I mentioned earlier that the computer-generated 55-second video footage of giant fireworks on film at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was pure simulacrum–with no relation to ‘reality.’ It turns out that there was more “staging” than meets the eye at the 2008 Beijing games.
First, a 9-year old lip-synced the song “Ode to the Motherland” because the original singer was not considered pretty enough.
Then, we had reports of a pre-recorded “live” fireworks display as aforementioned.
Chinese officials also admitted to deploying cheer squads (legions of spectators wearing matching yellow shirts) to ‘create’ atmosphere and hide the empty seats. (Why were there empty seats at this major world spectacle? We will come back to this point soon).
Now Beijing officials are admitting that children dressed in different ethnic costumes in China who carried the Chinese flag were not actually from those ethnic groups.
And all the while, the CCP has cracked down on Olympics piracy–the sale of ‘inauthentic’ Olympic gear. In order to move away from the perception of China as a “low class pirating country” according to CNN,
On April 26, World Intellectual Property Day, cities across China demonstrated the country’s commitment to quashing piracy by staging public exhibitions and destroying pirated goods.
This is the essence of hyper-reality, the fake crackdowns on pirated goods (the brand names also representative of nothing) to allude to a China that is indeed unreal; it does not exist.
Maybe these reports do not bother average viewers who understand that they are consuming images that are not necessarily representative of reality. And this post is by no means condemning China for “faking” the Olympics–that would be far too juvenile and hypocritical and I will leave that to the Orientalists and hate-mongers.
In ‘postmodern’ society, the simulated copy has preceded the real and while I am not asserting like Jean Baudrillard did that “the real no longer exists,” I do hold that the mass profusion of images for consumption–the systemic act of the manipulation of signs–play a major role in masking and convoluting our perceptions of reality.
The most disturbing part of the Olympic spectacle does not have to do with the 55 second CGI, lip-synching or child actors; it has little to do with the spectacularly grand banquet of scrolls, drums, processions, songs and dances that were supposed to reflect 5000 years of Chinese civilization. This hyper-reality and idealized transposition blanketed the ‘real’ people of China, the people that would ideally occupy those empty seats, the ones in rural areas who would never even see the games but have their land taken away in an attempt to create the facade, those that toiled behind the scenes to make these Olympics a success, the ‘undesirables’ that China was all too eager to eliminate from the screens before the games begun even while appearing to extoll the values of its own historical laboring past and present during the staged simulation.
The migrant laborers that toiled hard with little-to-no legal and health protections, and built the Bird’s Nest are nowhere to be seen. They came, they built, and they left knowing that they would never have access to the amazing sites that they have put together, that the world may never recognize their amazing feats and reward them with medals. After all, we are glued to our screens watching and applauding people running, swimming, cycling and jumping for medals, sponsorships, and fame. But the true achievers are the migrant workers, the unsung heroes who made these games possible.
Then there are the ‘undesirables’ who have a venue of their own, a concentration camp called Daxing with bumpy unlit roads, in stark contrast to the shimmering, clean and efficient staging going on in Beijing where even taxi drivers have been told to wear ties. In effect, China has locked up its subaltern, the ‘undesirables’ in a place away from the inquiring eyes of the world.
The Daily Mail (London) reports,
From street children, hawkers, the homeless and prostitutes, to the mentally ill, black migrants, drug dealers and gays caught in public bathhouses, the camps on the outskirts of the city started filling up with Beijing’s ‘undesirables’ last year as part of the Chinese regime’s determination to present what it sees as an acceptable face to the world.
Deploying thousands of undercover police, as well as uniformed groups of youths wearing red shirts and armbands, strenuous efforts have been made to ensure the city has been purged of all ‘anti-social’ elements.
What happens in these concentration camps, so reminiscent of the Nazi purging of their own undesirables from Germany in the 1930s?
They are then put to work in vast hangar-like sheds, where they are forced to make chopsticks and soft toys — the very goods that are being peddled on the streets of Beijing to tourists visiting the Olympics.
Inmates are forced to work through the night.
In some of the other camps — all located in the Tuan He district in the Daxing suburb of Beijing, less than an hour’s drive from the Bird’s Nest stadium — the ‘undesirables’ are forced to clean beans and other Chinese foods — which are then sold by the communist authorities to private businesses serving the influx of foreigners.
Punishment is brutal for those who try to resist. According to my camp informant, women who do not work hard enough are stripped naked for days on end — something regarded as particularly shaming in Chinese society.
Another favoured method of punishment is called the Tiger Bench — where ‘undesirables’ are forced to sit upright on a long bench with their hands tied behind their backs.
Their thighs are also tied to the bench — and bricks placed under the feet to raise them off the floor.
Human rights groups say some victims are forced to remain in this position for days on end, causing excruciating pain.
Those who complain or refuse to eat in protest at their detention are force-fed — with guards holding their mouths open and tipping food down their victims’ gullets, making them choke and vomit.
China’s Abu Ghraib. This is the real face of the Olympics, the untold story of the Olympic games in Beijing China, the unspoken narrative of pain, torture, misery amidst the fake celebrations of individual triumph.
When the games are over, most of the world would look back with fond memories, peruse the Olympic fact files, re-watch some of the biggest sporting feats in world history. That would be their memory of the Olympics.
But for the undesirables of China–the African immigrants, beggars, prostitutes, gays, homeless, street children–their memory would be quite different. Their memories would be something that I do not want lost to history, that I do not want to ignore and cast aside. And neither should you.
Watch the spectacle, the individual feats of brilliance that perpetuate nationalism by ascribing individual merits and achievements to countries, but don’t lose sight of the Other stor(ies).