BEIJING--Last week, reporter Patty Wen and I spent some time in this part of Beijing south of Tiananmen Square called the Xuanwu district (the story appeared in today's Globe). The Chinese government doesn't want foreigners like Patty and I (or most of you) to actually see large parts of the Xuanwu district. So they've done about the most low-tech, unimaginative thing you can do to hide something: they built a big honking wall right down the sidewalk, inches from the openings of shops (above photo) so all you see from the street is this:
Preeeeeetty clever, huh? You know that if you hide something, it only gets journalists' juices flowing. So below, dear reader, we proudly present some images from behind the wall.
We're 12 hours ahead here in Beijing, so it's already 8/08/08, the so-called "lucky" day for the start of the Olympic opening ceremonies -- and wedding ceremonies. Dozens of couples took advantage of special just-after-midnight opening times at some marriage bureaus to be the first to receive the 8/08/08 seals placed on their marriage forms.
At the Chaoyang District marriage registration department, the first couple to get married was Jie Yu, 24, and her new husband, Chao Chen, 24, two longtime Beijingers who fell in love in middle school.
"We're number 1!" the groom said in Chinese around 12:25 a.m. when emerging with his new wife from the office. Chen, a mechanic, came with his best friend, who served as a witness.
There was a steady stream of couples coming to marry, though never a long line. By 12:45, about two dozen couples were officially married. The couples who came early this morning were dressed fairly casually because this was a civil ceremony, to be followed perhaps months later by a wedding bash. Yu and Chen said they plan a party at a hotel, with Yu in a red traditional Chinese wedding gown. Many couples said it would have been impossible to hold the party on the same day as the marriage registration given all the activity and excitement around the Olympics. Chinese authorities predict about 15,000 couples will marry on this day in Beijing.
Why choose 8/08/08 (a traditional Chinese number for prosperity) to marry?
Yu, a driving instructor, replied, "This is the happiest day for us, and the happiest day for the country."
(EDITORS NOTE: The following opinion column was written by Harvard scholar and human rights activist Yang Jianli before his detention by authorities in Hong Hong earlier this week. Authorities rejected Yang's effort to enter his country and forcibly placed him on a plane to Japan on Thursday).
By Yang Jianli
From Friday's opening ceremonies onward, the world’s television cameras will be focused on the Beijing Olympics. As someone who took part in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989, and who later served five years as a political prisoner in China’s infamous prison system, my interest in these Olympics has less to do with the medals that will be won and the records that will be broken, and more to do with how the Games will affect my countrymen in China.
As I have noted before, the attention these Olympics will generate provide the rest of the world’s people, especially us here in the United States, with an opportunity to pressure the Chinese government to improve its record on human rights. This would undoubtedly help the people of China, whose government’s only real remaining ideology is the furtherance of its monopoly on power: as pragmatic as it is antidemocratic, the Chinese government understands the language of pressure.
Unfortunately, without this pressure, the games will provide a potential for the Chinese Communist Party to take home a gold medal in public relations sleight-of-hand. It is a sad irony that while China’s rulers busy themselves with stage managing the presentation of the games so that only positive images flow out of Beijing for the rest of the world to see, a blind man sits in prison for his efforts on behalf of Chinese women in the Linyi region of Shandong province.
China’s official one-child policy is well known, but less well known are the inhuman, and often life-threatening means it has used to enforce this policy. Chen Guangcheng not only knew about these means, but also took measures to fight against them. But his brave fight did not earn him a place on a winner’s podium; his prize was a four-year prison sentence.
Chen Guangcheng lost his sight as a result of a fever he suffered in his youth, but that did not stop him from studying the law. Far away from television cameras, Chen Guangcheng worked with the women of Linyi to publicize the local authorities’ policy of forcing women to have abortions (some of which were allegedly performed as late as the ninth month of pregnancy) and/or undergo sterilization procedures; Chen also filed a class-action lawsuit against the local authorities on behalf of the victims. For all these activities, a beautiful example of what in Chinese is called “Gong Min Liliang” (Citizen Power), Chen Guangcheng was subjected to two sham trials and eventual imprisonment; this in spite of the fact that the coercive abortions and sterilizations were illegal even according to Chinese law.
Can we, as people of good conscience, aware of stories like Chen’s, watch the Beijing Olympics as mere spectators? Even if we ignore the Chinese government’s patent propaganda and focus instead on sport alone, can we really accept the fact that Chen Guangcheng, like so many other political detainees in China (Qin Yongmin and Wang Bing Zhang come immediately to mind), is deteriorating in prison while the world’s eyes are focused on that part of China that the Chinese Communist Party wants the world to see?
I cannot. Therefore, I am today calling for Chen Guangcheng’s immediate and unconditional release, along with the release of all political prisoners serving unjust sentences in Chinese jails. Additionally, I am calling on all people of good conscience in the Unites States and all over the world to join me in this call, and to do everything possible to see that the Chinese Communist Party—before, during, and after the Olympics—is made to feel the pressure of international opinion with respect to its policy of detaining and imprisoning individuals whose only crime is the exercise of one or more of their fundamental human rights.
China’s leaders must learn that as tenuous as their grip on power is now, it will become only more tenuous the harder they fight against the tide of international opinion which wants China’s people to be able to enjoy the freedom that is their birthright. We, as citizens of good conscience must, through the pressure we apply, make China’s leaders aware that no matter how strongly they seek to hold onto their power, there is, in the end, no escape from democracy.
Without our efforts, however, China’s leaders, emboldened by the success of the Olympics, will continue on with their bad habits, secure in their complacent belief that the world needs China (its markets and its cheap labor) more than China needs the world. In actual fact, the world does need China—a democratic China governed by the rule of law. So long as great Chinese citizens like my countryman Chen Guangcheng remain subject to arbitrary detention, sham trials, and unjust imprisonment, however, the world will not have the China it needs, but China’s leaders will have the world they want.
Yang. of Brookline, is president and founder of the pro-democracy group Initiatives for China and a Harvard's senior reserach fellow.
Readers, what's your view on this issue? Have your say in our comments section.
Notice anything missing in the photo below, taken in our hotel elevator?
No fourth floor. Or fourteenth. Or thirteenth for that matter. Asking around a little, I discovered that the fourth and fourteenth are for Chinese superstitions, and thirteen for Western superstitions. Apparently, the Mandarin word for four, pronounced "si", sounds the same as the word for death. And you don't really want to be putting your finger on a button called "death", do you? Unless that finger is skeletal and you're carrying a scythe in the other hand. Amazingly: according to a Reuters report from 2001: "A researcher at the University of California-San Diego has found that deaths caused by heart attacks among U.S. residents of Chinese and Japanese descent tend to spike on the fourth of the month, an increase linked to the psychological stress brought about by fear of the number itself."
(Updated to include fourteenth and thirteenth floors, also missing.)
Greetings from Beijing, where I will be shooting video and taking the occasional photo for the Globe and Boston.com during the next few weeks.
Good news to report for anyone headed to China to watch or cover the games: if you're properly credentialed or visa'd, getting into China is a breeze. Which might not sound like breaking news, but China has a pretty serious reputation for bureaucracy (especially for journalists, especially at airports and border crossings). AND, prior to departure I had neglected to fill out an Equipment Declaration Form (in triplicate), meaning I had not received the REQUIRED Equipment Confirmation Letter, and so I was mentally preparing, the entire 17 hour flight, to do a whole lot of repentant paperwork and question-answering under a naked lightbulb upon arrival.
Not so. From the moment I stepped off the plane into the massive new (and new-smelling) Beijing Capital International Airport, I felt like one of the first customers at a newly opened restaurant that is striving for a high star ranking. In the mostly empty arrivals lounge, college-aged Olympics staff snapped to attention and stuffed helpful pamphlets into my hands. Lines moved quickly. A super-friendly immigration officer could hardly wait to stamp her approval into my passport, and a machine in front of her desk (pictured above) invited me to rate her service (I abstained). And, at customs, it turned out that a simple explanation for why I had not filed the dreaded Equipment Declaration Form (in triplicate) was an acceptable cover story for why I could not present a signed and stamped Equipment Confirmation Letter. An Olympics staffer was summoned, and they helped me handwrite all the appropriate forms (in triplicate) on the spot.
From a little reading, I see that a lot of this customer-service approach to immigration is newish, maybe part of China's Olympics reinvention of itself. But I guess it says something about customer service, because leaving the airport--hours earlier than I had anticipated--I found myself buying into Beijing International's cheesy slogan a little: "Harmonious Airport, Dreams start here."
Beijing Capital International Airport, as well as almost every other square foot of Beijing, is festooned with Olympics banners, posters, and displays.
Look for contributions from the following Globe Staffers in Beijing:
- John Powers
- Shira Springer
- Bob Ryan
- Marc J. Spears
- Gregory Lee
- Scott LaPierre
- Patricia Wen