China’s Synchronized Anachronism

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.

Thousands more performers followed onto the field to enact one massive choreographed display after another. In all, 15,000 perfectly trained performers took part in the ceremonies. Over and over, the Chinese showed how a few simple movements, performed by thousands of synchronized performers, can result in one massive, awesome display.