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August 10, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright August 10, 2008. Used by permission.


The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was so magnificently awe-inspiring as to prompt the NBC anchors to declare that, if there were a trophy for the opening ceremonies, then it must be retired. Vancouver and London certainly have their work cut out for them.

Yet as I watched a string of stunning performances of Chinese men—banging on brass drums, doing quasi-qigong dance, executing a shanshui painting with their bodies while dancing on the world’s largest LCD screen, etc., etc., all capped by the 7’6”-tall flag bearer Yao Ming—I wondered, where did China’s 640 million women go? Sure, a 9-year-old girl sang the national anthem, and another 9-year-old girl floated over the mixed-gender group of children from the 56 recognized nationalities. The group of schoolchildren in the end was also mixed gender, but adult women were minorities in the evening’s performance. I kept squinting at various performers in an attempt to ascertain their gender, but the fact that I had to look so hard indicated that something was wrong.

Many gorgeous women floated around the stage in modified Tang costume, moving very delicately, as if they actually were dolls made of porcelain (or perhaps as if their huge dresses were unbearably hot and heavy). A single woman floated out on a magic carpet-type platform supported by dozens of people beneath her, and her entire performance of swirling colored scarves around herself while she “floated” lasted maybe 2 minutes. Another handful of women actually did float like angels over the 90,000 spectators in the Bird’s Nest, with lights illuminating their ever-smiling faces of serene beauty. But that was about it. In his world-class exposé of pre-packaged Chinese culture, Zhang Yimou cast women as docile, delicate, and demure pin-up girls.