China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



August 13, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright August 13, 2008 Haiyan Lee. Used by permission.


The most clichéd way of referring to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in English-language media has been “China’s coming-out party.” The slightly condescending undertone is nonetheless mingled with well-wishing that the debutante will give the world a heck of a party, the glitches and disappointments in the run-up notwithstanding. For this precious moment, China chose Zhang Yimou, arguably its most talented film director, to chaperone itself onto the world stage.

By all indications, it was a good choice. The 50-minute multi-million-dollar extravaganza was so spectacular that the only appropriate response, it would seem, was a WOW! Or to wonder, like one American volleyball player did, “How did they do that?” Any more parsing would seem pedantic. But, alas, this is the age of “have computer, will blog.” So let’s begin with the New York Times piecethat hails the event as a wild success with “signature Chinese touches.” There is no denying that the lavish ceremony was first and foremost about China. And the China it celebrated was ancient (the 5000-year history), civilized (the arts and crafts), inventive (the four great inventions), adventurous (the silk roads), hospitable (the Confucian chant about cherishing guests from afar), technologically accomplished (the astronaut), and innocent and hopeful (the school children). It wore love, peace, and harmony proudly on its sleeve. What more could the world ask for?

Dutiful commentators will likely remind us what this dazzling propaganda blockbuster conceals: the human rights abuses, the suppression of ethnic/regional autonomy, the rise of xenophobic nationalism, the environmental degradation, the widening gap between rich and poor, the unholy alliances with authoritarian regimes elsewhere, and so on. However, not every skeleton has been stuffed into the national closet. In fact, the ceremony openly paraded the specter of another China that should in theory jar the domestic revelers and besotted observers alike: Mao’s China.