I guess I wasn't hallucinating (Beijing Olympics watch, cont.)

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I spent Wednesday of this week going with my family to Nanjing, which is fascinating but which on that day fully justified its reputation as one of the "Three Furnaces of China" (with Wuhan and Chongqing). It was so hot and the trains there and back were so packed that soon after we reached Shanghai we fell asleep with the room lights still on and the TV news droning in the background.


In that hallucinatory state I half-noticed the shots of celebrations from Beijing, as the one year countdown to the Olympics began. Then I thought I heard the head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, say something truly astonishing: that the air in Beijing was so bad that some events (like, the ones where athletes have to breathe) might have to be postponed!


In the morning I couldn't be sure whether that had been dream or reality.

Rogge's comment would be enormous, nation-shaking news -- but I didn't see any followup. Also, how could the authorities have let such a remark be aired? Much less threatening comments have recently been zapped by state censors.


Now that I've had a chance to prowl around, it turns out that in an interview with CNN Rogge actually said what I thought I heard, even though I've not yet seen a mention of it in the Chinese media. And how did it slip through? I must have caught the interview when it was first being broadcast, live, and the authorities were apparently not able to react in real time. (They wouldn't dare block the interview as a whole, since Rogge's otherwise upbeat comments have been the centerpiece of this week's Olympics Countdown coverage.)


On the brighter side, the rumored air-quality trial run -- ordering half of Beijing's cars off the road for a few days, to see how much difference it makes in pollution -- is going to happen, starting next week. Here's hoping!

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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