Beijing’s poker-faced police have been told to smile more by the authorities, but now they are being taken to task by an Intl. Olympic Committee member for their continuing grim expressions.
The blue-uniformed, white-gloved cops stand at intersections, barking orders at drivers for not keeping the road clear, their faces stony.
The soldiers at the Forbidden City stand impassive, while not far from Tiananmen Square, a large road sign reminds the police that they are supposed to smile. “Smiling Beijing Traffic Police” it reads.
Now Norwegian Gerhard Heiberg, chairman of the IOC’s marketing commission, has urged Chinese officials to encourage a happier and more welcoming attitude.
The thousands of volunteers on the streets of Beijing are helpful and smiling, Heiberg told the Norwegian daily Aftenposten. “The police and military, on the other hand, need to act differently. Their faces look like they are made of stone. They’re seriously scaring the foreigners in Beijing. The fact that they’re armed and look sinister just makes things worse. That’s why I’ve talked to China’s political authorities and the Olympics organizers at our daily meetings. I’ve asked them to get people to smile more,” the former athlete said.
Heiberg, who has visited China 60 times as a member of the IOC, has appeared on Chinese TV and Olympic websites urging the Chinese guardians to keep grinning.
“When I mentioned this in important meetings, the hosts began to laugh. Now I’m called the ambassador of smiles,” he said.
To be fair to the Chinese security forces, they do have a lot on their minds. Saturday’s fatal stabbing of Todd Bachman, father-in-law of U.S. men’s indoor volleyball team coach Hugh McCutcheon, has caused great distress in Beijing and comes after years of security preparation.
And there is the even greater threat of some kind of bomb attack by Muslim Uighur separatists in the restive region of Xinjiang. The separatists have staged a series of daring suicide bomb attacks in recent days, heightening the security alert in the capital.
The general feeling in China, however, is that soldiers and police are smiling more. The official Xinhua news agency has run stories about soldiers saying how proud they are to be smiling for the visiting athletes, coaches, tourists and other Olympic visitors.
And I can attest that the People’s Liberation Army soldiers who guard my apartment building smile courteously every day as I present my passport to enter my own home.