No-one was going to be really surprised by the superiority of Chinese orchestration and mass choreography. But this was a production with some style and no cheesiness. Possibly the least laughable Olympic opening ceremony ever. Scary, some might even say.
The scale of the show managed to capture the scale of Chinese history and achievements and be visually stunning and mysterious. The general story being that China invented everything; that it is the senior civilisation, beating the other whippersnappers by thousands of years; and that it achieved all this through constant, ruthless Harmony in the Confucian tradition. No mention of Mao anywhere.
Militaristic drumming, booful ickle kiddies in red frocks, flourescent flying spirits of the air and earth and fire and the glorious proletariat followed each other through the endless generations of firework-lit Chinese Time. Animism came and went. Buddhism arrived in a flourish of silk. Writing and paper and printing were scrolled out in an epic gleaming claim to global intellectual rights, patents and copyright. After a bizarre burst of Laughing On Command, the dancers lined up obediently behind Men In Black manipulating puppets.. What did that mean? And the depiction of Chinese pioneering navigators (well before anyone else, naturally) with scores of oars flailed by strong men in unison could only trigger one response in anyone who’s ever seen Ben Hur. Slavery, which wasn’t on the agenda at central committee planning. But this is China, slavery of one sort or another was and still is essential to its economy and success.
There was very little to represent the New Fantasy China of liberty and unfettered exchange across borders, in spite of all the promises. Overall, the message was that China is essentially the same now that it was 5,000 years ago. The same doctrine of Peace and Prosperity through Unity and Harmony. An unconquerable regime built on the most stable of power structures, the pyramid. The constant glorification of the feudal past and its achievements cannot be brushed off as sentimentality, they mean it to continue, but with the help of the modern technologies and financial black magic of Wall Street and Canary Wharf. In return China is offering its political Wisdom of the Ages as a possible future model for the unstable, feverish west. You too can be immortal. All you need is to surrender to ‘Harmony’.
Orwell once described fascism as adopting from socialism only those aspects which were useful for the purposes of war. Chinese feudalism initially adopted those same aspects, now it chooses to cherry-pick from Consumerism instead.
Ken Livingstone in Beijing
Beijing Olympics 2008