No t-shirts allowed for the Olympics

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't try turning up to Beijing with a t-shirt that reads 'China out of Sudan' or 'Human Rights for All'.
One wonders just how far this will go, in the Olympic security overkill. Is 'Just Do It' OK, or is that a political statement? Or is it the slogan from an Olympic sponsor (making it acceptable)?
The funny thing is that China is saying the games aren't political, yet they are using them for political ends.

Here's a piece by the LA Times, with a reader's comment at the end:

Security tight for China's 'fun-free' games

The 2008 Olympics come with a "Made in China" tag, but there are concerns consumers may have problems with the product. Be warned that unfurling banners are banned. It seems fun is not part of the Chinese plan. Mark Magnier, of the Los Angeles Times , reports from Beijing.

The Chinese have worked overtime to get all their checklists ticked, buildings built and security secured before the 2008 Olympics.

But something seems to have happened on the way to the arena: They forgot the fun. Fearful of political protests or terrorist attacks, Beijing feels increasingly battened down as the August 8 opening ceremony approaches, leading some wags to predict the "fun-free" or "kill-joy" games.

Many of the best things about Beijing, the little corners, the characters, the outdoor cafe tables, are being nibbled away by omnipresent police and neighbourhood snoops in security overdrive. Every Olympics host city has its own style.

Revellers at the 2004 Athens Games partied until dawn at street and beach venues complete with big bonfires, flowing ouzo and impromptu concerts.

Organisers of the Sydney 2000 Games hired street musicians and jugglers to perform at outside venues, and invited those without tickets to picnic beside huge outdoor Olympic viewing screens.

In China, though, tight visa policies have discouraged international visitors and the Government has banned most outdoor gatherings and has told bar owners to close early.

It has even thwarted 2012 host city London's bid to throw a party in a downtown park and has banned picnic umbrellas in some districts, apparently fearful terrorists or unruly protesters might lurk beneath the prosaic folds. Authorities also have suspended outdoor music festivals, discouraged foreign entertainers and required that the lyrics of Chinese, as well as foreign, bands be vetted.

Encores must be approved in advance. "For the Government, fun is not part of the plan," said Wang Feng, professor of sociology with the University of California, Irvine, who just returned from Beijing.

"What's most important is not having any problems."

Terrorism is a serious threat for any international host, especially one that's welcoming 80 world leaders.

But serving as host is also a balancing act.

Going overboard with security risks could undermine the Olympic spirit, alienate visitors and, in this case, tarnish China's impressive preparations and billion-dollar budgets. Even sponsors and corporate heavyweights encounter difficulty.

Paul French, consumer marketer and Shanghai-based founder of Access Asia, said the consumer marketing company cancelled a $500,000 party for one major international client after Chinese authorities banned outdoor venues, frustrated top executives seeking visas and made clear it would be difficult for athletes to leave the Olympic village for meet-and-greet events.

"It just became one nightmare after the other," he said.

"It's just not worth the hassle."

Police this month issued a detailed list of spectator restrictions.

These include sleeping outdoors, wearing clothing with "identical designs" - presumably a step that might in the Government's eye hint at a cause or political movement - or unfurling banners, even those that say "Go USA!" or "Go China!" Violators face 15 days in jail and a $70 fine.

The Culture Ministry also has been busy. A handful of dance clubs and bars have been closed while karaoke clubs have been told to add transparent glass to private rooms under a so-called "Sunshine Project."

And earlier this month, the ministry announced a ban on all foreign entertainers who have ever "threatened national sovereignty" of China.

The action came after singer Bjork shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" during a March concert in Shanghai. China says it is only enforcing its existing standards, including visa restrictions and a 2am bar closing. "We do want to have a festive atmosphere at venues," insisted Liu Shaowu, security director for the Beijing Olympic Committee.

"Most of our measures are in line with past Games practices."

But others disagree. Part of the problem might be China's view of fun, some said.

China has long been a food culture, built around eating lavishly with a close-knit group.

For many people over 40, the idea of going out to a bar and mixing with strangers, especially foreigners, is not particularly attractive. "The notion of a multiracial globalised party, which much of the outside world sees as the Olympic spirit, they don't get it," Paul French said.

"The idea of black and white people with their arms around each other, kissing a policeman, is not going to work."

In another security move, Beijing has pushed many internal migrants and disgruntled petitioners out of Beijing and subjected activists to detention or house arrest.

Behind China's clampdown, said political analysts, is a top-down, criticism-wary government nearly as fearful of a Tibet or Falun Gong protester as it is of a terrorist incident.

"Even though China says the Olympics shouldn't be politicised, many Chinese find that funny, given that people over 40 or 50 years old have been indoctrinated that everything is politics," said Joseph Cheng, professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

"The model is 'Nothing should go wrong, don't take any chances, stability over everything.' " In addition, government officials' main experience in organising big events are buttoned-up Communist Party meetings in a system offering little incentive to temper directives with common sense.

"They're used to controlling huge numbers of people but not in a way that's always open or inviting," said Tom Lansner, who teaches international media courses at Columbia University.

"You never get much credit for sticking your neck out."

Hong Huang, editor of I-Look Magazine, said Olympics organisers aren't terribly concerned about street parties or the hoi polloi. "China is one of the most elite societies you can imagine, and if you're part of the Olympics, you're part of the elite," she said.

"It's a way to say, 'We've made it; we're the new hot kids on the block'."

Ms Hong has had her identity checked several times while walking on the streets, and her neighbourhood now requires residents to "volunteer" their time watching for suspicious people. "This is all going to make people feel that we're somehow still living in a police state, which is unfortunate," she said.

"I felt we moved beyond that, but to revert to that, it's too bad."

Some people, however, predict restrictions will ease once the games are under way and officials are able to relax a bit. "Even if you don't have fun at the bars, people can go elsewhere," said Jim Boyce, author of blogs on Beijing's wine and night life activities.

"Most visitors will be thrilled to eat some Peking duck and go to the Great Wall. Barring a disaster, they'll leave with a good impression." - Mark Magnier
Los Angeles Times-Washington Post

Balance on China
Submitted by wangbo on Wed, 30/07/2008 - 11:39pm.

Whatever happened to balance? Sure, find all the people who are going to give you good, negative quotes to have us all thinking we're about to leap back into the Cultural Revolution. Why not talk to the large number of us who are getting on with life as normal- or as normal as possible considering we're about to be assaulted with the Olympics? Why not talk to the multitude who are even *gasp* enjoying themselves- and eating outside or on rooftops or listening to live music and drinking in pubs with *another gasp* black people and breaking all these rules that have supposed to have been made. Two days ago I was sitting outside a restaurant with a colleague and a rapidly increasing stack of empty beer bottles and two separate police cars drove past and ignored us. Twice in the last two days I've cycled past an Olympic venue and seen none of the overbearing, oppressive security we're supposed to believe in. Guards and police and security checks ready to go, of course, but is that not the same any other country would do to ensure security at such a major event? And none of the retired people sitting by the side of the road in their security volunteer t-shirts and red armbands have ever so much as looked askance at me.
Oh, and does it really need to be pointed out that one of the clubs closed was Beijing's most notorious brothel?
Sure, many of the things being done to assure a safe Olympics are a bit of an overreaction, but others are long-overdue (like getting rid of the foreigners working illegally or closing brothels and arresting drug dealers).
So please, a little bit of balance, at least the pretence of seeking out a variety of views. That is what journalists are supposed to do, isn't it?
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