Geremie R. Barmé: Painting Over Mao: Notes on the Inauguration of the Beijing Olympic Games

Geremie R. Barmé is a professor of Chinese history at The Australian National University. He writes in the ChinaBeat blog:

Far in advance of this the ceremony designers created a digital mock up of the fireworks so that TV viewers in China and internationally could see an idealized version of Beijing’s central axis. To achieve the desired effect they even edited out the pollution-haze that generally covers the city despite years of effort and billions of dollars. The show that followed was also one of canny artifice, stunning design and digital wizardry. Zhang Yimou, the renowned filmmaker and overall director of the show, used a quotation from Mao Zedong to describe the thinking behind the opening: “using the past to serve the present and the foreign to serve China.”

Most observers noted that Mao, the Party Chairman who founded the People’s Republic in 1949 and led the country until his death in 1976 (launching the disastrous Great Leap Forward in the late 50s and the decade of disruption of the Cultural Revolution from 1966) was entirely absent from this paean to China’s past civilization. Of course, they might have missed the pregnant absence of the dead leader in the heavily rewritten “Song to the Motherland” (Gechang zuguo 歌唱祖国), in which he originally featured, that was mimed by nine-year-old Lin Miaoke 林妙可 that opens the show (the real singer was Yang Peiyi 杨沛宜, who was excluded on the grounds that she was not suitably photogenic). However, in reality, the Great Helmsman did get a look in, if only obliquely.


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