Beijing twists reality in quest for perfection
Focus on ideal image makes China look bad
The skies may be clearing up over Beijing, but the face China tried to paint on the 2008 Olympic Games is breaking out in blemishes.
Main Street of Happyville turns out to be a collection of expensively built facades, with nothing behind them. Or worse, something awful behind them: a series of very large lies -- and the worst of it is that the Chinese hosts don't even appear to realize how bad they may end up looking to the rest of the world.
The opening ceremony we all gushed over was not what it seemed. Those blazing footprints of fireworks that "walked" in the sky from Tiananmen Square to the Bird's Nest stadium? Pre-recorded and digitally inserted into the telecast.
The "sold-out" Olympic events, every ticket gone? An illusion, exposed only when reporters began to notice the squads of identically dressed and thunderstick-equipped cheer squads filling whole sections of seats. Even if some of those were seats designated for Olympic family members -- dignitaries and IOC members who leave seats unused at the lesser sessions is a chronic problem at all Games -- using fake fans to fill them is, at best, a comical notion and at worst an attempt to create a false picture of attendance.
Any minute now, we'll find out we're really in Japan. But the piece de resistance, the most cynical of all of the pieces of fakery at the Beijing Olympics: Agence France-Presse revealed Tuesday that the darling little girl in a red dress who charmed the audience by singing Ode to the Motherland -- a hymn of the revolution -- during the ceremony wasn't singing at all.
Lin Miaoke was lip-synching to the voice of seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, who was rejected by a senior member of the Communist Party's politburo at a rehearsal because she had a chubby face and crooked teeth.
"He told us there was a problem, that we needed to fix it, so we did," said the ceremony's musical director, well-known contemporary composer Chen Qigang, in an interview with a state broadcaster that aired Tuesday.
AFP reported that the interview with Chen appeared briefly on the news website Sina.com before it was apparently wiped from the Internet in China.
"Little Yang Peiyi's failure to be selected was mainly because of her appearance," were among the Chen comments that were made to disappear.
"The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression. Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects. But in terms of voice, Yang Peiyi is perfect, each member of our team agreed."
The French news agency interviewed the director of the China Internet project at the University of California-Berkeley, former dissident Xiao Qiang, who said the substitution of the pretty girl for the unsuitable one "illustrates an important aspect of these Olympic Games. It is all about projecting the right image of China with no respect for honesty or for the audience.
"I do not think the Chinese state realizes how unethical this is, they don't understand what kind of values they are reflecting."
Defenders of these "minor misdirections" say they are hardly unique to China, and the media is just picking on the hosts.
Didn't the late Pavarotti lip-sync his signature Nessun dorma aria from Turandot at the opening ceremony in Turin? Yes. But at least it was his own voice.
Nobody said, "Listen, Luciano, you've kind of let yourself go, and there's not enough time for you to go on the South Beach diet. Julio Iglesias over here is still a good-looking man. We're going to have him lip-sync your song."
All kinds of artists lip-sync their performances. OK, we understand that.
And we got over the Internet censorship. We've accepted that there are certain things on the Net that the Chinese populace is not allowed to see.
We accept that a 21-point censorship plan allegedly distributed to all state media probably exists, even if the spokesperson for Games organizing committee (BOCOG) claims to know nothing about it -- as he also knows nothing about plain-clothes officials reportedly shadowing some reporters, taking pictures of them, and notebooks being confiscated, or why two armoured personnel carriers suddenly appeared, parked outside the media centre, front and back, on Tuesday.
Fine. We're not supposed to know these things.
And maybe, in the larger sense, it's good that however bad the news is about the fakery surrounding the Games to date, at least the news is getting out.
There was some question as to whether that would happen, before the Games began, and so far it has not been an issue.
So, China's defenders say, this is really no big deal.
And that's probably true, as long as you're not Yang Peiyi, who at seven years old has already discovered a hard truth about physical appearance -- and had it drilled into her brain unequivocally, by her government no less, that she may be able to sing, but she's too ugly to represent her nation in public.
Cam Cole is in Beijing as part of the Canwest News Service Olympic Team