Changing China

Giant on the move

The earthquake and the Olympics

May 27, 2008

A soldier carries out relief work as a Beijing Olympics countdown board is seen in the background after an earthquake in BeichuanThe tenor of China’s Olympic year changed dramatically over the past two weeks.

What had been a building crescendo of celebration and national pride turned into an outpouring of grief and support for the earthquake-hit province of Sichuan.

Wall-to-wall television coverage of the torch relay, a blissful affair once on Chinese soil, gave way to heart-rending reports from the devastated epicentre and uplifting scenes of a nation pulling together to confront disaster.

And though the declared three-day period of national mourning has ended, China will carry its grief into the Olympics.

But if there were any questions about whether Beijing would, bit by bit, shift itself back into gear for the Games, these were put to rest for me the other night on the subway.

As I walked into Fuxingmen station, on the edge of downtown, I came upon a scene of the feverish yet meticulous work that has characterised Beijing’s Olympic preparations.

Two dozen high-school boys were running round and round in tight circles through the turnstiles. They were testing the resilience of a new ticketing system. With magnetic swipe cards in hand, they ran, one after the other, through the A woman sits in a train with a sign displaying the Beijing metro transportation network of the new Subway Line 10 (including the Olympic Line) in Beijingautomatic turnstiles non-stop for nearly half an hour.

The system performed perfectly – and so did the students. Apart from some laughter and joking on the sidelines, the turnstile runners took to their task with determination and earnestness. It was a striking juxtaposition with the thousands of Chinese who have gone to Sichuan to lend a hand to the earthquake relief efforts.

I asked one of the students in the subway station if he was getting paid. “Of course not! We’re volunteers,” he said. “Everybody has to do their part for the Olympics and for China.”

Picture of Olympic countdown board in Beichuan by REUTERS/Bo Bor, Beijing subway map by REUTERS/Jason Lee  


The earthquake was like a bomb released for the entire world to stop and ponder and to bring the entire picture into perspective. Many lives were lost…innocent lives.

For me, this has been the most controversial Olympics. There were social issues, political issues, environmental issues, and now this disaster. With the tragedy [and a tragedy looming ("quake lakes")], one has to ask oneself…
“should we push through with the Olympics?”


It’s been difficult for me to believe that Beijing was approved as the site for the Olympics in the first place.
My reasons are obvious. Just read the news headlines!

Weren’t the specific details of the social, political and environmental issues taken into consideration by the committee? This is the part that is frightening.

Taking everything into account regarding the country of China, it is a total mystery how such a world-wide event would end up here. Just read the news headlines!

I can say that it would be an easy task to put together a “Top Ten” list of why the Olympics should not be held in this Communist country….taking into account, let’s say, their unjust and inhumane history of human rights violations.

It’s unbelievable that we would send our athletes into harm’s way on many different levels…..for what?

Furthermore, it’s incredible that we, as lovers of freedom, would not boycott the games.

Posted by Barbara | Report as abusive

One thing I did forget to mention.

My heart bleeds for the Chinese people in light of the horrific earthquake and its devastation and death.

By participating in the Beijing Games, we are directly and indirectly supporting their Communist government…as if to say it’s alright.


Barbara, Shame on you! While the whole world is talking about helping the Chinese earthquake victims, you are calling for boycott of the Olympic games. Shame!!

Posted by John | Report as abusive

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