Disabled Torch Bearer Becomes Chinese Hero

A wheelchair-bound Chinese torch bearer has rocketed to national fame after fending off protesters in Paris, becoming a symbol of China's defiance of global demonstrations backing Tibet.

Jin Jing, a 27 year-old amputee and Paralympic fencer has been called the "angel in a wheelchair" and is being celebrated by television chat shows, newspapers and online musical videos after fiercely defending the Olympic torch during the Paris leg of the troubled international relay.

Protesters denouncing Chinese policy in Tibet threw themselves at Jin. Most were wrestled away by police but at least one reached her wheelchair and tried to wrench the torch away.

Jin clung tenaciously to what has become a controversial icon of the Beijing Olympic Games until her attacker was pulled off.

Her look of fierce determination as she shielded the torch, captured in snapshots of the scene, has now spread throughout China, inflaming simmering public anger at the protests.

"I thought we had lost in France, but seeing the young disabled torch bearer Jin Jing's radiant smile of conviction, I know in France we did not lose, we won!" said one of tens of thousands of Internet postings about the incident.

Chinese people are generally enthusiastic about hosting the Olympics and many have backed the government's claims that recent riots and protests in Tibet were the work of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, seeking to upset the Games. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly rejected that claim.

Jin, cheerful and photogenic, has emerged to embody nationalist indignation at Western criticisms and protests.

"I still feel very angry now, and I think the man was very irrational," she told Reuters in an interview.

"Hosting the Olympics is such a good thing for our country, so why do they want to ruin it?"


She lost part of her right leg when she was nine after developing a tumour in her ankle, but went on to become a member of the national wheelchair fencing team and won medals in regional games in 2002, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The attack also angered Olympic chief Jacques Rogge, who said any attempt to take the torch from the athletes carrying it was destroying a dream, but Jin's injury made it even worse.

"What shocked me most is when someone tried to rob the torch off a wheelchair athlete, a disabled athlete who was unable to defend the torch. This is unacceptable," the International Olympic Committee president said on Thursday.

In China the attack has become a lightning rod for anger about the chaotic protests that have beset the torch relay from London and Paris to San Francisco.

Some bloggers called for boycotts of French goods and on one Web site a Chinese student posted pictures of the protester who got closest to Jin.

"Remember him...he'll die a terrible death," said a message attached to the pictures. Below was a stream of similar posts from visitors to the site. "This is not a person," one said.

Jin took a more balanced approach to her attacker.

"We should give him some moral education," she said, adding that there was no need to stop buying French goods.

"We can handle it more rationally, most French people are very friendly," she said.

Chinese Internet comments have also attacked Western media coverage of unrest in Tibet as biased towards pro-independence groups and have said that news reports on the torch relay ignored cheering Chinese and foreign spectators to focus on protests.

A video posted on YouTube carried a montage of photos of enthusiastic spectators and flag-waving Chinese patriots waiting for the torch, to the sound-track of a home-recorded rap called: "Our flag should not be forgotten by the world".

(Additional Reporting by Guo Shipeng, Nick Mulvenney and Sally Huang; Editing by David Fogarty)