Mind the gap between Beijing and London

Dr David Feng is a multicultural, multilingual international world citizen based in Beijing with Swiss education and Chinese roots. David has a Doctor of Arts in communication, is author of a Chinese-language book on the Chinglish phenomenon, and loves rail travel. He gives us his thoughts on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics compared to the previous one held in Beijing.

By all counts, Beijing’s megashow in the summer of 2008 was one of the best done in recent Olympics history. It welcomed the world to a very Chinese Games, whilst fully making use of new technology. It also turned the world upside-down in that poor old Australia, because of its first character in Chinese being way too complex, had to come in just about last! (But that’s how it must work Down Under!…)

Beijing started to lose it, though, at the closing ceremony, when it tried to grasp on to the games for dear life in its rather more desperate closing acts. When London sprinkled Beijing with its ‘Whole Lotta Love’, it introduced the Chinese capital to a much more relaxed way of life. The two countries are (or were) the same in that they don’t have presidents directly elected (China used to have an Emperor, and the Brits still have Her Majesty safely intact, most gracefully). But the UK introduced a much more laid-back way of promoting their games, when the roles of the common man were shown instead of royal majesty, whereas the Chinese were too into them showing off their history (both Confucianist and communist, and otherwise).

London’s Olympic Stadium

The Chinese actually toned down their revolutionary communism with remarkable grace. The sole reference to the red flags, so to speak, came at the start, when a pro-PRC ode was played, along with the army officers throwing the red PRC flag into the Beijing sky, to the tune of the Chinese anthem. At all the other times, either sportsmanship or Confucius dominated the show.

London, by contrast, had no problems with their Queen. Indeed, the Queen was on a parachute along with 007 — something unthinkable to many (isn’t the Queen supposed to be as “sacrosanct” as the Emperor?, goes the minds of many in China), but done. Mr Bean as in Rowan Atkinson also did “his bit”. Finally, Paul McCartney sent the whole thing into overdrive with his stellar performance of Hey Jude. It showed an island that was always at peace with itself, that was always willing to crack a happy joke and to do the unexpected (till then I was always of the belief that only the Aussies were super laid-back), and it showed a people that were still very much confident in themselves despite losing a whole empire after World War II.

David Feng

The gap, then, between Beijing and London was more to do with how grandeur was shown. The Chinese showed themselves to be an emerging “somebody” with all the pomp and circumstances (hope I got that bit right). The British showed themselves to be an established “somebody” interested much more in the lives of the commoners than excess royalty.

That’s what I love about the opening ceremony in London. Instead of giving full airtime to some major figure, airtime is given to the commoners that make up a society. This was best executed in how the cauldron was lit. These are, then, Games that will do well in, indeed, “inspiring a generation”.

Read more of David Feng’s articles on www.davidfeng.me

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