SANYA, China — After a much-protested journey, the Olympic torch reached this southern Chinese seaside resort Saturday night, beginning what organizers and Chinese citizens promised would be a trouble-free national tour.
The protests and last-minute route changes that haunted the torch along its international relay were expected to be over. Instead, locals talked excitedly about welcoming the Olympic flame.
"Even if no police were here, we would protect the torch with our bodies!" said an 18-year-old vendor who gave his family name as Zhao. He was selling Chinese flags near the stage where the torch was to be lit this morning.
Actor Jackie Chan and basketball star Yi Jianlian were to be among the 208 people carrying the torch today on roads lined with palm trees along the South China Sea.
Criticism of China's human rights record has turned the torch relay into one of the most contentious in recent history. Protests dogged stops in Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco.
The torch's three-month run across mainland China is likely to be less troubled than elsewhere, although disruptions could occur during the relay in Tibet or the western region of Xinjiang.
Its Saturday leg in Macao went smoothly, but the relay Friday in Hong Kong was disrupted by Chinese shouting down supporters of Tibetan independence. Both Macao and Hong Kong are a part of China with special administrative status under China's "one country, two systems" plan.
Columns of police in sportswear jogged beside the torchbearers in Macao. The crowd seemed intent on celebrating China, sometimes more so than the Olympics, chanting, "Go, China!"