Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, 2008. Photograph by Bullit Marquez/AP
For hundreds of years, China has been bullied and put down by the West. These days, when people mention China, they associate it with cheap knock-off goods, paranoid Communists, Tibet, Sichuan earthquakes and so on. The news has been filled with nothing but how the Olympics were going down thanks to the polluted air in Beijing.
Even our own Singaporean Chinese…many of them look down on their mainland cousins as being backward or money-grubbing.
But last night, China really reminded the world who has been boss for thousands of years, and that it really only took a breather in the past few centuries.
The opening ceremony might have been a symbolic piece, but it sure symbolised many things.
1. China has the money to do anything it wants if it desires to. US$20b is no joke man. No other country would have even dared dreamed of spending half the amount just on an opening ceremony.
2. China has a disciplined population willing to do its political will. Just observe the hundreds of taiji exponents flipping around with perfect timing. I was studying the look on their faces – it was nothing but pure focus (and fear of messing up, of course).
3. China is the Asian hothouse of creativity and execution. Forget the Italian Renaissance. Zhang Yimou’s ability to orchestrate the show, implement the technology and knock everyone’s socks off is just the tip of the iceberg. Not many people realise this, but for the past few decades, the Chinese have been travelling and absorbing as much as they could from other countries. The transfer of technology and knowledge has been massive and unprecedented, and last night’s show was just one demonstration of what the people have brought home.
More than anything else – like the fancy ancient costumes or different dialect groups dancing – the ability of China to wow the entire planet is probably just the first step in its true revival and re-ascent to power. It may not supercede Hollywood for many decades or even centuries, but in all other fields, the dragon has stirred. Indeed, last night was a good reminder of what the word “majestic” meant.
PS: Of course, the whole Olympic ceremony made our own National Day Parade look like a waste of time. We were at Weizheng’s house and everyone lost interest when the musical fountains got turned on. NDP costs plenty of money too, but it’s not really relevant in a time when there is such a big detachment between the people and the government. Want to celebrate National Day? First ask how many Singaporeans want to put up the flag in front of their house first. It is not out of laziness we do not do so, but a general discontentment with the Gahmen’s way of governing. The Chinese put on a show to prove their worth – our Gahmen puts on a show that has no real meaning anymore.