London 2012 Opening Ceremony : The British Have Humour On Their Side

Since the London 2012 Opening Ceremony on Friday, our Chinese guest writer Jan Cao keeps being asked the same question: which ceremony, out of Beijing and London, did she think was better? Here she gives her conclusive opinion.

A long way from Beijing: Paul McCartney sings "Hey Jude" at the London Opening Ceremony.
A long way from Beijing: Paul McCartney sings "Hey Jude" at the London Opening Ceremony.Foto: dpa

Exactly 2008 drummers opened the Olympic Games in Beijing four years ago – an incredible sight. The London ceremony, by contrast, began with 70 sheep, 12 horses, 10 chickens and 9 geese. Oh, and a stunt man pretending to be the Queen while jumping out of a helicopter.

It’s not easy to compare the two opening ceremonies. Which was better? Well, the Brits certainly had something which the Chinese lacked: a sense of humour.

The majority of users on the Chinese micro-blogging service “Sina Weibo” think that Beijing’s Opening Ceremony was better than London’s. The 2008 ceremony was indeed big, spectacular and ambitious. 15,000 participants came together to create what were at times astonishing effects; 30,000 fireworks lit up the Beijing skies in red, green and blue, while more than a billion people worldwide watched the ceremony on TV.

The London Ceremony was not bigger than its predecessor in Beijing. That would have been impossible. China’s event cost 40 billion dollars – Britain invested a mere 15 billion (a result of the economic crisis, perhaps).

Beijing, of course, had a goal. It had to show the world that China was the new superpower, and accordingly, everything had to be perfect. Every individual detail had to be rehearsed and refined to the utmost precision. Nobody, for example, could be allowed to disrupt the Symphony Orchestra – not even Mr Bean.

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Wer drückt schneller ab? Bei der Eröffnungsfeier der Olympischen Spiele am Freitag war die Kamera das Lieblingsaccessoire der Sportler.Weitere Bilder anzeigen
1 von 24Foto: AFP
28.07.2012 18:51Wer drückt schneller ab? Bei der Eröffnungsfeier der Olympischen Spiele am Freitag war die Kamera das Lieblingsaccessoire der...

The few things deemed “not perfect enough” by the organisers, moreover, were simply manipulated accordingly. Entire elements of the opulent spectacle were performed and recorded beforehand, and passed off as live as the images were beamed out across the world (a trick, incidentally, which UEFA also employed at this summer’s Euros, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale). Most notable was little Lin Maioke, the girl who “sang” the Olympic anthem, or rather mouthed along to a recording, the organisers having made the executive decision that the real singer was not pretty enough to be presented before the camera.

To return to London, I must admit that the section tracing Britain’s history, in its predictable cheesiness, alarmingly reminiscent of primary school history lessons. But at least it was there. Beijing’s ceremony told the world nothing at all of the history of China. The use of traditional symbols never stretched beyond the superficial – is the history of China really such a burden, that it cannot be celebrated at a global event? We Chinese are proud of our heritage, but the organisers, for all their nerve, lacked the required courage (or humour) to properly allude to this difficult and often imperfect history.

The former British Empire now relies on David Beckham, Harry Potter and Mr Bean to grab the world’s attention. And yet the British remain as proud as ever. “Hey Jude” is perhaps not the same as “Ode to the Fatherland”, the song sung by the ten year old Miaoke in Beijing. As a record which Paul McCartney wrote for John Lennon’s son Julian to help him deal with his parent’s break up, the song should perhaps have been a bit too incidental, and certainly a little too popular, to be sung as a celebration of an entire nation. But then should we always take ourselves so seriously?

For me, the London ceremony was simply very different to the one in Beijing, for better or worse. Britain is a small country, but it’s also a country with a sense of humour. As Hugh Grant put it in “Love Actually”, Britain is the country of Shakespeare, of Churchill, The Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot…and David Beckham’s left foot, come to that!

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