Welcome the Olympics! Have Decorum! Establish a New Atmosphere! (April’s propaganda)

Every time I go outside, I’m stunned at the visible extent to which China is going to “Welcome the Olympics” (迎奥运) in our area. The words “welcome the Olympics” are everywhere, from slogan banners to the sides of sānlúnchēs (三轮车: the pickup truck of bicycles). The one on the right says, in effect, “Welcome the Olympics; raise the bar.” Even our teachers have remarked how crazy it seems (and we thought the construction was already crazy to begin with when we arrived a year ago).

It’s all about face
“Welcome the Olympics” really means “give China face.” The 2008 Olympics is all about China gaining ‘face’ in relationship with the world, particularly the West, and that’s why they’re so touchy and emotional about it, and why they are going to seemingly extreme lengths to look good both in the eyes of foreigners and, perhaps ultimately, in the eyes Mainlanders. The photo at right is yet another banner hung on a construction site proclaiming our area’s most common slogan, “Welcome the Olympics, have decorum, create a new atmosphere” (迎奥运 讲文明 树新风).

“Be more civilized”
Though the connection between the Olympics and ‘face’ is hardly a secret, and our neighbours and teachers freely admit it, it’s still not nice for foreigners to point this out, especially since we’re the foil from which face is being gained in this particular historical instance. The poster at right is one of many illustrating what “have decorum” specifically entails. My teacher explained “have decorum” (more literally, “be more civilized”) as, “don’t do things like spit and be loud in public.”

How to: Welcome the Olympics
Below are some examples of specific ways China is ‘welcoming the Olympics’ in our area. It’s not a summary of the nation-wide campaign; these are just some of the things we can’t avoid noticing going about our day. We get an extra big dose of Olympic prep craziness because we live across the street from a major hotel near a major park/landmark and not far from the new Olympic stadium. We wanted to give you a little bit of an idea how much the Olympics matter over here, and how fast things are changing right now.

[Click the photos to see them bigger size.
Click the Chinese characters to see the pronunciation and translation.]

Church is so fake, and so is your roof
Maybe you went to church once and felt it was kind of fake, but I promise it wasn’t this fake. This isn’t really a church building, it’s just built like one to make the area look nice. I haven’t found out what they’re going to use it for yet but if you click the photo and see it big size, you’ll see a woman using it for her bridal portraits, an architecture student sketching it, and parents taking their kids’ photos in front of it. I’ve heard it was maybe built by a local business, not directly by the authorities, though often those are the same thing (or at least the same people are involved in both).

The glass wall to the left of the church is a facade in front of an otherwise nondescript brick building, and on the roof of the building in the background you can see workers building a pointed roof facade (flat roofs are becoming pointy wherever Olympic traffic is expected). We have a new crack running the length of our ceiling that leaks water when it rains because of this. Another ‘fake church building’ we’ve seen apparently houses some sort of power plant, but this is the first fake church I’ve seen that actually has crosses on it.

Some buildings get a make-over…
They’re also painting the sides of buildings facing the street. No more shabby, dirty, dripping-looking buildings on the Olympic routes. Yesterday morning migrant workers were hanging on rope swings outside our (6th floor) living room and kitchen windows, painting the building. It was a bit of a shock to wake up and walk into the living room and have a guy hanging six stories above the ground staring at you through your window. Good thing I was sleeping in PJ’s that night! They’ve also re-surfaced one side of our school’s building, but not the sides facing away from the road.

…and some buildings get bulldozed over.
The family living at the place in the photo below has until May 1st to vacate. Their entire section of the city is being leveled before the Olympics and (rumour has it) temporary park space (草坪) is going in its place:

The vertical strips on the door say: “In the New Year welcome the Olympics! God’s country, go for it!” (新年迎奥运神州齐加油). Turns out America isn’t the only place in the world that likes to call itself “God’s country.” The rectangles with phone numbers are ads for moving companies. When I talked to them, they hadn’t found a new place yet.

They’re leveling the old-style neighbourhoods
– whole city blocks – and giving the residents money to go find other apartments. The historical Nanshi area is perhaps Tianjin’s most notable loss (see the photo gallery here).

City parks… on steriods
All the sidewalks, benches, tables, etc., in the parks are gone, along with miles of sidewalk on the road to the Olympic stadium. Whole adult trees are planted using cranes, along with truckloads of bushes. Whole parks complete with landscaping materialize over a single weekend. They’ve even brought in bamboo to the park near our apartment (no word yet on any pandas ;) ). I made my own slogan in class this morning: 迎奥运,爱中国,要熊猫!(Welcome the Olympics, love China, want pandas)… the old boys club didn’t think it was funny. The sides of this 三轮车 say something like, “Welcome the Olympics, Establish national cleanliness; Adorn Hexi [district] beautiful scenery” (迎奥运创国卫, 扮河西美景).

Camping trip – migrant worker style
Migrant worker camps are everywhere, from right outside our stairwell to along the canal to the middle of neighbourhood sidewalks. I can’t imagine the size of the workforce needed to accomplish all projects currently underway in our area, but it’s no secret where these guys sleep. I did my homework this morning in the park, surrounded by workers tearing up the path, and they said that each green tent houses 20 guys. The sign in the middle of this migrant worker camp says, “Beautify the environment, welcome the Olympics” (美化环境迎接奥运).

Hey, where are you going with my lunch?
They’ve cleared away most of the neighbourhood street markets, bike repairmen, and street vendors (in select areas designated for Olympic-related traffic). This jiǎozi (饺子) stand hides behind a gate in an alley, just down the road from the fake church building. The bicycle repairman are keeping a lower profile in sidestreets now, and there aren’t as many of them. They don’t have to be completely out of sight, just out of the way and off the roads and main sidewalks. This particular stand’s jiǎozi are mediocre but tolerable (I know where to get worse, but that place is on my blacklist).

Establish condescension, thoroughly patronize the masses
There is no shortage of slogans exhorting the masses to act differently in public. Usually it’s just a red banner hung outside, but sometimes they have comic book style cartoon posters. Others are drawn in coloured chalk on a public blackboard. This particular banner says, “Establish ‘Garden City,’ Thoroughly launch the entire population’s obligatory tree planting campaign” (创建园林城区深入开展全民义务植树运动).

Does it ever end?
There’s much more we could mention: new, prettier, cleaner taxis, they’ve stocked the intersections with traffic police that actually affect the traffic, the canal – I have no idea how they’ve done this – is clean… China is making a phenomenal effort to be lavish hosts for the world. I’ve never seen so much labour dedicated to a single cause in a single place before.

My hope for the 2008 Olympics is that however it looks and whatever the rest of the world thinks, China’s 老百姓 have a good time!

[Click the photos to see them bigger size.
Click the Chinese characters to see the pronunciation and translation.]

12 thoughts on “Welcome the Olympics! Have Decorum! Establish a New Atmosphere! (April’s propaganda)”

  1. I have the whole story on the church…who built it, what they are going (want) to do with it, etc. Remind me sometime to tell you!!
    I was going to Binjiang Dao the other day and there was a migrant tent set up in the middle of the sidewalk on a fairly busy street! There was a guy in there just taking a snooze at about 10 a.m. like it was nobody’s business but his own! I can’t imagine that kind of life…

  2. How did you find out the deal with the pretend church building?

    The workers were friendly and curious when I was doing my homework next to their camp yesterday afternoon, but the park is pretty trashed near the work sites, and not just from the construction mess (and not just from garbage, either). I assume they’ll have it all spiffed-up when they leave though.

  3. That is really a little crazy.
    Lots of people like to say”The Olympic Games is coming” as a begining on the Tv or Radio.

    There is one name for the flat roofs to pointy. That is “平改坡” . I don’t think it is beautiful. But that will make the top foloor’s 老百姓 feel cooler in the summer maybe.

  4. That’s what our neighbours told us, that it will help the top floor apartments be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Sounds good to us!

    In North America we were both 老百姓,but I don’t know that we count as 老百姓 in China!

  5. The be more civilized thing made me remember one time back in 2001 or 2002 when I was in Zhengzhou. There was a park there that had signs that said “Do Christian Be Civism” of course I was very puzzled. When I asked my friends they informed me that this sign of course meant that I should not walk on the grass. Perfectly clear!

  6. I know. All English teachers in China with blond hair automatically get major guanxi just for getting off the plane. They give people like you the extra guanxi they take away from people with a five o’clock shadow.

    ooh, maybe that was a little uncalled for. ;)

    but you still haven’t told us about the fake church building!

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