Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

China: All shook up by the torch relay

Global Voices OlympicsIs the Olympic torch relay still going on? It is, but most people stopped paying attention to it following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan in May. However, a handful of China's top sports reporters have been following it faithfully.

One of those is Sports Illustrated China writer Guan Jun, who wrote on his Beijing Olympics blog on the Southern Weekly BSP of Benxi, one small obscure city in Northern China's Liaoning province, and how being chosen as a torch relay city shook it all up (also note the joke that's been going around lately that with all the whining people have been doing about the preparations for the Olympics, it's probably the police of China who will be far happier than anyone once everything goes back to normal):




After the rush of excitement, the difficult preparation work began. For this city with limited people- and financial power, the saying ‘the whole city welcomes the torch together’ was no exaggeration. Particularly due to the steadily-increasing pressure to ensure the torch's safety, Benxi was set to walk along a line about to snap, as if what was about to pass through the city was not an auspicious torch but a hostile power's tanks.

Several routes for the torch relay were considered, then finally it was decided that it should avoid all busy areas, and so it was arranged to go along Binhe Rd. from the sports stadium to the funeral parlour, where not only would there be few people, but few buildings alongside the road as well, making it easy to control.

All the internet bars, massage parlours, bath houses and entertainment venues in the city received a notice that they could now only operate until 11:30 at night. Very quickly, in front of these shops which for the most part do their business in the evenings, there appeared large numbers of clearance sale and ‘buyer wanted’ advertisements.




The torch relay was set to start beside Pengcheng estate, were nearly a hundred residents faced the street. It was them who were the earliest to have their doors knocked upon, because the government wanted to use their balconies to hang a Chinese flag together with a poster of the five Olympic rings. Several dozen widths of banner were placed neatly together, all to display Benxi residents’ “enthusiasm for the Olympic torch”.

The sound of doors knocking didn't only come once, but from then quite often. Police and neighborhood cadres came frequently to carry out their work, confirming the number of inhabitants, having them register, and notifying them to make sure the apartment will not be left empty during the torch relay, that they will not be permitted to open the windows then, stand at them and look out, or move past them. As emotional compensation, every home received one watermelon.

And that's not all. At the end of June/early July when two rehearsal and two practice relays were held, one police officer or government employee was arranged to stand guard in every home along the route, to prevent any accidents from occurring.






Going into people's homes was an embarrassing task. One of those put on guard knocked on the door of one home along the the torch relay route several times without getting a response, and in the end resorted to employing certain technical methods to get the door open, only to then find a furious pair of eyes inside the room: “What do you think you're doing breaking into my home?” The person on guard was also angry: “And what do you think you're doing obstructing government work…you sure you're not hiding something?!” So then he was taken away and investigated. In the end, that one resident who refused to cooperate got locked up for several days.

Another stubborn resident had slightly better luck, cursing them out loudly for having no legal basis to enter a residence; the would-be guard saw that they were in the wrong and had no choice but to leave.

One female police officer arrived at 4am—too early, actually. The people she was in charge of “seeing to” were an old couple who had been putting up resistance, and refusing to open the door. So the female cop just stood in the doorway, watching the sun slowly rise outside. Later, the old couple began to feel sorry for her and brought her out a small stool.

One officer that torchbearer Zhang Xuefeng is quite familiar with had the task of standing watch over the roofs of the buildings along the street. “He stood up there for an entire night, that's not an easy thing to do.”

I think this city had never been this strung out before. One police officer named Wang told me, “we're liable to crazy any minute now.”


  • @damn_lame
    I linked to Joel’s post well over a week ago. But please do feel free to send me more links, it’s not just my show, obviously.

  • Spelunker

    I don’t have a problem with Joel, but I’m simply not as interested in a 老外 interviewing 老百姓 with questions like 奥运会对中国人有什么意义?(“What do the Olympics means to Chinese people?”)
    Chinese responses to a serious foreigner’s questions are generally not as candid as those in reply to Chinese reporters. They are usually only trying to say what they believe should be said to foreigners. That’s why I think Guan Jun’s article is a more valuable contribution to GVO and may be one reason that Joel’s video was placed among the “recent links” instead.
    If I was conducting Chinese interviews in Tianjin or Shenyang then I would ask more specific questions about topics I find amusing such as the rules forbidding “Go China” banners at Olympic arenas (Will it be strictly enforced at Shenyang’s soccer stadium as well?) and of course the 八个不要问 “eight questions not to ask foreigners” campaign currently underway in Beijing.

  • @Spelunker & John
    Of course a lot of the answers are “what they believe should be said to foreigners.” That’s a huge part of what the Olympics means to them: making a certain impression on foreigners. Given that, I don’t think we have to assume a substantial discrepancy between “what they really think” and “what they believe should be said to foreigners.”

    That said, I actually agree with your general point. A language student asking his local acquaintances cheesy questions for a happy Olympics video isn’t necessarily going to break much ground beyond what’s already printed in the People’s Daily. But I wasn’t out to dig up dirt; I was giving our neighbours a chance to say what they wanted to the foreign community in Tianjin (that video goes with the cover story for August’s JIN expat magazine).

    And just for the record:
    – A lot of people I talked to off camera had negative things to say. One lady’s stuff was so negative and sensitive that I’ve actually had trouble getting anyone to help me transcribe it. Overall, comments about the Olympics were positive, but it’s not hard at all to find people willing to complain about it.
    – The teachers at our school don’t like the video. They said I should have interviewed “people with more culture,” which I took to mean “people that make China look better to foreigners.” They had the opposite problem with it from Spelunker. For them, the video wasn’t puffy enough.

  • ali baba

    Quote:”That is, unless you are a Falun Goner like CarryAnne and our buddy ali baba up there.”Unquoted

    To: so_damn_lame (1) I am no Falun Gon.I agree with a lot of their arguments,but not all of them.
    (2) I read and translate posts from Strong Nation Forum at,nearly everyday,does it make me a CCP too ?
    (3) I strongly believe that only 仁義 道德 can help CHINA. Also 走向共和

    Following are a few of the posts from

    张艺谋的《满城尽带谎金甲》,已经表现出非常变态、畸形的审美取向,中国居然还让他当奥运的艺术总导! ( 笔铭非 08-08-01 12:05:34 ) 0字 ( 0/126/8 )

    Zhang yi-mou’s “A city full of gold armour” had made it very clear that his views and ideals on beauty and art are twisted and deformed,why China still hire him to be the chief artistic director is beyond me!
    # 一群戏子 把好好的中国男人搞垮了 ( 玉米爱大米 08-08-01 12:56:19 ) 97字 ( 0/6/0 )

    A bunch of clowns,completely destroy China’s manhood.

    # 二十一世紀中國最缺乏的就是人材。挖空心思在拼湊形式, 形式不足用色綵彌補。 哪有功伕攷慮內涵。更何況与中華傳統斷絕多年 ( 何布同 08-08-01 12:13:36 ) 0字 ( 0/6/0 )

    On this 21 century,China is extremely short of talents. Using up all the wits, just to stack up various shapes and forms;when shapes and forms have run out,simply use colors to patch up.Moral and culture is out of his realm.For too many years,he had cut himself out of Chung Hua tradition.

    # 除了变态,他还懂得如何取悦洋人。 ( 油盐不进的四季豆 08-08-01 12:10:49 ) 0字 ( 0/7/0 )

    Beside twisted mind,at least he still knows how to kiss foreginer’s ass.

    # 这届奥运,也许是我最厌恶的一届。这象个在崛起的大国吗?没有一点举重若轻的感觉 ( 笔铭非 08-08-01 12:07:54 ) 0字 ( 0/21/1 )

    This olympic really disgusts me.Probably the most disgusted.Does it look anything like being the rise of a great nation?Not a single bit of easy going feeling.

    # 为了些洋人来狂欢,弄得举国不安 ( 笔铭非 08-08-01 12:08:34 ) 0字 ( 0/5/1 )
    Just because of some foreginers come over here to have a wild party,now the whole nation is disrupted and uneasy.

    # 就算出点小乱子,又怕啥?汶川大地震,山摇地动,咱们都没怕 ( 笔铭非 08-08-01 12:09:54 ) 0字 ( 0/4/1 )
    What is that the government really afraid of? A bit of hiccup here and there? What about Wen Chuen Big earth quake,no one showed any fear back then.

    # 都是同样变态,所以,选对人了 ( 阿耨多罗三居士 08-08-01 12:07:17 ) 0字 ( 0/8/0 )

    They are all of the same twisted mind,that’s why,the correct one was picked.

  • so_damn_lame

    @ali baba

    I apologize if you not a Falun Goner.

    But you sure of heck act and talk like one.

    For the Falun Goners, they bitch and moan, and quite often fabricate stuff completely out of thin air to legitimize their own warped and twisted cause.

    So, if you are not a Falun Goner, what is you reason for bitch and moaning?

  • Spelunker

    Dear Joel:
    I applaud your efforts to put local peasants on your video. My favorite was the bike repair man.
    Of course I also appreciated the “Sexy Beijing” series of interviews conducted by 苏菲, especially when she went around the capital on March 8 asking women on the street about the meaning of “san-ba”.

    I will be happy to help you transcribe the naughty stuff from that one lady in Tianjin. You simply post it on Fool’s Mountain and I’ll give you an honest and accurate translation.
    The teachers at your school don’t like the Olympics video because you didn’t interview the local communist party secretary’s wife, the director of Tianjin municipal foreign affairs office, the head librarian from Nankai University, and perhaps a random violinist from the Tianjin Conservatory of Music.

  • Howard

    To Karze:

    Welcome to the people’s republic of “terrorism”!

    I live in a city in Southern China, and there are about 60,000 foreigners living and working in this city, some are working for multi-national companys, and the other are working in Chinese companys.

    I don’t feel any terrorism in China, but as my colleagues’ saying, in Iraq, Afghanstan. And i believe people all felt terrorism in New York on 9/11,2001.

    People in China are busy doing business with different countries, to make their lives better. But there is one country in this world which are fighting terrorism through invading other countries for decades… Who is the united states of terrorism? hehe…

    Better staying in China, it’s safer…

  • It’s over 20 minutes of scratchy audio (what’s left). I’m pretty sure you don’t want to bother. But if I run out of options for help, I might just take you up on that.

    We went to see the torch today in Tianjin, but they wouldn’t let us get close.

  • ali baba

    To so_damn_lame

    Please answer my question,as I have answer yous,

    I read and translate posts from Strong Nation Forum at,nearly everyday,does it make me a CCP too ?

  • subjectivelistener

    John, do you agree with Karze’s PRT claim?

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site