Academic journal article ARIEL

In and out of the Spectacle: The Beijing Olympics and Yiyun Li's the Vagrants

Academic journal article ARIEL

In and out of the Spectacle: The Beijing Olympics and Yiyun Li's the Vagrants

Article excerpt

Olympic Sights

Before any athletic records got broken, rumours of the Beijing Olympics making history were already rife. Soon the numbers poured in, and with them, ever escalating claims about the event's magnitude. First, reports of nearly 70 million Americans tuning in established the opening ceremony as the "biggest television event since the Super Bowl" and the "most viewed ever" opening for a non-U.S. Olympics (Bauder). Next, news from elsewhere appeared, with estimates of the opening's global audience quickly jumping from a billion (Goldsmith; Swaine) to over two billion ("Beijing Olympics") to four billion (Yardley; "Most spectacular"). Whatever the actual numbers, August 8, 2008 turned out to be auspicious for records enthusiasts as much as Chinese folk believers. In the weeks that followed, media sources everywhere competed in scaling the heights on behalf of the Beijing Games, pronouncing it the "most-viewed event in United States television history" (Stelter), the "most viewed Olympics ever" ("Most Viewed"), and even the "most watched live event in human history"--given the key participation of hundreds of millions of viewers within mainland China itself. The opening ceremony was proclaimed as the world's first "genuine one billion" television program, besting ratings for the moon landings, Princess Diana's funeral, and President Obama's inauguration (Harris). In all these accounts, the prevailing tenor was that of jubilation, with a strong undercurrent of nostalgia for as much as anticipation of species unity, a planet united in a common experience.

That such yearnings and hopes for universality should manifest themselves via the People's Republic of China (PRC), the world's most populous nation, is not wholly unexpected. Beyond the numbers, though, the fact that China remains the world's largest communist power should compel us to read these sentiments in a political light also, as signs, perhaps, of a liberal desire to see capital supersede communism and become finally, truly global, or else a compensatory imperialist fantasy arising from the West's nervous recognition that China is not only capitalizing but rapidly overtaking huge swaths of the world's markets. In this milieu, the PRC government itself has been busy promoting an image of the country as a "harmonious society" for years, both internally and internationally. The concept of harmony, he, signals that China is at peace with itself and at one with the world, capable of reconciling the contradictions of socialism and capitalism, and no longer ideologically mired in Maoist imperatives of class struggle. The concept had been used initially by Jiang Zemin and later became official Communist Party policy under Hu Jintao (Barme 78), and the 2008 Olympics presented a timely opportunity to project this image far and wide--not least in order to repair the country's battered international reputation after a string of high-profile diplomatic disasters in the mid-2000s such as its involvement with the Sudanese government over the Darfur genocide (Kamm 224-25). So, throughout the 2008 Games, the notion of "harmony" repeatedly reared its head, emerging implicitly in the promotional motto of "One World, One Dream" and explicitly in the theme of the torch relay, "Harmonious Journey." During the opening ceremony, the word itself took centre stage in the scroll performance of movable type printing, as thousands of dancers moved in unison to exhibit, in spectacularly magnified form, the Chinese character he to admiring global audiences. The message was clear: China in the new millennium posed no threat to the world. Nor was the regime nave in conveying this message, for it had enough savvy to display the word in three Chinese script styles, thus evoking the liberal multicultural ideal of unity in difference. Nonetheless, what transpired around the Beijing Olympics was not so much the realization of a cosmopolitan dream of one humanity as the world's eagerness to meet the communist state's self-portrait halfway. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.