Giant on the move
This is normal, it happens in all countries…
Some 5,000 VIPs, cheering workers and media gathered on Tiananmen Square on Monday to welcome the Beijing Olympic flame and launch the 137,000-km torch relay.
Predictably, security on the square was tight.
The 600 reporters, photographers and television crews were bused from the Olympic media centre some four hours before the flame made an appearance.
As with all Chinese security checks, there were inconsistencies. The metal cigarette lighter in my pocket was confiscated, for example, but the cheap plastic one in my bag made it through. Many of the security officials themselves were smoking, perhaps they got a light from the flame.
“This is normal, this happens in all countries,” said the policeman who insisted I give up the lighter.
We sat in the spring sunshine waiting for the party to arrive from the airport, and for President Hu Jintao and the other top Communist Party officials to make their way across the road from their Zhongnanhai compound.
The song “One world, One dream” was played on loop to keep our spirits up as model workers and students in colour-coordinated uniforms waved red pom-poms and fans towards the huge portrait of Chairman Mao that overlooks the square.
Bored, I thought I would try and find out just how many security staff were involved in the operation.
“This is normal, this happens in all countries,” said the policeman I asked, echoing his colleague word-for-word and seeming to think I was challenging the legitimacy of the security operation.
I said that I understood that with China’s president due to arrive shortly, some kind of security was necessary. But how many people were involved?
“You can count them yourself,” he said with a shrug.
The uninvited were kept at a distance, physically by cordons around the square and temporally by a one-minute delay on the television signal.
The ceremony was spectacular. The acrobats and dancers were colourfully clothed and superbly drilled. The climax, when President Hu declared the torch relay open, was an explosion of confetti, doves and balloons.
It’s just a shame so few Chinese were able to witness it live. There was plenty of room. Take a look at our slide show.
Pictures of Hu Jintao, Liu Xiang and the Olympic flame and the climax of the ceremony by Claro Cortes IV.