17 July 2008
China’s bluenosed authorities set out to make sure Olympics visitors only have the approved kind of fun Two rather odd pieces of news were circulating in China last week, at a time when increasingly nervous authorities grow more prudish about the possibility that somebody, somewhere, will do something that embarrasses the country in advance of the US$42 billion Olympic Games, which are due to start in August.
The first, carried by Xinhua as a photo story, was of the rather buff Guangdong TV news presenter, Ou Zhihang, doing naked pushups in front of Chinese landmarks. He was snapped in the buff in front of the Bird’s Nest (Beijing’s main Olympic venue, the National Stadium), on the top of the Great Wall, and what should have been very early in the morning in Hong Kong’s Golden Bauhinia Square among others. “I love my country, I also love my body,” Xinhua cites him as saying in his blog. “I contrast my tiny body with the ‘miracle of the world’ through the popular exercise – push ups.”
One can only be thankful he chose the push up and not the squat jump.
Xinhua, though, got it wrong. Ou explains on his blog that the photos were taken last year as an experimental project with a number of famous artists. The images have recently been hijacked by bloggers mocking the official handling of the mysterious death of a teenage girl which had sparked riots in Weng’an County, Guizhou province, last month. Bloggers started using the catchphrase “doing push ups,” to poke fun at the official explanation of her death which stated the 15-year-old girl was not raped and murdered as rioters claimed but had drowned herself while her male friend did push ups nearby. Ou distances himself from the online protest saying “I love my motherland,” and that the purpose of his naked push up collection -- is opposite to that of the bloggers.
The odd thing is Xinhua still published the photo story despite its sensitive political connotations, albeit without any context.
At the same time Ou’s bare buttocks were pumping on China Daily’s Web site, agencies reported that the government was getting skittish about the country’s night-time entertainment industry. As part of a campaign against drugs and prostitution, staff at karaoke bars and nightclubs will be required to dress more conservatively and install see-through windows in private rooms to deter any hanky-panky. These measures weren’t specifically for the Olympics though, venues have until October 1 to comply.
However, the drive against sin – and any kind of fun at all – during the Olympics is very much in progress.
It started months back, with two major annual music festivals – the Midi Rock Festival and Chaoyang Park Music Festival -- going under. Organizers said the police couldn’t guarantee security with the extra work they needed to do preparing for the Games, which is more or less a face-saving way of banning them. Back in April, Maggie’s, a seedy bar famous for its Mongolian working girls, also padlocked its front door just weeks after forking out for a renovation. However that may be less to do with the Games than with some dodgy goings on in the underworld. Urban rumor has it that the bar shut shop after two of its hookers were found brutally murdered with their livers cut out. The Den, another working girl favorite, and Hooters next door are firmly in business, at least for now.
Police have been making regular raids on bar districts such as Sanlitun, warning club owners that during the Olympics it’s lights out at 2 am. Destination, the city’s only gay club, has had to block off their dance floor. The sight of hundreds of gay men clad in white singlets flirting on the street in the early hours of the morning was too much for the PSB. The club was told it was too small to be a club and it had to enlarge before they could let the gay boys dance again. The city’s main gay sauna was raided a couple of months back when some of the workers and patrons were detained for several days and only released after paying “fines,” according to an aids activist. Destination and a string of straight clubs lie alongside Worker’s Stadium, one of the Olympic venues. Because of this, club owners believe they may have to close down altogether during the three weeks of Games because the police are worried about security.
Another sensitive area is the diplomatic quarter of Jianguomen; police are naturally jittery about protecting all those embassies. Slap bang in the middle is Ritan Park, whose popular lakeside café bar, called The Stoneboat, lures expatriates and local Chinese alike with its live music – folk, jazz, maybe a little guitar solo or two. But because of “security concerns” the Stone Boat is now no longer allowed to hold concerts.
The main Olympic Village is way out in a bleak residential area near the north fourth ring road. There’s not much there to close down except for a wishful thinking TGI Friday’s and some hastily erected teahouses.
The entertainment magazines are pulling their hair as they can’t find anything fun to put in their events listings for August apart from the Olympics themselves.
“After three gruesome days of being passed around the diplomatic switchboard and playing telephone hide-and-go-seek with marketing execs, the list of confirmed Olympic events consists of precisely two items, both courtesy of the French embassy,” writes one of the main rags, City Weekend, on its website. The two events are a French cultural fair and “Marco Polo,” the ballet.
There is of course China’s “biggest ever Olympic Cultural Festival” to be held concurrently with the Games but it hasn’t seemed to generate much interest. Which is a shame as it will no doubt incorporate “harmonious” dances by happy ethnic minorities.
And as for the city’s gay boys: they may have lost their dance floor to the Olympics but at least they are free – with Xinhua’s blessing – to ogle Ou’s bare behind as he clenches in front of the Bird’s Nest.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Birth of a massacre myth
By GREGORY CLARK
With the Beijing Olympics looming we see more attempts to remind the world about the alleged June 4, 1989, massacre of democracy-seeking students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The New York Times, which did so much to spread the original story of troops shooting student protesters there with abandon, has recently published several more articles condemning the alleged massacre, including one suggesting there should be an Olympic walkout. Other media, including Britain's usually impartial Guardian and Independent, and Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, have chimed in. None are interested in publishing rebuttals.
This effort is impressive, especially considering the overwhelming evidence that there was no Tiananmen Square massacre. A recent book by Madrid's ambassador to Beijing at the time, Eugenio Bregolat, notes that Spain's TVE channel had a television crew in the square at the time, and if there had been a massacre, they would have been the first to see it and record it.
He points out angrily that most of the reports of an alleged massacre were made by journalists hunkered down in the safe haven of the Beijing Hotel, some distance from the square.
Then there is Graham Earnshaw, a down-to-earth Reuters correspondent who spent the night of June 3-4 at the alleged site of the massacre — at the center of Tiananmen Square — interviewing students in detail until the troops finally arrived in the early dawn. He too failed to see any massacre. As he writes in his memoirs, "I was probably the only foreigner who saw the clearing of the square from the square itself."
Earnshaw confirms that most of the students had left peacefully much earlier and that the remaining few hundred were persuaded by the troops to do likewise.
His account is confirmed by Xiaoping Li, a former China dissident, now resident in Canada, writing recently in Asia Sentinel and quoting Taiwan-born Hou Dejian who had been on a hunger strike on the square to show solidarity with the students: "Some people said 200 died in the square and others claimed that as many as 2,000 died. There were also stories of tanks running over students who were trying to leave. I have to say I did not see any of that. I was in the square until 6:30 in the morning."
True, much that happened elsewhere in Beijing that night was ugly. The regime had allowed prodemocracy student demonstrators to occupy its historic Tiananmen Square for almost three weeks, despite the harm and inconvenience caused. Twice, senior members of Deng Xiaoping's regime had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate compromises with the students. Unarmed troops sent in to clear the square had been turned back by angry crowds of Beijing civilians.
When armed troops were finally sent in, they too met hostile crowds, but they kept advancing. Dozens of buses and troop-carrying vehicles were torched by the crowds, some with their crews trapped inside. In the panicky fighting afterward, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of civilians and students were killed. But that was a riot, not a deliberate massacre. And it did not happen in Tiananmen Square. So why all the reports of a "massacre"?
In a well-researched 1998 article in the Columbia Journalism Review titled "Reporting the Myth of Tiananmen and the Price of a Passive Press," the former Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing, Jay Mathews, tracks down what he calls the dramatic accounts that buttressed the myth of a student massacre.
He notes a widely disseminated piece by an alleged Chinese university student writing in the Hong Kong press immediately after the incident, describing machine guns mowing down students in front of the square monument (somehow Reuter's Earnshaw chatting quietly with the students in front of the same monument failed to notice this.
Mathews adds: "The New York Times gave this version prominent display June 12, just a week after the event, but no evidence was ever found to confirm the account or verify the existence of the alleged witness."
And for good reason, I suspect. The mystery report was very likely the work of U.S. and British black information authorities ever keen to plant anti-Beijing stories in unsuspecting media.
Mathews adds that Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, who had been in Beijing at the time, challenged the report the next day, but his article was buried on an inside page and so "the myth lived on." (I once tried in vain to rebut a 2004 anti-Beijing piece by New York Times opinion-page writer David Brooks, who claimed blandly that 3,000 students were massacred in the square.)
Another key source for the original massacre myth, Mathews says, was student leader Wu'er Kaixi, who claimed to have seen 200 students cut down by gunfire in the square. But, he notes, "It was later proven that he left the square several hours before the events he described." Mathews also lists an inaccurate BBC massacre report, filed from that out-of-sight Beijing Hotel.
The irony in all this, as Mathews points out, was that everyone, including himself, missed the real story. This was not the treatment of the students, who toward the end of their sit-in had deliberately courted trouble. The real story, as Earnshaw also notes, was the uprising of the civilian masses against a regime whose gray hand of corruption, oppression and incompetence ever since the Cultural Revolution days of the late 1960s had reduced an entire population to simmering resentment.
It was the concern over this proletarian rebellion rather than hatred of student calls for democracy that explains the ruthlessness of the regime's subsequent crackdown on alleged perpetrators. I can confirm some of this, having visited China frequently since the early 1970s.
Despite having organized single-handedly over Canberra's opposition an Australia table-tennis team to join the all-important "Ping-Pong diplomacy," I too suffered harassment from bloody-minded, single-track authorities. Meanwhile, one had only to walk around the back streets, in Shanghai especially, to feel the palpably sulfurous mood of the frustrated masses.
But that was China then. Today we have a very different China, and one far too important to be subjected to black information massacre myths, particularly since the world seems very happy to forget the very public massacres of students that have occurred elsewhere — Mexico in 1968 and Thailand in 1973, for starters. There, we saw no attempt by the authorities to negotiate problems. The troops moved in immediately. Hundreds died.
Photos have helped sustain the Tiananmen massacre myth. One showing a solitary student halting a row of army tanks is supposed to demonstrate student bravery in the face of military evil. In fact, it shows that at least one military unit showed restraint in the face of student provocation (reports say only one rogue unit did most of the evil that night).
Photos of lines of burning troop carriers are also used, as if they prove military mayhem. In fact, they prove crowd mayhem. Meanwhile, we see little photo support for the other side of the story.
Earnshaw notes how a photo of a Chinese soldier strung up and burned to a crisp was withheld by Reuters. Dramatic Chinese photos of solders incinerated or hung from overpasses have yet to be shown by Western media. Photos of several dead students on a bicycle rack near the square are more convincing.
Declassified reports from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the time, and which used to confirm the Earnshaw/Hou accounts of square events (they have since been heavily censored), still carry a summary that mentions how the murder by students of a soldier trying to enter the square had triggered violence in the square's periphery.
Damage from the Tiananmen myth continues. It has been used repeatedly by Western hawks to sustain a ban on Western sales of arms to Beijing, including refusing even a request for riot-control equipment that Beijing says would have prevented the 1989 violence.
Gregory Clark is vice president of Akita International University and former China desk officer for Australia's Foreign Service. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on www.gregoryclark.net Note: All sources quoted above are available on the Internet, under Tiananmen.
China Polishes Glorious History for Olympics
1,000 volunteers flocked to the Taimiao Temple in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China on July 19. In front of the temple, a shrine to the emperors who ruled the country, they shouted slogans such as "Successful Olympics!" and "Go, China!"
The Beijing Olympics, which will open 10 days from today, is not least a stage for the Chinese to market their tradition and culture. The Chinese are determined to revive the glorious history of Chinese empires and re-emerge as the "center of the world," much like the Middle Kingdom.
Qianmen Street, one of the three landmarks of Beijing alongside the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Gate will be restored to an early 20th century streetscape in early August. "Laozihao" or time-honored brands which contributed to turning the street lined with long-standing stores into a prosperous area a century ago have made a comeback.
Chinese authorities will give subsidies to the owners of about 20 of the brands so they can prosper on this street recalling the last years of the Qing Dynasty. They include Quanjude, a roast duck restaurant that opened in 1864, Tongrentang, a herbal drugstore, Zhangyiyuan, a shop of high-brand teas, and Goubuli, a dumpling restaurant.
China wants to globalize these traditional brands. Quanjude, which has already been listed on the stock market, has declared it will become China's McDonald's by standardizing its recipes.
The time-honored brands are not the only things that are being restored. The Yuanmingyuan or Old Summer Palace, which was built in 1725, will be reopened after five years of restoration work on Tuesday. The palace was used by Yongzheng, the emperor during the heyday of the Qing Dynasty, as his office and garden. It fell into ruins after it was plundered by the allied forces of the U.K. and France in 1860 following their occupation of Beijing. Restoration began in 2001, when China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics. The palace will now be restored to its original state despite the opposition many people expressed when the work began.
The Taihedian or Hall of Great Harmony, the biggest hall inside the Forbidden City where the emperors held their coronation ceremonies, was already reopened on July 16 after about two years of restoration. All the work is aimed at presenting foreign visitors during the Olympic events with memories of the empire. Many predict that the opening ceremony on Aug. 8 will focus on the heyday of the Tang Dynasty and its huge empire dating from 618 to 907 A.D.
China has put Confucius at the head of the project to revive its glorious history and link the past with the present. Out of about 200 Confucian shrines across the country, the Confucian Temple in Beijing has recently been renovated, its sign reading, "Thanks to the effect of Confucianism, China's GDP in 1800” -- middle of the Qing Dynasty -- accounted for 33 percent of the entire world’s GDP, far outdistancing that of the whole of Europe at 28 percent and the U.S. at 0.8 percent."
The Confucian Temple in Beijing has separate exhibition halls displaying Confucian precepts, such as "Shaokang" (well-off society) and "Yirenweiben" (making people the center), which modern Chinese communist leaders such as Deng Xiaoping and current President Hu Jintao have favored.
Behind the face of Confucius, who has been reinvented as a kind of Chinese superstar, a home-grown, reform-minded socialism has been promoted.
Daniel Bell, a professor of political philosophy at Tsinghua University, says China is changing into a “Confucian socialist republic."
A'Mouth-watering' and insightful Aljazeera program on Beijing's culinary delights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AEGRHMOdlg