On a recent bright spring Sunday morning, a line of Beijingers waiting at a bus stop noticed a distinguished visitor at the back of their queue. The bemused commuters found themselves being congratulated for their "civilized behavior" by none other than the city's senior politician, Beijing Communist Party Secretary Liu Qi. As head of the city's all-important Olympic Organizing Committee, Liu, 64, has designated the 11th day of every month from now until the Games begin on Aug. 8, 2008, as "Learn to Line Up Day." Liu's other crusadesagainst spitting, smelly taxis, fractured English and dirty toilets, among other thingsare manifestations of the gargantuan task he has been charged with, which is no less than the physical and spiritual transformation of China's capital in time for the Games.
The gleaming new buildings, stadiums and public spaces are visible symbols of the $40 billion campaign Liu is leading to ensure that China's coming-out party goes off without a hitch. Much less visible are the headaches that Beijing would rather not have exposed. One example, pervasive corruption, has led to the arrest of Beijing's deputy mayor on charges of taking millions in bribes from contractors. Another is air pollution: Liu recently said he may order all industries in the Beijing area to stop production in order to guarantee a clean atmosphere for the Games. China's top leaders have repeatedly made it clear that they will settle for nothing less than a perfect Olympics. A little more than a year from now, the world will find out if Liu has pulled it off.
Next Condoleezza Rice