China’s Synchronized Anachronism

The Chinese economy may be more market-oriented today than ever before, but the mass conformity on display at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was a disturbing throwback to the Mao era. Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile such sublimation of individuality in the service of the state with modern norms.

SINGAPORE – I cannot recall the opening ceremonies at the Athens or Sydney Olympics, maybe because I am a little ambivalent about sports in the first place. But the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games did get my attention – and everyone else’s. Given all the hype, the least anyone could do was to tune in and watch.

So there I was in front of a TV, along with hundreds of millions of other curious people around the world. The verdict: China put on a fantastic show. And the reaction in Asia was especially gushing. But, while I may be in the small minority, I found the ceremony disturbing, to say the least.

It wasn’t only the martial significance of the drummers who started the show. That’s too obvious. And besides, they smiled a lot (though I found that disturbing as well). And I didn’t even know yet about the lip-syncing by the little girl whose voice was actually that of another girl who “wasn’t cute enough,” or the manipulated fireworks displays in the televised production of the whole extravaganza. It was the number of drummers out there at the start – more than 2,000, all beating drums with their hands and florescent drumsticks in perfect unison – that chilled me.

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