Special report: 2008 Olympic Games
BEIJING, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Olympic volunteer Zhou Zijie has had to answer hundreds of calls every day at the Beijing International Media Center, but he remains enthusiastic about his job.
The China Foreign Affairs University junior is in charge of helping more than 5,000 non-accredited reporters from around the world register and get accreditation as they arrive to cover the Olympics. His job also includes handling inquiries about visas and how to get to the Bird's Nest, or the National Stadium.
"Sometimes foreign journalists have misunderstandings about our job because of language problems, so we explain to them patiently," Zhou told Xinhua while he was between calls.
"As a volunteer, I'm representing the image of all Chinese college students," said Zhou. "It's my responsibility to welcome all athletes and journalists with an open mind."
Zhou is one of about 100,000 volunteers for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics here. The oldest is aged 87. More than 1.12 million people applied for the volunteer posts, more than in any previous Games.
During the 11th Asian Games, held here 18 years ago, the concept of volunteering, which was introduced by 19th century religious missions from Western countries, was strange to Chinese.
But it has became increasingly popular in the past few months. Chinese volunteers demonstrated their growing power as a new social force when many rushed to the southwestern province of Sichuan to help after the deadly May 12 earthquake.
Regardless of the danger of continuing aftershocks in the quake zone, Chinese from all walks of life, including farmers, students, managers, lawyers, doctors and teachers helped deliver relief material, prevent epidemics and counsel survivors.
At least 4.91 million volunteers, almost five times the number of the Olympics volunteers, participated in quake rescue and relief, according to the Chinese Young Volunteers Association (CYVA). Some of them will also serve the coming Games.
Although the athletes are the stars, the Games could not go smoothly and successfully without the dedication of volunteers, said Zhou.
Apart from 100,000 Olympic and Paralympic volunteers, another 400,000 city volunteers and 1 million social volunteers started service on July 1 and will work till Oct. 8, with the oldest, who is 103, helping security work near the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing.
The volunteers' tasks were determined by international conventions and the Games rules, with strict assessment for each post, said Liu Jian, head of the Volunteer Department of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 29th Olympic Games. Experience from previous Games and local conditions were also considered in arranging the volunteers' work, said Liu.
The city volunteers will offer information, interpretation and emergency aid at 550 service stations in Beijing. Each must serve for at least 12 hours on three shifts.
"If you have only a little time, you can be a social volunteer to help out-of-towners at subway exits, bus stops and park gates as well as in neighborhoods and towns," said Liu.
On Dec. 5, Beijing put into effect a regulation to promote volunteer work, which described 780 types of volunteer work and made it more convenient for ordinary citizens to serve as volunteers in their spare time, according to Liu.
"Beijing is far behind cities in developed countries in the linguistic environment and some infrastructure conditions such as signs in the city, so we hope the volunteers can help improve conditions," he said.
Yuan Rishe, 15, a student from the Beijing No. 65 Middle School, provides emergency services near the Beijing Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital but has done much more than expected.
The youngest winner of the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grants, Yuan changed her conservation website into a blog for young Chinese from around the nation to share their experience with protecting the environment as volunteers.
Yuan said she had been involved with the green movement for eight years, since her father told her about the harm that used batteries cause. She worked to persuade her classmates to use both sides of paper, buy power-saving lights and turn on one air-conditioner at a time.
"I don't think it's a waste of time," she said.
China's volunteer service has its roots in the 1960s, when the nation launched a campaign to learn from Lei Feng, a Mao Zedong-era model soldier known for his dedication, generosity and readiness to serve the people, said Hou Baosen, who is in charge of volunteer work at the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League.
In 2000, the Committee and the CYVA named March 5, which had been designated as a day to commemorate and learn from Lei, the "Chinese Young Volunteer Service Day."
China's volunteer service today is a development of learning from Lei Feng in a market economy, said Hou.
So far, 268 million people in China have provided more than 6.1billion hours of volunteer work in poverty alleviation, community construction, environmental protection, emergency rescue and large events, said Chen Guanghao, an official with the Committee.
Chen added that more than 25 million have registered as volunteers.
Many Olympic volunteers are students. For them, serving the Olympics means not only devotion and a learning experience but also protecting the country's image.
Lu Yongzheng, secretary of the Secretariat of the Committee, said his goal was to popularize volunteer service among Chinese youth, then make it part of life for civic-minded Chinese.
"The idea of volunteers has not been completely accepted by the Chinese public or drawn the participation of most people," said Lu. "The volunteer spirit is not inborn and it takes time for the public to recognize such a new thing."