Chinese practice cheering for Olympics |

Chinese practice cheering for Olympics

BEIJING (AP) ” The drills are about to begin. With his right hand, Zhang Ran hoists a yellow flag above his head, much like a sailor directing traffic on an aircraft carrier.

He’s facing 150 sales clerks sitting in tidy rows, hand-picked by their labor union to learn the approved cheers and chants for next year’s Beijing Olympics. It’s all good-humored without the slightest whiff of swearing or boorish behavior.

Nobody doubts that TV-friendly venues will glitter when the Olympics open in eight months. It’s other matters that cause worry ” people’s manners, their knowledge of many unfamiliar sports and the government’s promise to allow more than 20,000 reporters unfettered access.

Zhao Xi, a 24-year-old Communist Youth League member, works in a nearby shopping mall, a five-minute drive from Tiananmen Square. Zhao is using an off day to work on the cheers.

“We want to do this because we are making contributions to the Olympics,” Zhao said. “It’s an honor.”

Zhang’s left hand snaps another flag and cheers erupt with military precision.

“Zhongguo, Zhongguo ” ha, ha, ha. Zhongguo, Zhongguo bi sheng,” the crowd shouts, simultaneously beating yellow, stick-shaped batons to the rhythm. “Jia you, jia you.” Rough translation: “China, China ” ha, ha, ha. China, China must win. Let’s go, let’s go.”

One of about 20 cheers approved by authorities, it’s drilled a half-dozen times, orderly repetitions practiced in a meeting hall darkened by stained gray carpet squares and wood paneling. Thirty red and yellow paper lanterns dangle overhead, casting faint light on government slogans papering the walls.

Welcome to the “Beijing Civilized Workers Cheering Squad,” a public-education program to teach sportsmanship, all part of a larger Olympic etiquette campaign to show off a polite, prosperous and powerful China.

“Civilization equals order,” Zhang said. “We need to express the same slogans, think the same and behave the same way. That’s how we become civilized.”

“There will be foreigners attending, so we have to take this into account,” says Zhang, who shared the teaching duties with Zhai Yue, deputy editor of Sports Vision, a magazine published by the Beijing Sports Bureau, the government’s top sports body in the capital.

China has a tradition of hospitality, but some manners can seem rough by foreign standards. Historians say that’s partly a fallout from the Cultural Revolution, when old-line values were discouraged.

Broad-reaching campaigns are under way to remedy littering, swearing, spitting and dirty taxis. Everyone is being encouraged to speak some English. The 11th of each month is “queuing day” when residents are forced to stand in line to catch public transportation.

“When Chinese invite you to the house, they’ll clean the house first,” said Dr. Luo Qing, who researches China’s national image at Communication University of China in Beijing. “No matter how poor, guests will be treated with all the best stuff. We’re definitely sweeping the house before the Olympics.”

“We care very much about how foreigners think about this nation,” she added. “We feel we have a responsibility to show this nation is rising again.”

China’s authoritarian government fears any glitches, which could happen with fans attending unfamiliar sports like baseball, sailing or field hockey, which are as foreign in China as a bullfight in Belgium.

Cheering at the wrong moment, taking photos when they’re prohibited or cell phones going off as swimmers teeter on the starting blocks are potential snags that could draw negative coverage.

Chen Xiaohai, a 25-year-old accountant, acknowledged she wasn’t familiar with all Olympic sports. She thought snooker was in the Olympics and confessed to being stumped about the equestrian events.

If there’s trouble, it could come in soccer ” or any team event in which Japan participates. Scuffles with police and general chaos erupted in Beijing in 2004 after Japan defeated China to win Asia’s national soccer title. Japan’s women’s soccer team was peppered with insults three months ago at the women’s World Cup in China, and fans jeered Japan’s national anthem.

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