The elderly were playing cards on Friday afternoon in Ritan Park while children all around them ran wild and laughed. Others were sleeping on chairs, paying no regard that the park had been designated for protests, if any, during the Olympic Games.
"The worst thing I expect is that I have to suspend my business for several weeks during the demonstrations," said Sun Xiaosheng, proprietor of a rock climbing wall. "But I believe the protests would be peaceful. It is unlikely that violent protestors would destroy the park or hurt us."
Ritan, or Temple of the Sun, about 10 km from Beijing's Tian'anmen Square, was where emperors in the Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Qing (1644-1911 AD) dynasties worshiped Heaven and prayed for a good harvest. It was turned into a 20-hectare park after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
China announced on Wednesday it would set up zones in three Beijing parks where demonstrators could legally stage protests during the August Games. They are Zizhuyuan Park in the city's northwest, Ritan Park in the east and World Park in the southwest.
"The move to set aside protest areas is in line with Beijing's promises to the International Olympic Committee to adhere to Olympic traditions, such as free expression outside sporting venues. It offers a new channel for the protestors to better express their opinions by attracting eyes of the tourists, reporters and officials during the Games," said Mo Yuchuan, director of Research Center for Constitutional and Administrative Law of Renmin University of China.
"The measure is also expected to help reduce the risk that unexpected demonstrations of large scale would harm the public interests," he said.
Liu Shaowu, Beijing Olympics organizing committee security director, said no demonstration of "political, religious or racial propaganda" would be permitted in Olympic sites or areas.
But managers of the parks were still waiting for detailed orders such as which parts of the parks would be set aside for public demonstrations, how large the area was, or how to prepare for the potential protests.
Authorities of Zizhuyuan Park, which is about 100 meters from the Capital Indoor Stadium, are planning to set up a task team for security and evacuation during the Games.
Hao Suliang, the park spokesman, started to learn the law on assemblies, procession and demonstrations upon his return from Shanghai to Beijing on Friday. "We would prepare well according to the law so that protestors can express their opinions," he said.
The Chinese law requires that demonstrators make requests at least five days in advance and detail the nature of the protest, the topic and number of participants.
The emergency plan on the board in the World Park's official building showed forces of all departments would be mobilized to deal with 10 kinds of incidents, including illegal demonstrations, activities of heretic sects and terrorist attacks.
But park spokesman Liu Huiming said the plan targets daily accidents and specific preparations for the protest zones and would not start until orders were received from the government.
With nearly two weeks to go before the zones are opened, the biggest worry of locals was whether their lives would be disturbed.
"If the square we dance in is designated to be a protest zone, we would have no place to run or dance," said Yang Jun who frequents Zizhuyuan Park. "Most of us are retired workers and have been used to doing sports here."
"We hope the government can ask for our opinions before making decisions where the protest zone is located. But anyway, we would cooperate with the government," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency July 26, 2008)