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Hollywood march shows support for China's Olympics

Participants aim to convey a positive message in the wake of protests and violence over Tibet.

May 11, 2008|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

For several hours Saturday afternoon, the most curious sight at the corner of Hollywood and Highland wasn't the man dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur or the dueling religious proselytizers, but the swarm of Beijing Olympic Games supporters waving flags, passing out helium-filled balloons and singing patriotic Chinese songs.

Accompanied by three inflatable Olympic mascots -- known as the Fuwa -- the crowd chanted slogans such as "Welcome to Beijing" and "No politics" as they marched along several blocks of Hollywood Boulevard past the usual street scene of clowns, celebrity impersonators and tourists.

The event was organized by the L.A. Support Olympic Committee, a group of mostly young Chinese American professionals who know one another from postgraduate programs in the United States. Leaders said they wanted to promote a more agreeable image of China and its coming-out party. They said the event was conducted independently of the city's Chinese Consulate.

The image of the games has been marred in recent weeks by unrest in Tibet and a wave of nationalism in Chinese communities across the globe that has driven a wedge between Eastern and Western perceptions of China.

"This is not a protest; it's a march," said organizer Jean Xie, 32, who estimated the crowd size at about 400. "We wanted to show our positive support of the Olympics."

It's a distinction that some in the Chinese American community say is necessary after rallies across the U.S. and world have drawn criticism of overseas Chinese, especially college students.

Last month, a Chinese student at Duke University received death threats online after she was seen reasoning with pro-Tibet demonstrators. Her family in China was harassed and forced into hiding.

At USC, a Chinese student threw a water bottle at a Tibetan monk giving a lecture.

And an April 19 protest outside CNN's offices in Hollywood drew thousands from the local Chinese community, at one point turning violent when a counterdemonstrator was stripped of his placards and his clothing ripped.

"We don't want any more violent protests," said William Lu, 32. "We have to be more peaceful."

Saturday's site was chosen because organizers wanted to reach a cross-section of local residents and out-of-towners. The marchers' only detractors were some street performers who complained that the demonstrators were drowning them out.

"If anyone steps on my stuff, they're going to be replacing it," said an angry Angela Peel, 26, a musician elbowing for space outside the Kodak Theatre with an acoustic guitar. "I'm not aware of the situation in Tibet. And I only watch American sports and the World Cup."

Several tourists stopped to take photographs with the Fuwa.

One passerby, Alex Bushong, 21, of Hollywood saw the Olympic flags and immediately started shouting, "Free Tibet!"

Jacquie Donley, a Princess Leia impersonator inspecting the scene and looking for tourists to mug for, was unexpectedly handed a sign that read "Beijing Welcomes You."

"They just thrust it in my arms," said Donley, 24, who wore the "Star Wars" character's long white gown and signature bun hairstyle.

She asked two men next her to take the sign.

They ignored her. So she looked around, dropped it and walked away.

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david.pierson@latimes.com

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