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China's 'Socialist Family' Sacrifices

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Cheng Yu, a teacher from Hebei Province, talks about how a water diversion project for the Olympics has devastated her village's economy. Video by Ariana Cha/The Washington Post

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By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 23, 2008

ZHENGJIAZHUANG VILLAGE, China -- Li Zengxia's fish are dead and his crops are dying. The stream that was once his lifeline is gone, diverted 155 miles to Beijing to create a picture-perfect green setting for the 2008 Summer Games.

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Li and other villagers here are now nearly destitute, but he said he remains proud to have done his part to make the Olympics a success.

"This is a small thing for individuals," Li explained. "We should make contributions to the country. I understand -- we are a socialist family."

Beijing's gleaming new sports stadiums, efficient subway lines and legions of smiling volunteers are a testament to the Communist Party's power to mobilize a country of 1.3 billion people. But to do so, the party has had to draw vast resources from faraway towns and villages, where millions of ordinary citizens such as Li are now suffering from water shortages, blackouts and business losses brought about because of the Games.

Other countries that previously hosted the Olympics made sacrifices of their own, particularly financially. But the actions that China has taken highlight just how far it is willing to go -- and just how much its people are willing to endure -- for the sake of an event that has the rest of the world watching.

Here in Hebei province, almost 80 billion gallons of emergency water is being sent to the capital through a series of canals hastily built over the past few months. The construction has displaced farmers, leaving some patches of land so parched that it's difficult for them to grow anything.

Shanxi province, a major coal-producing region, can't even get permission to use the coal it needs. Instead, the resources are being earmarked for Beijing, exacerbating power shortages and resulting in massive blackouts in rural areas.

And at the Tianjin port southeast of Beijing, usually one of the busiest in the country, empty ships wait for deliveries from suppliers whose trucks have been held up by roadblocks or whose factories have been closed out of concerns about pollution. Exporters say they are losing money as a result.

With factories shut down, armies of migrant workers who rely on construction and other menial jobs are being sent home for the month without pay.

During a Politburo meeting this summer, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao said all Chinese must do their part to ensure that the Games are of a "high standard." The leaders emphasized how important it was for Beijing to be a welcome host, despite any difficulties Chinese might face in the process.

Not everyone is as happy as Li to make sacrifices.

While few are willing to publicly criticize the Olympics, outrage has spread online among the anonymous.


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