Today in Tiananmen Square the director of the Christian Defence Coalition, American Patrick Mahoney, had enough time in front of the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall to say "We have come here today to be a voice to those who are in prison because of their religious belief” before police surrounded him, preventing the many journalists present from interviewing him. He and two other American Christian activists were kneeling to pray before they were dragged away. By contrast police yesterday failed however to prevent four people from hanging two 13-square-metre banners on a utility pole in favour of a free Tibet.
“This is the first of many [protests] that will happen throughout the month,” one of them said before they were deported.
Across town at the Traders Hotel and Novotel Peace Hotel, rooms were painted with the word "release" on the wall and the names of five dissidents, including Hu Jia, the prominent AIDS activist jailed this year, and imprisoned house church leader Rev Zhang Rongliang.
In a mock parody of the Games’ motto, ‘One World, One Dream,’ the words "Our World, Our Nightmare" were also elaborately painted by unknown guests.
At noon, a Tibet-freedom group invited foreign journalists to a hotel near Workers' Stadium, where they wanted to show a film about Tibet on a computer. But they were stopped by the hotel manager who told them: “Think of the people who work here who are at risk.”
What really scares Beijing though are not such isolated protests but violent street outbursts by its own citizens trying to defend their basic rights, incidents like the one that occurred on Monday in Xingquan, Huaping County, in distant Yunnan where 300 resident protested against a new cement plant polluting their water, clashing with company security. Some people were hurt and property damaged.
The next morning police took into custody 107 people suspected of fighting "for further investigating.
Huaping County Chief Cao Jinming vowed stability would be restored. “The criminals involved in this incident,” he said, “must all be dealt with sternly, harshly and swiftly.”
Residents have been protesting for months without much success with the authorities, and protesting during the Olympics is even less likely to get anything from them. After all Beijing is faraway, its officials welcoming the last sport delegations.
Yesterday Olympic Village mayor Chen Zhili, a former Politburo member and now a deputy chairman of the top legislature, warmly greeted Taiwanese athletes in Taiwan’s Minnan dialect, a goodwill gesture that was met with huge applause from the 42 Taiwanese coaches, athletes and officials.
In the capital suspense is mounting ahead of tomorrow’s ceremony, a three-hour extravaganza that should tell China’s story from the stone age to today, mixing history and mythology, dragons and flying phoenixes, Confucius and Shaolin monks, and the legend of Pangu, who created the world by separating yin from yang.
For analysts in such an atmosphere even US President George W. Bush’ statement expressing his “deep concern” over human rights violations in China appear secondary, even when reiterates that “America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists.”
Also unimportant is the fact that a Sudanese-born runner, Lopez Lomong, who became an American citizen only 13 months ago and is a member of an athletes group critical of China's policies toward Darfur, was chosen to carry the US flag in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
What counts for China’s rulers is the fact that in a few hours Bush will arrive in Beijing, a welcome and expected guest at the ceremony inaugurating the Olympics.