Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 08/24/2008

Olympics Report Card: Success or Failure?

The Beijing Olympics the world saw on television was a runaway success. The athletes broke world records -- including three by just one man, Jamaica's Usain Bolt. The venues sparkled. Pollution was low and throughout most of the games there were brilliant "blue sky" days. China for the first time won the most gold medals of any country participating in the games.

Perhaps the only consistent gripe from tourists, besides all the security checks, was so minor as to be humorous -- the absence of hot dogs, hamburgers and other real food at the venues -- because Chinese government officials were only able to guarantee the safety of a few vendors.

But critics say the games had a darker side. They say the Olympics showcased how willing China is to use its authoritarian hand to hide its problems and intimidate, detain and punish those who might have spoiled their postcard perfect Beijing they hoped to show the world. They say that the Olympics have moved China backwards, not forwards in terms of human rights.

Perhaps most disappointing to critics was that world leaders and the International Olympic Committee for the most part remained silent, posing for happy pictures with Chinese leaders, while reports of heavy-handed efforts to control dissent continued to mount.

Construction sites were covered up with billboards, rundown, old-style hutongs were demolished, dissidents were rounded up and told to stay out of the city or at home. There were few protests but that was not seen as an indicator of harmony throughout the country as the Communist Party claimed -- but instead as a sign of repression.

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Posted at 1:00 AM ET, 08/24/2008

Want to Find the Best Restaurants? Check Your Blood Pressure? Ask an Olympic Volunteer

One striking aspect of the Beijing Olympics is the ubiquitous smiling volunteer. Armed with facts and figures about 5,000 years of Chinese history, Olympic trivia, subway schedules, and first aid, they are stationed on practically every corner of Beijing.

In some high-traffic areas you need only call out something like, "Hello," and you would immediately find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of them, eager to help.

It took Beijing three years to recruit, select and train these volunteers from a pool of more than 2 million applicants.

There are 100,000 volunteers assigned to sports venues; these men and women work as ushers, carry athlete's gear, and run security checks. Another 400,000 are stationed elsewhere in the city.

Those in teal blue shirts, mostly college students or other 20-somethings, are assigned to streetside booths, in subways or at venues. Volunteers in white-on-red, mostly elderly people, are assigned to neighborhood watch roles. Dark green is reserved for those at the media center outside the Olympic Village.

On Saturday, our news assistant Crissie Ding and wandered around the city talking to some of those volunteers and getting their thoughts about the past few weeks.

One volunteer stand was located close to an area of shops between Drum Tower, a popular tourist spot, and the Houhai bar area. The team leader, Wang Xuebo, 23, was a teacher. The rest were students. Each worked a four-hour shift each day and no one was getting paid.

They said their main job was to direct lost tourists or suggest places for them to eat and shop, they were also available in case of an emergency or to help translate. They also offere to take our blood pressure or put air in our car's tires (we didn't have one). If we had come a few days ago, they could have weighed us, they said, but their scale broke.

It was almost easy to forget that they also doubled as security lookouts.

Hear Wang talk about why he's honored to work as a volunteer for the Beijing Olympics.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 1:00 AM ET, 08/23/2008

Pro-Tibet Demonstrator Speaks about Detention in Beijing

Kurt Langer, 34, is a member of the board of Students for a Free Tibet. While Langer did not actively participate in any of the group's protests in Beijing, he observed them and explained the goals of the demonstrations to the media.

Other protestors had only been questioned for only a few hours and immediately deported. But earlier this week, Langer was detained and interrogated for 10 hours by Chinese police.

"I think they were trying their best to be professional with me. And civil. At the same time, they were using all kinds of psychological tactics," he remembered about the night he spent in police custody.

"They were hoping I would confess to being the main organizers for all the Tibet protests. They were really big on confessions, like in the Cultural Revolution era," Langer said.

"They were looking for a big conspiracy. I think they felt pretty confident that they had caught a big fish."

Langer spoke about his experiences with one of our producers at WashingtonPost.com from his home in Boston.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 08/22/2008

Grandmothers Sentenced to Reeducation Labor Camp Say They Are Not Afraid

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, were told they might have to go to reeducation labor camp because they were "disturbing the public order" for applying for a protest permit during the Olympics.

The two women wanted to protest their eviction from their homes in 2001 because they believe they were not properly compensated. The temporary housing provided by the developer that kicked them out does not have electricity and is leaking.

Other applicants have been detained or have disappeared but the women said they are not afraid and will continue to fight for their rights.

On Friday morning, our news assistant Crissie Ding and I went to visit the two women and Wang's daughter, 48-year-old Wang Fengxian, at their homes in eastern Beijing.

Here is the Washington Post story about the women.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 08/22/2008

Pro-Tibet Protesters Speak Out

Ginger Cassady and Alice Speller, members of Students for a Free Tibet, spoke at a press conference in Beijing Friday. The grassroots activist group has managed to pull off eight separate demonstrations since Aug. 6.

Cassady, 30, from San Francisco, works for a forest conservation organization. Speller, 25, is a law student from Great Britain.

Our news assistant Crissie Ding and I joined other journalists in talking to them about their feelings about China, Tibet and the Olympics.

The activists confirmed that the six Americans being held by Beijing police on a 10-day detention charge are from their organization. Cassady said she has not heard from the men and women since their capture and that she hopes for their safe and speedy return to the U.S.

Speller said she believes the group's protests have been successful in bringing the Tibet issue to the attention of the world.

China says it liberated Tibet in 1950 from feudal serfdom. Critics like Students for a Free Tibet say that China is illegally occupying Tibet.

"When China was awarded the Beijing Olympics, protest was inevitable," Speller said.

She added: "It's very clear that China is using the Beijing Olympics as a propaganda tool to legitimize its occupation of Tibet."

A police sedan, a van and about a 10 police in uniform and more in plainclothes came to observe the gathering, which took place just outside one of Beijing's diplomatic compounds. But Chinese security forces did not stop the women from speaking and did not detain them--at least not during the press conference.

By evening, Cassady's mobile phone was disconnected and the two women could not be reached.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 4:57 AM ET, 08/22/2008

U.S. Tourist Attacked Aug. 9 in Beijing Now in "Good" Condition

Barbara Bachman, whose husband Todd was stabbed and killed in Beijing during the Olympics, is back in the United States and has been upgraded to "good" condition by the Mayo Clinic where she is being treated.

In a letter posted this week to a Web site dedicated to the family, Bachman's children call her recovery a "miracle."

"She is able to sit in a chair for a couple of hours a day and is starting to walk short distances. Fortunately, she is in a condition where she is comfortable to hold conversations so we can cope and grieve together," they wrote.

The family said they have begun to make funeral arrangements for Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of the U.S. men's volleyball Olympic coach, but that nothing would be finalized until Barbara Bachman was strong enough to attend.

The couple was attacked while visiting Beijing's Drum Tower, a popular tourist attraction. Chinese authorities have said they are investigating the attack on the Bachmans by a Chinese man who jumped off the building, committing suicide, shortly afterwards.

Keep up with Barbara Bachman's recovery through the family's Web site.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 08/21/2008

Blogger Zhang Shihe On Dissent During the Olympics

Zhang Shihe, 53, a blogger, has advocated for the rights of migrant workers who helped construct the Bird's Nest National Stadium and other Olympic venues and of people who were driven out of their homes by construction for the games. His blog, 24-hour blog bus, is routinely censored by the Chinese government.

Our news assistant Crissie Ding and I went to visit him in his office in Beijing. Here, he speaks about China's efforts to control dissent during the games and why the Olympics isn't necessarily good for ordinary Chinese. Zhang also talks about his opinion on the re-education labor punishment inflicted on two elderly women who went to apply for protest permits because they were evicted from their Beijing homes.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 7:52 AM ET, 08/21/2008

Protestors from Hong Kong, U.S. Taken Away by Beijing Police

A group of disgruntled Hong Kong businessmen who went to protest outside Beijing's Zhongnanhai compound where China's leaders live were taken away by police.

One of the men, Wang Wenjin, previously told The Washington Post that he and the others had been cheated out of their investment in a Shanghai company. The group had tried to apply for a permit to protest during the Olympics earlier in the week but police denied their request.

Earlier on Thursday, police stopped a group of foreign activists as they were unfurling a Tibetan flag south of the National Stadium. Students for a Free Tibet identified the activists as Tibetan-German Florien Norbu Gyanatshang, 30; Mandie McKeown, 41, of Britain; and Americans Jeremy Wells, 38 and John Watterberg, 30.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 08/20/2008

Village Sacrifices Water for Olympics

Cheng Yu, 22, a teacher from Hebei Province, talks about how her village used to be one of the only lush parts of China's arid northeast, which in terms of per capita water resources is as dry as the Middle East. But a diversion project that sends the water to Beijing for the Olympics has devastated the village's economy.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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Posted at 1:18 AM ET, 08/20/2008

Two Women, Ages 79 and 77, Sentenced to Re-education Labor After Applying for Protest Permit

Two Beijing residents were sentenced to a year of labor re- education after they applied for permits to demonstrate against their 2001 eviction from their homes, according to New York-based Human Rights in China.

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, went to Chinese police five times between Aug. 5 and Aug. 18 to seek approval to hold a protest during the Olympics.

Sharon Hom, the advocacy group's China executive director, said in a statement that punishing the women "demonstrates that official statements touting the new Olympics 'protest zones,' as well as the permit application process, were no more than a show."

In response to international pressure, China said it would allow protests in three parks during the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games. However, no one has been granted persmission yet. The police have received 77 applications with 74 of them withdrawn voluntarily and the three rejected, according to state news agency Xinhua.

--Ariana Eunjung Cha

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