low-quality housing on the road from the airport and I read about how thousands of beggars were carted out of the city. These methods helped to attain the prize and it seems they will be used again during the actual event—300,000 houses have been demolished and their residents removed (sometimes forcibly). It's also reported that mentally handicapped people and vagrants will be ejected from the capital. Over 70 new laws have been passed in order to suppress anti-government groups such as Free Tibet. Thus it's unlikely that such groups will be allowed a voice at the Olympics, but, even if they manage to protest, you have to hope that China, nearly two decades after the Tian'anmen Square Incident and ever more aware of its international standing, will refrain from any draconian action. Having seen the six years of tremendous investment that has gone into the Olympics, my guess is that the 2008 Games will only reaffirm what the world is starting to realize—China has arrived!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication