Evicted Beijingers Weigh In On Olympics

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Birds Nest. i

The residents of Wali remember when all that stood on the site of Beijing National Stadium was fields of corn and wheat. Franck Fife/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Franck Fife/Getty Images
Birds Nest.

The residents of Wali remember when all that stood on the site of Beijing National Stadium was fields of corn and wheat.

Franck Fife/Getty Images

As the Olympics get under way in China, the country is showcasing Beijing as a new modern city. Yet tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people were evicted to make way for Olympic venues and infrastructure.

Some of these people have staged protests over the past few days. Others, like the former residents of Wali – the first village to be knocked down to make way for the Olympic park — gathered together to watch the opening ceremony with a mix of nostalgia and awe.

A Community Lost

"When they demolished Wali, lots of villagers cried hot tears at leaving this place which had been home for generations," says Yang Delu. "But we answered our government's appeals in order to make China's 100-year-old dream of the Olympics come true."

When Wali was demolished in 2005, each family got around $120,000. It seemed a lot then, they say, but now money's tight. Their 3,000-strong community dispersed, their communal history risked being lost.

All this weighs on Yao Yongzhen. His family's job was to guard the tomb of a 19th century princess, which was once located a mile from where the Olympic stadium now stands.

"For five generations my family guarded that tomb. My forebears built that tomb," Yao says. "And when it was destroyed, it was my generation that tore it down with our own hands."

More Pride Than Regret

As the former neighbors eat, they chat about how chickens from Wali village are the best in the world, how spongy corn pancakes are a special Wali delicacy.

When the Olympics opening ceremony begins, they gasp as fireworks spring from the Beijing National Stadium.

"Corn and wheat grew there when I was a kid," says Yang Deshan, the elder brother of Yang Delu. As he watches approvingly, he says China's Olympics underscore the advantages of a one-party state.

"In a multiparty system, they'd talk about things endlessly," says Yang. "If they wanted to take land, they'd worry about if the people were content. They wouldn't be able to do such big things. China's developing so fast. Tell me which capitalist country with a multiparty system is developing so fast?"

The group watches as the 2,008 drummers bang and bellow in unison, and the former neighbors agree on one thing: This spectacular ceremony shows China's strength, its resurgence.

This day has come at a personal price to them, costing them their homes, their community, their identity, even their history. Nevertheless, they say they are proud to make that sacrifice in order to show China's power to the world.

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