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Susan Estrich
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Mime Time


"The reason was for the national interest," the chief music director of the ongoing Beijing Olympics told Beijing Radio. "The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression. Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects. But in the aspect of voice, Yang Peiyi is flawless."

So you tell one girl that she doesn't sing well enough and the other that she doesn't look pretty enough.

A top official of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo made the decision. Literally 15 percent of the world watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last week. And what they saw, at least in my book, was not China at its best, but the ugliness and cruelty — the lies and deception — at its core. Shame on them.

The substitution of singers is not the only piece of sophistry and manipulation that has emerged so far from China's Olympic charade. The fireworks that supposedly filled the Beijing sky on opening night were supplemented by a piece of digital fiction for television viewers, inserted into the broadcast out of concern that the polluted capital city would look as smoggy as it often is to viewers around the world who the Chinese are so determined to fool. And notwithstanding the announcement that the games were a sellout, the Chinese have admitted that they recruited and outfitted "volunteers" to fill seats at events that would otherwise expose the failings of the Chinese organizers. Imagine not being able to fill a stadium in a country that is home to as many people as China. That takes work.

So the Chinese lie and cheat. Big news. The American women gymnasts have already figured that out. The Olympic spirit of fair and open competition, of sports above politics, is infected with hype and ratings and propaganda. Gambling in Casablanca? I'm shocked. If only Adolf Hitler had seen such possibilities.

But there is something about the switcheroo with the 7- and 9-year-old singers, the willingness to put both of them down in an effort to make the country look better, that leaves me viewing China with more distaste than did all the other shenanigans they've tried to hide from us.

Miaoke became an instant celebrity.

Maybe she really didn't mind miming instead of singing. But I doubt it. And I find it positively unbelievable that 7-year-old Peiyi, when told that her crooked teeth made her less than flawless and therefore inappropriate for viewing, wasn't hurt by the casual cruelty of the leaders of her country. She is being quoted as saying she didn't mind the switch, that she was honored to have her voice used. Who do you think told her to say that?

The injuries of childhood don't just disappear. I still remember being told to mime the words and not sing out when I was the age of these girls. It turned me off to music, sad to say, and to this day I find myself feeling jealous when friends tell me of the pleasure and peace they find at the symphony. And when a teacher, many years ago, said much the same thing to my daughter, we found her another teacher who taught her to sing and love music.

I also remember my mother telling me — for reasons it took me decades to understand had more to do with her own lack of confidence than anything else — I wasn't pretty, that I was too chubby, that my features weren't "fine" enough, that I should not expect to be one of the popular girls. Now, as an adult, I look at the pictures of my younger self and marvel that she could say such a thing. It was horribly hurtful, and it wasn't true.

I feel the same way when I look at the pictures of the 7-year-old who was not flawless enough to stand before the world and sing her country's national anthem. She looks very cute to me. I hope someone is telling her that her country's leaders were wrong. But it being China, I doubt it. "Ode to the Motherland" was the song she sang. Some Motherland.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



5 Comments | Post Comment there ever a story that's not about you. You're a big girl now...move on. You started the report so well too...
Comment: #1
Posted by: Rick
Fri Aug 15, 2008 2:11 AM
You are projecting! I agree with the children, it is an honor to be chosen by your country to serve in what may be that child's finest hour and what some may perceive as China's finest hour. That child's memories will probably be the honor of participation and the excitement of it all. It takes a long and bitter road for a person or nation not to perceive that it really was an honor for all to participate in the ceremony in whatever capacity.
Comment: #2
Posted by: liz
Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:05 PM
Really, the girl's teeth, and their crookedness, are a harsh indictment of Chinese dentistry, don't you think? Seriously, we live in the US, where teenyboppers are getting breast augmentation, cosmetic braces, and nose jobs, so the Chinese need to get their sh-t together.

Nevertheless, China has proved to be as crassly exploitative and manipulative as the "style censors" and "trendsetters" in the US? I guess they finally have "arrived" on the world stage then!

The whole Olympic Spirit "thing" is as ethereal and insubstantial as the name implies: cheating, politics, corrupted judging, and athletes who are hardly "there" (ever heard a Phelps interview? Bush sounds more coherent!) are the norm, not the exception. Thus, a state-run beauty contest for the opening ceremonies should surprise no one.

Of course, we can expect more of the same in 2012: the "games" are in London, and we all know how lousy the dental plans are in the UK!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Skip
Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:54 AM
Susan, this isn't one of your best efforts. It reflect the views of typical middleclass America. While neither you or I know the girls, I suspect they were both proud to represent their Country and were not concerned with whether it was voice or face that was used.
I realize I am an antique but I did grow up in rural America, offspring of share croppers. I was 13 before we got electricity and my parents didn't have indoor pluming until long after I had left home. Believe me I would have been happy to have either my face or my voice used to represent my Country. Since we were really poor, Country meant a lot more to us than it seems to the current spoiled generations.
Also, I remember the witch hunts of McCarthy and separate restrooms for black and white. And my great grandmother was forcebly moved to Oklahoma so I appreciate that the Chinese are trying to improve all aspects of their country and don't quite have everything perfect yet. In later life I have been priviledged to travel there and to work with ordinary Chinese and I really believe they are making great progress. They hope as I do that that progress will continue.
And, this was entertainment. Haven't you been to a movie lately. They substitute voice, bodies, parts of bodies. Who know what the actual actor sounds or looks like!!!!
Oh, and by the way, I usually like your columns!!
Comment: #4
Posted by: Marvin
Wed Aug 27, 2008 11:19 AM
I believe Susan E. jumps on the conclusion too soon too quickly without real investigative analysis and reporting. This is misleading a lot of readers. Staying on moral grounds too high has some danger: you could fall badly! (remember John Edwards?)

Nonetheless it showed the intersting side of the musical director: a French Chinese who is double digging. That is worthy of some investigation and writing! Some juicy stuff might pop open.

Now back to Lip-synching. Read this: Sydney comes clean on Olympic miming :-)

Imaging singing in a toddler's voice on mike at a stadium as big as bird nest with 91000 spectators cheering on, for technical reasons, pre-recorded songs is a better choice (remember Leona's singing in the close ceremony?). Yang is 7 years old whereas Lin is 9, that would make a big difference in such a daunting scene: 9 years would be more mature and more expreienced when facing TV camera and huge crowd (Lin appeared in TV before). It would be true that 7 years can sing, but could she behave naturally in this situation? Ms Lin's voice was the second best - not that she could not sing at all! That was the root for so called flawless expression I guess. Nothing said by the Chinese implied that Yang was not pretty enough, it was about the expression, simply, about the SHOW!

So the issue at hand is not a moral one but a practical one - the show is largely for business reasons (rememeber the TV commercials overflow)? American corporations should thank China for striving to put up a good show (you might want to have some quality time, remember, this is not sports competition, but a show, and both girls' names are recongized dutifully. If you are not interested in the show, move on. No one is forcing anyone to watch and this is a commercial event (no tax money involved except the host country).

Cannot wait to see Susan's next column on Sydney Orchestra's miming of Melbourne's music at the 2000 games; maybe she could uncover on her own some other mimed events
Comment: #5
Posted by: Jaba
Fri Aug 29, 2008 12:04 PM
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