The Chinese government went to great lengths to show China’s best face to the world by having a large-scale Olympics opening ceremony that cost a lot of money, with loads of fireworks, lots of color and droves of people. Many Chinese Internet users, however, criticized the ceremony for being a big mishmash, even saying the ceremony resembled “an upscale version of a North Korean group calisthenics performance” and that was “overly large with too many people involved and was devoid of content and human nature.”
Some all the colors and modern lights used during the ceremony merely turned it into “an elegy to China’s superficial and extravagant past,” while others said the huge sums of money spent only served to make “the most tacky opening ceremony in the history of the Olympics.”
After seeing the sheer size of the opening ceremony and the large-scale performance, one cannot deny that director Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) really did go to a lot of effort in planning and choreographing the event. Zhang gave attention to every last detail and did a very professional job. Why then has Beijing’s opening ceremony received so much criticism? The real reason is that Zhang failed to understand the true spirit of the Olympics.
The official theme of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, “The Power of the Dream,” and the symphony Summon the Heroes perfectly represented the spirit of the Olympics, which, among other things, is the spirit of freedom, realizing one’s dreams and becoming an individual hero.
Zhang not understand the Olympic spirit, but he does have a profound understanding of the spirit of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s government. During the opening ceremony, Zhang showcased the knowledge that Chinese have had spoon-fed to them since birth, using historical imagery such as the four great inventions of ancient China and the Silk Road. Zhang also used rows and rows of people to form the Chinese character for peace (he, 和). This clearly and skillfully put forward the exact message Hu wanted to express: a message of a “harmonious society” and a “peaceful rise to power” that was in perfect harmony with China’s official ideological line.
Zhang focused on showing the pride Chinese feel about their country and themselves as a people — not the Olympic spirit. As a result, no matter how spectacular the lighting, colors and digital technology Zhang used, and irrespective of how many people he had line up in neat, geometric formations, shouting at the top of their lungs, he was still unable to inject the Olympic spirit of freedom into the opening ceremony.
Regardless how painstakingly Zhang worked in planning the ceremony, the Chinese culture and history that he tried to express was very hard even for Chinese with an understanding of Chinese culture and history to grasp, let alone the non-Chinese people watching the show. And even if some people watching could clearly understand the content and its meaning, because it was devoid of spirit and soul, no matter how technically perfect it was, all they could do was stand in the crowd and look on at the “fun.” However, the opening ceremony’s “fun” was not fun in the true sense of the word, nor was it pleasing to look at.
The entire opening ceremony was painfully slow and monotonous, and apart from the fireworks displays that punctuated the show at appropriate intervals, the show had no single point capable of moving anybody in the audience.
On special occasions such as the Olympics, especially when people are watching the event on their television sets, they do not want or need the profound thought of philosophers or the research of historians; what they want is music and performances that resonate deep within their hearts.
The music and songs used at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta moved people on a deep level and made them want to see the Games for themselves. The music and theme song of the Beijing Olympics, on the other hand, were very bland in comparison and were so boring that they almost put the audience to sleep.
The slogan of the Beijing Olympics is “One World One Dream.” Let’s leave aside the fact that this is a typical empty slogan — the only dream common to all mankind is freedom, the one dream Beijing does all it can to eliminate — but even if it made sense, the opening ceremony did nothing to express the main theme of the slogan. There was no expression of “one dream,” nor of “one world.” It was all a self-obsessed attempt to place China at the center of the world. It was, however, very Chinese to see this poor and backward dictatorship portray China as a paradise characterized by harmony between heaven and man since the beginning of time.
Cao Changqing is an independent political commentator.
The Taipei Times
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2008, Page 8
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON