Crestfallen Chinese feel their hopes pulled out from under them in Beijing OLYMPIC DREAMS DASHED

September 24, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- Add another sad chapter to the lengthy annals of East does not meet West.

Moments before Sydney, Australia, was announced as the International Olympic Committee's choice to host the 2000 Summer Olympics this morning, hundreds of geared-up party-goers here broke into pandemonium under the misimpression that Beijing had been picked.

Watching the proceedings on a huge TV screen, they heard IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch thank the five contesting cities, beginning with Beijing. He spoke in English, and all that most in the room apparently understood was the name of China's capital.

The official gathering, sponsored by Beijing's Olympic Bid Committee, immediately exploded in a cacophony of joy. Entertainers in brightly colored Beijing Opera garb leaped about. Confetti swirled around. Drums and cymbals banged. Smoke bombs boomed.

And then -- after an embarrassingly long delay in which it slowly became clear that some distinctly un-Chinese-looking people were cavorting in victory on the TV -- the celebrants' joy deflated here into deep disappointment.

Jaws dropped. Eyes welled up with tears. Many looked desperately around as if they didn't know what to do next. Some immediately stormed out of the gathering with dejected expressions.

But just as China's full-pitch campaign for the 2000 Olympics was thoroughly scripted every step of the way -- from building roads to releasing political prisoners -- so was its official, good-sportsmanlike reaction to losing this morning.

"The people of the People's Republic of China know well that, in bidding for the Olympic Games, there is only one lucky winner but no losers," said a statement from State Councilor Li Tieying immediately read by a TV announcer. "The most important issue is in participating."

Taiwan singer Zhang Di then delivered a sermon-like message to quell the emotions of perhaps hundreds of millions of Chinese who stayed awake well after 2 a.m. to watch the Olympic decision.

"We did our very best for our country," he pleaded. "Our excitement just now and our calmness sitting here right now, this represents our demeanor, our respect for the spirit of the Olympic movement."

The appeal for calm followed an intense national campaign in which Chinese leaders staked their prestige and much of the nation's collective ego on winning the highly symbolic honor of staging the Games at the end of this millennium.

Chinese leaders said gaining the Olympics would represent China's ascent in the world. And with their economy booming and their deep desire for more international contact, many average Chinese firmly believed that Beijing would prevail in the competition.

After the decision, some were quick to blame foreign politicians -- particularly from the United States and England -- who opposed Beijing's bid because of China's human rights abuses.

"What business does the U.S. have telling us what to do?" asked Lin Jianqiu, 27, a technician.

A 20-year-old college student, who did not want to be identified, shrugged: "America is a powerful country. Everyone listens to it."

Despite such resentments, Beijing remained largely quiet this morning.

This was perhaps because workers had been warned ahead of time to stay indoors and security patrols were larger than usual, particularly near Tiananmen Square and the U.S. and British embassies. A small, peaceful gathering near the square was kept under control. Area universities were closed to outsiders.

But many observers expect the potential for anti-Western actions to linger here for a good while.

"There's no question that the Chinese are going to be harder to live with," said a Beijing-based Western diplomat.

"I expect that word will go down to the state enterprises that we work with not to be so cooperative with us," said the manager of a large U.S. manufacturer's Beijing office.

But perhaps diminishing the potential for this sort of friction is the widespread Chinese desire to now seek the 2004 Games.

Officials here have not firmly indicated they will make another bid for the Olympics, but that was foremost on many Chinese minds.

"Of course, we'll try again," said Ding Zhiyuan, 34, a taxi driver. "And next time, we'll work ever harder to do even better."

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