The Olympics have begun 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.
Out of all the problems that could dampen the mood of the Beijing Olympics, this bizarre tragedy comes furthest out of left field. Beijing and Shanghai - all of China’s densely populated cities for that matter - are rather safe when it comes to violent crimes of this kind. Pickpockets, business scams - these happen all the time (though Beijing has done a remarkable job of limiting their visibility). But an unprovoked attack on a Western tourist at one of Beijing’s most important monuments is unheard of, frankly. The tragic incident is a black eye for China – which made security top priority for the games – and the attack was a jolt of reality after euphoria of last night’s opening ceremony. Crimes against foreigners are especially rare here. For the Olympic games over 100,000 security officers have been deployed and the city is teeming with elderly neighborhood watch patrols, security guards, police, paramilitary officers, heavily armored SWAT teams, soldiers, and an unknown number of plain clothes officers. In some areas, soldiers are posted every 15 feet. X-ray machines have been placed in every single subway station. Even run-down restaurants have installed closed-circuit security cameras. Beijing certainly seems secure these days - to the point of inconvenience for locals & visitors – but events like this demonstrate how difficult it is to stop one determined person from doing, well, anything; how does a government prepare for a lone man with a knife and, as it stands, no apparent motive? The area around the Olympic village and the Bird’s nest is a fortified zone; your ticketless & un-credentialed Bureau, not to mention other undesirables, haven’t even come close to approaching it. But the whole city can’t be locked down like that, and unfortunately there will always be open targets for someone with sinister intentions. The Bureau took in the opening ceremony Friday night in the company of about 10,000 other people on Beijing’s Wangfujing Street, one of 26 live-sites where thousands of Beijingers and visitors could watch coverage on giant public screens. While there was a police presence, there were no security checks, and once we found ourselves packed into the sweaty center of a crowd there was no way out. Dense crowds like these are attractive and vulnerable targets. And there are dense crowds all over the city. If the Bureau takes anything away from this attack it is the disconcerting realization that security – no matter how tight – can’t prepare for every last potential perpetrator, and that just one person can make a deadly impact.