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Olympics Conclude Without Any Major Disruptions

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The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing concluded today without experiencing any major disruptions. This despite an announcement by the Chinese government that they had set aside designated protest zones, and even furnished these with basic accommodations for the protesters.

OK, there weren't really any accommodations provided.

And the three designated protest zones were far from the Bird's Nest and the other Olympic venues.

One, Shije "World" Park, contains this stirring effigy of the U.S. Capital building, a symbol of democracy and representative government.

But the zones remained 100% protest free during the Olympics. This might have had something to do with the process of applying for a permit to protest.

The following from BBC News:

Just before the Olympic Games began, officials said ordinary Chinese people would be able to apply for permission to vent their feelings.

But several would-be demonstrators appear to have been detained by the authorities after trying to apply for that permission.

This is just one way in which China is attempting to restrict embarrassing protests during the Olympic Games.

"The protest application process clearly isn't about giving people greater freedom of expression, but making it easier for the police to suppress it," said Sophie Richardson, from Human Rights Watch.

One of those detained is Zhang Wei, who was held after applying to stage a protest about her family's forced eviction from their courtyard home.

Her son, Mi Yu, said she was initially supposed to be held for just three days for "disturbing social order", but that that had now been extended to 30 days.

Ms Zhang, forced to move to make way for redevelopment in Beijing's Qianmen district, made several protest applications.

"She went every two or three days after seeing a report about the parks. But the police did not give their approval," Mr Mi said.

His mother was taken away last week. The family have not heard from her since.

Another activist held after making a protest application was Ji Sizun, who was detained on Monday, according to Human Rights Watch.

The 58-year-old, from Fujian province, wanted to call for greater participation by ordinary people in the political process.

Citing witnesses, the rights group said Mr Ji was taken away shortly after entering a Beijing police station to ask about his application.

This application process is a taxing one. Would-be protesters even have to tell police what posters and slogans they intend to use.

There have been reports of others who have been prevented from staging protests in the designated areas.

Some have just had their applications turned down, one was sent back to her home province and yet others have been stopped from travelling to Beijing.

The parks designated as protest zones - Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan - do not seem to have been inundated with protesters.

At Shijie ("World") Park on Wednesday one worker said there had not been a single demonstration since the Olympics began.

Potential protesters might have been put off by the police car and van parked directly outside the main entrance of the park, which houses large models of famous world sites.

No one seemed to know where a protest could be held, even if Beijing's Public Security Bureau gave its approval.

"I don't know anything about that," said a ticket collector when asked where protesters could express their opinions.

It was a similar story at Ritan Park, where there seems to have been no protests either.

Dissuading people from protesting is just one tactic being used by China's security forces to prevent demonstrations.

Beijing's streets are full of police, other security personnel and volunteers, wearing red armbands, on the lookout for trouble.

Eight pro-Tibet demonstrators from Students for a Free Tibet were quickly detained on Wednesday after staging a protest.

Some well-known Chinese activists have also been told to keep a low profile during the Olympics. The friend of one said she had decided to leave the city during the Olympics to avoid trouble.

Anthony Lane on China and the Olympics

In Letter from Beijing, his two-part coverage of the Olympics that has appeared in the The New Yorker, film critic Anthony Lane is his usual droll self. Both articles are well worth reading for their lighter-than-air touch, and for the obvious joy Lane takes in revealing absurdity, puncturing hypocrisy and taking other contradictions to task. He ends his coverage in part two, "Fun and Games", with the following paragraph:

China has taken the gamble of seeking to make people rich before it has made them free. By the standards of the Enlightenment, that is either an illusion or a cruel con, though a free marketeer might argue that the liberties bestowed by trade and consumption — the strange half-freedom of the television commercial, for example, which enslaves us even as it promises the wealth of the world — are not to be sniffed at, and may, indeed, be what most of us ponder and pursue. (We shouldn’t worry more about the price of gas than about human rights in China, but we do.) As I dined, one day, on a Big Mac in a thunderstorm, seeking and failing to find refuge in a packed McDonald’s beside the Olympic Green subway station, I heard the Olympic theme song, playing on a tape loop inside, and watched a Chinese teen-ager in the doorway. She sucked on her milkshake and then sang along, swaying; she was, at once, everything that the capitalist corporation could hope for, and everything that the Communist Party had planned. I tried to talk to her, but she spoke no English; besides, what young person wants to be asked if he or she feels free? What kind of question is that? I thought of the sign I had seen on the first full day of the Games, in the Forbidden City, as I headed back from the cycling. “Hall of Earthly Tranquility,” it read, and then, at the bottom, in smaller letters, “Made Possible by the American Express Company.” One world. One dream.