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For Chinese, it's the teflon Olympics

The Beijing Games have been dogged with global criticism on everything from censorship to pollution. But Chinese people still see them as their government does: a great coming-out party.

By Staff writer / August 3, 2008

Excited: Spectators watched fireworks explode last Saturday over the National Aquatics Center (l) and National Stadium (r), during a rehearsal for this Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP

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Beijing

Forget the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, or Beijing’s other historic sights. The hottest tourist draw today for Chinese visitors to the capital is the Olympic Green, which boasts key competition venues such as the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium and the “Water Cube” swimming pool.

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For weeks, special buses have been leaving an Olympic terminal every few minutes, ferrying Beijingers and tourists for a glimpse of the iconic structures. Thousands more thronged the perimeter fence this weekend, snapping pictures and soaking up the pre-Olympic atmosphere in glorious sunshine.

“I feel very emotional about these Games,” said Li Chunfeng, a young nurse, as she prepared to walk around the edge of the green, which is as close as the public can get to the venues. “China has suffered in history, and this is a moment of glory.”

While the Chinese government fends off criticism from abroad about its human rights record, its foreign policy, and Beijing’s air quality, Chinese people appear overwhelmingly proud and excited about the Olympic Games that open here next Friday.

“This is going to be the biggest festival ever in China,” said Qi Jianlan, as she finished taking photos of her husband with the stadium in the far distance. “It’s going to be even more ‘re nao’ than the New Year,” she added, using the phrase Chinese use to describe their favorite atmosphere – “warm and noisy.”

At another level, Ms. Qi hoped, “this will help the world to understand China, and help China become part of the world.”

The state drums up support
It would be easy to ascribe the near universal popular enthusiasm to the single-minded importance that the state-run media has laid on the 2008 Olympic Games ever since they were awarded to Beijing seven years ago.

Certainly the steady drumbeat of the official windup to the Games has reached an unbroken roll: For the past month every aspect of life in the capital, from transport to shopping to entertainment, has been subordinated to Olympic needs in a way no other host city has attempted in recent history.

Nor have Chinese newspapers or TV given their public any hint of the criticism that has been leveled at Beijing in the run-up to the Games, as international reporters complain of Internet censorship at Olympic press centers and human rights groups accuse China of betraying Olympic pledges to improve its record.

‘It’s a big thing for me’
But the people’s ardor seems sincere and deeply felt: nearly 80 percent of Chinese nationwide feel the Olympics are important to them personally, and 96 percent believe the Games will be a success, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

“This is the first time in a hundred years that China has hosted the Olympics,” said Xu Minghai, a businesswoman from Inner Mongolia stopping over on a business trip to admire the Olympic venues. “It’s very exciting because it’s a matter of national pride.”

“We won’t benefit as individuals,” added her husband, Li Ruibing. “But if China grows and becomes strong, our children and our grandchildren will enjoy greater hope.

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