Beijing residents woke up to a rare surprise on Saturday - a spectacular, crystal-clear skyline. Standing atop the Phoenix Hills, 748 metres above sea level, in a western suburb, one could clearly make out the city's tallest office building - a tower at the China World Trade Centre - to the east, more than 40km away. Unfortunately, days like this are so rare the Beijing Youth Daily, the city's best-selling newspaper, printed a whole page of photos of long-suffering residents enjoying the clean air and thanking Friday's rain for washing away the pollutants. In a long piece filed on Saturday night, Xinhua proudly announced Beijing had honoured almost all its promises to the international community, except for air quality. But it hoped the air would improve significantly after more measures - including forcing half the city's 3 million vehicles off the road and shutting down more factories in the surrounding provinces - come into effect on July 20. Air quality aside, Beijing is definitely more ready - in terms of its sports facilities and overall preparedness - than Athens was four years ago. With less than 30 days to go, Olympics preparations are in full swing. All 37 sports arenas have been completed and held trial competitions. More than 20,000 volunteers have already been deployed to kiosks across the city to offer help and advice to tourists. As downtown residential buildings have been repainted twice in the past year, residents walk the flower-lined streets beaming with pride and drivers have put small national flags on top of their cars. The government has tightened security to an unprecedented degree with at least three layers of checkpoints around the city, requiring inbound visitors travelling by bus, train or car to produce ID cards. But the question remains over whether mainlanders in Beijing and the rest of the country are mentally and psychologically prepared. In other words, are they ready to be the gracious and magnanimous hosts, willing to admit their own shortcomings and accept criticism, befitting a great nation rising on the world stage? Or are they going to be narrow-minded, self-centred, nationalistic and unwilling to accept different points of view? Understandably, both officials and citizens have seen the Games as China's coming-out party. In the words of Xinhua, the Games will be an important step in the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, reflecting socialist China's national strength, social harmony and the unity of various ethnicities. As mainlanders want to be at their best for this grand party, the government is in overdrive to ensure nothing will go wrong, cracking down hard on dissent and imposing harsh visa restrictions with the apparent aim of keeping out protesters and terrorists. The anecdotal evidence shows Beijing officials are jittery. The result being that it is easier, and safer, to say 'no' to everything. For instance, many foreign and mainland companies planning to throw lavish parties during the Games are finding it hard to secure venues because security officials are refusing permission. But no matter how hard they try and how prepared they are, there are bound to be hiccups. It is not hard to imagine that at the opening ceremony on August 8 - broadcast live and watched by billions of people around the world - one or two spectators will unfurl signs calling for a free Tibet or criticising China's human rights record. Moreover, as nearly 30,000 foreign journalists descend on Beijing, many will no doubt write about China's openness, its fantastic structures and its modernisation. But there will be others who will try to interview dissidents, petitioners and the people whose homes have been demolished for Games venues. They are not here to 'find fault' as many mainlanders automatically assume. It is their job to give balanced and fair coverage as they did in similar reports critical of Athens or Sydney. After all, China is a developing country beset by a growing income gap, corruption and social injustice. In addition to overseas protesters, some mainlanders who harbour legitimate social grievances may also want to use the occasion to air their dissatisfaction. Rather than using unnecessary force to remove dissenters or fanning the overzealous nationalistic fervour by responding to criticism, mainlanders should be broad-minded about those who disagree. The best thing Beijing can do to save face and win the respect of the world community is to designate special protest zones for the Olympics. Vice-President Xi Jinping put it well last month when commenting on the chorus of criticism China has received in light of the Olympics: 'The world is a big place and you've got all sorts of people and that's why it is so colourful.'