From the Beijing Bureau
July 11, 2008
Editor’s note: Josh Chin is a graduate of Park City High School and a former Park Record staffer who is now a working journalist in Beijing. Over the coming weeks he has promised to share some of his firsthand observations about The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games .
In slightly less than a month, Hu Jintao, the engineer with the unfortunate glasses whose job it is to shepherd the world’s most populous country through history’s greatest economic explosion, will travel under heavy security to an exquisitely designed stadium in north Beijing, where he will preside over the lighting of the most contentious and politically charged Olympic flame this century.
As you read this, news editors everywhere are busy dividing the big Beijing story into a mind-numbingly comprehensive list of sub-stories: Tibet, Taiwan, terrorism, economic growth, environmental degradation, property rights, product safety, the Yellow Peril, rural unrest, renminbi (China’s currency) revaluation, Sudan, the Sichuan earthquake, freedom of speech oh, and sports.
The Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee (BOCOG) expects foreign news organizations to dispatch some 30,000 journalists to cover the event, roughly three times the number of athletes who are scheduled to attend.
In other words, the flood of information about China already rushing out at you through your TV sets, radios and computer screens is about to turn Biblical.
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In recognition of the challenge facing you, the intended targets of all this journalizing, the Park Record has decided to revive its once illustrious newsroom in Beijing. The doors, double padlocked against the prying eyes of the Chinese security apparatus since 2001, have been re-opened, the years of construction dust and industrial particulate matter swept into a neat little carcinogenic pile in the corner, the single computer re-booted and loaded with the latest in censorship-busting software.
Wait, you say, with some of the world’s finest storytellers already on the job, backed by the likes of the New York Times and CNN, what use could you possibly have for me? But it’s not what you think.
way of explanation, I would ask you to consider what happens when you reveal to a Beijing resident of a certain age that you are from a place called Park City, which is near Salt Lake City, in Utah.
First, there is a vague glimmer of recognition. Then, a few moments later, the eyes flash, the smile spreads: "Ah, you have a statue of seagulls! Seagulls saved you! The locusts, yes, of course, I know the place!"
The story, for those who don’t know it, can be found in volume five, chapter five of Middle School English (Liaoning Educational Press, 1987), the foundational English textbook foisted on nearly every Chinese person who went to school in the 1990s. One hundred or so years ago, the book says, a group of hardy pioneers just arrived in the harsh lands next to a large salt-water lake watched in horror as a cloud of locusts descended from the skies to eat their nascent crops. A short while later, a flock of seagulls swooped in from the lake, not to join in the decimation as it seemed at first, but to attack the insects instead.
"They decided that from then on no one should ever kill a seagull," the book explains. "And today, if you go to Salt Lake City, you can see a monument with seagulls on top of it."
It’s true. While many in China would be hard pressed to name all of their own country’s provincial capitals, a large swathe of the population not only knows the capital of Utah, but also has a fair amount of knowledge about a monument in Utah many Utahns (including your correspondent) have never seen.
Given this, the aim of Record’s Beijing bureau is not to add to the coming deluge of China stories, but rather to provide you with the means to stay afloat in it an informational life raft, if you will.
In order to provide this service, however, we need your help.
Starting today and for the next two months I invite you to email me with your questions about the Beijing Games: How can the Chinese people say such nasty things about some one so patently nice as the Dalai Lama? What’s up with all the algae at the sailing venue in Qingdao? Whatever perplexes or perturbs. Everything is fair game. The email address is email@example.com
Twice a week, I will select one of these questions, whether because it’s the most common or most compelling, and I will try to answer it. When I can’t provide a definitive answer, which will be most of the time, I will consult the appropriate locals and experts to give you as complete, honest and useful a response as possible.
The hope is, when the Olympics are long over and you run into someone from Beijing, maybe while riding the chairlift, you will be able to say with a reasonable degree of confidence: "Ah, the Olympics, the locusts. Yes, of course, I know the place."
Josh Chin, a Park City native, was in Beijing in 1993 on the day both China and Salt Lake City lost their first Olympic bids and was there again in 2001 the day China finally succeeded. He is covering the Games for the Wall Street Journal. For more musings on China visit Josh Chin’s blog: http://chinfamous.com/blog/ and don’t forget to send your questions for Josh to firstname.lastname@example.org