China Showed the World that It’s Out of Sync

Tion Kwa, an editorial writer at The Straits Times in Singapore, is currently a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society in Washington. He writes in the Japan Times:

What I found particularly disquieting about the opening ceremony in Beijing was the mass sublimation of individuality in the service of the state. The conformity to script and attention to stage direction by a cast of thousands, while awe inspiring, also represents a negation of the creativity of self-expression. Of course, there is choreographed order in Western dance and music as well. But there was something about the Chinese government’s ability to stage-manage so many thousands so precisely that set this show apart from anything undertaken even by Cecil B. DeMille or Las Vegas.

No one would suggest that Zhang Yimou, the Chinese filmmaker who directed the opening night gala, or the other choreographers and artists involved were simply out to score a point for communism. But while the Chinese authorities wanted the Olympics to showcase a China that is industrializing, modern and prosperous, it unwittingly put on a display that recalled the Mao-era mass parades in Tiananmen Square, albeit with much advanced technology and pyrotechnics.

It is not easy to think of such a display as being in line with modern norms. The Chinese economy may be more market-oriented today than ever before, but because the Communist Party is still in charge, China remains out of sync with those parts of Asia and the rest of the world where communism has long since come to be viewed as an anachronistic oddity.


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