*Update: See postscript at the end of this entry
grinding exciting years of preparation, the Olympics are mercifully sadly over. So what did the foreigners think of it all? The “western media” are sometimes accused of prejudice against China, focusing too much on the negative and ignoring the positive. Not so Charles McGrath of the New York Times who had nothing bad at all to say about the Beijing Olympics. At least he didn’t have anything bad to say after the Beijing Evening News had got through translating and improving his work, in the style of Xinhua’s One-Edged Double-Edged Sword.
Beijing Puts On Happy Face for Games, Without Wrinkles
Beijing gives the world some youth and a smile
An August 11 New York Times report says: No one knows for sure how many people live in China, but the population is at least 1.3 billion. And thanks to increased longevity and the
one-child policyfamily planning rules, it is quickly aging. Demographers estimate that bBy 2050, more than a quarter of the people in China will be 60 or older.
Visitors to the Olympics, however,
can be forgiven for thinkingare discovering that China is a land of unnaturalyouthfulness where it seems nobody is older than 30. About 100,000 volunteers, wearing blue “Beijing 2008” shirts, are working at these Games, staffing the stadiums, gymnasiums and security stations, driving golf carts, answering questions or just standing around and greeting people — “communicating smile and building harmony,” in the words of a Beijing organizing committee news release.all of them wearing a smile. Close to 90 percent of them are in their 20s. Older Chinese, and there are plenty in Beijing, are mostly out of sight.
All Olympics are a little unnatural, of course: they are biennial intervals of make-believe when the world pretends to be a happier and friendlier place. AndNew York Times reporter Charles Mcgrath says all Olympics depend on volunteers, high school and college students especially. At t The 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, for example, enlisted squads of smiling, bright-eyed students from Brigham Young and the other local universitiesthey welcomed the whole world with smiling faces.
But the Beijing Olympics are remarkable for the immense number of young people working at the Games,
seeminglyall of them cheerful, polite, friendly and determined to create a good impression.
“We want to let the world know that China is powerful and that the Chinese people are very friendly,” said Wang Fei, a 20-year-old college sophomore who was working at the newsstand in the news media center.
The volunteers are part of a much larger script for what may be the most carefully stage-managed spectacle in Olympic history — a grand-scale version of the opening ceremony, intended to demonstrate to the world, and even to the Chinese, that the country has finally arrived as a world-class actor.
For one thing,T the stage set has been expanded to include not just the various sports venues but the entire city of Beijing. The beggars and the homeless have been rounded up and banished from the streets. People have been urged to quit smoking and spitting, and to adopt the Western custom of standing in line for a bus, instead of jostling.
Entire neighborhoods, especially some of the mazelike alleys known as hutong, have been razed to make way for newer, less-unsightlyThere are big, modern apartment blocks. And some 40 million plants have been placed along the road to the airport and in baskets along the downtown medians. It is as if the city has been hermetically sealed in a way that would eliminate anything unpleasantcheerfulness permeates the entire city.
The organizers have not entirely succeeded in controlling the climate or Beijing’s smog problem, nor were they able to make good on their promise to teach all the cabdrivers basic English. But not for want of trying.
Traffic has been cut in half by allowing only cars with license plates ending in an even number to drive one day, and cars with odd-numbered plates the next.
Roads have been shut down in the areas where many of the events are taking place.Some roads have been shut down because it is necessary for the events. Earlier in the summer, climatologists were even shooting rockets tipped with silver iodide into the clouds in an attempt to seed them.
Security personnel are everywhere: white-shirted security guards; the regular, blue-uniformed traffic cops; and
the hard-to-missfully armed armed police who stand at attention for hours , looking straight ahead, with their arms rigidly at their sides. Yet the police presence is not nearly as intrusive as it was at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, when pedestrians were herded along with batons.
This may be one of the government’s shrewdest touches of stagecraft, even after the stabbing of an American tourist at the Drum Tower — to make the massive security presence seem not invisible, exactly, but unthreatening. A few of the stern, impassive armed police were even seen to smile on occasion.
Journalists, about whom the government seemed so wary before the Games — shutting down their access to human-rights Web sites and those critical of China — have been practically pampered.
But it is the legions of volunteers who make the greatest impression,
and who seem to be sending the strongest message about how China wishes to be perceivedstriving to convince us that China longs to be understood. This is the face the country is showing to the world: young, eager, proud and patriotic.China is, without doubt, a youthful and energetic country.
Most of the volunteers are college students, and many are from Beijing; they can return to their dormitories at the end of their 12-hour shifts, unless, as often happens, there is overtime.
The college population is a logical resource for any organization that needs to round up a lot of willing help.As one volunteer , who declined to give her name, pointed outsaid: “ I feel likeeveryone from my college whoapplied got this positionto be a volunteer. After all, we are young and full of passion, which is all it takes to be a volunteer.”
But that there are so many of them, and that they are so focused on their task, is no accident. There are few middle-age volunteers, in part, perhaps, because people in their 40s and 50s have lived through some of China’s political upheavals and have more complicated feelings about the country than the patriotic young. Here, it is not uncommon for help-wanted ads to specify that applicants must be attractive or of a certain height. Employers are accustomed to finding exactly what they are looking for.
Almost a million people applied to be volunteers; a tenth of them were chosen. Successful applicants had to pass two rounds of written examinations and interviews. Tony Qi, who is working as a driver, said he had to pass tests in English, in driving skill and in knowledge of the Olympics.
Volunteers with the best linguistic skills appear to have been assigned the best jobs — the indoor ones, interacting with the news media. Those less fluent were put on traffic or security detail and stand out in the smog all day.
But almostE everyone knows at least “Hello,” “O.K.” and “Have a good day,” so it’s possible for English-speaking visitors to have friendly conversations not much different from the ones they have in the elevator every morning back homemaking English speaking visitors all feel at ease.
The volunteers are so polite and friendly, in fact, that it can be a little disconcerting. It would be Stepford-like if the eagerness to please were not so seemingly genuine.A volunteer called Qi is in his 40s and thus a little long in the tooth for a volunteer, though not as much as 87-year-old Sun Fangchu, an engineer working at the Bird’s Nest. Qi is a sales manager for Nestle, and hegave up his 10-day annual leave to work at the Olympics.
“We have been waiting for seven years,” he said. “We feel it’s really an honor to do something for our country.”
Volunteer Wang Fei said: “We have great patience. To serve
peopleforeign friends is our pleasure.”
Unscripted bursts of patriotism have been happening all over the city. On Thursday night, a toll-taker at the Beijao exit off the airport expressway was making a shy but earnest effort to speak English to foreign motorists. She had been issued a traditional satin blouse for the Olympics, and her booth had been retrofitted to make it look like a pagoda. Flight attendants on a Hainan Airlines flight from Shanghai to Beijing were handing out small Chinese flags and cheering, “Go China!”
During the opening ceremony Friday, about 50 volunteers spontaneously gathered by a big flat-screen television in the news media center
and sangas the Chinese national anthem was playing while takingand took pictures of themselves and of the screen with their cellphone camerastogether.
Even the very young have
been pressed intotaken part in voluntary service. In the elementary schools, students have been studying and preparing for the Olympics and for years. Each school has adopted one of the visiting teams and has learned all about that country.
the Tianhuaa p Primary s School in Beijing, for example, the students were becoming experts on Botswana; they knew that the people ate corn and that their favorite animal was the bull. Some were learning how to cheer — it is a good thing to applaud when the Botswanans play well, but not when the other team stumbles — and to sing Botswana’s national anthem. Lucky students would even attend the Games and help fill the stands.
The point of the exercise, Chinese officials said, is not just to reward the children, but to demonstrate that China’s might does not stop on the playing fields. It also extends to the classroom.….The Chinese government believes this complements both the classroom, and also extends the playing fields.
“I believe it is the biggest public education campaign that history has ever seen,” said Jiang Xiaoyu, the executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee.
Wang Hui, the director of the organizing committee’s media and communications department, said, “Our strength is our numbers, and with our people, we can do anything.”
*POSTSCRIPT (Aug. 29)
When I was putting this post together, I originally intended to add a few thoughts and caveats. As it turned out, though, Internet access to a number of sites (eg. ESWN, China Law Blog, Zhongnanhai and my own blog) was cut on my ISP in Beijing for about eight hours, meaning I had to do all the editing via a very slow proxy. By the time I finished, I decided enough was enough and that I would add my own thoughts later.
CTENBP, in the comments below, raises one of the points I was going to make myself: translating between two very different languages means that an idea will often have to be expressed in a different way if it is to communicate the same thing. One very clear example of this in the article above occurs in the very first paragraph: the one-child policy is a misnomer, but it is the term known in English. In Chinese it is referred to, more correctly, as the family planning policy. For that reason, it would have been better to have left the original phrase untouched.
Another aspect I was planning to mention has been pointed out by Imagethief - also in comments below: some of the deletions and paraphrasing would have simply been due to space requirements - something all newspapers have to deal with anywhere. (Correction: Imagethief was joking - see second comment by Will.)
One thing I hadn’t planned, though, was to accidentally delete two phrases that are in fact in the Beijing Evening News: 抑或是仅仅向外国友人表示欢迎 (”or just standing around and greeting people”) and 中国人民对于自己国家的热爱和自豪 (”This is the face the country is showing to the world: young, eager, proud and patriotic”). Many thanks, CTENBP, for pointing these out - I’m embarrassed that I missed these.
However, caveats aside, one overwhelming fact remains: every single statement that could possibly be seen as negative - and there’s quite a lot - has been expunged from the Beijing Evening News article, and almost every nuanced phrase that carries any negative connotations has been turned into one of unqualified praise. In some instances, this can simply be error (as with my own unfortunate mistakes). But genuine errors cannot always be in one direction. The New York Times article expresses admiration for some aspects of Beijing’s preparations, disapproval of other aspects and also a slightly disoriented mixture of the two. There is no way the Beijing Evening News article could in any way be said to have remotely reflected this. And it cannot be called a summary if it does not actually summarize the original.
It should go without saying that similar examples of misrepresentation can be found in European and American reports.