Olympic History: Controversy and 2008 Beijing Games
by Mark Zurlo
Government's Actions Worrisome
Strikingly positioned in an area dominated by skyscrapers and condominiums and on land that was once home to thousands of Chinese families, the National Stadium in downtown Beijing is a symbol of the new China. The structure, the centerpiece of Beijing's Olympic building boom, is a breathtaking departure from the city's uninspiring modern skyscrapers and giant monolithic government buildings. Also known as the "bird's nest" because of its circular, latticework construction, the home of the Game's opening and closing ceremonies has, like the 2008 Games themselves, become a lighting rod for controversy. Many locals find the Swiss-designed venue an eyesore, while others, both inside and outside the country, lament the steps that the government has taken in building it.
Thousands, If Not Millions, Displaced
When Beijing was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, government officials hoped that hosting the world's largest sporting event would help the country gain acceptance as a modern superpower. While the Communist regime has been plagued by accusations of unjust human rights practices since its formation in 1949, these claims began to fade as the country's economy flourished. However, many observers are alarmed at the number of people who have been displaced by the construction projects and by the government's ties to the Sudanese government. As a result, many world leaders have once again cast a suspicious eye on the nation.
According to the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), 1.25 million Chinese citizens have been displaced to make way for Olympic-related construction, and that number is expected to grow to 1.5 million by the time the torch is lit on August 8, 2008. COHRE states that most Chinese citizens are given little or no warning before they are evicted from their homes and are often not compensated for their land. The Chinese government disputes such figures, saying only 6,037 households have been leveled and all their owners have been compensated. According to COHRE, 60,000 homes will be leveled in each of the next two years, bringing the total to 512,100 since the city was awarded the games in 2001.
Ties to Darfur
While the displacement in Beijing has caused a considerable amount of hardship for Chinese citizens, it pales in comparison to the suffering of those living in Darfur, where more than 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have been displaced by the civil war. Many human rights activists and government officials have voiced their concerns over China's connections to the nation's government, and some have proposed a boycott of the Games. China currently purchases two-thirds of its oil from Sudan and supplies the country with weapons and military aircraft. Many believe that due to its economic and military ties to the country, China could have easily influenced the Sudanese government to allow a UN peacekeeping force to enter the country, something the Chinese government had failed to do before the Sudanese consented to such measures.