BEIJING Standing guard in a Beijing alley decorated with dozens of red Chinese flags, Lu Ruzi, 80, proudly patrols his neighborhood to "help bring glory to our motherland."
The great-grandfather is among a half-million Chinese mobilized for the Olympics who include police, commandos, SWAT units and retirees such as Lu, who acknowledge they are not-so-covert volunteer spies for the communist government, assigned to report suspicious people or protesters.
"If anyone tries to sabotage the Olympics, we will control them," Lu says. "We want to protect foreigners, too. If they are coming here, they must be our friends, right?"
As Beijing welcomes tens of thousands of athletes, dignitaries and tourists from around the world for the Summer Olympics that begin Friday, it's clear nearly everywhere you look that the government is meshing its role as gracious host with its tradition of controlling most aspects of daily life. In a nation known for its tight security and intolerance of dissidents, the security and surveillance of Chinese citizens and visitors alike has been increased noticeably.
Already-strict visa rules have been tightened to the point that some temporary visitors have been forced to leave China, while others planning to come for the Olympics have been kept out.
Some cafe and shop owners in Beijing and far beyond the city have been asked to report or keep out certain minorities.
Amnesty International reports that many dissidents have been detained or are being watched by government agents. And the government has blocked visiting journalists from viewing what it says are politically sensitive Internet Web sites.
Those sites include Free Tibet, which lobbies for an end to Chinese "occupation" of the region, as well as sites about the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.
Beijing's actions have created a tone that is significantly different from those set by organizers of the last two Summer Games, in Athens and Sydney. The Greeks and Australians welcomed the chance to parlay attention from the Olympics into tourism and economic bonanzas that would pay off long after the Games.
China will showcase Beijing with the stunning architecture of Olympic venues such as the National Aquatics Center, nicknamed the Water Cube, and the Beijing National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest because it's wrapped in a web of metal tubing. China's emergence as an economic and athletic powerhouse is sure to be a dominant theme.
China's unprecedented security efforts and its massive spending on the Games, about $40 billion suggest that future tourism and an economic boost are less of a priority, says Olympic historian David Wallechinsky.
Beijing seems more intent on putting on trouble-free Games that raise the stature of China's government and boost nationalism across the nation of 1.3 billion, he says.
China's security measures "go way beyond protecting people from terrorist attacks," he says. "This is about the Communist Party showing their own people that the world accepts them as legitimate rulers of China."
Kevin Wamsley, former director of the International Center for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, notes that security was extra tight in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games the first Olympics after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but he says the approach in Beijing is quite different.
"The security style (in Salt Lake) was more of a lockdown on the (Olympic) facilities the in and out movement," Wamsley says. In Beijing, "the whole city is very, very deeply under scrutiny. It's a bit more of a Big Brother situation."
Chinese officials have built public support for their restrictions by linking security with patriotism, casting any effort to disrupt the Games as an attack on Beijing.
The government has pointed to a long list of potential saboteurs, from Tibetan separatists and Muslim terrorists fighting for independence in China's northwest to opponents of China's human rights record and the nation's friendly ties with Sudan. Monday, 16 policemen were killed in northwestern China when two men rammed a truck into them and tossed explosives.
Security and patriotism became key themes in the spring after Chinese police cracked down on pro-independence rioters in Tibet. That was followed by anti-Chinese protests during the Olympic torch relay in Paris, San Francisco and elsewhere.
As for the security lockdown in Beijing: "We must give full play to the superiority of the socialist system, and organize and mobilize the great masses to wage a people's war for the protection of Olympic Games security," said Zhou Yongkang, security chief for the Communist Party.
It's about respect
The restrictions on those attending the Games or at least concerns about them appear to have virtually eliminated any boost in tourism here from the Olympics. Beijing's tourism bureau predicts up to 450,000 visitors in the city this month about the same as last August.
At the five-star Peninsula Beijing Hotel, spokeswoman Cecilia Lui says tighter visa restrictions translate into fewer guests.
"The current business level in the lead-up to the Olympics does fall short of our expectations," she says.
That's a price the security-focused government is happy to pay, says Kang Xiaoguang, a political science professor at Beijing's Renmin University.
"Originally, the government hoped the Games would give tourism a great boost in Beijing," he says. After protests over the government's crackdown on Tibet marred the Olympic torch relay in Europe, "that plan has been abandoned. The visa situation grew stricter, and people with visas running out have been driven away." Instead, "the Games will earn points for the Communist Party from the people."
James Kynge, author of "China Shakes the World," says that in China, the Olympics are "not about sport and generosity in victory or defeat but about showing the world that China is a powerful country that needs respect."
Taking pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong's portrait on Tiananmen Square last week, Molly and Meg McIntyre, cousins from Maine, said security was less noticeable than they had expected. Meg McIntyre, 30, a violinist, said she met China's stricter visa rules by writing a letter promising not to play her violin during her stay.
Their closest encounter with the heightened security was when their train crossed into China from Mongolia last week. "There were three different types of officers, and all were really intense," said Molly McIntyre, 26, a political science student. The officers took particular interest in her copy of Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" but eventually let her keep the book.
For others, the stepped-up security has been more significant.
Kendra Zanotto, a bronze medalist with the U.S. synchronized swimming team in Athens in 2004, had her visa application rejected for this year's Games.
She was slated to cover the event for the Olympic News Service, which is operated by the Beijing Olympics committee to provide sports news and athlete biographies to journalists at the Games.
Zanotto says the committee told her the visa was denied because she belongs to Team Darfur, a coalition of athletes co-founded by American Joey Cheek, a speed skating gold medalist at the 2006 Winter Olympics, to raise money and awareness for children in Darfur.
"I was just shocked," says Zanotto, 26, who recently graduated from Columbia and lives in Los Gatos, Calif. "I never thought that what I was doing was wrong or political or something the Chinese government would see as threatening, especially because Team Darfur supports the Olympics in Beijing. They haven't called for a boycott like a lot of activist organizations."
China promised a "New Beijing, New Olympics" when it was awarded the 2008 Games by the International Olympic Committee in 2001. Beijing Mayor Lui Qi said the Olympics would "help promote our economic and social policies and will further help develop our human rights cause."
IOC President Jacques Rogge agreed, saying in March, "We believe that China will change by opening the country to the scrutiny of the world through the 25,000 media who will attend the Games." He called the Olympics "a force for good" and "a catalyst for change."
Russell Moses, an American and Beijing-based political analyst, says the international audience "has really overestimated how much (China's) leadership cares about its image, compared to how much it wants to project the certainty of control."
Moses describes China's government as "sailing between the shoals of anxiety and self-celebration, and nobody is allowed to rock the boat."
China's new approach to foreign visitors was why Meg Stivison left the country last month with her boyfriend, Chris Malavette, and will watch the Olympics from her parents' home in New Jersey instead.
Stivison, 27, says she moved back after her boyfriend's visa wasn't extended. Previous extensions had been a formality during their two years in China as teachers. "I cried on the way to the airport, I was absolutely miserable," Stivison says. "It didn't occur to me that China would throw out two people who love China."
Olympic security extends far beyond Beijing. Zhang Suzhen has opened her family farm to foreign students for years to help them learn about life in China's countryside. Two weeks ago, she turned away a busload of students from Capital Normal University who wanted to visit her home near the Silver Pagoda Forest, an hour's drive from Beijing.
"The police have told us we cannot have foreign guests," Zhang says. "I think it's excessive. What are they afraid of? No one wants to cause trouble at the Olympic Games."
In Zhejiang province, about 700 miles south of Beijing, cafe owner Joanna Wu says the police ordered her to report any "Muslim, Indian, Middle Eastern or black people" who come into her shop, which is popular among foreigners.
For some in Beijing, the extra security takes the joy out of the Games.
Shauna Liu, owner of a boutique hotel on Yanyue Hutong, the alley patrolled by Lu Ruzi and others, says, "The party is being postponed until after the Olympic Games. My friends joke that security has become even more important for China than topping the medals table."
The Games could represent a lost opportunity to show off a changed Beijing, says Tom Pattinson, editor of "Time Out Beijing," a local edition of the entertainment magazine. "By trying to control everything, the authorities are missing the big picture," he says. "Nobody will see what Beijing has become in the last three years a vibrant, cultural city.'