An imperfect perfection
The Beijing Olympics opening ceremony was, by most accounts, a brilliantly choreographed and spectacularly executed performance worth of a gold medal of its own. There were a fair number of notable highlights, and many journalists certainly were not shy from exhausting all the synonyms of the word “stunning” in the thesaurus in describing those scenes.
High on many Chinese viewers’ list of the most moving moments, however, is one that might not be easily appreciated by foreign audiences. Early in the process, China’s national flag was brought into the Bird’s Nest and raised while an young girl in a red dress stood singing “Hymn to the Motherland”. This song is perhaps best explained as the equivalent of “God Bless America” and is similarly considered an unofficial national anthem by many. The simple lyric line
歌唱我们亲爱的祖国，从今走向繁荣富强。 “We sing to our beloved motherland, on her way towards prosperity and strength.”
captures the hope and pride of so many Chinese for so long in merely 17 characters.
That young girl, 林妙可 Lin Miaoke, was only 9 years old and instantly became a star in the eyes of a very large number of the Chinese viewers. Her performance and demeanor were highly praised in the media and on the net. Many felt the sweetest smile on this young girl coupled with her angelic voice was just perfect!
Now it seems it was a bit too perfect. The singing of the song is now reported to have been performed by another 7 years old girl named 杨沛宜 Yang Peiyi, whose photo is shown below.
The following is a translated transcript of a radio interview of 陈其钢 Chen Qigang, chief music director of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. I first read the original Chinese transcript at China News Digest.
Chen Qigang: The director requested first and foremost adorable kids, and we identified about 10 children accordingly. We then listened to the singing of those kids, and not all of them had good enough voice to perform. The request from the director was that, first the appearance must be good, and of those, the one with the best voice and ability to sing should be picked. We went through a few such candidates through the process and they helped our music creation effort tremendously.
The first kid was about 10 years old. She contributed the most towards the preparation stage of this part of the performance. All the early practice runs were based on her recorded singing. But the director felt she was not the best visual for the scene. She was considered somewhat older than envisioned, a bit adolescent that is. So regrettably she was dropped. We then focused on searching through younger kids. The age criteria was to find someone about 7 years old. A number of them were selected, including both Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi.
We went to the Central Broadcasting Radio Station to make recordings. It was felt afterward that Lin Miaoke’s voice wasn’t exactly suitable in terms of tone control, range and depth. In the end, we decided that Yang Peiyi should be the one to provide the voice. We thought it was in the national interest to put the one with the best appearance and expression on the stage. Lin Miaoke was a very good choice for this role. But in terms of the music, we all felt that Yang Peiyi had the flawless voice.
Interviewer: So the one appearing in front the camera was Lin Miaoke and the song came from Yang Peiyi?
Chen Qigang: That’s right. It was a last minute, tough decision. We went through multiple practices and reviews. We played Lin Miaoke’s recording during one joint practice. Many reviewers, particularly someone in the Political Bureau of the Central Committee [of the CCP], made comments that it must be changed. We had no choice.
Interviewer: This is the first time for us to hear this story.
Chen Qigang: We have a responsibility to explain this to the Chinese viewers. I think the viewers should be able to understand that, in the national interest, for the perception of the country, it was an extremely important and serious matter to present the flag [in the best possible manner]. We made a decision, which I think was fair to both Lin and Yang. We felt the coupling of a perfect voice with the best appearance produced the most optimal result. From Lin Miaoke’s point of view, she might not even have realized it. We had two recordings from both of them and they didn’t sound very different.
I am, to put it mildly, less than impressed by this arrangement. For now, I will try to criticize in a positive manner:
frank admissionproactive but clumsy discussion of the matter by Chen should help Yang Peiyi receive the credit and appreciation rightfully due to her.
- I hope neither girls would be harmed, psychologically, by this experience in anyway.
- At least this matter is now freely revealed instead of being treated as a national secret.
- I can’t wait for the day when those in the power would no longer view such concerns and justify such tactics in the name of “national interest”.
It now seems that organizers and directors of the ceremony never intended to deny the credit to Yang Peiyi for her (potential) role in the flag entrance scene. The official Beijing Olympics opening ceremony program guide was scanned and posted on the net. (H/T spring2007 for pointing it out in a comment) The picture below is the page showing the credit for the performance. The highlighted section is as follows:
演唱: A 杨沛宜, B 林妙可, C 雷茈昕
Singing: (A) Yang Peiyi, (B) Lin Miaoke, (C) Lei Cixin
So Yang Peiyi is actually listed ahead of Lin Miaoke in the credit. I wonder if the third girl on the list, Lei Cixin, is the 10-year old Chen Qigang referred to in the interview.
The usage of pre-recorded singing in the performance was known and supported by the broadcasters and should really be a non-issue. The appropriateness of having Lin Miaoke performing whiling playing Yang Peiyi’s recording is of course debatable. But I now fault the organizers a bit less than I did initially because the new information suggests that these girls were not treated in the way I feared. I am still concerned for their psychological well being, but that’s largely because of those journalists who seem so eager reminding Yang Peiyi that she was perceived “ugly” and calling Lin Miaoke a fake.
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