12 04 2008

Disabled girl becomes China’s Olympic heroine

By Richard Spencer in Beijing



China has found a national heroine to boost its fragile self-esteem after weeks of embarrassing headlines over Tibet and the Olympic torch relay.

A week ago, Jin Jing was unknown except in the narrow world of wheelchair fencing, for which she used to represent the country.

But when she was filmed protecting the torch from pro-Tibet protesters amid chaotic scenes in Paris, the one-legged athlete was hailed by Chinese internet users as an “angel in a wheelchair”.

Now, the state media has picked up on what it calls her bravery, transforming her into a symbol of Chinese virtue in the face of a hostile world.

“Overseas Chinese students in the crowd were moved to tears,” wrote Liberation Daily, the government-run newspaper in Shanghai, her home city. “They chanted, ‘Girl, stick with it! Go, go, China!'”

Xinhua, the state news agency, said, in an editorial: “Chinese people are seriously disturbed and hurt by the chaotic scene in which an extremist tried to grab the torch from a weak, disabled Chinese girl. Is this the civil French government’s behaviour? A slap on China’s face, or a slap on France’s face?”

On her return to Beijing, Miss Jin, who lost her leg to cancer when she was nine, was mobbed by photographers.

In interviews, she said she knew little of politics before encountering the demonstrations in Paris, and had never heard of the pro-Tibet independence movement. In line with the many Chinese critics of Western “bias”, she said the protests had strengthened her belief in the government line.

“My opinion before was that Tibet was an inseparable part of our country,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “Now I hold this point more firmly than before.”

The flame has begun the next stage of its world tour in Buenos Aires this afternoon under heavy police protection. Torch-bearers included Gabriela Sabatini, the former tennis player, but Diego Maradona, the former footballer, turned down an invitation to carry it first.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, became the latest public figure to say he would not attend the opening ceremony, though he said it was for “scheduling” reasons.




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