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Masks and Faces

Posted on:2008-07-28     Posted by :林俐

By Liu Peng

On July 21, an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled Olympic Athletes Wearing Masks Could Cause China to Lose Face stirred up heated debates among Chinese, especially online.

The article revealed that the US Olympic committee was distributing a high-tech mask to its more than 600-strong team, and that perhaps some athletes may wear the masks while attending the opening ceremony of the Games on Aug 8, due to worries over the Chinese capital's air quality.

US triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker told the Journal that he planned to wear the mask during the whole Games, though he thought that it might offend the Chinese. He said the reason was that the poor air quality during other triathlons in China in 2007 made him felt like someone was standing on his chest.

Beside this, another athlete, Matthew Reed, said that wearing the masks "could embarrass China into embracing stronger environmental measures."  

Those remarks stirred up convulsions of controversy in Chinese on-line forums like sohu.com (the internet service sponser for the Beijing Olympic Games) and qq.com (one of China's largest internet service providers).

The two websites respectively lauched an on-line survey. A qq.com survey, for example, only included two simple questions, each with three answer choices.
The first question, "Do you think the US athletes will wear the mask during the opening ceremony?", had the options "Yes", "No", and "That depends".

The next question was: "If yes, why do you think they wear the masks?". The options were: "Insulting us", "covering their ugly face" and "attracting attention".

As of noon on July 25, the number of respondents reached 124,765. The survey results said that 43.5% of respodents believe that their dear American friends wouldn't do such a thing. However, more respondents doubted the real motive of the mask-wearing, with 62.26% of respodents saying the move is aimed at insulting China, and 26.75% saying it is intended to "cover the athletes' ugly faces".

Chinese in general appear to convulse at the idea of mask-wearing during the Games.

In some forums, netizens argued that, America, as the largest contributor of industrial gas emmission in the world, had refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. One netizen said it is a double-standard for Americans to judge China's environmental problems at present.

Some pointed out that there were tens of thousands of foreigners, including Americans, who have come or are coming to China. Why aren't they wearing masks, they asked.

The soreness perhaps partly arises from a sense of rejection after the Chinese have put in so much effort in improving air quality. These efforts come from various strata of the society - factory owners facing closures, road users bearing with the inconvenience of road use restrictions, contractors delaying completion dates with stop-work orders...
Following the efforts, according to Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, the number of "blue sky days" (good air quality days) have greatly increased to 246 days by the end of 2007, compared to 100 days in 1998 when Beijing began to bid for Olympic Games. For the first half of this year alone, the Bureau said, there were 123 days meeting the "blue day" benchmark, an increase of13 blue days compared with the same period in 2007.

As to the mask issue, the Chinese Government has yet to deliver any remarks. Perhalps, Chinese has been accustomed to those "provoking" words. In fact, with this issue, I have also made a small-scaled survey among my friends, most of whom are born in 1980s.

They held an indifferent attitudes towards such issue and said if the US liked to show off themselves in the opening ceremony, just did it. In turn, That would made them, and not the Chinese, to lose faces.

As Fu Ying, Chinese Ambassador to London, said, the wall that stands in China's way to the world is thick. With the Olympic Games drawing near, what China can do now is only try her best to build a good competition enviroment for foreign atheletes, and leave the comments to history.



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