The Olympics begin in August, and they're in China, so, you know, it should be a rather fascinating world event, if you're into fascinating world events. And we are proud to welcome back our Deadspin Beijing Bureau, our own trio of correspondents living in China and reporting on everything they see, Olympics related and otherwise.
Deadspin's Beijing Bureau is manned by three college buddies who "studied" abroad together in Shanghai — one of whom is from Iowa — and now shadily classify themselves as freelance writers. The country has foolishly allowed them to return, and while they work and travel around China during the next year they'll be checking in periodically with dispatches about the Middle Kingdom's utter ridiculousness, hopefully preparing you all for the epic spectacle that will be the Beijing Olympics. When the Games come around they will be there — without tickets and with minimal language skills — ready to document world history for Deadspin. Due to healthy fear of deportation (and an outside chance of imprisonment), the Bureau must remain anonymous. Say "ni hao," after the jump...
Our second post was going to be about last month's MLB exhibition games in
Beijing — the first MLB games to ever be played on Chinese soil. But, as it turns out, there's some other stuff going on right now. A lot, actually. Let us sneak this in anyway:
This was the skip giving his post-game press talk from the dugout. He was about five feet away from us, and to get to where we were was surprisingly easy...a little too easy. And they say freedom of the press is hard to come by in China.
Meanwhile in Lhasa — and this is a big meanwhile — Tibetan protestors wreaked havoc on authorities and Han Chinese citizens alike in the streets and were subsequently cracked down upon. Foreign media outlets jumped on the story and ran with it, in some cases with healthy doses of truthiness. Government censors here did what they are wont to do, blocking various news sources and even blacking out broadcasts of BBC and CNN International. Here's a reenactment:
Western media reports have made their way onto the screens of local netizens, though, and the responses in China's blogosphere have been pretty fascinating to observe. We've read many posts rooted in the nationalist camp, defending China's sovereignty over Tibet, and expressing indignation over the protests and Western media coverage of the unrest there, with particular vitriol for CNN. A common sentiment seems to be that all of this is really no one's business: Tibet is part of China, and this is an internal thing.
Though not everyone feels that way. Chang Ping of the Southern Metropolis Daily wrote an essay titled "How to Find the Truth in Lhasa," which questioned the nationalist responses from Chinese bloggers without defending the Western media. Ping writes, "If we use nationalism as the weapon to resist the westerners, then how can we persuade the ethnic minorities to abandon their nationalism and join the mainstream nation-building." Since the release of his essay, Ping has been labeled a traitor by some internet forum contributors who feel that the media coverage and protests abroad are an affront to China's dignity."
Stuck literally in the middle of all this hubbub is a 72-centimeter long aluminum torch surrounded by a roving posse of large men in blue and white tracksuits — members of the Beijing Olympic Games Sacred Flame Protection Unit — who are charged with guarding the flame on its tumultuous, misguided, and increasingly bizarre journey around the world. Recently, these graduates of China's Armed Police Academy, whose training allegedly includes daily runs of 25 miles, have been doing more crowd control than flame-sitting. But after the increasingly volatile protests in London, Paris and San Francisco, their jurisdiction and enforcement capabilities are being challenged. Japan and Australia have suggested that the guards will have a significantly reduced role in torch security during their respective legs of the relay.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested at the torch's latest stop in Delhi — by a security force of over 16,000 police officers — and another 46 were arrested in Mumbai as they tried to storm the Chinese consulate. Despite that, however, the relay itself went pretty smoothly, albeit on a heavily fortified and truncated route, and Delhi may have set the template for undisruptive torch runs. This doesn't mean the fun is going to stop anytime soon, though, with cheeky democracies in Canberra, Nagano, & Seoul, as well as wild card Hong Kong set to welcome the torch on its remaining international route. And we can't begin to imagine what the relay is going to look like in Pyongyang.
The thing finally gets back to China on May 4 and will traverse the country, passing through Lhasa and other ethnic Tibetan areas, before settling finally in Beijing on August 6. We will be there for as many stops of Torch Tour 2008 as we can, with full video reports. Settle in, everyone; this is going to be interesting.