In the first week of the Olympic Games, two men go missing in Beijing. It's last Monday, and in front of a police station in the city's southern section, Ji Sizun, a slight man of 58, gets into a dark Buick with the license plate number E/PO 397. Two plainclothes policemen accompany him to the vehicle and get in with him. Ji, holding a red folder, seems agitated as he waves goodbye. He is not seen again. The other man who disappears in Beijing is Jacques Rogge.
The world loses the IOC president shortly after his opening speech in the "Bird's Nest" stadium. He is seen again briefly on Monday, as he tours rows of giant pieces of transmission equipment on the Olympic Green. He writes his name in Chinese characters onto a panel. On Tuesday, he is reported to be attending handball and hockey matches, and watching the wrestling and shooting competitions. On Wednesday, he apparently spends time at the weightlifting and judo events, and on Friday he is shown on television watching the 100-meter trials in the Bird's Nest.
But it seems impossible to get a glimpse of him face-to-face, and the few photos of Rogge depict a face that looks pale, a face older than his 66 years. There are even rumors that Rogge is ill. He's staying in the Olympic Village, next to the Swiss Olympic team, but even that piece of information is based on nothing but hearsay. Rogge has turned into a phantom of this greatest of all operas, a prominent man who is somehow consistently absent -- and who has nothing to say about anything.
Not a word about the war in the Caucasus. Not a word about the armored personnel carrier that was standing in front of the Olympic press center on Tuesday, like a warning. Not a word about the doctored TV images from the evening of the opening ceremony. Rogge is silent. The IOC is silent. It has nothing to say about the ongoing arrests of protestors here and there, nothing about the growing number of soldiers and police officers on the Olympic Green and in the media village. Not a word about the case of Mr. Ji.
On Opening Day Ji went to the Deshengmenwai police station in Beijing's Xicheng district to file an application for a permit to stage a public protest. Ji's petition, written in the elaborate Chinese style, contains sentences like: "The party and the government are dependent upon the assistance and wisdom of the Chinese people. We are capable of successfully holding the Olympic Games, and we will be just as successful at bringing about reforms, so that the international community will congratulate us on our democratic culture."
In short, Ji wanted to demonstrate. He wanted to appear in one of the three "protest parks" the government has specifically designated in Beijing for the duration of the Games. As his petition states, he wanted to: 1. Hang up colorful posters, 2. Give speeches, 3. Distribute material, 4. Sell books, 5. Promote judicial reform. Essentially, what Ji wanted was what Jacque Rogge wants, and what was promised to the rest of the world before these games.
Repeatedly in his speeches, the last one two weeks ago, Rogge had insisted that China is willing to change. China, he said, wants to open up and will open up, and the country will change after the Olympics. Rogge raised the hope that the athletes arriving in China would be allowed to bring the Olympic ideals with them.
At the opening ceremony, he spoke of a great "dream" associated with these games, a dream he evoked in 19 short sentences between his greeting and his final "Thank you!" But most of all, Rogge referred to the games as a peaceful gathering of the peoples of the world. Even as he spoke, Russian tanks were already rolling through Georgia. And Mr. Ji was about to disappear with two police officers in a dark Buick van.
Ji's case is made public on Wednesday of the first week of the Olympics, two days after his disappearance, when the human rights organization Human Rights Watch sounds the alarm. Its report contains names, data and facts about Ji and a number of other Chinese who wanted to protest in the parks and were simply sent away or arrested and taken away on the spot. According to the organization's Asia director, apparently "the procedure for approved protests proposed by China was never intended to provide people with more freedom of expression, but merely to make it easier for the police to suppress freedom." The incident reached the Olympic Green on Thursday.
That was when the representatives of the world press demanded an explanation. Twenty thousand members of the media are accredited to cover the games, and every morning 100 of them attend a briefing with the IOC and BOCOG, the Beijing Organizing Committee. The briefing turns in a press conference verging on pandemonium. It's the kind of event China fears, and for which the IOC has no use.
Four times in a row, a British reporter asks IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies whether the IOC feels affronted by the fact that the China is not living up to its promises. Davies responds, almost robotically, that the IOC is proud of how wonderfully these games have developed.
Her remarks are met with heckling and heated comments, until Mr. Wang, the BOCOG spokesman, a consistently pleasant man with good manners, gives a small presentation about China's advances. Wang talks about new freedoms and great strides of progress. "But," he adds, "we cannot allow the country to descend into chaos."
It is during these moments on Thursday that the mood shifts within the press corps. Any desire to qualify the few, scattered protests quickly dissipates. And the desire to see beauty in the Beijing games, despite everything, to let politics be politics and concentrate on sports and its magic, shrinks. After enduring days of silence, blandishment and lies coming from the organizers, the reporters on the floor face a new certainty: This country is not going to change. This country has hijacked the games, merely to celebrate and congratulate itself, undisturbed by the IOC, as it looks on, either obediently or powerlessly.
Out in the city, it is becoming clear that in Beijing, in its seats of power surrounding the now consistently abandoned Tiananmen Square, no one ever seriously entertained the thought of accommodating Jacques Rogge and his ideals -- at least not more than was absolutely necessary. The promised protest zones in the parks are chimeras. They simply do not exist where the government claims they are supposed to be. The government never intended to allow public protests in Beijing. A week later, on Monday, August 18, the official Chinese Xinhua news agency will report that zero of the 77 applications currently on file to hold public protests in Beijing have been approved.
The government never intended to allow Mr. Ji to express his opinion openly. His telephone has since been disconnected -- not simply switched off. Dialing the number -- on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday -- proved to be an exercise in futility. Upon leaving for Beijing, he told his family that his mobile phone would always be switched on and accepting calls -- day and night, always. He also told them that if he became unreachable, they could assume that there were "problems."
He has become unreachable. His relatives have not heard from him since Monday. They are familiar with his stories, dramas and anecdotes. The ones he related one last time in the hours before he disappeared on Monday -- when what promised to be a hot, humid day was dawning over Beijing. It was early morning and still cool outside as Ji waited at a bus stop. He was already sweating. He was in Beijing to tell his stories, to express his opinions.
An Internet blogger, a laid-back man with long, greasy hair, had contacted Ji. In 2003, the blogger's weblog was voted the country's best on Sohu, a popular Internet portal. From his bachelor's apartment near the Olympic Stadium, the blogger writes his accounts of daily life in Beijing for the rest of the world to read.
The blogger, known as "Tiger Temple," had hoped that the presence of a Western journalist would be enough to protect Mr. Ji. He had hoped that the enormous Olympic circus would impress Chinese security forces, at least a little, and that it would make them tread more cautiously when dealing with criticism and resistance. But Tiger Temple was wrong, as was Mr. Ji from Fujian.
Where Is the President Today?
Throughout his life, until he disappeared, Ji worked as a legal advocate representing ordinary people in the countryside along China's east coast. He took 50 to 60 cases a year, helping his clients write letters, meet with government officials and appear in court. His clients included farmers defrauded of their land, families relocated without compensation, migrant workers suing their employers for their wages and village mayors fighting industrial plants. Mr. Ji advised them all.
His clients were beaten and harassed, said Mr. Ji, and they were denied justice. They were punished for daring to open their mouths, for standing up for themselves and their lives, and, said Mr. Ji, for wanting to improve China. "It is not a single case that has prompted me to protest," he said, " but the entirety of cases, the entire system, which must change."
When he read in the newspaper, in late July, that the government planned to allow public demonstrations during the games, his mind was quickly made up. He would go to Beijing, he decided. He would present his case. And he would, finally, in full view of the world, speak his mind.
Ji didn't care that his family and friends were against the idea, or that he was ridiculed at home in Fujian, in his city Zhangzhou. He would achieve nothing, people said, even those he had persistently helped, in word and deed, over the years. They were afraid for him, convinced that he would only get himself into trouble. But Ji's response was always the same: "I am up against great forces. But I am not alone. We are many."
On the evening before his last trip to the police station, Ji watched Olympic water polo matches. He had a ticket for the Yingdong swimming stadium, where he sat in section 102, row 19, seat number 18. He watched Germany lose to Serbia, and the Australians prevail over Greece. In the last match of the day, the US team beat China 8:4.
Mr. Ji, sitting in the audience, was disappointed. He wanted his national team to win the match and wanted China to succeed. In fact, that was what he had always wanted for China -- success and progress -- and not just in sports. His convictions led him to hope that Jacques Rogge's power would be sufficient to improve China, to stimulate reforms. Mr. Ji hoped that the IOC's "silent diplomacy" would succeed.
But there is no sign of -- or comment from -- Rogge, not on Tuesday, not on Wednesday and not on Friday. All attempts to gain access to his schedule fail. The photographers from the Getty Agency, who are occasionally allowed to accompany him, reluctantly produce a few photos, which merely prove that Rogge is actually in Beijing. The news agencies are also in the dark about his schedule. A daily visit to the office of Emmanuelle Moreau, the other IOC spokeswoman, develops into a comedy.
Where is the president today? "Watching the swimming." And after that? "Watching gymnastics." And what will he do then? "He will be in meetings." With whom? "With sponsors." And who are they? "That is difficult to say at this point." And what will he be doing tomorrow? Or what did he do yesterday?
"You know," says Moreau, an elegant Swiss woman from Lausanne, looking almost as if she were wearing a costume, in her sporty red Olympic polo shirt, "the calendar is really no great secret." In that case, could she produce it? "Of course," says Moreau, and she repeats the same promise four times during the course of the week, "of course. I'll send you everything by e-mail." But the promised e-mail never arrives. Rogge remains a phantom.
He is a hunted man, and anyone intent on hunting him down can indeed find his tracks. During the games, he meets with the head of BOCOG every morning at 8:30 a.m.. Then the long, complicated chain of his obligations begins. The major sponsors want to see his face close-up, CEOs want to shake his hand, talk to him and introduce their sons and daughters to him.
Rogge makes the rounds, from Coca-Cola to Johnson & Johnson, from Kodak to Lenovo, from Omega to McDonald's, from Visa to Panasonic, and in this first week he hears many complaints. The Olympic Green, a 1,135-hectare (2,803-acre) sports campus surrounding the Bird's Nest, consistently seems almost empty. The 50,000 people who supposedly have daily access to it can easily get lost in the vast complex, and far too few are finding their way to the corporate pavilions.
The sponsors are unhappy about the fact that the buildings and stadiums have been only half-full in the first week, leading the Chinese to bring in busloads of stand-in audience members, even though all 6.8 million tickets to all of the events are supposedly sold out. The sponsors paid for a festival. But a festival is not what China and the IOC are delivering, at least not in the first week, the week before the beginning of the track & field events.
Rogge must appease the "Beijing partners," like VW, Sinopec, Adidas and Bank of China, massage the souls of the "Beijing sponsors," like Haier, Budweiser, Tsingtao Beer and UPS, and keep his exclusive Olympic suppliers and equipment providers happy, companies like Snickers and Greatwall Wine, sock maker MengNa and air-conditioning equipment supplier Aggreko.
All of them invite him to gala dinners, demanding Rogge's presence, insisting that he say a few words, write dedications and hold up their products. His days are long and filled to the brim, he is everywhere and nowhere, always behind closed doors, in meetings and at parties that are closed to the public, invisible to the world, on the move in the catacombs of power, where he has no time for Mr. Ji.
But Mr. Ji could very well spoil the games, and at the end of the first week, it seems as if the IOC is underestimating that risk. It wants nothing to do with political problems, and instead is intoxicated by the perfection of these games, and for good reason.
Hardly ever has this global athletic festival been so perfectly organized. The giant fleet of shuttle buses is always precisely on schedule, and the organizing committee has experienced nary a glitch in housing, feeding and caring for more than 10,000 athletes, 20,000 members of the media and thousands of VIP guests, statesmen and corporate executives, in luxury hotels to functional Olympic quarters. All are well taken care of, and all are moved by the eager friendliness of the 70,000 voluntary helpers, each of them an outstanding ambassador for his or her country.
But since last Monday, the diminutive Mr. Ji has cast a long shadow over all of them. His case has created an ugly, dark stain on the flawless surface of the games. His disappearance begs for an appearance by Jacques Rogge. But the IOC president is the second of the two men who has gone missing in Beijing in recent days.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan