There have certainly been some genuinely thrilling moments so far at the Beijing Olympics, including a few that didn’t involve Michael Phelps.
What is mildly troubling is how many of the thrilling moments have turned out to be fake.
It is widely known now that 9-year-old Lin Miaoke, the achingly cute and expressive little girl who sang a patriotic ballad all alone during the opening ceremony — didn’t. The voice was supplied by 7-year-old Yang Peiyi, who had the best voice of those who auditioned, but wasn’t deemed cute enough for television.
Then there were the giant “footprints of fire” fireworks advancing toward the stadium during the same ceremony. Alas, they weren’t real fireworks but prerecorded digitally created fireworks, done for the delectation of TV viewers and those watching the giant screens in the stadium.
As if the real fireworks weren’t spectacular enough?
Many foreign tourists who go to Tiananmen Square remember the bravery of pro-democracy activists and the subsequent massacre of scores if not hundreds of those activists in 1989. When journalists talk to Chinese people, however, they discover that the unfortunate incident just isn’t mentioned in Chinese schools or in the Chinese media. That example of regime brutality has been put down a memory hole, replaced by a million potted plants to impress tourists.
Although the TV coverage hasn’t emphasized it, several print journalists have noticed that while the Beijing organizing committee excitedly announced a couple of weeks ago that every single one of the 6.8 million available tickets for the events had been sold, there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of empty seats at most events. Beijing hoteliers and shopkeepers complain that tourism is actually down compared to a normal August. The sparse attendance may be due in part to the heavy and intrusive security — put in place to make everything seem perfect — that makes going anywhere in Beijing a hassle.
That may symbolize the problem. The Chinese government badly wants this to be seen as the Perfect Olympics in the Perfect Country. So they’ve torn down neighborhoods, sent beggars and dissidents to the provinces and deployed thousands of security forces to polish the image.
In that context, what’s a little fakery?