Forget the economy. Forget tanks rumbling across Georgia and Obama-mania. Somebody call Milli Vanilli, and maybe William Hung.
Chinagate Part Deux is upon us.
It is a seemingly trite cultural moment that has been blown up to monumental proportions in the media echo chamber, pitting East against West, and reminiscent of a melodramatic movie script. A bad one.
Imagine. Days after the Beijing Olympics began, Chinese officials allowed that, “in the national interest,” they switched a plain little girl with crooked teeth for a pretty little girl in a red dress during a pivotal moment in the Opening Ceremonies on Friday.
A billion TV viewers bore witness to the interlude, which lasted about two minutes. As the Chinese flag was carried into the arena by a flock of costumed children, adorable Lin Miaoke - complete with a clip-on microphone - sang “Ode to the Motherland” in the simple, dulcet tones of a 9-year-old as the audience went crazy and uniformed soldiers snapped to attention.
Little Miaoke was billed as a “smiling angel” by the Chinese press, and made the front page of the New York Times as a veritable icon of a kinder, gentler, more cuddly China.
Except that Miaoke was only mouthing the words; it was the voice of another child soaring over the spectacle. Bob-haired and in need of braces, Yang Peiyi was not cute enough to represent the nation and was withdrawn from the performance minutes before it began.
“The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression,” music director Chen Qigang said on Beijing Radio, noting that the switch was made upon request of a senior member of the Politburo.
The situation upstaged athletic events and drew dramatic press and public interest - with all the frills. By late Tuesday, more than 800 stories had appeared in print and broadcast, as well as online.
“Beijing Olympics, produced by Milli Vanilli,” quipped the Los Angeles Times, referencing the ill-fated but comely 1980s singing duo who lost their careers after word got out that they lip-synced their tunes.
“It was an ode to fakery,” the paper said, echoing similar sentiments in European and Canadian newspapers.
“Singer outed,” said MTV, which deemed the moment “The Miaoke scandal.”
“Beijing’s true face,” snickered Britain’s Spectator, while the Sun tabloid noted that little Peiyi had been excluded because of her “wonky teeth.”
Even the Gulf News - published in Dubai - joined in, proclaiming, “Olympic organizers hit a sour note.”
“The officials, they wanted the Olympics all perfect and exact, they took it so seriously. Maybe too seriously. Then there are all these people who want to use the Olympics to make a lot of noise. Some are bashing China, some are just looking for scandal,” said Yong Chen, a history professor with the University of California at Irvine who specializes in cultural differences between East and West.