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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2008, 01:42 GMT
Olympics stir mixed emotions in China
By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

Clock in Tiananmen Square marks one year countdown to 2008 Olympics (8 August 2007)
The Tiananmen Square clock began a one-year countdown in August
In the entirely unlikely event of anyone in China happening to forget the importance of 2008, there is a large digital clock next to Tiananmen Square to remind them.

The clock counts the days, hours and minutes to the start of the Olympic Games in August next year.

To say the games are important to China is a bit like saying that oxygen is important to staying alive.

Many Chinese people are trying to out-do each other with shows of Communist-style devotion to the games.

One man has spent three years recording the history of the Olympics onto a scroll 2008m (6,600ft) long.

But, sadly for him, he may be outdone by the acupuncturist who has promised to insert 2008 silver needles into his head to welcome the Olympics.

Olympic fever

At night, several hundred young people sit on plastic stools in the freezing cold.

They have come to watch the launch of an Olympic marketing campaign - this one for Adidas.

It's our hometown, our people have more passion - it's a very big opportunity for us to show our friendship to the world
Chinese teenager

Drummers stand in front of the crowd on the ramparts of the old city walls, trying to look imperial.

A Chinese Olympic athlete is invited onto the stage to tremendous cheers. All heretics have been given the night off. Here there is only room for true believers.

The China Daily newspaper writes that "Olympic fever is sweeping the nation at a scale unmatched at previous Olympics".

The teenagers freezing in the Beijing winter all seem to agree.

"People over the world can know about China," says one teenager, "China can show its culture to the world".

"Why is the games important?" I ask, "it's just people running and people swimming".

"It's special for us because it's our honour," replies another teenager quickly.

"It's our hometown. Our people have more passion," says another, "it's a very big opportunity for us to show our friendship to the world".

Ticket system crash

China is spending an estimated $40bn (20bn) to get everything right. Most of its Olympic venues - including the Bird's Nest stadium - are almost finished.

Customers queue for the first batch of Olympic tickets in Fuyang
Customers queued for tickets from dawn at bank branches
But the organisers have already run into one problem - tickets.

At the end of October, a batch of almost two million tickets was put on sale. Millions of people applied online, or on the phone - or else they queued up from dawn at bank branches.

But the ticketing system crashed within an hour. The head of ticket sales has now been fired, and the Olympic committee has changed its ticketing system.

After all, it is no good having perfect venues if no one can get any tickets to go inside.

Believers and heretics

Some people, though, do not want to get tickets, they just want to stay where they are.

Sun Ruo Yu owns a restaurant in central Beijing. On her front door there is an eviction notice.

Man waving Beijing 2008 flag. File photo
True believers and the heretics may have to share Beijing
Her building is set to be knocked down to make way for the route of the Olympic marathon. Officials are trying to get her to leave.

"They follow me wherever I go - even to the hospital," she says. "I tell them: 'You're violating my human rights, now you're harassing the people I speak to.'"

But Sun Ruo Yu has decided to stay and fight. She is one of a small number of Chinese people who have spoken out against the effect of the Games in this city.

But next summer China's Olympic organisers will have other opponents as well - many from abroad.

Some will come in to campaign for China to stop doing business with Burma and Sudan. For others, it will be a chance to make some noise about a free Tibet or an independent Taiwan.

For two weeks next summer, the true believers and the heretics may have to share a single city.

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