Changing China

Giant on the move

The Games have begun, but what was that ceremony about?

By Sean Maguire
August 8, 2008

Opening ceremony pictures

I’ve been deafened by the drums, astounded by the aerial acrobatics and blinded by the cornea-carving light show. The torch is lit in its giant cauldron hanging from the lip of the Bird’s Nest stadium and the 2008 Olympic Games have begun.

But what is it I’ve sat through for hours on a steamy Beijing evening? Was it mass-participation theatre, a pseudo-religious sanctification of sport, a kitsch ‘son et lumiere’ mangling of traditional Chinese art forms? A pyrotechnics-fuelled rock ballet? A modernised courtly pageant or a magnified pantomime of over-produced gimcrackery? The best of Cirque du Soleil-style wizardry or high camp showbiz?

opening ceremony 2It was any of the above, depending on your taste. Artistically it was a crowd-pleasing mishmash, in the tradition of all such ceremonies. Oscar-nominated Chinese film director Zhang Yimou engaged creative overdrive to trowel significance into the joints of what he built, rampaging across the cultural landscape for his raw material.

The gala display left few cultural forms or genres of human expression untouched in its technically dazzling but historically selective sweep across China’s imperial past.

Multi-participant dance, strangely-headgeared quill formations, dancers cavorting to form calligraphy and actors in the shape of blocks of type swept across the stadium floor.

Peking Opera puppeteering, 8th century Tang dynasty poetry, scroll painting and ancient Kunqu song vied with synthesised ambient noise and Liberace-esque piano tinkling. Energetic Taiji exercises by white-costumed martial artists reached into China’s rich philosophical store cupboard and stomped out a lesson on ‘the unity of man and nature’.

What did it all mean?

Liu Qi, head of the Games’ organisation, said it was a showcase that would ‘provide a unique and unprecedented interpretation of the Olympic spirit and ideal from the Chinese perspective’. It would embody the aspiration of all 1.3 billion Chinese ‘for a harmonious world,’ he said, stating an ambition as resoundingly bland and empty as the official Games’ motto of ‘One World, One Dream.’

opening ceremony 3Generously, it was a wild, welcoming fiesta that should pluck the heartstrings of all humanity and kick off 16 days of spectacular sporting endeavour. More sceptically, it was a multi-layered lacquering over of China’s broken promises to improve its human rights record and respect press freedom. And few doubt the ceremony’s jaw-dropping ambition and no-holds-barred cost were partly tribute to China’s economic, social and geopolitical resurgence.

Where did Zhang go for his ideas? The former problem child for the Communist Party, whose early films were banned for showing China’s ugly side, now shines a more favourable light. His Wushu martial arts epic Hero and action romance House of Flying Daggers retain his early trademark of sumptuous colour, a feature of the show. Both films employ wire fu techniques of breathtaking air fighting. That might account for the ceremony’s trapeze scenes, including the spectacular roof run by ex-Olympic gold-winning gymnast Li Ning that lit the stadium flame.

And Zhang moonlights as an opera director, staging Puccini’s Turandot at the Forbidden City in central Beijing, with a cast of over a 1,000. The man has a taste for lavish spectacle. His collaborator, Zhang Jigang, China’s leading choreographer, best known for Thousand Hand Bodhisattva, is also a Lieutenant General in the People’s Liberation Army. No problem then for the Zhangs to mobilise reinforcements. There were 9,000 PLA members dancing, flying and tumbling tonight.

Reuters photos by Lucy Nicholson, Eric Gaillard and Reinhard Krause 


Plz come to China,only from that can you know the real China.
I’m proud of my homeland,I’m proud of the 5000-year history,and, I’m proud of our government.
Plz do not judge China by reading and seeing in the government controlled news media.
I’m only a student,so I don’t know how to express my opinions clearly.
But I wanna say:welcome to China.We are a friendly nation.We love peace.And we have a dream that one day we can do something for the whole world!

Posted by doziki | Report as abusive

i’am a chinese outside, atually i’d like to comment the opening ceremony as a citzen of the world indeed. the olympics is a pageant of the people of the whole world. china is only entrusted with this honour to hold this open cere.
May you understand the bureaucracy is rooted in the govenmen under the dictatorship inevitable. but you shouldn’t doubt the chinese people’s sincerity to welcome the people from all over the prople. this is the theme of the reflection of the show based on its own unique culture. which is also the presentation of china express its desire to embrace the world. This is fake NOT.
as you know that china has been closed for a long time, now china has been emerging as a economic power with just 30 year, a very short time compared with the developed countries’ accumulation on the cultural and industrial achivements. what a tremendous change has been taking place. this is also a pain taking transformation, the society also face the great challenge ever before. many people work under pressure especially for the young generation but chinese people also show their adamant attitude to shoulder the responsibity to these domestic problems as well as to act as a responsible country.
the olympic is uncurtained, hope all the peace lover enjoy it(:

Posted by otter | Report as abusive

you know it’s really ridiculous for someone who has never lived in China before tries to tell Chinese people what Chinese government is doing to them.

Let a Chinese citizen tell you, we Chinese peoplea are living happily here and appreciate all the great work our Goverment has done for us. We these years have achieved great acomplishments. Surely we still have a lot to impove and we are improving.

For those who refuses 2008 Olympics due to their misunderstanding of China based on the biased reports from western meida, pls try to read more about Chinese culture, come to China to know the true country, and as a starting point, see Olympics opening show as it’s really fabulous.

Posted by Elaine | Report as abusive

I thought it was an incredible and beautifully put together show. I don’t think that we will see a better one for many years, certainly not in London.

I don’t know whether it is laughable or sad that there are people commenting here, who still think that China is “communist”. Communist Party, yes, albeit one that has “entrepreneurs” as a key membership category. Communist country, no way – obviously you’ve never been here.

As for pollution, yes, China has serious pollution problems BUT energy usage, carbon emissions, any measure that you care to look at, PER PERSON are a fraction of what they are in the US and Western Europe and a fair chunk of the pollution is because they are making stuff for you.

Goose stepping soldiers. That is just how they do it – that is how the national flag is put up in Tiananmen every morning. No one in China would read anything negative into it. I’m originally from the UK and I love to watch British military pagentary. Why shouldn’t Chinese people feel the same?

Human Rights – not perfect but would anyone like to suggest another government anywhere else in the world which has ever lifted so many people from absolute poverty to a decent standard of living as the Chinese Government has over the last 25 years. That is why in independent surveys conducted by international polling organisations the Chinese Govt has the highest satisfaction rating of any country surveyed. Without a shadow of a doubt far, far more people in China are happy with and proud of their government than would be the case in the US or the USA.

Posted by BigDogBJ | Report as abusive

The Chinese Olympics are an extravagant charade provided by slave labour, oppression and a towering agenda of human rights abuses on a gigantic scale.

China is an oppressive and alien place where human life, dignity and respect is woefully in short supply. It is a frighteningly inured to human suffering.

The ethos of the Chinese government is drenched in a history of obuse, torture and callous aggression towards its own people. It has learned very little – it’s culture is imbued with the idea that the individual is basically not that important in the grand scheme of things.

This MUST change or in the long term China will simply fail to become the global giant it thinks it is.

Posted by The Truth Is... | Report as abusive

Dear ‘The Truth Is . . . ‘ Do you work for George W or are you just ignorant? As an American who has worked and lived in China for several years, and the fact that our son went to public school in Suzhou, there isn’t one ounce of truth in what you have stated. Again, you must be one who draws your ‘observations’? by what you read and see from a controlled media rather than from the people that ACTUALLY live there. You are a sad bigoted representative of the human race.

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

What a show I must admit. I nearly forgot for one minute that practitioners of Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) where being brutally persecuted in China, and even their organs harvested while alive for profit by the ruling Chinese government (CCP).

Posted by Pablo | Report as abusive

I forgot to mention that the only crime practitioners of Falun Dafa have comited under the CCP’s eye is to believe in Truth, Benevolence and Tolerance.

Posted by Pablo | Report as abusive

For decades, US stadiums have been filled with half-time shows of bands and flag squads marching in unison and engaged in mindless displays of elaborately choreographed patriotism and historical revisionism. For decades, the US has been engaging in and supporting human rights abuses in its puppet states across Latin American and Asia. Tens of millions across the world protested the U.S. war on Iraq. A handful of people around the world have protested China’s actions. The people of the world are speaking clearly. They are concerned about U.S. imperialism. Sure there are concerns about China. Without the US and European corporate medias to lead them by the nose to it, the people of the world continue to be more concerned, and legitimately so, about U.S. imperialism, expansionism, human rights abuses, and propaganda.

Posted by David Brookbank | Report as abusive

It certainly is an effort to wallpaper over a messy wall, one that includes torture, no real rule of law, more executions per year than the rest of the world combined, ignorance of the meaning of a free press and free speech, imperialism, and draconian measures to marginalize and outlaw whole cultures that don’t kowtow to the CCP. The Olympics (limp pix) should never have been handed out to the PRC. It’s neither the peoples’ nor a republic. It’s a dictatorship plain and simple. They lied about their promises to promote human rights by the time of the Limp Pix, and they know they lied, and they’re cynical and coarse about it. The CCP has killed at least 63 million more people so far than the Nazis ever did.

Posted by kandroma | Report as abusive

Hopefully, at the closing ceremony, the IOC will give the first 3 Gold Medals to 1) The Tibetan People, 2)The Sudanese people (Darfurs), 3) The Burmese people. These people have been killed, and suffered for too long.


To “Human Rights”:
Add more: 4) The Iraqi people, 5) The Afghani people.
cause these people have been killed more and are still under killing…

Posted by Howard | Report as abusive

We Chinese people are glad to see people from 204 countries, and more than 80 world leaders came to Beijing to support the Olympics, which showed a simple fact that the world is bracing China while China is openning to the world. It also showed that boycotting is not an effective way to hide or ignore this fact. Being more open and willing to change for better, we warmly welcome people around the world, including Mr. Bush(USA), Mr. Sarkozy(France) and Mr. Rudd(Australia), even they openly criticized China, all are also old friends and strategic partners of China…
BTW, I read from an AFP news report that Dalai Lama expressed his full support for Beijing Olympics once again, right before the open ceremony. But I wonder he may be losing control of those young exiled Tibetans, because there were many protests in other countries by these young exiled Tibetans yesterday.

Posted by Howard | Report as abusive

I’m a senior school student from China.
I believe that most people are willing to congratulate China for hosting the olympic.
I believe that most of you love peace .
so ,I just want to say to this kind of “most”:thank you so much,for giving us the chance to prove .And welcome to China!!!!

Posted by y | Report as abusive

TO :”The Truth Is… ”

IF you don’t know anything abt China,plz be quiet!
Hey ,guy!The truth?How funny! I really feel sad for you.
Actually you don’t know anything abt China but you said those words as if you know China very well.
Your words deeply hurt Chinese people and China.
No matter what’s your motive ,we chinese will keep trying hard to build our home,we are the hosts of the country,not slaves.We’re proud of our country and we deeply feel the efforts of our government.Do you know the earthquake in Sichuan China ?Do you know how hard the government work for the people?Do you know the spirt of our nation?Do you know our dream?Can you see our hard working?We just want to live in a happy and peaceful world,do you know?
The answer is “NO”.
You don’t have the right to calumniate China!

I believe most of the people are friendly and they really wanna know China .SO,welcome to China .We promise,you will have a brilliant trip in China!

Posted by PO. | Report as abusive

- Posted by stampede
What us Americans fail to understand is that MOST of the Chinese people approve of their current government and their policies including censorship of press, web, and public protests. Spend some time in China and you will see that this is true.
________________________________________ ________________________________________ ___
Doesn’t use Most, since you have no idea what is that mean.
China has 14B people, how many you met in your entire life. I watch CNN every day. and find out “cherry picking ” is a much better way to make news. Just like there was 99 good apple, but I ignore them, then you focus on the bad one next to it. yes you report the truth ,and you like the bad apple, what else I can say?
By the way , have you read any positive news about from CNN, do you think that normal?
________________________________________ ________________________________________ ____
What the Chinese fail to understand about Americans and Western Countries is that we like and care about the Chinese PEOPLE. Our protests and dislike is directed towards the Chinese LEADERS. Just as we understand that during President Bush’s rule, other countries still love the American people but dislike George Bush.
Looks like you forgot a fact, “American president was elected by American people as their representative.”
If you can’t vote a right president for your own, how can you judge other people’s choice. Mind your own business first, American standard =\= earth standard.
________________________________________ ________________________________________ ______

China is a country full of legends and great history. A powerful force for most of world history. People of the West are aware of much of the Chinese civilization and contribution to the world, perhaps more than the younger generation of Chinese youths. Enter any American or Western museum and you will have entire floors dedicated to China and its rich history.
How did your “perhaps” come from? Never use your own imagination as evidence. I’m so tired of your kind “never been there Chinese expertise” Have you ever thinking about how did they get the Museum item from China, Did you feel shame about that, “ I rob you, because I respect your contribution to the world”
———————————————————————————————————————— ————————
The part of Chinese history that Americans and other Western countries are ignorant of is from the cultural revolution up to today. They reason our knowledge is so poor is because the Chinese government closed China off from the rest of the world. Now, the lack of exchange via free internet and travelling between the chinese people and the world prevents us from knowing more about each other.
Go to your Congress and government to search how many law and regulation used to “Isolate” China since 1949. To your embassy to check the visa application approve rate. There was a word “ brain wash” , you guys like to use to Chinese people.
———————————————————————————————————————— ————————
I Love the olympics and look forward to it each 4 years. I love seeing the sports and learning about the culture of the host city. However this time around, I’m too conflicted in terms of my personal feelings about certain actions of the Chinese government (not the People). But again, I have to remind my fellow Americans that this Olympics is NOT meant to prove anything to the WORLD. The only important audience is the Chinese people. Their government is showing them what it has accomplished and to increase pride in the country’s accomplishment.
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The country’s accomplishment was made by every Chinese people, not the government. They have the credit.
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So, our only focus should be whether or not the Chinese People are happy with the ceremony and the games. If they are, then let us be happy for them.
———————————————————————————————————————— ————————Very true.

Posted by nusub | Report as abusive

to nusub,
Good! I fully agree with Your opinions!
Welcome to my website to see my view on Olympics in Beijing:

“What the Chinese fail to understand about Americans and Western Countries is that we like and care about the Chinese PEOPLE. Our protests and dislike is directed towards the Chinese LEADERS. ”
I just want to ask the people with the above opinions, do you have any ideas to help China for you think you dislike the Chinese leaders? If no ideas to help China, just claim Chinese governments’ wrongs, you will push china into a disater!
China need improvement stably,not such negative statement!
So, Just Shut Up your Big Mouth before your real action to help CHINA!

Posted by Justin | Report as abusive

Any ideas pls send to my
I’m delight to receive your mail and communicate with you!

Posted by Justin | Report as abusive

The opening ceremony was a great spectacle, the venues are equally spectacular and the events to date appear to be well organised and the athletes are giving everything they’ve got.

The critics should stop whining and ENJOY THE SHOW!!

Posted by Mike, UK | Report as abusive

To all those who continue to demonise China and Chinese people : I am so sorry that you are so full of hate. I am also sorry if you have been misled all your life. But it is never too late. Open your hearts and fill it with love. CHINA IS LOVE!!

080808 will be one of the greatest moments in the history of this world.


All those rich Chinese who is new minority group in China are singing their ode to the party which stands for them. And more than 80% farmers in countryside are hidden from sunshine to have an rising China image faked. Those low income farmers are working hard to feed a fat ruling classes with fat lips barking about their hypocircy.


it’s quite normal you can’t understand anything the cereminey had conveued, why not just keep your mouth closed or change tv channal? behaviors like this is unacceptaible and immoral in chinese culture,why not just like a student? actually, in the past 5000 years, we chinese are the leader of the rest of world in most of time! so, we chinese will surely lead the world again!

Posted by nick | Report as abusive

Some argue that chinese are bad and etc.. but most of that prejudice attitude comes from their grandparents during WW 2 period and you must see and feel for yourself before giving any opinion. Still during this global and modern era which we can obtain and doing research by ouronw rather than influenced by western media that i can say the dog of the invader who doesn’t have heart and feeling when they report false coverage (with intention) just to upheld that they are the “RIGHT ONE” althought the world know who are the true terrorist and the one who are the victims….


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