The National Stadium reaffirms architecture’s civilizing role in a nation that, despite its outward confidence, is struggling to forge a new identity out of a maelstrom of inner conflict.

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

By Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times, BEIJING OLYMPICS – More than 90,000 spectators will stream through the Bird’s Nest Stadium’s gates on Friday for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games; billions are expected to watch the fireworks on television. At the center of it all is this dazzling stadium, which is said to embody everything from China’s muscle-flexing nationalism to a newfound cultural sophistication.

Expect to be overwhelmed. Designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the stadium lives up to its aspiration as a global landmark. Its elliptical latticework shell, which has earned it the nickname the Bird’s Nest, has an intoxicating beauty that lingers in the imagination. Its allure is only likely to deepen once the enormous crowds disperse and the Olympic Games fade into memory.

Great architecture can never be fully conveyed through a television screen, of course, and it saddens me that so many Americans will experience the building only via satellite. In a site for mass gatherings, Herzog and de Meuron have carved out psychological space for the individual, and rethought the relationship between the solitary human and the crowd, the everyday and the heroic. However the structure attests to China’s nationalistic ambitions, it is also an aesthetic triumph that should cement the nation’s reputation as a place where bold, creative gambles are unfolding every day.

Until now, the number of memorable Olympic stadiums could be counted on one hand. There is Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium, by Werner March, with its imposing ring of stone columns, a symbol of fascism’s absolute disregard for the individual. In an intentional counterpoint, Günter Behnisch and Frei Otto designed transparent tentlike roof canopies for the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich, daring in their structural innovation. And there is the elegant ring of slender Y-shaped columns supporting Pier Luigi Nervi’s Palazzetto dello Sport, which was a minor venue at the 1960 Games in Rome.

Herzog and de Meuron were chosen for the Beijing project partly on the strength of their design for the 2005 Allianz Arena in Munich. Clad in puffy, translucent panels made of a high-tech plastic, that arena’s doughnut-shaped form seems to swell from pressure within. (Herzog compares it to a boiling pot.)

During sports events, it glows with energy: the hue of its translucent skin shifts from game to game with the colors of the teams. Inside, the steep pitch of the seats creates the impression that the 70,000 spectators are coiled tightly around the field. It’s a masterly way to choreograph the focused hysteria of a soccer match.

But in Beijing, the architects were clearly striving for something more heroic. The centerpiece of a vast Olympic park in the northern reaches of Beijing, the stadium is raised on a mound of earth to give it a more monumental presence. Its matrix of crisscrossing columns and beams was conceived as a gargantuan work of public sculpture.

Viewed from a distance, the contrast between its bent steel columns and its bulging elliptical form gives the stadium a surreal, moody appearance, as if it were straining to contain the forces that are pushing and pulling it this way and that. Philosophically, it suggests the tensions just beneath the surface of a society in constant turmoil.

Working with the engineering firm Arup Sport, the architects designed a series of cantilevered trusses to support the roof, which shades the seats. A secondary pattern of irregular crisscrossing beams is woven through this frame, creating the illusion of a gigantic web of rubber bands straining to hold the building in place.

But the stadium’s exterior also sends other messages. Herzog and de Meuron came of age when architects had begun striving to break down the purity of late Modernism, which they saw as a kind of authoritarianism. By turning to asymmetrical forms and mysteriously translucent materials, they challenged that rigid, aesthetic ethos.

Here, those values reveal themselves slowly as you circle the building. There is no crushing monumental axis leading into the stadium as there was in Berlin. From close up, the tilting beams suggest rather a dark and enchanted forest in a fairy tale.

Visitors filter into the Bird’s Nest from all sides. Upon reaching the ground-level concourse, they either spill down into the lower-level seats or climb slender stairways through the matrix of beams to the upper concourses.

The crisscrossing columns create a Piranesian world of dark corners and odd leftover spaces — an effect that intensifies as you ascend through the structure. Light filters through the translucent roof panels, and a network of drainpipes suspended from the roof adds a tough, utilitarian feel. The feverish play of light and shadows is reminiscent of the set for a German Expressionist film. From your seat, you gaze out at the surrounding skyline, where rows of generic housing towers seem to extend to eternity.

The stadium can, in fact, be read as an attack on the mind-numbing conformity of such architecture. By creating a hierarchy of intimate spaces, Herzog and de Meuron allow for unexpected moments of privacy and solitude. Their aim is to break down what the writer Elias Canetti, in his renowned study of crowds, described as “the closed ring from which nothing can escape.”

This vision of the stadium as a gigantic social organism, rather than as a machine for mass hypnosis, is underscored by the architects’ plans for the building’s future. A vast shopping mall, demanded by the developer who collaborated on the project with the government, is buried beneath the stadium so that it will not disturb the serenity of the surrounding park. To reach it, shoppers will descend into the ground on broad ramps. By contrast, the architects want the stadium’s ground-level concourse to remain open to the park, allowing pedestrians to wander through the crisscrossing columns and gaze into the empty pit of the stadium.

If the stadium ends up being as porous as the architects planned, the result will be the kind of recycled space haunted by memory. Think of the abandoned shell of the Roman Colosseum, parts of which were variously used as housing and workshops before Roman officials began serious restoration work in the early 19th century.

Architectural history is littered with brilliant projects that were ultimately debased by clients who didn’t understand them — or understood them only too well. The Chinese government has already threatened to build a fence around the stadium after the Games. And the developer is considering a plan to create a boutique hotel on the stadium’s upper-level concourse. If that goes forward, the stadium could gradually be swamped by consumerism.

Nonetheless, amid the endless debate over the ethics of building in China, Herzog and de Meuron’s achievement is undeniable. Rather than offering us a reflection of China’s contemporary zeitgeist, they set out to create a sphere of resistance, and to gently redirect society’s course.

The National Stadium reaffirms architecture’s civilizing role in a nation that, despite its outward confidence, is struggling to forge a new identity out of a maelstrom of inner conflict.


HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese Vice Minister of Health Wang Guoqiang to foster collaboration between scientists in both countries in research on integrative and traditional Chinese medicine.

The signing marks the opening of a two-day traditional Chinese medicine Research Roundtable at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The roundtable features scientific presentations by researchers from China and the United States. Topics include the synthesis of Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, criteria for evaluating traditional Chinese medicine practices, and the application of modern scientific tools such as proteomics (the study of proteins) to the study of traditional Chinese medicine.

“Many Americans incorporate alternative medical practices into their personal health care and are interested in the potential of a variety of traditional Chinese medicine approaches,” Secretary Leavitt said. “This project will advance our understanding of when and how to appropriately integrate traditional Chinese medicine with Western medical approaches to improve the health of the American and Chinese people.”

The memorandum of understanding and the establishment of the international collaboration will aid in furthering scientific research on traditional Chinese medicine.

Participants in the roundtable include a delegation from the Chinese State Administration on Traditional Chinese Medicine, academics from U.S. universities, and scientists and researchers from NIH, Indian Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Thirty-six percent of Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey. In the United States, traditional Chinese medicine is an alternative medical system that is considered a part of complementary and alternative medicine. Integrative medicine combines mainstream medical practices with alternative medical practices.

Traditional Chinese medicine involves numerous practices including acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal therapies. In 2007, NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) supported nearly $20 million in research on traditional Chinese medicine practices.

Secretary Leavitt was joined at the signing by FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., and NCCAM Director Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

The roundtable, which was coordinated by NCCAM, National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Fogarty International Center, is being held in advance of the Fourth Session of the United States-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, which began today in Annapolis, Md.



Official Name: People’s Republic of China

Capital: Beijing (Current local time)

Government Type: Communist State

Chief of State: President Hu Jintao

Population: 1.32 billion

Area: 3.7 million square miles

Web site: Gov.cn

By Andrew Jacobs, BEIJING JOURNAL — A smartly dressed man carried a lighted cigarette into the elevator of an upscale apartment building here one recent morning, and something remarkable happened. A fellow passenger, a middle-aged woman with a pet Maltese tethered to her wrist, waved a hand in front of her face and produced a series of mannered coughs that had the desired effect: the man stepped on the cigarette and muttered an apology.

In a country where one in four people smoke, and where doctors light up in hospital hallways and health ministers puff away during meetings, it was a telling sign that a decade of halfhearted public campaigns against tobacco may finally be gaining traction.

Last May, the municipal government banned cigarettes in schools, railway stations, office buildings and other public places. Chinese athletes are no longer permitted to accept tobacco company sponsorships. Cigarette advertising on billboards will be restricted during the Olympics. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has declared that the Games will be “smoke free.”

Despite the new laws and proclamations, the impact might elude nonsmoking visitors who arrive in the capital. Most restaurants remain shrouded in smoke, the air in clubs and bars can be asphyxiating and a year-old prohibition against lighting up in Beijing taxis has had little effect. “If I point to the no-smoking sign, the passenger will just laugh and keep smoking,” said Hui Guo, a cabdriver who does not smoke.

Government officials say that 100,000 inspectors have been dispatched to ticket smoking scofflaws but the $1.40 fine offers little deterrence, especially to the nouveau riche entrepreneurs who proudly brandish the gold-filtered Fu Rong Wang brand, which sell for $34 a pack.

Li Baojun, the manager of a popular restaurant on Ghost Street, explained why he did not dare tell patrons to stop chain-smoking during meals. “My customers would rather starve than not smoke, and I would go out of business,” he said, as a thick pall hung over the diners. “In China, you cannot drink, eat and socialize without a cigarette.”

About 350 million of China’s 1.3 billion people are regular smokers, more than the entire population of the United States, and even though 1.2 million people die each year from smoking-related causes, there is a widespread belief that cigarettes hold some health benefits. A cigarette in the morning is energizing, many smokers will declare, and even when confronted with scientific reason, they will cite Deng Xiaoping, an inveterate smoker who lived to 92, and Mao Zedong, who lived to 82.

Health care workers are not exactly the best role models: more than half of all Chinese medical professionals smoke, and a 2004 government survey of 3,600 doctors found that 30 percent did not know that smoking could lead to heart disease and circulation problems. (Unlike cigarettes in much of the world, Chinese brands carry no health warning on labels, although that is scheduled to change in 2011.)

Smoking with one hand and wielding a pair of chopsticks with the other, Li Na, 26, a secretary, was unapologetic as her 2-year-old son sat next to her at a restaurant here enveloped in a bluish haze. “If you overprotect your children, they don’t build their immunity,” she explained. “Breathing a little smoke when they are small makes them stronger.”

At wedding parties, the bride often passes out Double Happiness brand cigarettes to guests, a tradition meant to enhance her fertility. Mourners at Chinese funerals are generously plied with smokes, and a handful burned at the grave site is meant to satisfy the craving of the deceased.

When the police pull over a driver for a traffic infraction, a pack of cigarettes, not registration papers, is often the first thing pulled from the glove compartment. And during tough business negotiations, a round of smoking is an invaluable lubricant for a logjam.

“Cigarettes have an extra value in China that helps improve many social interactions,” said Tang Weichang, a researcher at the China Tobacco Museum in Shanghai, a pro-smoking institution financed by China’s tobacco industry.

Smoking here is largely a male pastime — more than 60 percent of all men smoke compared with 3 percent of women — and declining a cigarette is sometimes taken as an insult. Guo Fei, a nonsmoker whose family-owned restaurant is largely smoke free, said he would often accept a proffered cigarette and later throw it away. “To reject a cigarette would make them lose face,” he said.

The nation’s lukewarm efforts to curb smoking are complicated by the government’s control over the tobacco industry, which provides about $31 billion in taxes each year, about 8 percent of the government’s revenue.

China produces a third of the world’s tobacco, with more than 400 domestic brands offered at Beijing’s ubiquitous tobacco shops. During a debate over antismoking measures last year, Zhang Baozhen, a vice director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, warned that “without cigarettes the country’s stability will be affected.”

Earlier this year, Beijing officials announced a ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, karaoke lounges and massage parlors, but that proposal, opposed by business interests, quickly died. The new law only encourages eating and drinking establishments to set aside nonsmoking areas; few restaurants have obliged.

It does not help that cigarettes are extremely cheap. Some of the more popular brands, like Big Harvest, Little Panda and Yellow Pagoda, cost less than 50 cents a pack. With less than 5 percent of the market, foreign brands like Marlboro and Camel have made little headway.

At Block 8, a fashionable Beijing nightclub, cigarettes dangled from the lips of half the patrons. (The other half seemed to be taking a break from smoking, their cigarette packs set out before them.) Emma Cheung, 32, a magazine fashion editor, said smoking made her thin and fueled her creativity. She said that she would support a ban on smoking indoors, but that she would not quit until co-workers did. “Yes, I’m addicted, but so is everyone else at the office,” she said. “If we didn’t smoke, I don’t know how we would get anything done.”

Study Testing Effectiveness Of Acupuncture To Help Infertile Women

NEW YORK, WNBC.com — Could a centuries-old treatment for pelvic pain also help a woman get pregnant? Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are testing acupuncture to help women with fertility problems.

So far, it’s already helped several women become new mothers.

This early success of using acupuncture to promote fertility in the Cleveland Clinic’s study is surprising when compared with the national average, where acupuncture works in less than half of infertile women. But the numbers are, according to pain management doctor Dr. E. David Thomas at The Cleveland Clinic, important enough to merit a comprehensive study

“We’re going to use the blood flow, the hormone changes to see if with and without acupuncture what’s happening,” Thomas said.

As part of the procedure, Thomas positions the needles in specific parts of the body that aren’t typically used to treat infertility, but rather, the pain associated with endometriosis. Thomas said he has between 10 and 12 patients right now who had difficulty getting pregnant — but now are pregnant thanks to acupuncture treatments.

“I basically stumbled upon the treatment of infertility by treating endometriosis,” Thomas said. “Most women who have endometriosis are infertile.”

Because even women who have been infertile for some time due to endometriosis can suddenly and inexplicably get pregnant, Thomas said he will follow a large group women to scientifically determine acupuncture really is the reason for their pregnancies.

The New York Times, BEIJING — A huge state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company that exports to dozens of countries, including the United States, is at the center of a nationwide drug scandal after nearly 200 Chinese cancer patients were paralyzed or otherwise harmed last summer by contaminated leukemia drugs.

Chinese drug regulators have accused the manufacturer of the tainted drugs of a cover-up and have closed the factory that produced them. In December, China’s Food and Drug Administration said that the Shanghai police had begun a criminal investigation and that two officials, including the head of the plant, had been detained.

The drug maker, Shanghai Hualian, is the sole supplier to the United States of the abortion pill, mifepristone, known as RU-486. It is made at a factory different from the one that produced the tainted cancer drugs, about an hour’s drive away.

The United States Food and Drug Administration declined to answer questions about Shanghai Hualian, because of security concerns stemming from the sometimes violent opposition to abortion. But in a statement, the agency said the RU-486 plant had passed an F.D.A. inspection in May. “F.D.A. is not aware of any evidence to suggest the issue that occurred at the leukemia drug facility is linked in any way with the facility that manufactures the mifepristone,” the statement said.

When told of Shanghai Hualian’s troubles, Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, a leading consumer advocate and frequent F.D.A. critic, said American regulators ought to be concerned because of accusations that serious health risks had been covered up there. “Every one of these plants should be immediately inspected,” he said.

The director of the Chinese F.D.A.’s drug safety control unit in Shanghai, Zhou Qun, said her agency had inspected the factory that produced mifepristone three times in recent months and found it in compliance. “It is natural to worry,” Ms. Zhou said, “but these two plants are in two different places and have different quality-assurance people.”

The investigation of the contaminated cancer drugs comes as China is trying to restore confidence in its tattered regulatory system. In the last two years, scores of people around the world have died after ingesting contaminated drugs and drug ingredients produced in China. Last year, China executed its top drug safety official for accepting bribes to approve drugs.

Shanghai Hualian is a division of one of China’s largest pharmaceutical companies, the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group, which owns dozens of factories. Neither Shanghai Hualian nor its parent company would comment on the tainted medicine.

Last week, The New York Times asked the F.D.A. whether the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group exported to the United States any drugs or pharmaceutical ingredients other than the abortion pill. But after repeated requests, the agency declined to provide that information; it did not cite a reason.

On at least two occasions in 2002, Shanghai Hualian had shipments of drugs stopped at the United States border, F.D.A. records show. One shipment was an unapproved antibiotic and the other a diuretic that had “false or misleading labeling.” Records also show that another unit of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group has filed papers declaring its intention to sell at least five active pharmaceutical ingredients to manufacturers for sale in the United States.

One major pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, declined to buy drug ingredients from Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group because of quality-related issues, said Christopher Loder, a Pfizer spokesman. In 2006, Pfizer agreed to evaluate Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group’s “capabilities” as an ingredient supplier, but so far the company “has not met the standards required by Pfizer,” Mr. Loder said in a statement.

Because of opposition from the anti-abortion movement, the F.D.A. has never publicly identified the maker of the abortion pill for the American market. The pill was first manufactured in France, and since its approval by the F.D.A. in 2000 it has been distributed in the United States by Danco Laboratories. Danco, which does not list a street address on its Web site, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

Problems with the cancer drugs first surfaced last summer after leukemia patients received injections of one cancer drug, methotrexate. Afterward, patients experienced leg pain and, in some cases, paralysis. At the People’s Liberation Army No. 307 Hospital in Beijing, a 26-year-old patient, Miao Yuguang, was unable to stand up five days after being injected in the spine with the drug. “We were already unlucky to have this illness,” her father, Miao Futian, said of the leukemia. “Then we ran into this fake drug.”

The authorities recalled two batches of the drug, but issued only mild warnings because the cause of the problem was unclear. Officials with Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group stood by their products, saying that drug regulators investigating the plant had found no problems. But when another cancer drug made in the same factory — cytarabin hydrochloride — also began causing adverse reactions, investigators suspected contamination.

In September, health and drug officials announced that they had found that the two drugs were contaminated with vincristine sulfate, a third cancer drug, during production. After issuing a nationwide alert, the government announced a wider recall, and Shanghai’s drug agency sealed manufacturing units at the plant.

“Many people thought there was a problem with the hospitals,” said Zheng Qiang, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Information and Engineering Research at Peking University. “It wasn’t until later that they discovered the problem was with the medicine.”

Chinese media attention on the case has surged, after a terse statement by China’s drug agency in December, accusing Hualian company officials of a systematic cover-up of violations at the facility that made the drugs.

Family members at the No. 307 hospital have counted 53 victims in Beijing, and say they were told that there were least 193 victims nationwide. It is unclear how many were paralyzed, because the authorities have not released an official figure. Relatives have joined to share information and advocate for the victims. Based on interviews with several families in Beijing and Shanghai, it appears that about half of those injected still cannot walk.

Wu Jianhua said his daughter, Wu Xi, 15, collapsed on her way to school after an injection in August. “We thought she was tired,” Mr. Wu said. Doctors now say she may never walk without a cane, he said.

Last week, on a window near the gate of the closed plant was a notice from the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration, dated Sept. 8, accusing the plant of “producing substandard medicine that poses major risks of causing serious harm to human health.” It identified a company official, Gu Yaoming, as the “person responsible” for the plant.

Records show Mr. Gu also met with the United States F.D.A. inspectors last May as part of the routine inspection of the plant that makes RU-486.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Gu declined to describe his role at the two plants. “I cannot answer your questions,” he said.

A spokeswoman for China’s Food and Drug Administration, Yan Jiangying, said that Shanghai Hualian had been stripped of its license to produce antitumor drugs, but that this action did not affect RU-486.

Hualian is the latest in a string of tainted medicine cases that have undermined confidence in the safety of drugs here. In 2006, at least 18 Chinese died after an intravenous drug used to treat liver disease, Armillarisin A, was laced with diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in some antifreeze. Also in 2006, at least 14 Chinese died after taking a Chinese antibiotic, Xinfu, which was not properly sterilized during production. And more than a hundred people died in Panama after taking cold medicine containing a mislabeled and toxic chemical from China.

In each of these cases, the manufacturer failed to follow good manufacturing practices to ensure the final product was safe.

Describing the cover-up at the factory, Ms. Zhou, the regulator who led the investigation, said workers did not tell investigators that vincristine sulfate — a drug too toxic for use in spinal injections — had been stored in a refrigerator with materials for other drugs.

“At the time, we didn’t think they had lied to us,” Ms. Zhou said. The deception sent investigators on a two-month hunt for other possible causes of the adverse reactions. “If they had been open about the vincristine sulfate in the beginning, maybe fewer people would have been harmed,” she added.

While regulators have accused factory employees of a systematic cover-up of violations in production, they have not said whether superiors at Shanghai Pharmaceutical were aware of it. “We’ll have to wait until the police investigation is finished” to make more details public, said Ms. Yan, the drug agency spokeswoman.

Mr. Zheng at Peking University said that producing multiple drugs in a single workshop was risky, but that some Chinese companies saw it as a way to save money. “It was an accident,” he said of the Hualian case. “But it was bound to happen.”

Jake Hooker reported from Beijing and Shanghai, and Walt Bogdanich from New York. Andrew Lehren contributed reporting from New York.