Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beijing Artist Finds Front-Row Seats for Olympic Workers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beijing Artist Finds Front-Row Seats for Olympic Workers

Article excerpt

Last July, artist Su Jian set up his easel at a building site in Beijing and asked the foreman to find him volunteers. He wanted to paint a portrait of some of the migrant workers who were building the Olympic Green.

Five men agreed to model for Mr. Su. In return, he made them a deal: If he sold the painting for enough money, they would be going to the Olympics.

On Monday, Su made good on his promise.

Four of the five men trooped into the iconic Bird's Nest National Stadium and sat in the front tier, trading their hard hats for casual clothes and red Chinese flags.

It was their first time at such a sporting event, their first real vacation after years of hard work on construction sites. (The fifth man declined to attend.)

The workers were among an estimated 300,000 migrants who participated in the construction of Olympics sites and infrastructure. Migrants are known as China's "floating population," men and women from the hardscrabble countryside whose toil in cities and factories helps to sustain the country's economic boom.

Last year, Beijing's official count of migrants was 4.2 million, out of a citywide population of 16.3 million. Those who study the population believe the real number is probably much higher.

In recent months, their numbers have fallen sharply as construction sites and polluting factories fell silent under a pre- Olympics beautification drive. The government also drove out migrants peddling fruit and begging for spare change before the Games.

Back in the 90,000-capacity stadium, a men's 200-meter race was under way. The men who built the Olympic facilities were finally getting an up-close look at their work - and at the glittering spectacle that has captured the world's avid gaze.It was a moment that none is likely to forget.

"I had dreamed of coming back one day to see the stadium . …

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