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2008/03/19

Cultural Differences or Olympic Nightmares

With everything that went on over the weekend, it seems China has some bigger fish to fry than worrying about what happened at a baseball game, but there are some definite concerns that seem to be coming forth from the preseason game between the Dodgers and the Padres at Beijing's Wukesong Stadium this past weekend.

Those in attendance were a bit surprised by the way security handled things and there were major complaints from Korean player Chan Ho Park, who wasn't allowed to sign autographs for fans, some who even came from Korea to see him play. This isn't necessarily due to heavy handed security, though in some case it might be, but just that Chinese don't really "get" the idea of autographs. Whenever sports stars come to China, security is extremely tight and, to some, possibly excessive. I still remember in 2003 when Real Madrid came to Beijing (Beckham's first game for them). The members of the Chinese squad that was to face them walked around the Beijing Hotel lobby barely recognized. When Real Madrid's bus pulled up though, police came out from every possible direction to surround the bus and keep fans back.

The Chinese fear an embarrassing failure in security when foreign celebrities come to China, so they go over the top. Those who have been in China for awhile and have attended such events understand this, those that haven't may have a harder time comprehending. Thus, there is a very critical article in the LA Times today talking about China's "security issues".

First, the author who most likely was in China for the first time and didn't get to see much of the city refers to "spending the last several days in high-security Beijing" and "walk around Beijing, a place teeming now with police and soldiers." The author probably didn't realize the national government was holding very "important" meetings and that security is very high during these meetings. One would hope Beijing doesn't present such an open show of security during the Olympics, but only time will tell.

He also doesn't understand the "Chinese way" that I talk about above and so is intimidated when: "the "hidden" cameras, the stern-faced police, soldiers and security guards that seemed to be everywhere. By my count, 67 of them stood outside the Dodgers' clubhouse after the game Sunday." The "hidden" cameras thing is what gets me, cameras in China are big and impossible to miss, not like the growing number of cameras in the US or those in the UK, which has the most watched population in the world.

The line that follows that paragraph though, is the nightmare: "Of course, this was because of the unrest linked to Tibet. [emphasis added]" Umm, really? Why was there security out the wazoo last week when Beckham came to Shanghai with the LA Galaxy? What about the famous clip from the Andy Lau concert in Chengdu, in which the singer gets into a fight with his own concert security team?

A huge security presence like what is typically seen when sports stars or celebrities make their way to China would be off-putting during the Olympics, but at the same time, China's security fears, especially for THE OLYMPICS, the culmination of so much joy and concern, could mean an even greater security presence. China really needs to figure out a way to balance the two issues or people like Mr. Streeter, your average sports writer and other regular people, will return to their home countries and share opinions more damning than any politician or human rights organization could present.

This would appear to be a very important PR issue in the leadup to the games and how China decides to go on the security issue could go a long way in determining if these Olympics are a great success or not.

1 comment:

Jeremiah said...

Two quick points. I was also at the 2003 Real game, and the security this past Saturday was tighter. On Sunday things were more relaxed.

I might also suggest that the LAT article is a bit of a taste of things to come as non-China journalists arrive to cover the Olympics. It's going to be an interesting summer.