The Chinese see the Olympics as an opportunity for fun and Games and to show their commitment to opening up to the world, says Fu Ying
In June in Beijing, when I got into a taxi, I was amazed at the white-cotton seat cover, the kind I would hesitate to use on my home sofa. When I complimented the driver on the shining clean seats, he smiled shyly. There are many small things like this that reflect the eagerness of the people in Beijing be a good host. The taxi-driver, along with a quarter of the world's population, is ready to welcome the world to China for the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing. Just as President Hu said: all that the Chinese people want is to host them successfully.
It was in 1932 thatChina had its first Olympian. Liu Changchun, a sprinter, made an exhausting, 25-day sea journey to the Los Angeles Games, only to be eliminated in the first round. It was not until 1984, again in Los Angeles, that Xu Haifeng won China's first Olympic gold medal, in shooting.
Hosting the world's greatest sporting event for the first time, 114 years after the first modern Olympics, is a matter of great pride for the 1.3 billion Chinese people, particularly the young generation born in the 1980s and 90s, who grew up in an era of rising prosperity and the information explosion.
According to a survey conducted by American-based Pew Research Centre inChina in March and April, 90 per cent of respondents in Beijing said the Games were personally important for them and 96 per cent believed that they would be a success and help to improve China's image.
Beijing has never seen such a huge gathering. It will include 11,000 athletes, 450,000 overseas visitors and two million domestic spectators, in addition to 30,000 journalists. The enthusiasm for the Games is high, so, too, is the level of preparation in terms of venues and facilities.
More than 200 measures have been taken inBeijing to control air pollution. For the first time the central Olympic area will be a zero-emission zone as all the 500 buses run on electricity or fuel cells. Latest technologies and materials, renewable energies, and energy-efficient technology were applied in the construction of venues and the Olympic village. Although the services and organisational part of the Games is yet to be fully tested, the organisers have reason to be confident about staging an event that is safe, clean and of a high standard.
One million volunteers, including more than 900 from overseas, will be offering their services. Among the oldest is Shang Muzhou, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday. Like people across the world, many Chinese are big fans of the Olympic movement, which stands for equality and fair play regardless of colour, religion and per capita GDP. The Olympics in turn will further stimulate the love of sports among the Chinese people.
All the 250,000 tickets were sold out in three days. One elderly couple fromJiangsu were all smiles, Olympic tickets in hand, which they bought after queuing for many hours.
There is a lot of pressure on the Chinese team, which is 639 strong, the largest ever. Seventy per cent of them will be first-time Olympians. While the home crowd will be looking intensely at their medal count, the country understands that the ultimate judgment for success lies in how wellBeijing hosts the Games. It is sincerely hoped that the Olympics will leave a lasting legacy of friendship and understanding between the Chinese and people across the world.
The chief architect ofChina's reform, Mr Deng Xiaoping, said in 1984 that China was both big and small, strong and weak. This is still true of the country today, though it has come a long way. China is big in terms of population, land mass, total GDP and foreign exchange reserves. Yet it is small in terms of per capita GDP, which is less than one twentieth that of Britain. Having lifted 250 million people out of poverty in three decades, China still has 200 million people living on under £1 a day. About 65 per cent of its population is in rural areas. The effort to bring electricity to every village has been a huge success, but 10 million people are yet to be reached. There are also 83 million people with disabilities, whose well-being needs to be further promoted. The coming of the Paralympics to Beijing will raise social awareness for their cause.
For a country of this size, food has always been the primary concern. I remember, until the early 1980s, instead of saying hello, the Chinese would greet each other with: "Have you had the meal?" Today this would no longer make any sense to my daughter's generation. The Chinese are proud that, for the first time, people are not hungry and they are expecting even greater prosperity for their children.
Admittedly,China is only half-way through its reforms. In additional to rising uncertainty and risks in the global economy, the country is faced with the challenges of a widening income gap, serious pollution, an ageing society and growing pressure of employment, to name a few. China will continue to take its reform process forward with a stronger commitment to opening up to the world.
There is greater awareness of the international responsibilitiesChina should undertake. In 1992 I was among the first civilians to join peace-keeping missions. Since then China has sent a total of 10,000 peace-keepers to different parts of the world, including 315 in Darfur. One, who arrived in Sudan on July 17, is Sergeant Ma Shijian from Sichuan, which was hit by an earthquake in May. For seven days, he had no news about his parents and his wife, who was five months pregnant. Fortunately they were safe and Sergeant Ma decided to carry on with his mission in Darfur.
The Olympic Games will open in five days' time.Beijing will go down in Olympic history as the largest effort ever undertaken for a wonderful Olympic experience. Afterwards Beijing will pass on the torch to the next host, London, which will surely stage its own spectacular Games.
Fu Ying is China's ambassador in London