Thursday, August 07, 2008

Beijing Summer Olympic Games 2008 special posts...!!!

Above: Awe-inspiring photos of the Beijing Olympics Main Stadium, nicknamed the 'Bird's nest'...

China unveils its 'soft-power' campaign: Canonize Confucius, no mention of Mao

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
August 6, 2008 at 3:05 AM EDT
BEIJING — You won't find mention of any Communist leaders in the glossy "Introduction to China" brochures that are being distributed to 21,000 foreign journalists at the Olympics this week.
Instead of revolutionary heroes such as Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping, the official brochures prefer to extol an ancient philosopher who is becoming the figurehead for China's new national identity: Confucius.
At the glitzy show that China will unveil to the world at the opening ceremonies on Friday, it is Confucius again who will be exalted.
Leaks from rehearsals suggest there will be no mention of Mao or any other Communist, but plenty of ancient dynasties, calligraphy, painting, giant scrolls and a quotation from Confucius about the pleasure of welcoming "friends who visit from afar."

The long-awaited opening of the Beijing Olympics, the biggest event in China's recent political history, will help define China's emerging self-image as it shifts into a new era of power and pride on the global stage.
Reaching deep into its pre-revolutionary history, China is increasingly drawing on the patriotism of its people, a patriotism based not on ideology but on the glories of China's ancient culture, bolstered today by the technological and military prowess of an economic superpower.
At the opening ceremonies, the Chinese will emphasize the "Four Great Inventions" - printing, papermaking, gunpowder and the compass - that China gave to the world.
It's a way of evoking Chinese pride in its ancient - rather than revolutionary - history.
Confucian ideas, which were banned in the Maoist era, are mounting a resurgence under China's new leaders, whose emphasis on social harmony has strong echoes of Confucianism.
The Olympics will mark their debut in the global spotlight before an audience of billions around the world.

Some observers are optimistic that the Olympics could signal the beginning of China's shift away from the Maoist tradition, which drew on the earliest Chinese emperors and their Legalist ideas of a powerful state, harsh laws and blind obedience to the ruler.
"I see the Olympics and the opening ceremonies as a chance to symbolize an important transformation in China's self-image," says Daniel Bell, a Canadian scholar who is now a political philosophy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
"For most of the 20th century, China viewed itself as a weak and vulnerable country that has been denied its historical place in the sun," said Dr. Bell, author of China's New Confucianism, a book published this year.

"It was bullied by foreign powers, and it drew upon the Legalist tradition to ruthlessly strengthen the state and mobilize the people for that purpose. Now that it's more powerful and has begun to re-establish its 'deserved' place in the sun, it can relax a bit, and the traditional Confucian ways of 'soft power' can begin to reassert themselves."
It's not a coincidence that China's biggest soft-power campaign these days is its financing of an international network of Confucius Institutes, academies that promote the Chinese language and culture. China has established more than 140 such institutes in at least 50 countries and regions around the world, and they are prominently praised in China's literature for the visiting Olympic journalists.

In his new book, Dr. Bell points out that Confucian classics are now taught at the Communist Party's central school in Beijing. He describes how senior Chinese officials have held meetings with Confucian scholars who want Confucian material to replace the Marxist curriculum at Communist schools.

"It is not entirely fanciful to surmise that the Chinese Communist Party will be relabelled the Chinese Confucian Party in the next couple of decades," Dr. Bell writes in the book.
If the future brings a softer China with more Confucian influences, it may stem from the country's greater confidence in itself. A recent survey of more than 3,200 Chinese citizens, conducted for the Washington-based Pew Research Center, found a fast-growing sense of self-confidence and satisfaction.
For example, the poll found that 58 per cent of Chinese citizens believe that China will surpass the United States as the world's dominant superpower, or has already surpassed it. By comparison, only 43 per cent of people in other countries have the same belief, the poll found.
The survey also found that 86 per cent of Chinese are satisfied with the country's direction, compared with 48 per cent in 2002. It was the highest level of satisfaction among the 24 nations surveyed in the poll, fully 25 percentage points ahead of Australia, the country with the next-highest level of satisfaction.

Interviews in the streets of Beijing show that many people have suffered inconveniences or even hardship as a result of the Olympics, yet the vast majority still support the Games.
One 47-year-old restaurateur, who lives near one of the Olympic venues, said the government had shut down her small restaurant for the duration of the Olympics "in order to guarantee the safety of the Games." As a result, her family is suffering an economic loss, but she says it's a sacrifice that she is willing to make. "It's good to take a break from my hard work, and it means that I can spend my time watching the Olympics on television," she says.
A 71-year-old pensioner, who gave her surname as Ding, said she is excited by the Olympics, even though she can only watch it on television. "This is once in a thousand years," she said. "Some of my relatives died a few years ago, and I really wish they could have lived to see this."
Many Chinese have travelled huge distances to reach Beijing to admire the Olympic buildings and savour the Olympic atmosphere, even though they don't have tickets to any events. Every day, the streets near the famed Bird's Nest Stadium are clogged with photo-taking Chinese tourists, content just to get a glimpse of the Olympic architecture.

"Four of my family members have come to Beijing for the Olympics," said Gao Baiyun, a 46-year-old woman from Inner Mongolia. "Today we spent two hours on a bus to see the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. They're wonderful. I think every Chinese should be patriotic about this. I feel very excited about it."
What's still unclear is whether this patriotism will spill over into aggressive nationalism during the Olympics, especially if the patriots feel that Western protesters are trying to ruin the Olympics.

Just four years ago, mobs of Chinese fans vented their fury at Japan at an Asian Cup soccer match in Beijing. They burned Japanese flags, hurled bottles and fought with the police.
But the government has launched a massive campaign for "civility" among Chinese spectators at the Olympics. It is encouraging Chinese fans to refrain from excessive enthusiasm for Chinese athletes, and even to applaud for losing teams and opposing athletes.
This, according to Dr. Bell, could be a sign of China's revival of Confucian philosophy.
"If China can pull off the first truly civil Olympics - where spectators cheer for opposing teams, where winning athletes go out of their way to treat losers with respect and dignity, and where ordinary Beijingers treat foreigners with kindness and civility - it will be a memorable Olympics, something that Chinese should feel proud of," he said.
Beijing Olympics opening ceremony footage leaked on Korean TV
Posted: July 30, 2008, 3:55 PM by Ronald Nurwisah

Chinese security officials might be able to clamp down on Tibetan protesters and block out all of those pesky Web sites that talk about quaint western concepts such as 'human rights' and 'freedom' but they can't keep a plucky Korean TV crew away from one of the biggest secrets of the Olympics.

A Korean TV crew has managed to capture footage of thousands of performers rehearsing the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The Telegraph has the story:
In a breach of China's fearsome security apparatus, a Korean television journalist was able to walk straight into the National Stadium - the Bird's Nest - and film long sections of a rehearsal.
The results were shown on his network, SBS, and the video was later put on the internet by News Limited, and Australian media group.
Watch the video.

Like previous opening ceremonies, Beijing's will lean heavily on its national culture and iconography. The leaked footage shows that the ceremony will showcase Chinese acrobatics, dance and martial arts. The opening is being choreographed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, best known outside of China for martial arts films such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
Chinese authorities have been scrambling to get the video pulled off video sites, particularly on the mainland. Fortunately, the security leak didn't reveal the biggest secret, how the torch will arrive to the stadium and how the Olympic cauldron will be lit.

According to the Canberra Times, workers and volunteers on the ceremony were forced to sign confidentiality agreements and could have been punished with up to seven years in prison for breaking the contract. It is not known whether Korean broadcaster SBS will face actions from Olympic organizers for capturing the footage.
There will be a few quirks in Beijing's ceremony. At previous ceremonies national teams march in by alphabetical order, with the home team arriving last, at this Games, teams will march in determined by the number of strokes in the nation's Chinese name. The Chinese delegation will still arrive, to the 3 1/2 hour long ceremony, last.
The ceremony is scheduled to start on August, 8, 2008 at 8:08 p.m. Beijing Time. The number eight is considered auspicious in Chinese culture.

Tan Dun: Harmonizing music with athletics for the Olympics
By Sheila Melvin
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BEIJING: With the 2008 Beijing Olympics about to begin, the Chinese capital is awash in a dizzying array of culture festivals, gallery openings, concerts, museum exhibitions, lectures, dialogues, forums and informal talks.
"Everybody is trying to provide a platform for political exchange, cultural exchange," said the composer Tan Dun, who is himself participating in a "Forum of Champions" with Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger. "But we also need a philosophical platform. So recently in all my music I'm interested in trying to find not just the phenomenon of harmonics, like water meets fire, but an internal basic Chinese philosophy."
The Chinese philosophy that interests Tan most is Zen, which originated in China around the seventh century and is known here as Chan.
"Among all Chinese philosophy, Zen is the most predesigned by the gods for the future," Tan said. "Zen can be the philosophical guide for all people to share in the 21st century. I want to pass this Zen experience on."

The Olympics and the ongoing "Meet in Beijing" Olympics culture festival have presented Tan with two major opportunities to do just this.

Although the Paris-based composer Chen Qigang is the music director for the Olympics' opening ceremony on Friday, Tan composed the logo music that will resound at the start of each event - 18,000 times, according to him - and the award music that will be played when each of the 6,000 Olympic medals is presented to winning athletes.
Composing for a major athletic event presents challenges that commissions for concert halls and opera houses do not.

"Sports music has a specific way to handle speed, key changes, mode; it is very intense," Tan said. "We had to analyze normal people's walking speed and sportsmen's walking speed and average it - we had to find a middle way for the tempo to have the most comfortable pacing for everyone."
But Tan - an avid swimmer and self-professed sports fan - found the process to be enjoyable, even Zen-like. "In the beginning you are a sports lover and a music lover - then you put them together," he said. "Now I find that it is quite interesting to see both as one - it's big fun!"
In his search for a philosophical base for his Olympic music, he was determined to find something that would both preserve the Olympic spirit and "be a key which lets people open the door to China."

"I was struggling to find a format, an inspiration," Tan continued. "Then one day I was in Beijing and the winner of the Olympic gold medal design was announced - it was gold and jade together. So I started researching this in the Chinese encyclopedia."
Tan soon came upon the term "jinshengyuzhen" - gold sound and jade vibrations - and discovered that it was both a musical and religious term that is carved in temples across China.
"It is the very high stage of Taoism - it expresses the highest state of harmony. So I decided I wanted to use gold and jade materials to make my music."

Tan chose a giant bianzhong - an ancient instrument consisting of bronze bells hung on a wooden frame - to represent the gold. For the jade, he consulted with specialists at the Hubei Museum (which is home to China's most important bianzhong, dating to 433 B.C.) and bought five tons of gray-green jade with which to create "a stone orchestra" that he designed himself. The nine sets of jade instruments, which cover the same scale as a piano, were carved by 55 workers over a six-month period and then trucked to Beijing for the recording session.
"So now the 'gold' and jade ensemble serves as the basic ceremonial colors mixed with the China Philharmonic symphony and chorus," Tan said. "We took very, very ancient culture and very, very modern culture and they will meet at the Olympics."

This same sort of philosophical convergence occurs in Tan's opera "Tea," which was staged last week at the National Center for the Performing Arts. Since its 2002 premiere in Japan, "Tea" has been performed in New Zealand, France, the United States and the Netherlands, but this was its China premiere - and, in fact, the first time one of the composer's four operas has been staged in his homeland.

"I'm so glad it was 'Tea,"' the composer said of his operatic premiere in China. "I think it's a wonderful choice because of its philosophical base - water and fire - and its East and West musical culture." He added that it also had "the Zen idea, which tells you to share and to understand things from a different angle, without requiring you to unite."

"Tea" takes its inspiration from "The Classic of Tea," the Tang Dynasty classic by Lu Yu (733-804). An orphan who was raised by a Zen monk, Lu Yu rebelled against monasticism as a teenager and ran off to become a circus clown. His antics caught the attention of an official who provided for his education, and Lu Yu then spent five years researching and writing a monograph that chronicles tea cultivation and consumption in near-obsessive detail.
"Tea," which was performed by the China National Opera House and conducted by Tan himself, is permeated by the rituals that surround tea consumption. It tells the tale of a Japanese Zen monk (the baritone Sun Li) who chose the tonsure after an ill-fated love affair with a beautiful Chinese princess (the soprano Wang Wei) who shared his passion for tea.

The opera begins and ends with the mesmerizing sound - and sight - of gowned percussionists scooping water from illuminated glass bowls and dripping it back in through their hands. It also includes on-stage percussive performances on hanging paper screens and glazed ceramic pots. The orchestra performs on traditional Western instruments mixed with Chinese and occasionally supplemented by kazoo-like mouthpieces and the flapping of the paper music, a sound evocative of doves taking flight.

Despite a very tight schedule, the director Jiang Qing's production transported the audience smoothly through the blue-gray ether of the Zen monastery, the shimmering rituals of the imperial court, and the doomed passion of the romance in which tea serves as a metaphor for life, love and death.
I may be adding more interesting posts on China or Beijing during the duration of the Summer Olympics in Beijing....enjoy the read....


Legolas said...

Will be watching the opening ceremony at home with colleagues. Can't wait.

hcpen 彭皓全 said...

legolas: yeah..i'm super excited myself..the first time the chinese nation has held an olympics..i'll be glued to the tv on time tonite..enjoy!;)

savante said...

No matter what, it's gonna be wonderful I'm sure.

hcpen 彭皓全 said...

savante: wow! so long haven't got a comment from u, i'm surprised u even still read my blog..haha..yea, it was a great, little short though, the beginning part..i fell asleep with the parade of nations, like over 200 of them..;)

aimlesswanderer said...

But you've gotta love the little girl whose (pre recorded) voice we heard, who was dumped because she wasn't 'flawless' according to the 9 most powerful men in China (the Politburo-don't they have more important things to worry about???). Then the "live" broadcast of the fireworks, some of which was 'digitally enhanced' from the rehearsals.
And then the "happy minorty kids" in their colourful costumes who were in fact Han Chinese.
There have been some embarassingly empty venues, and the bused in volunteers who make lots of noise aren't such a good look.
It seems like the fun, happy atmosphere has been stifled. In Sydney there were lots of happy people milling around the big screens and the city, and there was a festive air. Beijing seems to be boring and non festive. The areas outside the main venues look deserted except for goose stepping soldiers. In Sydney the whole Olympic Park was full of happy crowds of people. There have been a few complaints from athletes that the Athletes Village is boring, with no booze and a dodgy disco which shuts down at midnight.

There has been rough treatment, detention, confiscation of equipment from journalists, as per normal, though less.
The usual CCP media tactics have backfired, and even the daily BOCOG/IOC press conferences have been cancelled because they didn't want to answer uncomfortable questions! It was bizarre that the Chinese took video of photos of all the journalists who attended the last briefing, nothing like a sbutle hint!

From a purely technical standpoint, the games have been excellent, but the even is not just about that - the happy. festive atmosphere has been killed, and that is a real shame. The CCP really did go for massive overkill and superficiality, and its drawbacks are coming back to bite them in the backside. Half the battle for positive media coverage is to make the journalists happy (the beatings, detentions, confiscations, internet restrictions, restrictions on where they can go, armoured vehicles subtly parked outside the press centre door, not answering questions, bad news censored, etc have not helped), but that battle has been well and truly lost.... too much trickery and dodginess.

hcpen 彭皓全 said...

aimlesswanderer: Well, it is abit superficial in many ways, that much i've to my latest post..but in terms, of media freedom, there has been huge improvements just in terms of journalistic freedom during these Games, read around foreign correspondent blogs, most say things have improved significantly, where previously they couldn't go anywhere without a permit, now they're allowed to go everywhere (with the exception of Tibet) and interview anyone (albeit with alot of threatening men n police surrounding them) THAT is an improvement, no one said one olympics which last for two weeks will change China 180 degrees...probably the people who need changing are those who set unrealistic expectations on a country which is clearly trying its best to improve (and has) and which needs encouragement and praise now instead of unnecessary criticism which are not well founded anyways. its like telling a schoolyard bully eager to change whom gets c and ds that he hasn't improved bcos he has now only got b- and c+ which is deemed not an improvement when it clearly is. Maybe more attention should be payed to countries surrounding China, whom have the same level of human rights shortcomings but get away with it bcos of all this attention solely on China.

aimlesswanderer said...

Things may be better, but I doubt that freedom will improve past a certain point, since the CCP's primary goal is to stay in power. The restricitons on freedom of speech, association, media, and such are helping them (at leas they think so) to stay in power, and so I think it's unlikely that they will change too much. Sadly, the CCP makes the same mistake that many rulers do - that what is good for the CCP is automatically good for China. The one does not always equate to the other.

I think that the overriding obsession with "putting the best face forward" backfired, and was taken to the extreme, which resulted in some very silly things, which were easy targets.

I also think that the CCP got on the wrong side of the foreign media with some predictably silly mistakes, and that atmosphere of distrust is difficult to shake, once created. Some of the things that happened, any vaguely intelligent person could have told them that the pesky foreign press would be up in arms over, but they did it anyway, and look what happened.

China gets so much attention because it is a very large, influential and fast growing country - by the end of the century, possibly the most powerful. Why do we hear about floods in the US which kill 20 people, when we don't hear about disasters which kill thousands in a random 'unimportant' African country? Do people pay much attention so some small random country with no resources or strategic value? No, not unless somethings goes badly wrong. Eg Georgia, and its recent confrontation with Russia, or Myanmar, which has once again dropped off the radar. Greater scrutiny comes with greater power - just ask the yanks! There is sometimes an element of bias, and the "Evil Chinese Government" is an easy target. It doesn't help that the CCP has, in the past, done lots of dodgy things, which is always in the back of many people's minds. But what do the CCP expect, if vast numbers of furrin journalists turn up for a month? They aren't going to parrot the Offical Line like local journalists.

Sentencing 2 senior citizens to 1 year house detention for being naive enough to believe the official Protest Areas were actually for protests (they submitted multiple requests to protest about their old houses being demolished) is not going to win you any friends!!! And claims that it was "sold out"? If sold out means vast numbers of empty seats, then yes.

hcpen 彭皓全 said...

aimlesswanderer: yeah, but like i said, one can look at things from many choose to focus on the negatives, i the positives, we're both right, just from different perspectives.:)