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The real faces behind the Olympic flame
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08:34, April 28, 2008

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Chinese students in support of the torch relay swarmed the streets of South Korea's capital, Seoul, while many smiling residents watched on with ease in the background.

On the 28th day of our global journey, this has already become routine.

A similar scenario happened in Nagano, Japan.

And yet, residents' warm welcome of the Olympic flame was concurrent with violent protests and attacks on the torch.

Few could have foreseen that the most violent attack by far - one which involved supporters of the Games getting injured - would take place in a city like Nagano.

Likewise, that Nagano would host an Olympic relay with the most complete pack of protester groups, some of which were absent in even the most turbulent relay legs and a few of which whose names and flags no one had heard of, was beyond our imagination.

This conflicting encounter, also reflective of our experiences in London and Paris, gives the world a chance to revisit several taken-for-granted assumptions, the most important of them all being: Are people in these cities really that hostile to our delegation and the Olympic Movement?

The unforgettable smiling faces of local residents in Nagano, as with those in other cities, seem to suggest otherwise.

Ultimately, it is they who represent each of the relay cities and the attitudes toward the torch relay, not overseas Chinese nor the "floating" protesters.

Not the patriotic Chinese students who travel from afar in solidarity (without whom, of course, it would have been extremely difficult for us to carry on the Olympic messages), or the reasons they travel- the violent protesters, some of whom were indeed hired from professional protester organizations.

In the early morning of relay day in Nagano, some protesters-to-be gathered around the bus station beside our hotel. One among them, a middle-aged man with pigtails, was especially bold-faced when telling the rest about the dos and don'ts.

"F-r-e-e Tibet," he shouted in English, "not free Ti-b-e-t." And the others nodded in admiration and agreement.

People like these - who are not locals but appear to be or are presented as such in the media - add considerable complexity to our relay. This event - any event - naturally draws woos and boos. But who are the people behind these voices, and who could really come to represent where the city stands?

It is about time to stop taking things at face value, brush aside assumptions about which cities are supportive of the torch relay and which are against it and so on, and wait until the dust settles. Before then, I look forward to see more of the calm, smiling local faces that we saw beside the quiet lanes of Nagano.

Qu Yingpu, deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily, is spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay

Source: China Daily

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