Beijing’s Olympic Funk

Two rather odd

pieces of news were circulating in China last week, at a time when

increasingly nervous authorities grow more prudish about the

possibility that somebody, somewhere, will do something that

embarrasses the country in advance of the US$42 billion Olympic

Games, which are due to start in August.

The first,

carried by Xinhua as a photo story, was of the rather buff Guangdong

TV news presenter, Ou Zhihang, doing naked pushups in front of

Chinese landmarks. He was snapped in the buff in front of the Bird’s

Nest (Beijing’s main Olympic venue, the National Stadium), on

the top of the Great Wall, and what should have been very early in

the morning in Hong Kong’s Golden Bauhinia Square among others.

“I love my country, I also love my body,” Xinhua

cites him as saying in his blog. “I contrast my tiny body

with the ‘miracle of the world’ through the popular

exercise – push ups.”

One can only be thankful he chose

the push up and not the squat jump.

Xinhua, though, got it wrong. Ou

explains on his blog that the photos were taken last year as

an experimental project with a number of famous artists. The images

have recently been hijacked by bloggers mocking the official handling

of the mysterious death of a teenage girl which had sparked riots in

Weng’an County, Guizhou province, last month. Bloggers started

using the catchphrase “doing push ups,” to poke fun at

the official explanation of her death which stated the 15-year-old

girl was not raped and murdered as rioters claimed but had drowned

herself while her male friend did push ups nearby. Ou distances

himself from the online protest saying “I love my motherland,”

and that the purpose of his naked push up collection -- is opposite

to that of the bloggers.

The odd thing is Xinhua still

published the photo story despite its sensitive political

connotations, albeit without any context.

At the same time Ou’s bare

buttocks were pumping on China Daily’s Web site, agencies

reported that the government was getting skittish about the country’s

night-time entertainment industry. As part of a campaign against

drugs and prostitution, staff at karaoke bars and nightclubs will be

required to dress more conservatively and install see-through windows

in private rooms to deter any hanky-panky. These measures weren’t

specifically for the Olympics though, venues have until October 1 to

comply.

However, the

drive against sin – and any kind of fun at all – during

the Olympics is very much in progress.

It started

months back, with two major annual music festivals – the Midi

Rock Festival and Chaoyang Park Music Festival -- going under.

Organizers said the police couldn’t guarantee security with the

extra work they needed to do preparing for the Games, which is more

or less a face-saving way of banning them. Back in April, Maggie’s,

a seedy bar famous for its Mongolian working girls, also padlocked

its front door just weeks after forking out for a renovation. However

that may be less to do with the Games than with some dodgy goings on

in the underworld. Urban rumor has it that the bar shut shop after

two of its hookers were found brutally murdered with their livers cut

out. The Den, another working girl favorite, and Hooters next door

are firmly in business, at least for now.

Police have

been making regular raids on bar districts such as Sanlitun, warning

club owners that during the Olympics it’s lights out at 2 am.

Destination, the city’s only gay club, has had to block off

their dance floor. The sight of hundreds of gay men clad in white

singlets flirting on the street in the early hours of the morning was

too much for the PSB. The club was told it was too small to be a club

and it had to enlarge before they could let the gay boys dance again.

The city’s main gay sauna was raided a couple of months back

when some of the workers and patrons were detained for several days

and only released after paying “fines,” according to an

aids activist. Destination and a string of straight clubs lie

alongside Worker’s Stadium, one of the Olympic venues. Because

of this, club owners believe they may have to close down altogether

during the three weeks of Games because the police are worried about

security.

Another

sensitive area is the diplomatic quarter of Jianguomen; police are

naturally jittery about protecting all those embassies. Slap bang in

the middle is Ritan Park, whose popular lakeside café bar,

called The Stoneboat, lures expatriates and local Chinese alike with

its live music – folk, jazz, maybe a little guitar solo or two.

But because of “security concerns” the Stone Boat is now

no longer allowed to hold concerts.

The main

Olympic Village is way out in a bleak residential area near the north

fourth ring road. There’s not much there to close down except

for a wishful thinking TGI Friday’s and some hastily erected

teahouses.

The entertainment magazines are

pulling their hair as they can’t find anything fun to put in

their events listings for August apart from the Olympics themselves.

“After

three gruesome days of being passed around the diplomatic switchboard

and playing telephone hide-and-go-seek with marketing execs, the list

of confirmed Olympic events consists of precisely two items, both

courtesy of the French embassy,” writes one of the main rags,

City Weekend, on its website. The two events are a French cultural

fair and “Marco Polo,” the ballet.

There is of course China’s

“biggest ever Olympic Cultural Festival” to be held

concurrently with the Games but it hasn’t seemed to generate

much interest. Which is a shame as it will no doubt incorporate

“harmonious” dances by happy ethnic minorities.

And as for the

city’s gay boys: they may have lost their dance floor to the

Olympics but at least they are free – with Xinhua’s

blessing – to ogle Ou’s bare behind as he clenches in

front of the Bird’s Nest.