Cold shoulder for foreign reporters

Our task for CBC-TV was to go outside of the Olympic city, Beijing, and spend some time with a Chinese family at their home watching the Games on television. It sounded innocent enough. But this is China — nothing comes easy.

Even a feel-good story won't lower the guard of village gatekeepers

Kas Roussy was based in Beijing between 1998 and 2003 and returned to the CBC Beijing bureau as a televison producer during the 2008 Olympics.

She returns to her reporting duties in Canada as a National News reporter in Toronto in September.

As the Beijing Olympics neared their end, our task for CBC-TV was to go outside of the city and spend some time with a Chinese family at their home watching the Games on television.

It sounded innocent enough. But this is China — nothing comes easy.

The first stop was Long Bao Shan village, a farming community some 80 kilometres outside of Beijing in Hebei province. 

On the day we arrive, it is dusty and dry. There are few people on the streets; most are out working the fields.

Our intention was to revisit the Wang family, whom the CBC Beijing bureau had once profiled for another news item. They were a pleasant bunch the first time the CBC interviewed them in June, talkative and friendly.  

But this second visit wasn't so nice.

The mother and grandmother were the only ones at home when we arrived. They recognized our interpreter, Tina, who asked if we could speak to them about the Beijing Olympics.

"No," was the answer. "Please go away. Please leave us alone. We don't want to talk to you."

Wow. What a change in attitude! What happened?

'How dare you'

Our interpreter, Tina, tells us that the family has been warned by local officials not to talk to foreigners. We wonder whether they've been chastised for speaking to foreign journalists on the previous occasion.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of this going on during these Olympics.

Since 2001, when Beijing won the right to host the Games, Chinese officials promised the foreign media they would have freedom to report on just about anything. But we have not seen a lot of that transpire.

So we try another village farther down the road. There is an elderly man sitting at the one entrance to the village. He looks harmless enough.

He chats with our Chinese driver, Mr. Hu, while Tina searches the village for a family willing to talk to us.

The foreigners (Michel Cormier, the CBC correspondent; Glen Kugelstadt, the cameraman; and myself, the producer) stay in the car, unnoticed… for now.

Tina returns with a young mother and her little boy in tow. She has been enthusiastically watching the Olympics on TV with her family, and she is willing to be interviewed by us.

Perfect! Just what we've been looking for.

But the elderly gatekeeper, who we later find out is the local Communist party official, won't have any of it.

A man, right, tells the CBC's Michel Cormier, left, and our interpreter, Tina, second left, not to talk to the village residents. (CBC)

By now, he has spotted us — and forbids us from speaking to the young mother.

In fact, his tone is threatening, especially toward this woman. "How dare you allow foreigners into your home!" he scolds her. "You know they are dangerous."

Dangerous? Us?

We are here trying to do a feel-good story about the Beijing Olympics. How is that dangerous?

Here we go again

On to a third village. It's our last-ditch attempt to speak to ordinary Chinese about their Games.

This community is 50 kilometres north of Beijing near the famous Ming Tombs, the final resting place for some of China's emperors. Today, it's a popular spot for tourists.

But on this day, foreigners with the CBC are not popular.

A sign out front of a village tells outsiders to register and that they will be subjected to a security check. (Kas Roussy/CBC)

As we arrive at our third and final destination, a sign with bold red Chinese characters greets us at the entrance.

It says, if you're not a local villager, you must register and face a security check.

When this village's gatekeeper spots us, he denies us access to the community and its residents. Before climbing back into our vehicle, we want to know one thing.

We ask the gatekeeper: "Are you at least enjoying the Games? Have you been watching?"

He says: "We're trying to find time to enjoy them."

It seems, during these Beijing Olympics, there's no rest for the village gatekeepers of China.