Thursday, August 28, 2008

Post Olympics Entertainment

The fun of Olympics dwindles, along with mid-night TV watching. Propaganda from China is being replaced by propaganda from Denver. My brother, having attended games, now hold definitive bragging rights against me. So, I'm left to find my own post Olympic entertainment.

The press doesn't disappoint in providing entertaining material. Thomas Boswell provides a laugh or two by ruing over his Olympic experience and trying to find a negative thesis. Beijing must have done something right if Mr Boswell has only a small laundry list to complain on: Security personnel not allowing him to jump over tapes for the short cut; buses ferrying media persons for being too punctuate; people saying hello even without best command of English. He then uses his imaginative skills to parley all these experienced into his grand thesis, that's worthy of a chuckle. Oh, and everybody smiled, it's just too perfect. Mr Boswell would make a good psy-fi director - mindless robotic drones beaming smiles everywhere, while a plot against humanity brews.

Time UK doesn't miss the train in providing good laugh. I'm not sure I can qualify to pride myself as wide-eyed, but The success of the games is attributed to the oppressing making the oppressed "march in unison, drum, smile, dance, mime, jump through hoops if necessary". Aside from the mystery of volunteer hostess " stripped naked for the judges" that is promoted (does it pass the smell test?), the article comments:

Nothing can be decided by an oppressed people... What happens next in China is no more determined by its citizens than the destiny of Iraq was in the hands of Iraqis.
For a minute, I think Royal Marine would be in Tianjin harbor in 24 hours to liberate the Chinese people. Then I wake up to the reality of 21st century, not 1800s.

Actually, the two gentlemen have made some good points, but the clueless-ness nevertheless betrays them and reduced the articles to good entertainment. Judging from comments online, few take them seriously. I only wish my brother and friends in Beijing wouldn't get a bigger chuckle than me. That would be unfair.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Pardon the vulgarness, but doesn't the logo of 2012 London Game look like a man and a woman making out?

The topic slowly but surely moved on to London as Beijing game winded down. The "8 minute presentation" has been a point of talk. South Metropolitan, citing online discussions, called it "praised widely by Chinese for plebeian appeal" but "criticized by British media".

Over-sensationaliztion and mis-characterization are not Western Media privilege. "Widely praised" could hardly sum up the Chinese opinion towards London presentation. Most people didn't "get it" beyond the obvious symbolic images, the double-deck bus, umbrella and soccer balls. Plebeian, was far from the nature of the pitch, of anything but.

In fact, most interesting differences was in the pitching approaches, while Beijing's opening and closing ceremony relied mostly on "people power", the London presentation relied more on "star power".

Double-deck bus and such, like hutong's to Beijing, although very much London, but were cliche-ish and considered hardly selling points. London's selling pitch relied on star power, the popular Leona Lewis, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and David Beckham. Even American Michael Phelps, freshly minted as an Olympic hero, was in front of Buckingham Palace rallying up the crowd.

On the Chinese performance side, you could hardly spot a recognizable face if you were not Chinese. Oh, There was Jacki Chan among the "stars" singing some jumbo-mumble song, but that's it. And there was Placido singing a duet, but he was anything but Chinese. Any wonder why singing was the least attractive part of those ceremonies? Overall, the closing ceremony has been a bore to many Chinese, who grew used to massive production, but an eye-catcher for Western audiences - you couldn't find this many people in a Cirque du Soleil show, could you?

Speaking of stars, David Beckham is considered irrelevant by 1/3 of the world - most Americans, an over-the-hill overpaid gossip column target by another 1/3 - most Europeans, and a megastar by the rest 1/3, including the Chinese; Jimmy Page is considered a nostalgic symbol or washed-up antique depending on your age; Leona Lewis is the most contemporary. People who hates talent shows may want to phone Maria Cary for a career revival. But at least the odds of acceptance here is much higher.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Ugly Gentleman

British "gentlemen" are enamored with the words "overzealous". Remember the Brits complaining about "overzealous" "men in track suits" trying to protect the flame during the London torch runs? That was in Britain. Now in Beijing, Brits used word "overzealous" and "belligerent" to defend their own rude behavior again.

David Davies, who won a silver in the swimming marathon, soaked Chinese "officials" who was urging him to attend the medal ceremony with bottled water. It should be pointed out that the lady who was splashed water on her face, called official by British media, was actually a volunteer. The ward ceremony was already in delay due to Davies' pass-out at the finish. While the Welsh enjoyed telling his life story on the camera, his fellow competitors was waiting to get on the podium. According to Olympics regulation, failure to attend the award ceremony in time could result in cancellation of the medal award.

Granted, there was a culture divide here. In China, touching of elbow or tucking of cloth in urging was common practice and understood as acceptable, and may even appreciated when for the benefit of the urged; while in Britain, body contact was more strictly forbidden without mutual gesture. Still, the British's action of dousing was extremely rude and thuggish. The British media, which called Davies a gentleman, took no exception, and did not seem to mind of the behavior. Britain’s performance director, Scott, joked: “He was just shaking a champagne bottle, nothing more than that.”

The incident was not widely reported by official Chinese media, perhaps out of desire to keep the Games "harmonious", but had angered many Chinese netizens. Many were surprised that no apology was demanded. Then again, a few Chinese were worrying China demonstrated too much dominance in diving as it was poised to sweep the eight Gold.

Good luck London of 2012.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yin and Yang

Someone said it to me a few days ago, "It's a boring world, everywhere is the same. Men like to sensationalize in writing, women likes to indulge to dubious relationships."

Come to think of it as the reaction to Liu Xiang's withdraw swirled, that claim captured only half the truth. There were many "Literacy Youngsters" on douban who were quick to their sensationalist style, but there were also plenty of "Angry (disgruntled)" on Tianya forum.

Disgruntled is the yin to Sensationalist's Yang; radicalism goes both ways. But the Chinese press seems to forget the ancient Chinese wisdom. And Thomas Boswell of Washington Post may never understand.

Boswell, on the basis of some disgruntled internet posts, described the Chinese as inferior cruel mobs (remember Cafferty?) who piled on their fallen hero. The sudden drama of Liu Xiong's pull-out had wide spectrum of reaction across the internet. Most voiced support; some questioned whether pulling out was a pre-determined decision; others had a hard time understanding why it had to come down to a decision on the starting block.

Let's read some Olympics press coverage, shall we? Micheal Phelps got eight gold, and New York Times had a whole column dedicated to it, discussing whether that was the greatest Olympic achievement. We were all capable of enjoying the sensation. When I turned to Sina, it had a full special page dedicated to Liu's withdraw, trumping the eight-gold-treatment. The U.S. Had also someone who didn't finish the race, although not on the starting block. Trammell pulled his hamstring in the same round and had to pull up. He got mentioned by NYT only in passing in the article covering Liu Xiang. Lolo Jones, with her unique story, was sympathized in an article.
The media non-corporation award went to Tyson Gay. NBC reporters kept giving him cue on how he was injured leading up to the event, but he insisted he was fine, just "did not get it done". Flip to sina, there were reports that Liu was running 12.96, 12.98 before the race, or more precisely, withdraw. A CCTV reporter even mention she has inside information that Liu was running close to 12.80. The numbers varied. I didn't know which one to believe exactly. But nevertheless, "Beijing Olympics should have belongs to him", as the reporter proclaimed.

There had been enough media frenzy about Liu's tragedy, most unanimously sunny, or humane as someone liked to say. (I'm quite tired of seeing the word "humanity" in Chinese press nowadays, as if the China I've lived was inhumane backward doldrums.) Liu might be fallen, but "did not “lose.” Perhaps to counter charges from the likes of Boswell, there were even reported rumors that an order was given, forbidding the country’s news media from criticizing Liu. A hero was intact.

With all this "yang" in the official media, it was not surprising to find "yin" of different voices in unofficial forums. BBS itself had been the "yin" to the official media's "yang". Together, we had "qi" of a harmonious society - joking. But whether in support of sensationalized tragic narrative or being disgustedly suspicious, it was all in accord to "one world, one dream".

I have watched Liu Xiang four years ago. He was flamboyant on camera after the surprising win, but I liked it. It was spontaneity. And I marveled.

Now four years after, I felt the sadness watching him pulling out. Liu was not on camera immediately afterward, he issued an apology - it's not like he needed to. His apology came out the same time Nike tweaked its ad campaign featuring liu. The words on the poster read:"Love competition. Love risking your pride. Love winning it back. Love giving it everything you’ve got. Love the glory. Love the pain. Love sport even when it breaks your heart." I couldn't help but thought of the word: PR.

What about the "women likes to indulge to dubious relationships" part, you may ask? Well, isn't it obvious by now? The counterpart is that men are not courageous enough.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Who is Liu Xiang

What a spectacle it must be when more than 90,000 collectively let out "ahh?" in astonishment.

No, it's not opening ceremonial group exercise, it was the reaction in the Bird's Nest when it was announced Liu Xiang dropped out the race due to injury. More jaws were dropped in front of millions of TV sets in China and around the world. They had seen Liu Xiong warming up; they had seen him at the starting block, seemingly grimacing in pain. They couldn't believe the drop-out.

Several minutes later, huge crowds began to file out, leaving the stadium half empty.

The reaction immediately began. Many couldn't accept the reality how he ended competition - on the starting block, some even suggested he should complete the course, even by walking to the end line. For the conspiracy theorists, they pointed to huge commercial interests behind the decision to pull out. Liu had been the face for numerous products in China. The admirers meanwhile poured out their sympathy and support for Liu, a CCTV reporter even called the pull-out a admirable decision. One had to be puzzled what was admirable in a dropout due to injury.

The speculation centered around the nature and extent of Liu's injury, and the media coverage leading up to the drama. Earlier signs indicated he was not in good shape. He withdrew from a meet in New York in May citing hamstring injury, and alleged purposely false-started at the Prefontaine Classic. He then skipped the European circuit, and did not appear at the opening ceremony. In the meanwhile, Chinese media had been giving a different picture. He reportedly posted a good time in test-run on the track of Bird's Nest. Just several days ago, he was said to run well within 13 seconds. Only on last Saturday, his coach cautioned Liu had a symptom of inflamed Achilles tendon, in injury that was said to first occurred six years ago and suddenly reemerged prior to the competition. That would be the official injury that did Liu in on the starting block of Olympics games. The drama stunned the whole stadium and a whole nation.

Among the bickering between Liu's fans and supporters and those who cast doubt why it ended with this dramatic fashion, it's important to remember that scrutiny was an understandable reaction when so much national pride and money were tied up with Liu. Even the American reporter James Farrows had commented:"But it would be natural and human if it were something more too: perhaps better not to try at all than to be captured forever on tape coming up short. It's hard to feel sorry for someone as rich and celebrated as Liu Xiang. But you can sympathize."

What to make of the Liu Xiang drama, or tragedy? I say get over it China.

It's unnatural, or even unhealthy, to place so high expectation and pressure on one athlete. It was too high an expectation to expect ANY short distance sprinter to repeat Olympics glory of four years ago. You just have to review Olympic history to see how realistic that is.

Too much had been made out of Liu's victory in Athens four years ago. Liu, as the first top Chinese athlete in sprinting had been a symbol of athletic capacity of Chinese, and even Asians. Many even held him as a proof that Asians are no less inferior to, say blacks, in printing athleticism. Sorry to burst bubble, but 110 hurdle isn't pure speed, technique plays a big part. And so what Asians are not as gifted in short track? Difference in muscle build up has been a reality. Black athletes have been dominating short track running from forever. The U.S. has been successful in track and and field due to precisely racial diversity of population and foreign imports. There is even research that suggests Jamaica sprinters' success - see Bolt and top three finish in women's 100m - is in part because they are naturally gifted due to gene in fast switch muscle fiber. It's neither true nor fair to place ethnic theories behind one athlete.

In America, there are similarly biased sayings such as "White men can't jump". Occasionally, there are white high flying dunkers to "prove them wrong". But frankly, several example of freakish athleticism of whites and bunch of examples of freakish athleticism of blacks prove nothing, nor does it prove anything. While "White men can't jump" remains an urban mystery, nobody seems to particularly care to de-mystify it.

In a commercial, Liu Xiang beams into the camera and asks:"I am Liu Xiang, who are you?" Yes, it's important to answer that question. Who is Liu Xiang? He is still the Olympics champion in Athens, the first Asian to get a gold in short distance track and field. And he should be remembered as such, regardless of whatever drama happened in Beijing. Who are we? We are just spectators. We can cheer on and feel the pride if he wins, but to place too much significance in his victory or failure is just too much. It's just another day an athlete pulls out of competition, dramatic or not.







集体得瑟什么呢。这种得瑟四年前就开始了。刘翔在雅典的胜利被认为不仅是民族的骄傲,甚至是中国人甚至说黄种人在短跑能力上不比别人差的证明。说实话,110米栏并不是证明单纯速度的项目,它需要的除了速度还有过栏技巧。更何况一个刘翔根本不能证明或反证什么人种的差异。一个体育怪才,刘翔,相对于一些体育怪才,同场竞技的黑人兄弟们,的胜利并不能说明任何问题。美国也流行一句话,White man can't jump (白人跳不起来)。 自从黑人在NBA高跳驰骋后,这句话也多少成为城市神话。偶尔也有出个厉害的白人扣篮者,但这些个例并不足以打破神话,也没有人特别在意要去证明或反证。



6/8/08,在Eugene的Prefontaine Classic抢跑,有人称故意

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Grab Them Golds

A quick look at the medal count standing, you find leading countries are United States, China, Australia, France, Russia, South Korea, Germany, Japan, Britain, and Italy rounding out the top 10, with the first two in a pack of significant margin. Ladies and gentleman, that's almost your list of G-8 with China as 'guest observer", with Aussies of Commonwealth standing in for their Canadian brethren thanks to their performance in the pool. Only the Koreans are not economically or politically as influential. Conspicuously missing are India and Brazil, two important emerging markets in the BRIC block that many thought of being on the short watch list of G8 expansion.

Some "angry elitist" in China have vehemently protested that the medals had little to do with them so they could hardly got into the spirit of the Games, except...venting. As far as netizens go, the western press talked about "angry youth", a name implying overt nationalism, they missed the other part of the story: for every radical nationalist there seemed to be an equally radical bunch who took the baton from whatever was criticized of China from the West and took it to another extreme level. The Chinese mockingly called them, most of whom never set a foot in the outside world, jingying - or "elite".

The criticizers pointed out that medals are worthless, because they were not representative of how athletic or fit the Chinese were. They had a point. But these games were never meant to be a gauge on how athletic or fit a nation was. Otherwise, Finland should have won the gold of fittest nation, with Canada not far behind. The leading country in medal count, the United States, is also the world's leading country in obesity. The Michel Phelps and Usain Bolts of the world are never meant to represent mere mortals like us, or even whether a sport is practice by the people. They are what they are, games, and competitions.

A member of Canadian Olympic committee was outlining the strategy to improve Canada's medal counts: ID talent, get them into the "system", etc etc, as I typed. Whatever "system" those athletes are in, those games are not only for the national glory, it's also about pushing personal limit, achieving the best. How can anyone not be touched and emboldened by those marathon women filing in the stadium after running 26 miles, battling extreme fatigue? "You not only became a champion," the person in the TV said, "but also found a better self."


TV Scene one: Tennis, women's single semifinal. The crowd was raucus. Loud chants of "China Jiayou" and "Lina Jiayou" can be heard between plays, sometimes even before the play was over. Some Russian accented "Sa-fi-na~" could be heard streaking out too. Given the atmasphere of the Olympics, tameness wasn't bo be expected, but this crowd was clearly not of your typical French Open. Safina stringed a couple double faults. Maybe the crowd noise was getting to her a little bit, but she kept her cool. Then, Li na charged to hit a overhead. The collective "woo" in anticipation could be heard from crowd. Out of bounds! Li Na was noticablly annoyed, she turned her head to the crowd and cursed out a grumbled "shut up". The crowd went dead. Lest she forgot, she proved she was a member of the crowd too.

TV scene two: Rowlling, women's double skull. CCTV camera was focusing on the Chinese pair who was targeted as haing "gold potential". Cameras were so busy chasing gold potential events that an earlier pair event didn't got broadcasted live. Minutes later, the Chinese got only to the fourth. The ancor in the studio annouced:" It's regretful, but it's O.K., actually China won a silver unexpectedly in an earlier rowlling event." The tape began to roll. No embarrassed TV crew faces could be seen on screen.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Autopsy of a Media Storm

A story about double-act of singing on the opening ceremony was making rounds in the media and blogsphere. In pursuit of theatricals perfection, directors combined Lin Miaoke's stage appearance and Yang Peiyi's singing voice.

Most of the reports in the western media seemed to be based on an interview of the music director by the Chinese media. transcript shows


which indicated Lin's voice was not good enough and had to be mimed by another voice. Whether he was telling the whole story was another matter.

While some reports got that fact straight, others totally missed boat. Chicago Tribune for example, reported as: "one member of China's Politburo revealed Miaoke had lip-synched the song, after the original singer, Yang Peiyi, was told she was not good-looking enough." Chen, who revealed news, was not political leader. the Tribune might not realize it was in conflict with its next line: "Chen Qigang, the ceremony's music director, had been asked last minute by the Politburo official to replace Peiyi with Miaoke, according to an interview with Beijing Radio."

Nevertheless, the "not quite" headline of "girl kicked out of ceremony performance at the last minute" because of "chubby face" and "Bucket/crooked tooth" had became the main theme of the story. I am not sure where journalists got the crooked tooth part. It sounded like their own interpretation by looking at the picture.

Time UK emphasized that theme by using headline of China banned child singer with crooked teeth from singing at opening ceremony. "Chubby-cheeked with crooked teeth, she was substituted at the eleventh hour by Communist Party officials desperate to present the best possible image of Chinese youth to a curious world. " it asserted.

Whether Lin's voice being subbed in the 11th minute or Yang being substituted, fact remained Yang did not get on the stage except her voice. Who said good looks and stage presence weren't "talent"? Jessica Simpson would probably agree.

Fake, is the predominant word used in headlines across UK press. Headlines such as China 'faked' awesome Olympic opening ceremony was already in place when it was revealed parts of the "footprint" show was not shot in real time. Maybe the Brits didn't know that was not made of secret. NBC mentioned it during the broadcast. Past TV productions, such as fire in the studio fireplace during the 2002 Salt Lake Games, was also generated digitally.

Fake might be an uneasy word, but perfection was always an illusion. Lest we forgot.

Guardian hedged their report by pointing the source to a translation by the China Digital Times website.

"We had been through several inspections - they were all very strict. When we rehearsed at the spot, there were spectators from various divisions, especially a leader from the Politburo, who gave us his opinion: It must change," said Chen.
In deed, by leaving out details such as it was Miaoke's voice they were listening at the rehearsal, that translation could lead to confusion conclusions. That's what you got by sending reporters who are not versed in the local language.

Whatever the source, British media finally found their controversial story about the opening ceremony. BBC called it the second "fake" story about the opening ceremony, and asked openly for comments whether this has damaged the image of the Beijing Olympic games. Its own tone was made apparent in its editing choice of comment to appear on the main page - a Beijinger comments: "If the stories are true, it is absolutely disgraceful and I am ashamed as a Chinese citizen."

It's understandable that British got extra mile from this story. London after all has to host the game in four years. As Telegraph put it:"it might now be easier for London to end the 'arms race' that requires every staging of the Games to be more spectacular than the last. "

In fact, the media storm was not broken first in the west hemisphere, Chinese media and blogs were seethed about the story first when the interview was first published. There was something about China and fake that struck a cord in people's mind. Some English language reports even cited Chinese message board writings in the initial confusing hours. Yes, that what journalism reduced to.

The stand-in singing is a result of complex social value system we have today. There is China's overwhelming desire for perfection; there is this film director who is famous for meticulousness in aesthetics; there is Eastern culture of "face value", there is also this today's "looks" obsessed culture - American or British or Chinese. Think of Audrey Hepburn singing to the voice of Marni Nixon. Although it should be pointed out that both girls get credit on both the ticket of the ceremony and DVD that is released, the concern of influence of adults value system - and what kind of system should it be - on the two girls is genuine and legitimate. Personally, I think the directors miscalculated the social amplification and should have simply used best vocal. That being said, some of the directions and tones of this media storm are not surprising. After all, controversies are relatively scarce on these Games, how else can the media be fed on.

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Monday, August 11, 2008


(1) To translate or not to translate
Maybe the Olympics should be hosted by Babel, before the tower-building was stopped, that is. Ring Blog reports:

Normal interview rhythms are being disrupted by the translation of every question and answer to Chinese.
The translations irritated some reporters working on tight newspaper deadlines in the United States. One asked why the questions and answers had to be translated when they were all in English. Two minutes later, a question was asked in Chinese, reminding everyone of why there are translations in the first place.
Arrogance, that's what being in a dominant culture could do to you. And the media people wonder why people don't like them that much. Question at hand: do people of the hosting country deserve the privilege to know what is being asked of athletes and what the answer is? Despite the effort in promoting English, there are a lot of people in China who don't understand English well.

The country that Chinese audience gives most sympathy to in those games is Iraq, the oil rich but war torn nation. After almost missing the Olympics, they received a big cheer in the opening night. Their rowing team appeared to have no team uniform (see picture) and used a patch work of wore out personal T-shirts.

China has begin her full chase for the gold. But the most I am interested in seeing, is how Chinese media and public treat those who lose. In the past, the media has not been very enthusiastic towards those who failed to clutch the gold, and even not too kind to those who were suppose to medal but crumbled under pressure. Early indication is that the mentality is much more forgiving this time around.

The most exciting competition so far: 4x100 men's freestyle relay that resulted in a gold for America. The most nerve racking but inspiring competition so far: Men's team Gymnastics in which Chinese team vindicated themselves with a gold.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sports, History and What the Ceremony Really Gives

If you ask a Chinese what the most touching moment in the opening ceremony was, most of them will give the answer:"during the A Hymn to My Motherland by a 9-year-old girl". It's a song most of Chinese who have connection to the new Republic can sing along. Part of the lyrics goes: Hymn to My Motherland, returning to the prosperity and a strong nation again.

To give a analogy to what history and tradition brings, let's turn to sports for a moment. Any fan of College Football can tell you what tradition means. It allows historical power houses like Alabama a chance to rebuild their program in times of decline. It allows Michigan be an attractive destination for coaches after some lackluster seasons. In an radio interview of a coach from a big-time program, a reporter ask the coach, "what allows your players always seem to be able to come back from a disappointing start of the season?" The coach replied, I paraphrase, "it's the tradition we have, it gives our players both motivation and confidence they need. 'You are suppose to be good, otherwise you are not deserved to be in this great school.’”

Same goes for nations.

What does the opening ceremony with all that history and culture behind it really brings? You can point to the soft power China projects, you can point to the promoting the understanding of Chinese cultural around the world, you can even point to staging by the Chinese government. But ultimately, it boils down to that lyrics. The pride in historical achievements both motivates Chinese people to "restore the glory", so to speak, and gives them enough confidence of "can do" attitude, which is an invaluable asset and can't be measure by GDP. The culture brings an anchor of self-identity.

That's what touches people in that song.

[p.s.] Michael Phelps, yeeho.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympics Opening Ceremony: Live

- 8:08pm 08/08/2008 Beijing
8:08am 08/08/2008 Eastern Standard Time
- TV, TV, get a TV
- Crap, I don't realize this is a NBC country, which means 8:08pm 08/08/2008 doesn't arrive until prime time. Nothing ever happens until NBC says so.
- 8:15, how can I forget the country up north? Wherever America fails, there's Canada to the rescue. Thanks god for CBC.
- The great inventions, paper, printing, etc. Yeah, I should have known those would be on the show. Shocking...not.
- Zhang Yimou and China are a match made in heaven, his grandiose style of art rendering requires a lot of man-power, and China has a lot power.
- The synchronized human keyboard is... impressive. The reciting Confucius Disciple...menacing (I'm sorry).
- Did I just see Curse of the Golden Flower?
- Oh, the fireworks. How I love them.
- Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman! Wait, what are they singing? Is that Chinese or English? I thought I understood both, now it seems I understand neither.
- Dignitaries on the stand are waving fans to relieve themselves from the heat. The place being the Bird's Nest, it probably can hatch eggs into little birds right about now.

- Switching to web cast now. It's surprisingly hard to find a live stream. Good jobs IOC in cracking down. But thanks to channel surfing, we CAN NOT BE DENIED.
- Parade of Nations is on. Some of the outfits of the teams make the so called "egg and tomato" outfit of Chinese team that so many Chinese were scolding of look beautiful.
- What's up with the background music? It's a combination of all kinds of traditional Chinese music. I hear the mellow Spring rivers and flower night, and I hear trumpet section usually reserved for marriage parade. There are Irish Pipes blending in also. Strange to say the least.
- The Japanese are actually holding Chinese flags. Is that because they are worried about being booed? You have to give it to the Japanese, they are always so methodological about dealing with problems.
- Do I hear Chinese Taipei and Zhonghua Taibei (in Chinese)? It's a compromise. But it passes quickly, I don't give it much a thought.
- More testament to the man power in China, There is a huge ring of cheer leading girls, volunteers I guess, lines up the runways. or should I say girl power?
They are dancing in sync to the music. I'm wondering how they find the rhythm, because there is no rhythm to speak of in the music. They will be doing this for two hours. It must be tiring.
- One of the best benefit of watching Parade of Nations is to watch the close-up shots of beautiful athletes. The TV director clearly understands that.
Seeing the Brazilian flag bearer alone probably gets my casual viewing's worth back.
- The anchor says of a random flag bearer from a Muslim country (of which I don't remember the name) : "She ran with a full body suit and scarf." WOW!
- I just want to yell "Manu, Manu" (Ginobili)

- Now the ring of girls change to waving arms standing still. Finally they can't keep up.
- Sarkozy is in the house. Wasn't he saying he would not attend? I am actually hoping to see his wife.
- Both Russian and USA teams receive a big cheer from the stand.
- The Swedish team wears outfit that resembles Chinese Qi Dress(旗袍). I'm not sure that belongs to their ethnic clothing or is a tribute to the host. It's kind of cool.
- The girls now can't even keep the waving arms up, they change to clapping.
- Finally, the Chinese "egg and tomato" team arrives. A huge roar breaks out in the stadium. Yao Ming, the flag bearer, is accompanied by a 9 year old from ShiChuan. The child reportedly saved 2 lives in the recent earthquake. Nice gesture to show the Chinese haven't forget about the earthquake.

- The final riddle unfolds. Li Ning, an gold medalist and successful businessman of his namesake brand, flys up and runs along the wall of an unfolding scroll, Kong Fu style, around the stadium. The flame is alight! That's probably the highlight of the night...urgh morning. More fireworks are in order.
- Let the games begin.

[update] I just saw the freaking drum performance on NBC with better picture and more comfort. It's awe inspiring. At the same time, it invoked images of ancient dynasties, precise , cheerful, powerful, and a bit intimidating. It was very Chinese - spectacle made possible by the will of people. The Hymn to My Country that followed was touching.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hundred Years

[Chinese Version]

China calls the coming Olympics “a hundred year’s dream”. To the Chinese, Olympics is clearly not only a sports gala and party festival. Incidentally, I’ve recently watched Matching to a Republic, a TV series of historical drama. With fifty nine episodes, and 40 plus hours spent on, it probably deserves some of my comments on the historical road China traversed.

Many of the trajectories of present day China can be traced back to hundred years ago. There isn’t much new under the bright sun.

Let’s start from a scene in a later episode. Sun Yat-sen, who was regarded as the founding father of Republic of China, tried to reorganize his party into a revolution party after he failed the Second-Revolution. At the time, the then president of the new republic, Yuan Shikai, was about to crown himself the emperor of a constitutional monarchy. Of the 11 governors declared as Nationalist Party member, only two supported his agenda in force. Attractive political ideals were no match for practical position in powers. Sun realized the paradox, that he needed more centralized power to achieve his political dream, a real republic. Political construction might get by with loose organization, but a revolution that didn’t have enough public base required authority. He began to encourage political purity and personal loyalty within the party.

Sun didn’t make his political dream a reality. Before him, Emperor Guanxu wanted to reform but lacked real power, Empress Dowager Cixi had the power but didn’t want the radical political reform, at least not while she was still alive. His follower, Chiang, who took a cue from Sun’s realization and took it to another totalitarian level, ran a corrupt government, but at least nominally united China divided by warlords. Mao’s party also understood the secret to survival and what it took to achieve things in China. It promoted ideological purity within party and believed in “Political power grows out of barrels of a gun”. It took only three years for them to win out the civil war. There is no revolution any more today, but the political belief lives on: that you need a degree of central power and authority to get things done in China, where average citizen isn’t informed or active enough of politics. Deng was also such a believer.

Second Revolution wasn’t unique to Sun either. Mao had his own second revolution - the Cultural Revolution. At least part of the motive behind Mao’s second revolution was the same as Sun’s, that he saw his political ideal was in danger, and that his New China was slipping back to the Old China. New bureaucrats were quickly reverting back just like old bureaucrats, and that conflicted with his vision of a strong China. Mao took a page from Sun. To experiment his vision of democracy and people’s power, he encouraged personal idolization of himself and increase his own authoritative power. It degenerated into a disaster. Later elitists inherited the authoritative part but scratched, or postponed democracy part.

The TV drama series stopped short of the Chiang’s era, probably because it was too close for comfort. But Chiang made an unnamed appearance in it. In one episode, a Japanese instructor pointing a finger at mud in a flower pot, said: “This small piece of mud can contain of a large amount of bacteria, hundreds of millions, as many as there any 4 hundred million Chinese.” An angry student went up to the lectern and retorted, “It must contain a hundred million bacteria, as many as the people in Japan.” That man was Chiang.

Ever since Xinhai Revolution, Sun, Chiang, and Mao, their ideology, personal style, and politics were very different, their understandings of the China’s reality and future differ, but they were all nationalist.

Matching to a Republic as a Chinese production of recent history has some refreshing improvements. Gone are stylized faces and ideological divides. In stead, it depicts historical figures as human and personal touches.

I’ve also witnessed some contemporary historical writing go to another radical extreme. Rewriting and redefining seem to be in fashion. It’s not surprising in the context of the world we live today. Overturning history, whether rightfully so or not, means at least the merit of independent thinking. It attracts attention, usually accompanied by commercial success. If it so happens that Napoleon fought Julius Caesar, or we interpret historical figure with our own modern minds, too bad. Dead people can not explain themselves.

George Washington was a slave owner. He only freed his slaves after both he and his wife died, in his will. But that’s not to say he was not “the greatest man in the world”. Chinese intellectuals at the time especially admired him for not declaring himself the new King of America. In truth, there was little political ground on the American colony for him to crown himself. And why would he anyway?Great leaders are charismatic and of great social conscientious, but they are not living not of their time.

Turning 180 too many times makes us forget where we come from and even where we stand now.

China has a strange tradition of overcorrection. History was dressed up like little school girl according to winds of overcorrection.

Overcorrection as an ancient political term deserves some interesting investigation. You see, correct as a verb has a natural authoritative, top-down tone to it, like the time God walked into the city of Sodom and decided to correct them, make it just.

To lead a nation as diverse as China, needs tremendous wisdom and courage. To take the shortcut of making a strong nation needs a degree of authority and central power. The problem is that in China, once the power is installed, it does not have the tradition of checking itself. Or that tradition has been lost. With that, came the revolution and subversion, and the more radical solutions in the pass hundred years or so. The question we have to pose to ourselves: does the approach matter even if it is the right thing to do? Where do we place the so called procedure correctness, and where to draw the line?

The central theme in hundred years of China’s political movements is primitively to make the nation stronger. Rights of people come second. Pragmatism has always had market in China. It fits with the tradition of “succeed you becomes the king, fail you becomes the vagabond” well. Political and ideological arenas are no different.

The modern history of China from hundred years ago started from wars, more precisely, from losing the wars. Since then, general attitude of Chinese toward political system was anxious and goal-oriented, primitively to hope to bring a stronger nation.
An 1876 NYT article said of Chinese “fear of any innovation and reform”. No, it was not describing the religious Tibet, which shall be described as Shangri-La and peace loving etc. Since then, Chinese has made their own conclusion about that piece of history, they flat out concluded: “to be backward is to be beaten.”

The deficiency of politics of which primary goal was to catch up with the world and make the nation stronger – not be mention it was spearheaded by a small population of new elite – was the lack of stability. Only when the population was modernized and learned how to comprise and manage the country through politic could stability be possible. People sometimes are used to all the responsibilities to the leaders and politicians, yet Confucius said: “I reflect upon myself three times a day.”

The TV drama gave great sympathy to most of the historical figures.

Empress Dowager Cixi was a steady political hand. Her temper might be fickle, but her ability to manage the Qin officials was unmatched. She even had the courage, or foolishness depending on how you see it, to declare war on all major Western powers. However, whatever she did or did not choose to do, she managed the country as if it was her property. Winning the wars would have been nice, but losing wasn’t too much of a disaster either. The burden of war retribution fell on the population, not her highness.

Lee Hongzhang, the last Qin statesman who was called “Bismarck of the East” by the West and once called traitor by the Chinese, devoted his life to China’s diplomatic relation with the world. However, his none-resistant policy was equally costly. He steered clear of the provenances under his governance clear of the military conflict even when the central power in Beijing was been traced out of the city. Once the war was lost, people under his governance couldn’t escape the bitter result either, they would also have to pay war retributions. Frankly, on one hand China was too big for the then imperialists to swallow; on the other, a defeated country has little to bargain for, great diplomatic skill or not. Lee wouldn’t make the slightest difference.

Yuan Shikai, the able politician whose personal ambition drove him to be the hero who ended the Qin monarch, but also doomed him to be one who wanted to become an emperor of his own. But as capable as he was, his Beiyang New Army didn’t register a victory or even a serious fight for the country. In stead, it became a bargaining chip of his own power.

Kang Youwei, the ambitious but impractical reformer who failed, was really the father of all “overseas democratic fighters”.

Chinese like to speak of “grand virtue”, loosely interpreted as fighting for the people, and “personal virtue”. But, grand virtue is sometimes hard to judge, it swings with political and cultural tides. Chinese also often speak of personal political ambition negatively. But ambition isn’t really sinister. The sad tragedy of all these historical figures of the last hundred years was that there wasn’t a system in place to align their personal ambition with the common good of the people.

Luckily, we average folks still have personal virtues to cherish with, especially with the ones close to us.

The success of the gradualism reform in China was largely praised around the world. Gradualism reform can be traced back to the experience of a hundred years ago. The more radical reform of Wuxu failed, but a more gradual approach later was largely successful.

The world today warily watches China as a “rising power”. Let’s not forget there was a period a hundred years ago the world warily watched China as a possible power, mistakenly we must say, reflectively. The prospect of a large population and vast market was simply attractive, then and now.

The debate started a hundred years ago continued into today: should China make foundation of Chinese wisdom but adopt Western knowledge? Or should China totally westernize, especially in the political areas?

I shall point out this is really a false topic. When enough people opened up to the modern knowledge, when enough people are wealthy and educated enough, when politics is no longer but designed by a small educated elite, people will reach a natural selection. Chinese or Western, does it matter? Moreover, the distinction between Chinese and Western may be water under bridge then. Culture is fluid.

Similarly, Chinese characteristic is a natural mark, not something you proclaim for, or design for. Proclaiming of ___ (feel free to fill in the blank) of Chinese characteristic is always suspicious.

Speaking of war and treaties, let’s look into a few. The first Sino-Japanese war of Jiawu was largely limited to the navy fights. The central government, the Qin court, was under menace. A treaty was quickly signed. No serious fight was staged. The Battle of Beijing by the eight-nation alliance saw an army of only teens of thousands, with a casualty of less than 2000. Many Chinese forces didn’t fight in the war. The New Army of Beiyang didn’t open a shot, and the South China stayed out of the conflict all together. Although the Boxers, agitators of the conflict, joined the fight, but it’s safe to say no “war of people” happened. To blame the loss of war and unfair treaty all on “to be backward is to be beaten.” seems to be overly simplistic. Fifty years after, facing another advance equipped United Nation army, Chinese forces didn’t loose ground.

It’s not surprising Western powers called the Chinese “loose sand” then. They had a point.

What the new People’s Republic really contributed to the Chinese wasn’t ideological ist, but the new found upward spirit and confidence in the society.

The Beijing Olympics is said by Beijing and foreign media as a landmark of integrating into the modern world. The process and exploration started more than a hundred years ago.

In fact, the shaping of modern China and its choices are always under the influence of the Western powers, including the worrisome nationalism. People in the West don’t often understand why China can not let go of the memories of more than a hundred years ago. But for Chinese, history from a hundred years ago directly influenced political choices of their nation every step of the way, and thus wired into their current life.

Many people have pointed out Chinese society is often restless. Such restlessness also started a hundred years ago. The history of being the invaded makes people less confident, makes the politics more radical.

If China could have waited the development of the country and its new social class entered the political scene, things might be different. But the international society then didn’t give China patience and time; the wars didn’t give China much time and choices.

Nowadays, the powers make a point not to burden the defeated countries with unbearable debt or too much unfair treatment. That’s an improvement. Lesson learned. But history has no what ifs.

Now that Beijing Olympics is finally here. For many, “a hundred year’s dream will be complete. Can we get the game start with, and finally get on other businesses?

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让我们从剧中很靠后的一幕说起 。孙中山,国父和民主先声在讨袁二次革命失败后改组中国革命党,也开始搞起个人效忠和集权的党务。盖因他开始深刻意识到没有集权和统一的思想,要想实现他所追求的民主,过程缓慢而痛苦,迎接他的往往是失败 —— 11个国民党的总督竟只有2个相应他党魁的革命号召。政治理想和口号固然动人,但事到临头众人看重的毕竟还是自己的屁股和脑袋。孙终于明白而黄兴还没有明白的道理:改良路线的政党可以民主而松散,革命则一定要有集权。

孙没有成功。蒋借着黄埔校长的威望实现了名义上的统一。 而相信枪杆子里出政权的中共显然明白这个道理。解放战争,只用了三年。虽然已经无命可革。这种状况一直保持到了现在。二次革命不是孙中山的专利。毛也有二次革命,文化革命。其动机至少在部分上和孙的动机是一致的。恰巧毛走的也是孙的那个思路。要想为民主做成事,首先要有集权。默认和放任神话是毛认为可行的. 最终为集权而付出的代价。









中国历来有一种奇怪的传统,矫枉必须过正, 但看百多年来的政治和思潮无不如此。而历史就像一个小姑娘,被随着人们的心意打扮。













李鸿章, 这曾被称为东方的俾斯麦的人,一度被许多人称为卖国的人,据说对中国的外交做出过很大的贡献,鞠躬尽瘁。然其始终所信奉不抵抗态度,甚至在兵战既成事实时,实行东南互保而拒中央之命。待国破之日,虽拼力外交力争,免于兵战的东南各地可得免于背负战争赔款为政治赎身哉? 就好比今日若有国家以人权为籍口出正义之师,半个中国不战可得免生灵之涂炭?大义的判断基于立场不同,实在不是一件容易的事。事实上,中国再破落也是一个大国,列强并没有吞并中国的能力,城下之盟,有或没有一个精明强干的李鸿章区别不大。

袁世凯,李之后的另一政治强人 ,他的个人野心成全了他作为结束帝制的第一人,他的才干让他在中国的洋务和开放的道路上颇有建树。然当时的洋务主要不过用垄断的权力和国际资本结合谋取利益,他赖于成家的北洋新军也鲜有为国打过什么仗,反而在他身后造成了军阀割据的基础。

康有为, 戊戌变法的失败者。他是近代的亲改革者。但他个人的政治野心和变法失败后不太光彩的所做所为,离大义又相去甚远。康实在是中国海外人权人士的祖先,褒贬如出一辙。








说到战争和条约,甲午只是败了海战,北京的中央政权受到了威胁,迎来的是马关条约。后来面对史称八国联军的十一国军队,又是败了,政权逃出了北京。于是有了辛丑条约。其实外国联合的军队不过区区数万人,伤亡不过两千余。 大批中国的军队并没有加入战争,南方自保不必说,国家操练的北洋新军也没有加入战争。虽然义和团是始作蛹者之一和参战的力量,但“人民战争”并没有发生。把不平等条约简单归结于落后就要挨打似乎并不全面。多年后的五十年代,同样面对“正义”的联合国军,同样面对自己远远赶不上的现代武器,中国军队却打得并不难看。





事实上,中国道路的选择一直就受着西方的影响, 包括强国的诉求和西人颇多侧目的民族主义。






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Tuesday, August 5, 2008



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Monday, August 4, 2008

The Bird Nest is...Empty!

I have a friend who always tells me artists are big Huyou - the Chinese term for deceit. "The more famous ones are the bigger huyous" he would say, "they appeal on a higher level."

Bird NestNot sure how much his views had influenced me, but when NYT published an Interview of Ai Weiwei, an artist whose name is associated with the design of Bird Nest and a classmate of Zhang Yimou, I flocked to see what his huyou was. The NYT's blog called Ai "Bird’s Nest Designer", but a more proper term would be "artistic consultant". Although I guess he won't protest being called designer, only that he has an issue with Olympics, calling it a "pretend smile".

Q: What inspired you in designing the National Stadium? Can you describe the design process?

Ai Weiwei: The design concept for the National Stadium came from a complete “emptiness,” when Herzog & de Meuron and I were talking about the initial plan before we started on the actual design. We emptied our minds, which made it possible for us to find the best points from aesthetics and practicality. The rationale of the structure, its exterior and interior appearance, called for a maximization and unification of aesthetic functions and actual needs. The sense of totality was critical in the initial conception of the design. During the process, we were anxious and excited. We hoped to produce a language that possesses a unique form that is able to support many functional requirements. The entire design process was carefree and fun, it seemed very clear and obvious, free of any obstructions of traditional notions.

OK, so the design concept for the National Stadium came from a complete “emptiness”? What's inside emptiness? Does emptiness has emptiness? Is the steel beams emptiness? Aside form the usual cliches that follows, the whole answer leaves me feeling pretty...empty. Hmm, artistic talking, pretty huoyou.
Q: Are you going to the opening ceremony?

Ai: I’m not attending the opening ceremony, I’m not interested in it, and I haven’t received any invitation. If I need to be more clear on why I’m not willing to be part of the ceremony, it’s that I think it’s too far from the spirit of freedom. I’ve always thought of this ceremony as a product of government bureaucracy, rather than a natural celebration and expression generated among free citizens. I feel that there are too many regrets in this ceremony, which could make me unhappy.

Was it really "I’m not interested in it" or "I haven’t received any invitation."? Now I was really confused. Was he really trying to distance himself from the Olympics after he joined the design of the stadium and reaped financial and press gains? If not for the "designer" title associated with the stadium, few Chinese would have known his name. His double position was very much Chinese. Chinese intellectuals have a tradition of accusing others, say deploring the lack of free speech, and turning around doing exactly the same. All artists are expected to have an edge, but still...Can you say Houyou?

Ai went on to say people in a society that didn’t have democracy were not possible to get excited and cheer for the game - facts not withstand, and thus the term “pretend smile.” But by that time, I've lost interest in further reading.

For the record, out of all newly built stadiums, I like "the cube" the best.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Red Cliff (2): Oriental Wisdoms

The hype and over-exposed discussions on the internet eventually killed my viewing pleasure. Even the laughing-out-laud absurdity seemed not so funny. But I was still holding out hope for the battle scenes.

Stories of Three Kingdoms are very popular in China because it contains many political wisdom, cunning military maneuver, and personal heroics. The battle of Red Cliff is the most famous because it was a classical case of victory by asymmetrically weaker force and laid down the foundation of triangular balance of power.

However, those who look to the film for some oriental wisdom will likely be disappointed. Wait, there are some. Liu Bei is depicted as a model leader of "serving the people" slogan, as he directs his troops to protect the people at military cost. The underling philosophy is that a king without people is no king. Man power was an essential factor for a weak but ambitious state. In another scene, Zhou Yu orders his troops to run across a muddy pond, so that soldiers who stole the buffolo for food - presumably get some mud on their shoes - won't be singled out. It's an old trick to win hearts and loyalties. But these details don't save the overall blendness.

Not to be deterred, I waited patiently for the battle scene of The Eight Trigram formation. According to John Woo himself, his was the first successful attempt to reenact such battle scene in details. I was getting excited in anticipation. How could I not? My childhood dream was about to be filled - ever since I read about the mysterious Eight Trigram Formation in The Legend of Gods(封神演义)as a child, I've always wanted to see the real rendition, of its traps, decoys, morphs.

And here they came. Troops of Caocao, the powerful evil mandarin, queued into the formation, whose shape looked exactly like the pattern of tortoise shell, lined by iron shields. Why exactly did they willingly and orderly enter the formation without lifting a finger, not to mention weapons, and thus allow themselves being separated by stupid shields on both sides, I had no idea. But if you think that was how they were defeated, you are grossly wrong. Flag was waved and the formation was moving. Along came the generals of the opposition, they would battle the soldiers of Caocao - one versus hundreds at a time- in the narrow allay delineated by the shields on both sides, and won. You would think that the point of having a formation at all was to confuse and divide the enemy to form advantage in local units. But no, for John Woo, the point of having a fancy formation was to have a chance to fight one on hundreds.

It was common in Hollywood style movies to have dumb moments to create the drama. Scoundrels would have every opportunity to kill the heroes at their mercy but always rather waited and not to, only to be killed by heroes because of it. Battle scenes in John Woo's Eight Trigram formation took it to a new height, almost to a fault of insulting viewers intelligence. But, on a second thought, he did manage to plant the scene to show John McClane style heroics and Kong Fu moves. That's exactly what Woo wanted.

If you can call that oriental wisdom, or is that occidental?

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Friday, August 1, 2008



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