All eyes are on London. Over the next two weeks, the world’s best athletes will compete for the honor of their country in a bid to realize their Olympic dreams. The 30th summer Olympic Games officially opened Friday with a unique opening ceremony full of British pomp and style.
The tradition of hosting an opening ceremony dates back to the ancient Games in Greece, when the event served to formally invite the competing parties. In the modern era, it has become a high-pressure opportunity to showcase the cultural essence of the host country under the watchful gaze of billions of expectant eyes.
The opening ceremony for the Beijing Games in 2008 was spectacular and spellbinding in equal measure, a masterpiece of mass coordination conducted at a breakneck tempo that left the international media agog and raised the pulse of Chinese patriotism to near unprecedented levels.
When Beijing passed the Olympic torch to the UK four years ago, a Xinhua journalist asked Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Olympic organizing committee, if London would feel the pressure of following in the footsteps of Beijing’s extravaganza, which was directed by Zhang Yimou. “No,” Coe said, adding it rather served as an inspiration and a reminder of the responsibility resting on London’s shoulders.
So, now the smoke has cleared and Danny Boyle’s eclectic ceremony completed, what did the Chinese audience make of it? An online survey conducted by Xinhua News offers a broad-brush perspective. Of all the participants, a majority of 51 percent liked London’s opening ceremony because of its surprising elements, not least the Queen appearing to parachute into the Olympic Stadium from a helicopter as part of a James Bond sketch, as well as its more traditional British features. However, 49 percent said they were not impressed, primarily due to the deployment of outdated technology and the less stringent approach than Beijing’s to its overall presentation. Some also stated that they could not grasp the story behind it at all. The top four memorable elements in the ceremony were listed as the torch lighting, the presentation of the Industrial Revolution, Rowan Atkinson’s humorous performance and the Queen’s appearance. People could not help but compare it with the Beijing opening ceremony, and noted the biggest differences as London’s greater focus on the lives of ordinary people its smaller scale.
Seeing what London achieved with a smaller budget and less people, Chinese netizens also began to reconsider their opinion of Beijing’s event.
One poster on Tianya Club, one of the most popular online forums in China, said: “I laughed wholeheartedly at seeing Mr. Bean’s performance. To be honest, the British people put a lot of effort into it, and were also very relaxed about it. Even through the screen, you could feel the hyper atmosphere in the stadium. What are the British people showing off? Their Queen, fairy tales, medical system, James Bond movies, symphonies and British humor…Four years ago, we devoted even more attention and effort, but what did I see in the opening ceremony? History, history and history…What were we showing off? History, history and again history…”
Another poster was sharp and to the point: “The opening ceremony held by the ground beetles (土鳖, a term coined to contrast with the so-called “sea turtles” who go overseas to study and then return to China) of mainland China demonstrated their bulging wallet and silly character.” In the same vein, netizen gegetang007 said: “The Beijing Olympics was luxurious but silly, while the London Olympics is smart and full of culture!”
There are also people who did not buy into the British style, “The bell ringing, huge black chimneys, giant dead baby, zombie-like peasants and nurses, as well as night devils…the weird lighting, sad solo song…and a quiet audience. The opening ceremony was more like a funeral rather than an Olympic cerebration. Thanks to the parade of athletes who later saved all of this, though they seemed depressed compared to the previous games in the strange atmosphere.”
On Weibo, the opening ceremony is also currently a hot topic. 凤栖于楠 commented wryly: “The London Olympic opening ceremony tells the story of a harmonious Middle-Earth being conquered by the Dark Lord Sauron.”
Cultural differences certainly play an important part in this dialogue of perspectives between the British and the Chinese. However, there are also a number of shared values, as noted by this reflective commenter, “The opening ceremony focused on ordinary people, engaging communities and paying respect to construction workers. The main torch was lit by young athletes rather than a celebrity. Together with the sing-along at the end, the whole ceremony was very heart-warming.”
What do you think about these comments or the opening ceremonies held in Beijing and London? Let us know in the comments section below!
Photo by U.S. Army IMCOM on Flickr