Perfection trumps honesty in China

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By S.L. Shen
UPI Correspondent
Published: August 18, 2008

China's Kexin He flies through her routine on the uneven bars during the women's team gymnastics final at the Summer Olympics in Beijing on Aug. 13, 2008. She is thought to be only 14, two years below the required age for Olympics gymnasts. (UPI Photo/Pat Benic)

Beijing, China — From the outset, Chinese authorities saw the Beijing Olympics as a chance to show the world a perfect, strong China. The opening ceremony was the showcase where this was to be achieved, and the spectacular production at the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium on Aug. 8 surpassed almost everyone’s expectations.
There is no reason to blame China for this pursuit. But, like Olympics winners who lose their medals if found to have cheated, creators of the perfect opening ceremony are losing face over certain parts that have been considered “cheating.”

The first example of minor but public fakery was found in the fireworks display that preceded the opening ceremony, in which 29 bursts of light in the shape of footprints appeared in midair over Beijing and headed for the stadium. This amazing fireworks display, shown on huge screens inside the stadium and on television screens worldwide, was actually created by 3D technology, it was later revealed to the media.

Another minor but public cheating scandal attracted even more attention. The cute little girl that won the hearts of audiences worldwide with her song, “Ode to the Motherland,” nine-year-old Lin Miaoke, turned out to be only lip-synching.

The truth was revealed in an interview with Chinese media by musical director Chen Qigang, who admitted that the voice broadcast at the ceremony belonged to seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, who was considered not pretty enough to sing onstage for the show. He justified this arrangement as being in the best interests of the state.

“The country’s international image needs to be considered,” Chen said. However, as it turned out, the switch seems to have done more harm than good to the country’s image.

Lin had attracted a great deal of attention following her apparently flawless performance. Domestic media had labeled her “China’s No. 1 child star.” Thousands of people initiated a fan club to support the third-grade student, and her background, which included acting in a few television commercials, was circulated on the Internet.

When the news of the substitute singer broke, this new love affair came to an end. A photo of Yang posted on the Internet showed a cute child, but with uneven teeth. Netizens exploded in anger over the decision to replace her with a prettier girl. Some called the actions of the director and Lin’s parents “contemptible.”

“How could they deceive so many Chinese compatriots?” one netizen asked. “Didn’t they ever think about how the real singer would feel?”

“She turned out to be only lip-synching; do people really need to laud such a child, who is unworthy of her title, to the skies?” another questioned.

“This went too far! One child with a nice appearance could steal the other’s achievement!”

Few netizens defended the decision, despite the fact that lip-synching to a recorded soundtrack has long been common practice in China’s entertainment industry, whether the voice belongs to the performer or someone else.

It was later reported that the performance of well-known pianist Lang Lang was also pre-recorded. The authorities did not want to risk anything less than a perfect performance.

Beyond China’s borders netizens were also critical of what they saw as deceitfulness on the part of the Chinese. South Korean netizens were upset when they learned that the children dressed in costumes representing China’s 55 ethnic minority groups were not from those groups. Most had assumed that the child in the Korean costume, for example, was ethnic Korean.

“China is the land of fakes,” wrote one South Korean netizen. “What can you expect?”

One Chinese blogger critical of his homeland said this kind of incident revealed that the Chinese were still dishonest in some respects and still discriminated between people based on their appearance. He said such discrimination existed in all industries and occupations and prevented the people from focusing on real qualities such as goodness, wisdom and bravery.

“When will we Chinese wake up so that we know we want to be real, strong beings instead of (beautiful but useless) vases?” he asked.

Another pointed out that any cheating scandal in the opening ceremony of the Olympics could be considered as crossing the line and violating the spirit of the Games.

In fact, the International Olympics Committee stood up in support of the lip-synching arrangement. “This was a technological decision,” Olympic Games Executive Director Gilbert Felli stated. But he admitted the audience should have been told that Lin was a stand-in for the real singer.

Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee, said, “This was a collective decision made to achieve the best results in entertainment; I don’t see anything improper.”

Chinese columnist Wei Gu pointed out that U.S. actress Audrey Hepburn had singer Marni Nixon perform her singing part in “My Fair Lady.” Nixon did the same for other Hollywood actresses in the movies “An Affair to Remember” and “West Side Story,” she said.

Gu said switching the girls “in the interest of the state” was the simple truth. It was precisely because China was competing for “gold medals both inside and outside the sports grounds” that it was determined to make the most perfect opening ceremony in the world, Gu explained.

According to Gu, the Chinese believe in the principle that the individual’s interests should be subjugated to the collective interest. This belief naturally justifies decisions such as asking migrant workers to leave Beijing during the Olympic Games, as well as arranging a stand-in for Yang.

In line with China’s game plan, the country is leading in the gold medal count. But one additional controversy has arisen. As both China’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams grabbed gold medals, some Western media questioned the tiny size of the female gymnasts.

Information published by Chinese state media and other official sources revealed that three of the girls were only 14, putting them below the qualifying age of 16 in a sport where youth and flexibility are an advantage. Chinese and Olympics officials refused to investigate the case, saying the girls had submitted passports showing their ages as 16.

In the pursuit of state interests, it seems that honesty and fairness – not to mention the state interests of other countries – were all to be subjugated. Perhaps, following this experience, Chinese authorities will consider a wiser way of reaching perfection and serving state interests without detracting from honesty.