A year of tragedy and triumph for Beijing
By Kent Ewing
from the Asia Times Online
HONG KONG - The stunning pyrotechnical display that opened the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing in August is a fitting image to remember as China closes the book on 2008. A year that was rocked by trial and tragedy ultimately culminated in explosive triumph, with Beijing staging what was, by many accounts, the most successful Olympics ever.
The country reveled in its Olympic glory after the devastating winter storms with which the year had begun and the far more devastating earthquake that followed. And there was also lots of pre-Olympic anxiety and doubt as protests against China's human rights record and stance on Tibet dogged the international leg of the Olympic torch relay and athletes worried about competing in Beijing's foul air.
But the protests mercifully stopped once the torch arrived on Chinese soil, and the Beijing air magically cleared during the Games, thanks to a special traffic scheme and massive government-imposed factory shutdowns. After 17 flawlessly organized days of compelling athletic competition, the international protests had largely turned to praise. Beijing's official coming-out party had been a marvelous success, and the Chinese nation and its worldwide diaspora could breathe a tremendous sigh of relief.
Now, of course, although that grand Olympic memory lives proudly on, it has been undercut by an economic crisis that began with high-rollers on Wall Street but may soon threaten social stability among ordinary Chinese.
On December 18, the Communist Party celebrated the 30th anniversary of the launch of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms, which have propelled the country into the first rank of nations and generated double-digit economic growth in nine of the past 16 years. But China's economic juggernaut is expected to slow to 7.5% growth next year, a level that authorities worry could spark social unrest as exports slow, factories close and angry migrant workers head home with little money and no hope.
Keeping a lid on social upheaval will be the main preoccupation of Chinese leaders in 2009, which is likely to be a year filled with more trial than triumph for China. The anniversaries alone that mark next year's calendar indicate that there should be no shortage of drama and that potential for crisis is rife.
Consider this: the new year will bring (let's celebrate with more Olympic-style pyrotechnics) the 60th anniversary of the birth of the People's Republic of China, but it will also be (let's worry with arrests of dissidents and, possibly, violent suppression) the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown and the 50th anniversary of the flight of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's internationally recognized spiritual leader, from his homeland following its takeover by the Chinese.
While 2009 will not have an Olympic theme, brace yourself nevertheless for more fireworks - both actual and metaphorical.
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