Changing China

Giant on the move

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Smoke gets in your eyes


An elderly man smokes from a pipe at sidewalk in BeijingIn 2004, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised that the Beijing Olympics would be “smoke-free”.

So far, though, there has been no word on the rules and regulations that will prevent the world’s most enthusiastic smokers from puffing away while watching the Games this August.

There was brief flurry of excitement around the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day last May when some officials said the policy would be announced, but it never materialised. The rules, to be decided by the Beijing municipal government, are promsied soon.    

Some 320 million Chinese (and a few expat Westerners) draw on nearly 2 trillion cigarettes every year.

Liu Qi: the strong, silent type


Red London busLondon Mayor Ken Livingstone’s plan to send a red double decker bus from the host city of the 2012 Olympics toBeijing for this Summer’s Games has already come under fire for”wasting” a million dollars of taxpayers’ money.

Ok, Ken is in the middle of a mayoral election campaign so his every decision was always going to come under scrutiny from his rival and the British media.

Priorities, priorities…


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao delivers a speech as delegates listen in BeijingThis year it’s been impossible to move for articles and stories talking about how important the Beijing Olympics are to China.

On Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao gave his keynote speech to China’s annual session of parliament.

Prima donna or diver under pressure?


China's Olympic diving gold medalist Guo Jingjing listens to a question during an interview in BeijingDouble Olympic champion diver Guo Jingjing was blasted by the Chinese media for snubbing the press last weekend.

Certainly, she was not on top form.

This was the full transcript of her encounter with the written media immediately after winning the gold medal in the synchronised 3 metre springboard , recorded and translated by my colleague Liu Zhen.

How many teeth in a smile?


Wang Wei, executive vice president and secretary general of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), smiles during news conference in Beijing“The smile of our volunteers is Beijing’s best calling card,” Liu Qi, President of the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG),  August 2006. 

Given that Liu Qi is also the head of the Beijing Communist Party and a member of China’s Politburo, there was no doubt that this pithy phrase would not be forgotten in the training of the 100,000 volunteers for the Olympics and Paralympics.

Happy New Year of the Rat!


Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year, China’s favourite family festival.

The Year of the Rat replaced that of the Pig at midnight on Wednesday and once again Beijing resembled a war zone with fireworks exploding all over the city in quantities those who have never been in China at this time can only imagine.

A smaller portion


Meal for Ladies

This sign in the media work room at the “Water Cube” caught my eye when I was there the other evening for the Olympic swimming test event.

Women journalists,  it seems, can order their own ”Meal for ladies”, although they have to pay the same 15 yuan as those ordering the “general” or “Muslim” meal.

Beauty or the beast?



The Water Cube, or National Aquatics Centre as it is known officially, was “unveiled” on Monday and will host its first test event with a swimming event starting on Thursday.

Even if it’s not actually a cube but a rectangle, it’s certainly an innovative design. 

The Audi A6, the cadre-mobile


Audi A6It will come as a surprise to no one who has travelled the streets of Beijing for any length of time that the most powerful cars in the 3,000-strong Olympic fleet for the Summer Games will be 692 Audi A6s.

If there is no specific Olympic livery, it would be a fair guess to think they will be black, too. 

“Getting to know”, Beijing style


This story in China’s official English-language newspaper on Monday got me thinking about the number of speeches I have sat through over the last two years and how the local style of press conference is going to go down when 30,000 foreign media descend on Beijing in August.

It all sounds so cosy on the invitation. “Getting to Know – Mr Liu Jian”, “an unscripted, casual, face-to-face dialogue with a BOCOG department director. Biscuits, coffee and tea will be served.”