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Smiling Angel in Wheelchair the Talk of a Nation

2008-04-30 00:00

She must be the most talked-about torchbearer at the moment, not only for her determined efforts to protect the Olympic torch from violent "Tibet independence" activists during the Paris leg of the international relay, but also for being condemned later by some radicals at home as a "traitor" for voicing her opposition to a boycott of French goods.

One-legged fencer Jin Jing, 27, was pushed and shoved as she fended off "Tibet independence" supporters trying to extinguish the torch during the chaotic relay through the French capital in early April.

Jin was supposed to be the third torchbearer in the Paris relay, but the plan was changed because of the chaotic protests. She prepared for the worst and insisted on holding the torch herself instead of following the plan to place it on a special support device on her wheelchair.

But before her torch could be lit, several protestors threw themselves at Jin and her two companions, one of whom is blind. Jin held the torch tightly and guarded it with her body. During one particularly ugly scuffle, she was bruised and scratched by a flailing woman wrapped in a "Tibet independence" flag.

"I felt no pain from the scratches and injury on my right leg," she said. "I would die to protect the torch."

Police, her guards and surrounding Chinese students helped her and the torch never left her hands. Jin said she was just acting on instinct.

"I don't think I did anything great," she said. "Any Chinese and Olympics-loving torchbearer would protect the torch under such circumstances."

She said the Chinese students in Paris were more fearless. "I was moved to tears seeing so many Chinese students waving national flags and singing the national anthem along the route."

Student Qiu Yu, who was at the scene, recalled how Jin's smile greatly encouraged her and fellow students, who were there to support China.

"You don't know how much we were cheered and encouraged by your smile," Qiu told Jin in a TV talk show. "You are a role model and an upright and brave girl."

Hailed as the "smiling angel in the wheelchair," Jin is now known and loved by more than 1 billion people. The images of her protecting the torch and smiling in her wheelchair were splashed on front pages all over China.

"When Jin Jing protected the torch with all her effort, she was not only defending her motherland, but also the Olympic Games, which belong to the world," read one post on sina.com.

"I burst into tears when I saw you protect the torch with your frail body. You defend the Olympic spirit," wrote one fan on sohu.com.

Although injured by one protester, Jin took a more balanced approach to him.

"We should give him some moral education," Jin said, adding there was no need to boycott French goods, as suggested by some people at home infuriated by French government's failure to provide better security for the Paris relay.

"We should not boycott Carrefour for many reasons, including the benefits of (the retailer's) Chinese employees," she said.

However, these comments drew criticism from some radicals on the Internet.

"Jin Jing, I'm disappointed by your attitude. How could you be so ignorant!" read one furious entry on Chinese blogs.

A few people even went as far as branding her a "traitor."

Through this, Jin Jing stayed calm, calling on the Chinese people to "handle it rationally," adding that "most French people are very friendly."

In the wake of the Internet-based campaign of protests and boycott threats against French companies, Christian Poncelet, president of the French Senate, visited Jin in Shanghai and gave her a letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the letter, Sarkozy said he would like to express deep regret for the way she had been jostled in Paris. He strongly condemned the treatment she had been subjected to. He also invited her to France as his guest.

"When I joined the torch relay in Paris, I not only passed on the Olympic flame, but also the Chinese people's friendship with the French," said Jin after reading the note, adding that if she could have one dream come true, it would be "world peace."

When Jin was nine, doctors found a malignant tumor in her right ankle, which led to the amputation of part of her leg. She returned to school after a year of chemotherapy. Refusing to use a cane for fear that she would get in people's way, Jin insisted on getting around on one foot, which lead to a lot of pain.

She survived the ordeal and worked as a telephone operator in a local hotel. Her colleagues recalled that she took the bus to work, saved her money to buy fashion magazines, and enjoyed shopping with other girls. She was always cheerful and upbeat, despite her disability.

During a speaking contest in 2001, Jin met a coach who invited her to join in the local wheelchair fencing team.

A big fan of fictional swordsman Zorro, Jin agreed. She picked it up quickly and won silver and bronze in the 2002 Busan Far East and South Pacific Games.

Although she did not win the chance to compete in this year's Paralympics, her optimism and cheerful personality won her a coveted place as torchbearer.

Jin lives in Baoshan District of Shanghai with her retired parents. Her mother, Liu Huayao, said she had never expected the rioters could do such things to a handicapped girl in a wheelchair.

"We are very proud of her after the incident in Paris," said Liu. "I missed her very much when she was in Paris and I hope she can go back to her quiet life after this."


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