OLYMPIC MAIN PRESS CENTER - As the games come to a close here this weekend, I know many fans will dwell on medal numbers. But there's another set of numbers that really sticks with me.
Of the 149 people - nearly all Chinese citizens - who submitted nearly 80 applications to protest in designated parks during the Olympics, none - zero - were approved by the government. These rejections come after the government had authorized this application process, at the suggestion of the International Olympic Committee. It was designed to keep protests - about everything from Tibet and domestic land seizures - orderly and away from the Olympic sites.
According to the state's news agency this week, of the 77 applications, 74 were withdrawn because the problems cited were "addressed" by the relevant authorities, two were suspended because of incomplete information, and one was rejected because it was "in violation of China's laws on demonstrations and protests."
This leads to the obvious question for any thinking person: Were the "protest parks" a charade to fool the Chinese people - and the media?
As a parting act, I am taking up the Chinese government on a different application process introduced during the Olympics. As part of its vow of greater openness with the foreign media about a range of issues related to the games, they have made available an official "application form of accredited journalists" to facilitate interview and informational inquiries. Like the 149 people who took advantage of the protest zone process, I'm here as a journalist to give this one a try.
My written request (written in English and Chinese to facilitate communication) asks the Beijing Public Security Bureau to tell me the home province of each of the petitioners, and what each grievances was about. Wanting to be as reasonable as possible, I have asked for a response within 10 days, and given my Boston contact information so they can respond when I return to the U.S.
Perhaps the Chinese will see this request as part of the "biased" foreign media - a term used just yesterday by Wang Wei, spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Committee, during a testy press conference here. He had fielded one too many questions about isolated detentions of Westerners who had unfurled Tibetan flags. And inquiries about the pair of elderly Chinese women sentenced to "reform through labor" when they protested their forced removal from their homes.
He wanted the media to focus more on the near-flawless operation of the Olympics -- that some 10,000 athletes competed in 28 different sports in 37 competition venues that gave inspiration - and entertainment - to millions and millions of spectators all over the world. T.V. Olympic viewership globally and domestically reached all-time highs.
Wang went on to say to reporters, "Tell the true story, please."
Surely that is a goal that many journalists here share. I'm hoping for an answer to my inquiry.