Peking presses for Olympics prize: China's leaders want to bury the memory of Tiananmen Square under the prestige of hosting the Games in 2000

IN ANSAI county, Shaanxi province, the training of hundreds of drummers is already under way in preparation for the opening ceremony. In physical education colleges around the country, a teaching programme on Olympianism has been introduced. And earlier this month, competition judges carefully selected 'Mr and Miss Peking Olympics'.

Were it not for the date in the ubiquitous official slogan - 'A more open China awaits 2000 Olympics' - anyone driving in from the airport to the city centre, past the hundreds of banners, flags and advertisements, might assume the Olympic athletes were due in Peking next week.

Sundays in January were designated 'days for the bid' and last month public lectures were held on such subjects as the history of the Olympics and the Olympic spirit. And lest anyone forget that this is a city trying to change its international image, an eight-minute promotional video shows soaring aerial shots of Tiananmen Square, filmed by the first foreigners ever given permission to fly in a helicopter over the city.

Chang'an Avenue, the main thoroughfare, where less than four years ago television viewers around the world saw tanks crushing the student pro-democracy movement, is now decked with bright Olympic colours. This year's enduring image of Peking would be a huge building site festooned with a banner proclaiming one of the slogans: 'An epoch-making Games in a legendary city' or 'Citius, Altius, Fortius'.

China's bid to host the Olympic Games at the turn of the millennium has become a very public gamble by the government that the country's promise of further economic reforms and opening up, together with the ability of any authoritarian government to deliver on big projects, will outweigh any squeamish international views that the events of June 1989 and the human-rights situation are at odds with the Olympic ideal.

By the time the International Olympic Committee (IOC) inspecting delegation arrived for a four-day visit earlier this month, only Sydney was considered a stronger candidate by the bookies. The others - Manchester, Berlin, Brasilia and Istanbul - may have to work hard to catch up before the 23 September decision.

The IOC visit showed China's abilities at mass mobilisation. Every taxi had to carry an Olympics sticker and slogans were painted on the buses. Teams of schoolchildren were out cleaning the streets in preparation. Some 22,000 participated in a long- distance run to help demonstrate China's obsession with sport. And, most controversially, the heavily coaldust- polluted Peking air suddenly cleared, amid accusations that over-enthusiastic cadres had turned off public heating systems.

Treated with the same respect as heads of state, the delegation toured the existing facilities - many constructed for the 1990 Asian Games - and considered the detailed proposals of Peking's bid. Gunnar Ericsson, the delegation chief, was quoted as saying: 'So many sports came from China - I didn't know that.'

Asked if the 1989 crackdown would affect the bid, he added: 'I don't think so. We are not going to look at past failures. We only look forward.'

Publicly, on the streets of Peking, most residents declare full support for the bid. According to an official survey, over 92.6 per cent of Chinese favour a Peking Olympics. This is just as well, as the official bid document promises: 'Neither now nor in the future will there emerge in Peking organisations opposing Peking's bid and the hosting of the 2000 Olympiad.'

Two old ladies who took part in cleaning the street for the delegation visit said it would advance China: 'We will enjoy a better reputation in the world.' A civil servant was angry that his 10-year-old son's class was told to clean shop-fronts - but he thought that, on balance, there was a lot to be gained in new roads and a better environment from the dollars 7.5bn infrastructure projects. The bid, for instance, promises that some 70 per cent of the city's polluting chimneys will be demolished.

The most commonly voiced concern is that it will be the ordinary people who will foot the bill for what would be a huge propaganda coup for the government. During the Asian Games many residents were forced to make 'voluntary' contributions.

Western diplomats are divided about the bid - whether it would provide an irresistible push towards wider reforms, or is morally offensive. 'They don't deserve it, but I think they should get it, because it will give the world tremendous leverage over China for the next seven years,' said one. To put it more bluntly, if the students took to the streets again, China could not send the soldiers without risking an Olympic boycott. Already, coincidentally or not, there have been early prison releases including that of student leader Wang Dan.

Others hate the thought of the event's propaganda value to China. 'No totalitarian regime should get it, left or right,' said one. 'The way they are going about the bid is most un- Olympic-spirited. The leaders have decided that, because they want it, they should get it,' said another.

The 23 September decision will be broadcast live on national television. The question on many people's minds is how the country's leaders, who have so publicly backed the campaign, will handle the loss of face if China fails. Confucius said: 'Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail,' but one official publication has already written that Sydney may be awarded the Games only 'out of sympathy' for failing with its 1992 and 1996 bids.

There may yet be some more fundamental reasons why China is disappointed. The 'more open' China of the slogans still, for instance, demands that visiting journalists need the authorities' permission to interview people on the streets about their opinions of the Olympics bid.

The favoured option among many foreign residents in Peking is that China should not be chosen for the 2000 Games, but be given a strong indication that, all being well, they would be front-runners for 2004. Said one: 'The message to them should really be, 'The Olympics awaits a more open China'.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore