Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In China’s South, Asian Games Not All Fun and Games

Simmering resentment forms the social backdrop to fireworks at the opening ceremony of the Guangzhou Asian Games. (Photo/Getty Image)
As the 2010 Asian Games began in Guangzhou on Nov. 12, some local residents could barely contain their resentment. Unable to stay at home on the day of the opening ceremony, made to wait in traffic, put under pressure to leave the city, or made to pay more for daily necessities, some residents see the project as wasteful and a case of mismatched priorities on the part of Communist Party cadres.

Human rights lawyers, activists and petitioners who hadn’t been detained were made to take a forced vacation, lest they disrupt the city’s carefully orchestrated harmony.

Residents Inconvenienced

A Guangzhou resident named Guo believes the Games have complicated city life, saying: “Shopping is difficult because of the traffic jams. When taking subways one has to wait in line for security checks. The entire city has turned into a big military camp. Going to restaurants and visiting friends has become difficult, too. The authorities forbid gatherings, and have ordered family churches to stop their activities during the Games.”

Liu, an office worker, said many subway sections, without prior notices, were blocked on the day of the opening ceremony, and as a result the main roads were jammed with pedestrians, and cars gridlocked.

He said the streets were filled with joint defense battalions composed of students and laid-off workers.

’Forced Vacations’, Arrests, Surveillance

One Ms. Zhang said that the authorities had forced those they consider “sensitive dissidents” out of Guangzhou.

Reports allege that Tang Jingling, Guangzhou’s renowned human rights attorney, and Ye Du, member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, were both sent away on a “forced vacation” on the afternoon before the opening ceremony. The same thing happened to a number of petitioners. The attentions of the authorities also did not skip two well-known human rights activists: Zhang Shiwen is under surveillance and Guo Xianliang was put in criminal detention.

Mr. Xiao Yong, a member of the Democratic Center for Social Studies, resides in Guangzhou most of the time. But after being put under pressure from the authorities, he thought it best to return to his hometown for nearly 20 days.

Guo says that the authorities ordered all residents who live close to the opening ceremony site out of their homes on opening day and ordered them not to come back until it is over. These residents expressed their anger despite receiving some compensation: “This is my home. Why do I have to leave my own home as soon as you have something going on with your Asian Games?” “The authorities are treating people as enemies, thinking we’re causing disharmony.”

Guo believes the vanity projects implemented by the city authorities have only changed the surface appearance of the city, not its well-being.

Another resident, Xiao, said these vanity projects were laughable, for example, painting windows, faux balconies made of foam, and the rebuilding of new roads, etc.

Free Transportation

The Guangzhou municipal authorities launched a new policy to make all public transportation services free of charge for 30 working days starting Nov. 1, 2010.

One Ms. Chen said: “Because it is free, the number of passengers soared. Those who normally would not ride came out, including elderly, children and low-income people. This caused overcrowding on subways and buses, so the policy had to be cancelled. ”

Xiao said the policy was cancelled after one week and changed to giving each Guangzhou resident, but not those who recently located, 150 yuan ($22.60) for transportation expenses. She asked: “People like me who come from other parts of the country to live in Guangzhou also pay taxes. How come we do not get compensated?”

Soaring Prices

Guo said the soaring prices in Guangzhou make life difficult for migrant workers. For example, some people, unable to afford the increased rents, have to live under bridges, while others live temporarily in buildings still under construction.

Guangzhou media reported that municipal authorities set aside 12.81 million yuan ($ 1.93 million) in temporary funds to compensate the low-income residents for the inflation caused by hosting the Asian Games in November and December. Some residents resent the fact that the amount of compensation was not even a tenth of the expenses for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Xiao Yong said, “If the authorities give a much higher priority to vanity projects than to solving the problems of people’s housing, education and health care, then they are best described as ’wasting money and harassing the people’.”

The opening ceremony cost 380 million yuan ($57 million), local media reported.
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