StreamPodcastsMail an FM4
zurück zur TitelseiteSOUNDPARK - Your Place for Homegrown MusicSTATION - alles rund um den RadiosendernotesCHAT
Vienna | 10.8.2008 | 13:21 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Violence and Reconciliation
  A knife-wielding Chinese man stabbed to death an American tourist and then threw himself from the 40 metre-high viewing platform of one of Beijing's most famous tourist spots - the Drum Tower.

It was a rare murder in a city that has a low crime rate compared to most cities of its size. It can only be described as a freak event, a terrible, bizarre human tragedy.

But it was also a horrible start for a host city and host nation that sees these games as a PR opportunity. "You should pay attention to the two gold medals that China won today,' a middle-aged woman, seemingly lacking in any human sympathy, told the British Guardian.

The jaw-dropping effect of the spectacular opening ceremony (the only low point of which, I think, was when a bunch of cute kids handed over a Chinese flag to a squadron of goose-stepping troops) had been quickly banished from the World's headlines by the mindless violence. It certainly left a bad taste in your mouth on a day that was meant to be the first stage of a two week party.
(c) Alex Hofford/EPA
Making an Impression
  My dad has been travelling very regularly to China for a few years now - like a modern Marco Polo, or a one man carbon disaster, whichever way you look at it.

According to him, we should make no mistake about how desperate the Chinese are to leave a good impression on the rest of the world and particularly the West. This, says papa, marks a big difference. When he first went there in the 1980's no-one cared what he might think. However smart his shoes were, however well tailored his suit, he was a barbarian from an inferior culture with a hopelessly short history. Now, he says, the people he meets are fascinated with the West and want to know as much about it as possible and what WE think about THEM.

That's probably why the (justified) criticism of China has hurt so much. Lijia Zhang of the Observer tells the story today of an old man in Beijing who has been offering passers-by money if they brought him discarded leaflets, because he wants to show a cleaner Beijing to foreign visitors.

She also speaks to a 20-year-old university student told Zhang, who puts the criticism down to jealousy. 'Some people from the West just don't feel comfortable that China has now become powerful.'
  I think there is a certain amount of truth to that, actually.

I do believe that psychologically we need an international bogeyman - Russia, Iran and the USA have all played that role recently. Maybe today's anti-Chinese sentiment is to a certain degree like the anti-Americanism common in 19th century Britain, when the Brits saw that some upstart was overtaking the old country on very much field?
Heavy-Handed Rule
  But, that said, most anti-China sentiment is fact-based and focussed on the country's problems. Ecological meltdown, mass executions, lack of press freedom, lack of personal freedom, Tibet, policy towards Sudan, etc, etc.

Yesterday, five pro-Tibet activists draped themselves in Tibetan flags and lay down on Tiananmen Square in protest at the Chinese government's heavy-handed rule in Tibet. As the world's media looked on, the activists were dragged away by plainclothes police officers. It'll take more than the colourful dancers and a giant globe rising out of the Opening Ceremony to outweigh the negative effect of such brutal pictures.

The organisers in Beijing have established three protest zones - its an Olympic tradition. But when the ORF's (brilliant) Weltjournal visited the zones, protestors were only conspicuous by their absence; and an endearing old lady laughed at the concept of free protest in the city.

She obviously felt the Austrian reporters had lost something in translation - or perhaps just had too much to drink. "No, no they'd never allow that,", the old lady giggled. Tellingly, two groups of protesters who tried to do so were reportedly either forced to leave Beijing or detained by police.
Unknown Entity
  Nonetheless I can understand the Chinese to a certain extent - and this is not to criticise the criticism, so to speak. I'm not sure we make the effort to understand the country in three dimensions. My German friends complain that when their country appears in the British papers, it is a story about neo-Nazi violence in Brandenburg and not, for example, Germany's leading role in green-fuel or, for that matter, successful integration. To some extent I think the foreign media would like Germany to be a bit right-wing and China to be dirty and secretive.

So let's not stop slamming the abuses of China - but let's make more of an effort to understand the home of one fifth of the world's population. And let's be perfectly honest: we know very little about China at all.

Perhaps, for example, they are more eccentric than the austere image we have of them. 20,000 of those 1.3 billion Chinese have cycled up to 6,000 kilometres from all corners of the country to watch the Olympic Games. There are farmers, carpenters, computer technicians among the long distant bikers desperate "just to be part of it all." One acupuncturist has inserted 2,008 colourful needles into his head. A pretty, superficial picture, hey? There'll be more of them. But if these Olympics, which so many would like to have seen boycotted, provoke more popular curiosity about China then that's surely a good thing.

After all, no-one can ignore this country.
(c) Alex Hofford/EPA
Medals and National Reconciliation!
  Oh the sport? That crazy world where swimmers now wear more clothes than beach-volleyball players. In the pool, Michael Phelps has picked up more bling - a gold medal (his seventh now) and a new World Record to boot - with George W. Bush waving a dinky little stars and stripes flag in the the Water Cube crowd.

And I've learned something for the pub quiz: the Ynglings were not only the oldest known Scandinavian dynasty including the legendary Halfdan the Old, but are nowadays a variety of Olympic sailing boat.

With old Hags and Steiny looking for a third medal, I've tried very hard to get excited about sailing. It is exciting on the boat, believe me, but hopelessly dull seen from the helicopter. More 'Klingendes Österreich' that Pirates of the Caribbean from up there - bring in Bernie Eccleston for this sport.

And the rowing has brought back painful memories of 6am breathlessness in my foolish teenage years. My advice: watch rowing, don't try it! And we still can't see how beautiful the cycling course is - yesterday it was foggy, today it was hammering down with rain.

Yet there was joy in the monsoon for me. The Brit Nicole Cooke showed that training in all that infamously wet weather on my home island has done her some good by grabbing gold in the downpour. Oh how my patriotic chest boom-titty-boomed with pride as she powered thunder-thighed through in the shadow of the Great Wall! Were it not so early, I might have shed my first Olympic tear.

Bu the only moment that really counted came in a very unusual setting: the women's 10m air pistol event. Nino Salukvadze took bronze for Georgia with Russia's Natalia Paderina collecting silver. The pair stuck up a finger at their war-mongering national leaders by sharing a podium step and embracing for the cameras.
(c) Michael Reynolds/EPA
fm4 links
  Have the Games Changed China?
Rupert Wingfield-Hayes on
fm4 links
  Chris Cummins on Beijing 2008:

Forgotten Guilt, Beautiful Innocence
[Aug. 8] The most politicised Games in recent history are underway

Violence and Reconciliation
[Aug. 10] A vicious murder and a gesture of peace

Wind, Jodhpurs and the Laws of Physics
[Aug. 11] A television festival for insomniacs

Dancing Bee-keepers and Tugged Speedos
[Aug. 12] What's the best event to watch on the goggle-box?

An Ode to Crooked Teeth
[Aug. 13] And a war of words on the beach.

"Just Don't Be Journalists!"
[Aug. 14] A very bizarre press conference in Beijing.

Are Medal Tables Rubbish?
[Aug. 18] Journalists and politicians slaver of them, but the Olympic charter says they don't matter. Do they?
 Übersicht: Alle ORF-Angebote auf einen Blick