Comparing Beijing and London through the eyes of Olympics

posted in: Uncategorized

Now that the London Olympics is over, I was reflecting on the Olympics that just finished and comparing them to those four years ago in Beijing. Although I am generally not a follower of sports (and I personally myself at terrible at any sports), I always find the Olympics really enjoyable. This time I almost became addicted to watching the Olympics daily, and as it was Japan time for me, it meant I was going to bad only at 5am or 6am every day.

I personally remember every Olympics from Moscow. At that time I remember sitting with my dad in a small kitchen watching on a tiny black and white television. Every Olympics is somehow a reflection of the country, its society, and culture. Thus I particularly remember through the Olympics, Korea as a great celebration of new found democracy by an enthusiastic people, Spain as a greatly artistic European country, Los Angeles as a showcase of pop culture, Greece as a historic and ancient society.

For the Beijing Olympics, my first impression was when I was trying to get a visa to China a few months before the Olympics. I was living in Singapore at the time and normally it was a formality, I could receive a multiple entry visa very quickly. However suddenly getting a visa proved extremely difficult. One had to submit a lot of paper work. I was wondering why, when someone told me “Olympics”. I suddenly understood. Instead of welcoming the world to their city, the Chinese were locking down. They didn’t want anyone who was going to ruin their “party” their way. It seemed opposite of what the Olympic spirit should be. I remember there was some hope when Beijing was offered the Olympics that it would signify China opening up to the world, but I am sure many people realized around that time that was hopeless optimism. The Chinese were going to use the Olympics to stamp their power on the world.

I won’t discuss about the actual sports in Beijing and London. In the sports aspect both Olympics were excellent, with many brilliant performances by athletes, and excellent facilities. Finally the athletes are the stars. However I must saw, from a viewer perspective it was much more exciting to see the historic sights of London in events such as the marathon.

The opening and closing ceremonies really are the showcase from the socio-political perspective. Here is where we can compare the spirit and philosophy of the two Olympics. In Beijing sure, the opening was spectacular. The fireworks were incredible and the performance of the 2008 drummers playing in synchronicity was mesmerizing and spectacular. However upon consideration, what did we see here? We saw faceless drummers (who were almost all military recruits) all playing exactly to the same beat. It was the drumming of an iron fist. This scene exemplifies the society and politics in China. Conform to the leaders commands. The individual is subsumed and controller by the aims of the political leaders.

We had the other scene in Beijing of the very cute girl who was singing the song of another girl who was not deemed cute enough. Again this shows that individual authenticity is of no concern in China. You will bend to the leaders demands. 

In contrast let us examine the London Olympic opening. Individual faces were seen in focus throughout the ceremony. You can compare the video of both ceremonies and the London Olympics was much more personal. We saw the British people playing individual roles. The tongue in cheek humor was a great reflection of British society. They are mature enough that they can laugh at themselves. The scene that the actual queen played with “James Bond” and flying out of a helicopter was delightful. Can you imagine any of the top Chinese leaders letting themselves be portrayed so “disrespectfully”? We also had the humorous scene with Rowan Atkinson playing with the London orchestra. This was truly funny. It was no demand to prove anything, it was just fun.

In both the opening and closing ceremony we had an incredible show of youth culture and individual’s creativity. In the opening ceremony we had punk rockers. In the closing ceremony we had children singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”. We had George Michael singing “Freedom” with huge letters in lights spelling “Freedom” in the stadium. Have a look again at the lyrics of Imagine:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say 
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The fact that these songs are played when the whole world is looking shows the spirit of London. A celebration of a mature, civil, democratic society. A party where all are welcome. Rebels are not only allowed but are on center stage. Can you imagine “We will rock you” being played in front of the Chinese leaders, as it was in London?

Beijing Olympics was a showcase of raw power and steel. It was the kind of party where you party their way, or no way. I am sure London could do the same drumming and fireworks if they really wanted to, but the point is, they don’t need to show such hard line power. The comparison to Beijing is not really London. It is really the Berlin Olympics in 1936. That was another example of Olympics being used to show raw power and steel. An event in which there was only one way to party, and that was the absolute leaders way. 

I congratulate London for their fine Olympics, and more importantly for showing us that the 21st century is not necessarily going to be in the model of the totalitarianism state-capitalistic style. We hope and pray for freedom and the rights of individuals all over the world.