RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
As we just heard, the Olympic torch has come to symbolize the wave of repression Beijing's Olympics has brought to Chinese dissidents and Tibetans. The view from China- maybe predictably - is very different. NPR's Louisa Lim has been gauging the mood, talking to some of the select few chosen to carry China's Olympic flame.
LOUISA LIM: So far in China the iconic image of the torch relay has been a wheelchair-bound Chinese fencer cradling the Olympic torch, her eyes shut. She's shielding the flame against her body after a pro-Tibetan protester tried to snatch it from her during the Paris relay. That torch bearer, Jin Jing, has become a national heroine, hailed as an angel in a wheelchair, her image plastering the front pages.
She's described how her pride and joy at carrying the flame was snatched away from her, an analogy which sums up the prevailing mood here. The protests overseas are being greeted with defiance.
Ms. YEN JIAOXIEN(ph) (Torchbearer): Nothing can and nothing will damage the Olympic Games. It will be the best one.
LIM: Sportswriter Yen Jiaoxien was one of those chosen to carry the Olympic flame in Shanghai next month. She's covered the last three Olympics and is unbothered by the controversy, saying Olympic protests are nothing new. Her enthusiasm for the games is undiminished.
Ms. YEN: This one is really special, it's really amazing for me because it's in my motherland, in my old country. And especially I become the torchbearer.
Mr. ZHAO BENSHAN (Comedian): (Chinese spoken)
LIM: In China, the level of interest in the torch relay has been building for months. China's best-loved comedian, Zhao Benshan, even performed this skit portraying an elderly unfit farmer competing to be a torchbearer. This aired on the most-watched program of the year, the Chinese New Year Television Gala. And even non-Chinese living in China are vying for the honor of carrying the Olympic flame.
Mr. MARCO TORRES (Torchbearer): This is truly a huge honor for the Philippines...
LIM: This is the victory video by Filipino sports fan Marco Torres. He won 13,000 votes in a competition to become an expat torchbearer. As he put it, the dream he never dared dream of had come true. Now he's disappointed by the protests.
Mr. TORRES: I feel very, very sad about it, that people are mixing politics into the Olympic movement.
LIM: He'll carry the torch for 600 feet in Xinjiang, a restive Northwestern province which has recently seen protests by ethnic Wegers(ph) chafing at Beijing's rule.
Mr. TORRES: I do hope that by the time I carry the torch I won't only be surrounded by guards, by security personnel. I want people to be cheering me on and cheering the Olympic torch.
(Soundbite of news broadcast)
LIM: With the news broadcasts of ever more protests, the Chinese public is becoming increasingly alienated and angry. This worries American ad man Tom Docktorph(ph). He was invited to take part in the torch relay by its official sponsor, the computer company Lenovo. He says even though he doesn't support China's handling of the Tibetan unrest, he'll still run to try to build understanding between different cultures.
Mr. TOM DOCKTORPH (Torchbearer): My concern is, is that if China views the West as against it, not supporting its responsible integration into the 21st century world order, then they are not going to feel comfortable engaging with the West and they are going to be protecting their interests in a very short term kind of way.
(Soundbite of horn honking and cheering)
LIM: From a journey of harmony to flame of shame. The longest Olympic torch relay ever, at 85,000 miles, was supposed to be a victory lap, showcasing China's peaceful emergence on the world stage. Instead it's become a public relations disaster, pitting protestors critical of Beijing's human rights record against China's loyal citizens.
China's torchbearers may be hoping for the best. But the fault lines exposed by Beijing's pre-Olympic clampdown are becoming ever harder to bridge.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
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