How China Saw the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Since the opening of the Beijing Olympics four years ago—a declaration of national arrival which awed some and terrified others—the question has lingered of how London would follow it. Comparisons were inevitable, and perhaps even invited: while China paired one girl’s voice with another’s face for a rendition of “Ode to the Motherland”, director Danny Boyle had “God Save The Queen” sung and signed by a choir including deaf and wheelchair-bound children. Lauren Collins examined the contrast at The New Yorker, where she awarded Boyle a gold medal for his three-hour tribute to British music, literature, industry and healthcare.

The unspoken message was that Britain was an old country, a proud country—and a very different country from China. […]

[…] Rowan Atkinson—Mr. Bean—sat behind a keyboard and, pecking away with one finger, mangled the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” Exiting the stage, he (actually, what is probably the world’s most advanced whoopie cushion) made, as the British put it, “a rude noise.” The trick of this was that, by deflating the national myth of stoic heroism, Boyle bolstered the national myth of the British sense of humor.

The wonkiness of moment only underscored the grim-faced conformity of the Chinese approach.

Among the most eagerly anticipated reviews were those from China itself. The Telegraph reported reactions from CCTV, Xinhua and a couple of men on the street:

“Director Danny Boyle presented to the world a stunning feast for the eyes at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games, with the Queen’s parachuting, Mr Bean’s funny performance, Lord Voldemort’s dreamy appearance, a gathering of so many big stars, green landscape and choirs,” said a news anchor on state broadcaster CCTV.

The official Xinhua news agency called the opening a “glittering ceremony” that displayed Britain’s sense of fun.

The BBC also explored Chinese views of the ceremony and the games more generally, including the security arrangements and the booming trade in Union Jack underpants.

A reader called “yunjin chengfeng 998575″ posted on the Chinese microblogging site Sohu: “I got up at 4 in the morning to watch the opening ceremony, and was very disappointed; the countryside scenery looks like a circus, not attractive at all, it is like watching a drama, with no Olympic passion. It is no comparison to the Beijing opening ceremony.”

But reader Dong You Xi Dang doesn’t agree. He thought the London show was completely different from the Beijing ceremony, with different rhythm – “it conveys pleasure, participation, and it is perfect,” while xiangjun8000 summed it up: “The London ceremony highlights that it is the people’s game; the Beijing ceremony shows it is the authority’s game.”

[…] An article by Li Hongbing in People’s Daily, before the opening ceremony, said: “The London Olympic Games look quite frugal and even shabby… Europe is after all in an economic crisis, and the British are indeed short of funds.

“But from another perspective, practicality and environmental protection are principles that have been given more importance, and this concept deserves to be studied by us.”

Also writing before the ceremony, Global Times seemed less convinced that any valuable lessons lay in London, though it at least approved of the organisers’ choice of Chinese fireworks.

The curtain went up on the London Olympic Games early Saturday morning Beijing time. Now the event has returned to a traditional Western power from the world’s biggest developing country that hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but the fever of four years ago has greatly faded. The London Games only received moderate attention before its opening.

[…] The UK wanted to shake up its economy with the help of the Games, but failed due to its limited potential.

[…] The Beijing Games has been recorded in history as a highly successful event. In the future people will remember it when they talk about either sports or the history of developing world.

We wish the London Games another kind of success. There is one world, but all kinds of happiness.

The Legal Evening News was still more blunt, according to Simon Rabinovitch at The Financial Times:

“The fireworks and mass acrobatics of Beijing delivered a clear message: China’s time has come,” declared the Legal Evening News, a popular newspaper. And what message did it take from London’s ceremony? “This is not a rising city. It is in decline.”

But Bird’s Nest co-designer Ai Weiwei, who wrote last week of his hopes for a more inclusive Games in London than in Beijing, gave the ceremony a glowing review at The Guardian:

Brilliant. It was very, very well done. This was about Great Britain; it didn’t pretend it was trying to have global appeal. Because Great Britain has self-confidence, it doesn’t need a monumental Olympics. But for China that was the only imaginable kind of international event. Beijing’s Olympics were very grand – they were trying to throw a party for the world, but the hosts didn’t enjoy it. The government didn’t care about people’s feelings because it was trying to create an image.

[…] There were historical elements in the Beijing opening ceremony, but the difference is that this was about individuals and humanity and true feelings; their passion, their hope, their struggle. That came through in their confidence and joy. It’s really about a civil society. Ours only reflected the party’s nationalism. It wasn’t a natural reflection of China.

Few of the people were performers. They were ordinary people who contribute to society – and if there is a celebration, then it should be for everyone from the Queen to a nurse. I feel happy that they can all have their moment to tell their story.