Beijing trumpeted its decision to establish special protest zones for this month’s Olympics as a demonstration of the liberties enjoyed by citizens of China’s capital. But when former residents of Beijing’s historic Qianmen district applied for permission to use one of the zones to demonstrate against the demolition of their traditional courtyard homes, police were unequivocal. They said that in order to maintain stability they would certainly not approve our protest,” said Zhang Wei, a group member whose home was levelled two years ago to make way for an upmarket retail and residential complex. The quick refusal of permission for a demonstration, even one in a city park well away from Olympic venues, underscores the determination of China's Communist government to curb dissent.
In the meantime, the amount of tourists in the city two days out from the biggest show on earth is decidedly small, and not looking to get a whole lot bigger.
"I am giving you a low price because there are no customers these days," a shop-keeper at Beijing's Hongqiao market, famous as one of the world's major retail market for pearls, grumbles after a customer has managed to beat down the price to drastic levels.
People connected to the travel industry were expecting a flood of visitors coming to Beijing two weeks before the Games. Instead, there is a small trickle of visitors just three days before the start of the Games apart from the athletes and sports officials from different participating countries.
I would like to make a (belated) suggestion to the Government that will solve both of these problems. People around the world have the opinion that these Games are going to be boring because of the micro-management of everyone's behaviour - right down to kite-flying. In order to get tourists flowing, I say the government lets people protest when and where they want. Free Tibet marches on Tiananmen Square? Student sit-ins demanding democracy at Tsinghua? I know I'd pay good money to see that, and I'll bet a lot of other foreigners would too.