Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Olympic fatigue

The Olympics are still more than two weeks away, and already I'm sensing some Olympic fatigue.

My own annoyances are both petty and easy to document. For one thing, pirated DVDs are now difficult to find! Another is that the police are paying more attention to foreigners. They’re actually stopping us on the street and asking to see our passports—the law stating foreigners must always have their passports with them has long been on the books, but has rarely been enforced. I also got a personal house call from my friendly local policeman. I guess waiting a few months while they checked out my background, getting a health check, being interviewed by my news company's local handler (for the press card), being interviewed by some toughs at the public security bureau (for the press visa), and registering multiple times at my local police station wasn't enough—they had to send someone around to check on me as well (who proceeded to copy down information from my press card, which one would assume he would already have, since the card was issued by them). I asked him if he was paying me a visit because of the Olympics, and he said, “No, it's for your safety! It's to protect you!” Classic.

But Olympic fatigue from Chinese is much more interesting than my own silly squabbles. Today I had a chat with a workmate in Beijing on MSN (we talked in English and it's mostly unedited):

I just feel weird that it seems the whole country's preparing for the games, everybody~~~but r we really connected to the games...... I mean, its just sport....it should be fun, relaxing..... but see BJ right now.....even missiles around the famous 鸟巢 [Bird's Nest]....what the hell~~~ok, we should protect the games from terrorists.........but its not that fun now.

It seems that we should [be connected to the games] ...the government makes me feel that I should get myself prepared for the games as a host who lives in BJ… it just makes me nervous ... not fun and interesting as i expected… these slogans~~~you can see them everywhere in BJ…. like "give the world a smile"...something like that~~~i may be too emotional....but what if I don't wanna give a smile?

I think this attitude is a symptom of the immense controversy that has surrounded the Games, and the realization by many Chinese that the Games are politicized—not just by foreign protesters, but by the Chinese government as well. In my opinion, the Chinese government, with its absurd insecurity, is more to blame for this souring attitude than foreign protesters (though protesters' glee in disparaging China, and their unwillingness to listen to intelligent Chinese opinions, is sometimes sickening to behold). The government is too anxious about how it will look to the outside world, so it puts up signs outlining in amusing detail how one should behave towards foreigners.


It seems that many people didn't realize the Games have always been politicized and always will be politicized. They just viewed the Olympics as China's chance to show its modernity off to the world, and to be a good host to foreign guests and to the foreign gaze. My workmate expressed some profound sadness about the path the Games have taken:

[I feel] like i wanna hold and host a party~~~as the host, I surely want this party to go well....but I also wanna have fun—that's the reason why i wanna hold a party......if it was not that fun to me, it failed me.


Jenniferliu said...

Not just Chinese govement has the “absurd”insecurity, but also most of Chinese citizen.
Once Thinking of the horrible and unexpected incident happened in April, we can’t help having the feeling “insecurity”, who knows if the terrorist will come to the Olympic Games or not, in case of they come, we must do whatever we can to guarantee the Olympic games going well, to guarantee all of the people’s safety (from all of the world) who come to watch it, this is Chinese government’s responsibility.
For example, if you will hold a party, many of your friends will come. Of course, you want them relax and have fun, but the precondition is safety and the party’s completeness.

Sam said...

jinniferliu: Thanks for your comment. It's a good point - every Olympic host city has an obligation to provide security during the Games.

However, what I was getting at included tightening up Internet censorship, drastically limiting the movement of reporters (both domestic and foreign), making it extremely difficult for foreigners to come watch the Games by imposing visa restrictions, ordering security guards to expel people who "look" Tibetan from certain areas, implementing paternalistic public relations campaigns teaching Chinese people how to behave, and bribing grieving parents who want an investigation as to why their children's schools collapsed during the earthquake so they'll be quiet during the Olympics - all of which the government has done - is insecurity bordering on hysteria, and is vastly harmful to China's image.

Jenniferliu said...

yeah, i know that, it's quite difficult for both chinese people and foreigners to come watch the Game. we hate it too. but as the people of the host country, we can understand. although we can't come to watch it, we are happy and excited.
(Anyway,it's normal that foreigners can't understand this.)
regarding the public relations campaigns, i have to say, you think it's weird because your country/goverment never do things like this maybe, it's just a difference, but not bad thing. Chinese goverment doesn't compel the citizens behave or do the things. it's just a suggestion, it makes the citizens realize that:"yeah, we should do this to present nice images, to impress the foreigners well. it's not bad. :)
As far as i know, western medium already reported a lot about chinese people's rudeness( many of reports are untrue, it's a prejudice.like making noises when eating,like talking aloud in thepublic, it's the special things of china, decided by the culture, has nothing to do with rudness)however,some of them is ture, like chinese people spit,litter)
now,chinese goverment are trying to improve this, but westerners start to criticize.

regarding collapsed schools, yeah, it's true. many chinese hate the goverment because of this, including me.