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China: All shook up by the torch relay

Categories: East Asia, China, Arts & Culture, Governance, Law, Olympics

Global Voices Olympics [1]Is the Olympic torch relay still going on? It is, but most people stopped paying attention to it following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan [2]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 [3], who wrote on his Beijing Olympics blog on the Southern Weekly [4] BSP of Benxi [5], one small obscure city in Northern China's Liaoning province, and how being chosen as a torch relay city shook it all up [6] (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.”