Lemons and Headsets: n+1 on China’s Olympic Outreach to the Press

The website for n+1 magazine brings an anonymous essay reminiscing about what it was like to

work as a speed-typist for the Chinese public-relations effort

during the preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

The reporters would file in a few minutes late, would chat in little clumps, would whisk their press badges over their backs, as though to make a show of how little they cared to display them. When they grabbed their translation headsets, they pretended not to—holding them idly in dropped hands. They wanted you to know that they understood the Mandarin well enough without them.

Disclaimer: I’m disproportionately interested in the subject and have a

strong incentive to encourage other people to find it interesting

as well; I recognized the identity of the writer halfway through the first sentence. That said, as a reader and as someone who is writing a book about Beijing, I found it a pleasingly non-tendentious offering from the folks at n+1. In the many places where the details coincide with my firsthand observations, the reporting is accurate and the specifics are well chosen. I, too, encountered the “ice water in which lemons floated,” and it is hard to overstate how powerful an impression it left, as a final gesture of China’s dedication to one particular kind of accommodation.