Behind the Scenes of the Poster Flippers at the 1990 Asian Games

Ever wonder how organizers get the tens of thousands of participants to coordinate so seamlessly in mass games performances? Here is an interesting and detailed recounting from a former junior high school student who was among an army of poster flippers for the opening ceremony of the Asian Games. They will be replaced by large LCD displays this year, of course. Translated by CDT from Baidu:

In the fall of 1990, I was in my second year in junior high school. During that year’s Beijing Asian Summer Games opening ceremony, many may still remember the human-engineered, Guinness-record breaking display board that covered a whole side of the spectators’ stand. The display was programed by 30,000 students, and I was among them. I was right in the center of the pane, looking directly at President Yang Shangkun.

After a whole summer vacation’s rehearsal, then came eight times of on-site rehearsals in the Workers Stadium and the final real show at the opening ceremony. For nine performances, various people came to see the show. The first to come was us students, and we were also the last to leave. For nine hours on end each time, we sat in front of a iron rack where rests a thick paperboard pad with 40 posters. With every changeover, based on a set of flag signals, our flipping of the posters made the whole stand an animated display.

In order to not leave any gaps in the stand, when 30,000 students were seated, all the exits were sealed with steel cages. Let alone to go to the bathroom, even if there was a fire, no one could make their way out. Before each rehearsal, city and district educational officials came over to speak about the importance of “hold onto the urine and stuff.” Students were called upon to fight their urges. Only if a student blacked out were backup students allowed to fill in. If there was any mistake in the sequence of flipping, a light punishment could be a bad mark on the student’s record or deprivation of qualification to take the high school entrance exams. Everybody was only rationed one tiny bottle of water.

For Beijing’s summer in August and September, it’s natural to kill a couple of bottled drinks in a short time. But we had to restrain ourselves. During the last three hours each time, we had to fight not only our urges, but also thirst. I hoped that we all had a bottle to pee in and then drink it back up.

After such a grueling training, every one of us could recite the order of entering countries backward.

When the exit whistle was blown, everybody envied those seated near the exits. They were the first who could relieve themselves. But nobody dashed forward, as that was like floods bursting the dam. In the bathroom, however, it soon turned into chaos and people didn’t wait until they were in front of the urinals. Many peed on the floor. Some boys asked girls, “we all peed on the floor, how about you guys?” They answered, “So did we, including our teacher.”

“Wow,” I thought. How cool it would be to watch that kind of a scene. But during our rehearsals, we wouldn’t have those thoughts as it would make our urges worse in the stadium.

After the opening ceremony, school officials passed down word from the officials, our school made no mistakes. But some in other schools did but no one was deprived of the right to take the exams. One student had the runs during the opening ceremony but toughed it out at the stand, flipping the posters while dumping down his pants. He was awarded a first rate medal. Five rows of students around him withstood the smell for nine hours and were rewarded third rate medals.

Everybody was paid 60 yuan and a pen for their hard work all summer. Teachers said, “this is not for money, it’s for adding glory to the nation.”

Now the Olympics are here, and the Asian Games were a small case compared to this time around. I have heard that during the ceremony of the fiftieth anniversary of the PRC, those standing for the parade used modern diapers. That’s a great idea. As soon as I heard that, I SMSed this suggestion to the traffic radio call in show while I was driving, but I never heard it broadcast.

During the Olympics opening ceremony, the labor intensive poster flipping will be probably replaced by computer programed displays. Guessing from our national character, we will do everything to make the ceremony better than the one in Athens. it is too bad that they may not use diapers anymore.

August 5, 2008 10:00 PM
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