Beauty and Truth: China's Contradictions Could be Ours Too
August 25, 2008
It was certainly awe-inspiring. Row after row of brightly lit creatures leapt and twirled with incredible precision. Drums beating with razor-sharp accuracy thundered across the shadowed mobs hiding behind their thousands of tiny star-like lights. Never before has the Olympic Games witnessed an opening ceremony quite like the ostentatious display choreographed by Zhang Yimou.
Watching the exhibition was a dramatic lesson in the Chinese view of lian on a massive scale. Lian is the Chinese word used to reference the confidence of a society in a person's moral character and is the primary force behind the Chinese tendency to "save face". Understanding the power behind the desire to achieve good lian is the key to understanding the difference between the beauty and the truth of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.
Lian is the reason Zhang Yimou can create fantastic virtual birds that speak of China's commitment to environmental harmony even while the skies from Beijing to Guangzhou are darkened by the black emissions from thousands of smog-bellowing factories. Lian is the reason the Olympic stadium in the heart of Beijing can be teeming with the giant still photos of happy children while outside the jagged walls of the Bird's Nest millions of orphans across the nation wait inside understaffed and desperately poor orphanages, paying the ultimate price for China's one-child policy.
Lian is the reason the vibrantly dressed dancers of the Ceremonies can twirl in a symbolic display of newly found individual freedom while thousands of political and religious prisoners still languish in the dark walls of Chinese prisons and demonstrators for freedom are still beaten into silence on the streets of Tibet.
Yet perhaps Americans should be the last to judge a nation that hides its vast skeletons behind fantastic displays of media, technology and vibrant creativity. Perhaps we should be the last to condemn a people that are easily swayed by movie-like productions, grand pomp and mesmerizing oratory. With an upcoming election in our own nation of monumental importance, can we really say that our decisions in the privacy of the polling booth will not be swayed by the pomp and magnificence of the candidates' "Opening Ceremonies?"
We, too, are a people who are captured by majestic displays. We, too, easily forget the harsh realities of voting records and substantive policy proposals (or the lack thereof) in the midst of the flash and drama of campaign season. We are too easily moved by eloquent words, too easily swayed by brilliant smiles, too quickly convinced by charming personalities. Campaign season for our nation is a sort of opening ceremonies where inadequate policies and hidden agendas are left cowering in the darkness outside the walls of a brilliant Bird's Nest filled with millions of voters mesmerized by the multi-media blitzkrieg.
Now we stand on the precipice of an uncertain future. Crucial decisions will need to be made about our strategy in Iraq. Urgent action will need to be taken to address escalating economic woes. Serious policies will need to be birthed out of a leader who is able to exhibit strength and commitment, determination in the face of adversity, and an unwavering ability to ignore popularity polls and pundits alike in favor of savvy, strategy and fearless resolve. Are we really looking for a leader who meets those qualifications, or will a pretty face and orator with the power to make us swoon do?
China left the world with the indelible memories of an opening ceremonies event like none previous. Yet, one last act of deception also left a salient reminder to the world of just how committed the Chinese government can be to lian when it revealed that the beautiful voice emanating from the sweet face of the young Lin Miaoke was not, in fact, her voice at all. Chen Qigang, musical director of the ceremony, said the song was not actually sung by Lin, but by Yang Peiyi. Simply put, Lin was chosen to lip sync to the voice of Yang Peiyi because she was prettier. "The reason for this is that we must put our country's interest first," Chen told Beijing Radio. "The girl appearing on the picture must be flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people. We had to make that choice. We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance."
Sounds like Chen has a future in American politics.