BEIJING -- A week of embarrassing global protests along the international Olympic torch relay has fanned Chinese nationalism at home and turned a 27-year-old disabled woman into a national hero.
Jin Jing is a one-legged Chinese torchbearer who was attacked by protesters on the streets of Paris. Images of her in her wheelchair protecting the flame with her tiny body catapulted her to overnight fame in China as a symbol of the nation’s effort to defend its place in the world.
Businesses are throwing job offers at the unemployed former member of the Shanghai wheelchair fencing team. Jin, who lost her leg as a child to cancer, seemed overwhelmed by the attention.
“I don’t think I did anything great,” she told state media. “Any Chinese or Olympics-loving torchbearer would protect the torch under such circumstances.”
During the scuffle, Jin said someone pulled her hair and tried to grab the torch from her, which she hugged close to her chest. She suffered minor scratches on her chin and shoulders and said she couldn’t believe why anyone would want to ruin such a great event.
Since the indignation happened in France, some outraged Chinese are calling in Internet postings for a boycott of French goods, including pleas that people stop shopping at the popular French supermarkets and give up their luxury bags and cosmetics.
The more extreme elements have even suggested hunting down the protester accused of accosting the Chinese torchbearer. A picture of a man wearing a Tibetan flag on his head and accused of being a “Tibetan splittist” is being circulated on the Internet with angry postings revealing deep-seeded frustrations at how China has been treated by the international community.
“Whoever hurt our sister, we won’t let you get away with it,” wrote one person. “Violence will be met with violence.”
“If they don’t catch him we will do it ourselves and really teach him a lesson,” wrote another.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Olympic Committee put a positive spin on this summer’s Beijing Games despite the chaos surrounding the torch relay, which threatened to turn China’s long march to Olympic glory into a public relations disaster.
“I have no crystal ball, but I am optimistic the Games will be a great success,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said Friday in Beijing.
Only a day earlier, Rogge had lamented that the Olympic movement was in a state of “crisis” following high-visibility anti-China protests in London, Paris and San Francisco.
Chinese authorities have expressed outrage at what they see as an attempt to politicize an international sporting event and sabotage their “journey of harmony” which was supposed to highlight China’s coming of age as a responsible global power.
Beijing is particularly irked by the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a resolution Wednesday calling on China to end its crackdown on Tibetan protesters.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu described the bill sponsored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as something that “twisted Tibet’s history and modern reality” and was “seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.”
Rogge downplayed threats by western leaders to boycott the opening ceremony, saying that if they did it would only hurt the athletes who won’t have their leaders there to cheer them on.
He also said that as of now no one was boycotting the Games themselves. “The IOC members are united on this,” he said.