Web 2.0 sites uncover darker side of Beijing Olympics

With the eyes of the world turned to Beijing, human rights protesters and even bloggers detained by the Chinese government have been using various Web 2.0 tools to evade the country’s notorious censors and shed some shed light on the darker side of the Olympic Games.

Much of the Internet has been buzzing with information touting the flamboyant opening ceremonies and updating the status of competition in popular sports such as gymnastics and swimming.

But a deeper look online shows that Chinese bloggers and some foreigners who traveled to Beijing to protest human right violations are using various Web 2.0 methods to get their message out.

For example, citizen reporter and Chinese blogger Zhou “Zuola” Shuguang had many on the U.S.-based microblogging site Twitter riveted to his Tweets this week detailing his detainment by the Chinese government — while he was being detained.

Online advocacy group Global Voices Advocacy translated his Twitter updates during the incident.

According to the translation, he wrote: “Head of security at Meitanba Mining Group Director Liu w/ 3 others taking me now back to Meitanba Village, scared my parents.” About 10 minutes later, the blogger added, “I’ve been made to get into their car.

I want my parents to confirm what has happened today, what time and place and w/ who, the license plate number of the car I was taken away in. I’m fine. In their car, it feels a bit like I’m being intercepted.”

Zuola was released in his hometown later the same day, according to his subsequent Tweets.

U.S.-based protester Eddie Romaro has been posting Twitter updatesfrom within Beijing since arriving before the Olympics opening ceremony. He has also been updating his MySpace profile and posting videos to YouTube about his cause.

Romaro painted protest messages on the walls of a hotel room earlier in his stay and has since been hiding from Chinese police, he said on his MySpace page. He said he plans to turn himself over to Chinese authorities for arrest on Aug. 24, the day of the closing ceremonies.

Anne Donohue, a professor of journalism at Boston University currently working at the People’s University of China in Beijing, said that despite the heavy use of Twitter and live streaming site Qik by protesters, the total number of online protesters has so far been “tiny,” far less than what was expected.

“The Chinese set up three parks for protests, but the permitting process was so cumbersome, no permits were issued that I am aware of,” she noted in an e-mail.

“It has been very quiet, with the occasional Tibetan banner/flag. I have a VPN that allows me to see anything I want, but I have not heard of any new, more aggressive censorship. It’s just the same old ‘whack-a-mole’ approach they’ve consistently employed.”

She did note that Chinese authorities acted quickly when photos of a young girl deemed too unattractive to be shown singing during the opening ceremonies appeared online. The photos were immediately deleted, she said.

While the Chinese government worked hard to ensure that the image they portray from their worldwide stage would not be marred by anything negative, some Chinese blogs and forums are showing that the citizen sentiment often differs from the official rosy façade.

For example, Hong Kong blogger Roland Soong translated several comments from Chinese cyberspace on his “EastSouthWestNorth” blog.

In one translation of a post on Bullog.cn, Song Shinan called the opening ceremony “empty and spiritless.” Shinan went on to note: “This is like a mouth with a tongue cut off — it does not matter how wide the mouth is opened because you can only hear some unclear moaning sounds.”

Shinan said the biggest failure of the opening ceremony was how it ignored the devastating Chinese earthquake that struck in May.

“Yes, it would be overkill to find an earthquake orphan to ignite the flame, and it would also be against many political considerations,” Shinan wrote. “But why not have one minute of silence before declaring the opening of the Olympics? Almost 100,000 lives were lost three months ago, and they don’t deserve a minute of silence? Does the introduction of the earthquake factor based upon humanitarian reasons ruin the celebrative mood? Is the exhibition of mourning during the Olympics embarrassing to China?”

An unidentified Chinese blogger wrote on the “Those Were the Days” blog that while the opening ceremony was a successful show, it failed to showcase Chinese culture, according to Roland Soong’s translation.

“Is it just a variety show that is westernized but produced better than the West can?” the blogger wrote.

“The more I watched, the more I felt that is shallow and overplayed. This opening ceremony showed the strength of China, but it did not show Chinese culture! Over the next two weeks or so, the Chinese people will feel great that they have finally stood up. But after the Beijing Olympics is over, the problems of China will not disappear. The rich-poor gap will continue to exist, the people will still be deprived of their rights, the human rights problem will remain, and corruption among government officials will continue to exist!”

Another Chinese blogger who identified himself or herself only as “speaking out when there is injustice” on the Sohu blog and translated by China Digital Times, questioned the great cost of the Olympics.

“Does such an extravagant Games necessarily demonstrate our country’s strength and prosperity?” the blogger wrote. “Fearful at heart, I think the so-called ‘century-old dream’ isn’t the people’s dream, and the so-called ‘best Olympics’ is nothing more than the ‘most costly Games.'”

The blogger went on to protest the intense spending without answering citizen questions about why roads and sidewalks have been repeatedly repaved in anticipation of the Games and how the government was funding the upgrades.

“Olympics is being given the most important political mission, the largest ‘image project,’ to be achieved through national mobilization at all costs,” the blogger continued.

“The economic loss and sacrifice of common people’s interests are nothing compare with such a goal. If a Chinese has some doubt, then he/she will be trashed as a ‘dissident’ who runs tremendous political risk; if a foreigner has questions, then he/she will be labeled as part of ‘anti-China conspiracy group,’ ready to be grilled. I myself am ever more distanced from [the Olympics], consciously.”

Political cartoons poking fun at the games have also been escaping the censors, such as this drawing with a translated caption that reads, “I just learned a new put-down: ‘Your look is violating national interests!'”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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