13 Aug 2008

On foot of the news that the fireworks display during the Olympic Games opening ceremony was apparently faked, I found this newspaper article illuminating, if sad. It concerns the extraordinary steps the Chinese authorities are prepared to take to make Beijing look its best for the duration of the Olympic Games, including putting huge pressure on small traders to move out of the central axis which links the city centre with the Birds Nest campus. For aesthetic reasons.

‘Mr. Song and Ms. Sun live along Beijing’s central axis in neighborhoods that have been gutted to make the city look clean and orderly for the Olympics. Both have held on despite pressure to move. They will spend the Olympics behind walls or screens erected to keep their property out of public view.

A veil of green plastic netting now covers Ms. Sun’s restaurant. Mr. Song’s house and several shops that he rents to migrant families were surrounded by a 10-foot-tall brick wall last week, part of a last-minute beautification campaign. The authorities deemed his little block of commerce an eyesore.

“We all support the Olympics,” said Mr. Song, 42, a Beijing native who lives along the cycling and marathon routes. “But why are you building a wall around us?”

A mysterious notice appeared beside the shops on July 17, typed on white paper and signed by no one. It read, “In keeping with the government’s request to rectify the Olympic environment, a wall will need to be built around No. 93 South Tianqiao Road.” The next morning, several bricklayers showed up with a police escort.

Now a wall conceals a little cove of entrepreneurship where several migrant families sell socks, bags, pants, noodles and shish kebabs cooked in a spicy soup.

Zhao Fengxia, a neighbor who owns three shops, said she believed that officials and developers were using Olympic beautification as a pretext to strangle their business and put pressure on them to leave. Feng Pan, 18, who helps her parents run a noodle shop, accepted the official view less critically. “We influence the city’s appearance,” she said.

A planning official, Zhi Wenguang, said, “We extended an existing wall to improve the overall environment for Olympic events.”

There you go. Something for the powers that be to consider in the battle against one off houses in the countryside.

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