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"The change is volcanic," says Dahai, the one-word-named president of Naha International Sports Management Co. "And the pace of change is so intense. It's impossible to adapt to. You can't control it."
That tectonic shift of values--from six to eight, from stability to ambition and even greed--has produced not only a growing and prosperous middle class but also victims. A recent study by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (whose findings were dismissed by the Chinese foreign ministry as "groundless") stated that 1.25�million people had been displaced from their homes by the eight-year urban renewal makeover that is transforming Beijing in advance of the Olympics.
When you visit Ganjing Hutong, one of the historic alleyway neighborhoods in south Beijing, only a third of the residents remain, and buildings have already been leveled to make way for an upscale development. The government is offering the evicted only about a third of their homes' value; soon they will be forced to move out of the city, away from the place they've lived all their lives. "We don't know what to do," says one woman.
An eviction notice is tacked to an outside bulletin board, citing the project's importance in beautifying the area in time for next summer's Games. Next to it, written in chalk on a blackboard, is a message in Chinese: WELCOME THE OLYMPICS. IMPROVE MANNERS. FOSTER NEW ATTITUDES: I CONTRIBUTE. I ENJOY.
My lucky number is seven," says two-time Olympic diving champion Tian Liang.
That this is the figure he has chosen for himself is only appropriate: Tian tried to navigate the terrain between the old and new eras, to cash in after the 2004 Games with a slew of endorsements and found himself in no-man's land.
Intending to seal his legacy with a triumph in Beijing, the 27-year-old onetime Diving Prince was instead kicked off the national team in 2005 for indulging in what a Chinese sports official termed "too many commercial and social activities." After two years of seeing his comeback rebuffed by diving authorities, Tian retired in March. In China seven is an ambiguous figure that symbolizes, among other things, ghostliness. The old saw--athletes die twice--applies, but even Tian is unsure how to characterize the death of his career.
"It's hard to say whether it was murder or suicide," he says. "But in the end, in order to push the system forward, I felt like I should commit suicide. It was the best way. There will be many cases like this in the future; many athletes will have conflicts with the system. I [retired] so people will see that."
Other Chinese athletes, such as Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, have gotten rich without retribution, of course. And still others, such as Tian's former diving teammate and ex-girlfriend Guo Jingjing, ran afoul of the regime for the same reasons as Tian yet remain cogs in the Big Red Machine. But unlike Tian, the 25-year-old Guo--a 10-time world and Olympic champion and potentially her country's biggest female star at next year's Games--was quick to bow to the system's primacy in January 2005 and take part in the classic Communist humiliation known as self-criticism. "She even apologized on CCTV," the state-run TV network, says Zhou Jihong, team leader of the national diving program.
Tian insists that the diving federation never posted any rule regarding a limit on commercial activities. He never, he says, received so much as a warning that he was treading on dangerous ground. Zhou denies this, saying the team's rules are clear and that Tian is "making excuses."