Changing China

Giant on the move

What’s so wrong with the sound of silence?

August 20, 2008

Fuwa noiseI might sound like a grumpy middle-aged Englishman in this blog, so be warned.

It seems like silence has been outlawed at the Beijing Olympics. Every second between every performance is filled with cheesy American rock, or the sort of music reminiscent of the moment the
hero comes to the rescue in a mediocre sub-Spielberg movie.

This is obviously an attempt to create an atmosphere and has been lifted wholesale from American sport. But as someone who has been brought up with the roar of the crowd at Fratton Park (Portsmouth Football Club’s home ground for non-British readers) I have to say it jars.

It is partly that the music is so bad, covers of songs you have long forgotten or were lucky never to have heard in the first place. But it is more than that. This kind of artificial atmosphere is surely no substitute for the real thing.

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to see Usain Bolt’s world-record breaking final in the men’s 100 metres at the Bird’s Nest stadium. The crowd buzzed and rose to their feet when the athletes emerged, but one of the moments when the music and the constant American and Chinese commentary finally stopped.

What one fan called a “deadly silence” settled over the 91,000 capacity crowd. The sound of a helicopter mingled with the roar of the gas burning in the Olympic cauldron high above our heads.

Then the starter’s gun sounded out, and thousands of voices yelled Bolt to victory. Silence was part of the drama. Let’s not exclude it from the Olympics.

PHOTO: A young Chinese boy covers his ears as an Olympic ‘Fuwa’ mascot sings at the new Beijing Capital International Airport July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV


You’re not alone, and there is nothing wrong with silence and being alone with one’s own thoughts. In the U.S., though, one wonders. Everywhere, people are talking on cell phones, listening to ear phones, and so on. Background music and television are ubiquitous. It is such a relief to get away from sound trash, heave a sigh of relief, and be able to think in private. I am all for noise abatement. Silence is, indeed, golden. I wonder, is this fascination with background sound/entertainment an American phenomenon?

Posted by RLM | Report as abusive

I agree too.

Noise is a major environmental pollutant. And it isn’t only in or from the USA. Here in Poland, radios with blaring disco-pap are ubiquitous; they used to be used to screen out eavesdropping but now, on the principle that ‘my noise keeps me from having to listen to yours’. Try living next to a building site where each work ‘team’ has a radio tuned to a different station, turned up loud so that the team must then shout to each other.

To control noise more strictly it might help to distinguish between intrinsic and extraneous noise, the latter is usually far more stressful: in this case, crowd noise/musak.

Posted by timprice | Report as abusive

I think that there could be a cultural difference at work here. The Chinese prefer the atmosphere of a place to be renao ??: hot and noisy. Walking along a major shopping street, you will often hear loud music, hawkers calling people to come into the shop on loudspeakers, etc. It can be an overwhelming experience.

On the flip side, I’ve often heard Chinese friends who have studied abroad say that the first thing that struck them about living in places like Canada, Australia or Britain is that it was way too quiet.


Absolutely Fiona, there is a cultural difference I am sure. In a way the Olympics has married this Chinese taste for noisy music with idiom of the American sports. It’s also partly a matter of taste.
It just does my head in sometimes!

Posted by Simon Denyer | Report as abusive

Chinese prefer Loud music in the festivals and big games.

Posted by Yang | Report as abusive





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