Monday, August 18, 2008


Lip synching is no mortal sin, although it can be deceptive and unethical. Through no fault of her own, Lin Miaoke was tabbed to give a phony rendition of “Paean to the Motherland” during the spectacular opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games ten days ago. Poor little Yang Peiyi , who thrilled the vast global audience with her voice, was heard but not seen, turning a traditional child rearing maxim on its head.

This is not an earthshaking episode in international entertainment history; nothing like the infamous wardrobe malfunction, let’s admit. But it does tell us a lot abut the Chinese system. Astoundingly, this was a high-level political decision in China. The Politburo – the highest body of the Chinese Communist Party -- intervened with Chen Qigang, the musical director of the opening night extravaganza, to make clear that getting cute little Miaoke on TV was, as he told the media, a “matter of national interest.”

That’s like the national committee of one of our major parties “suggesting” to the networks who should sing the national anthem at next year’s Superbowl. That’s a matter of “national interest”? Any network eager to recoup its investment in the event will of course make that decision on its own without regard to the wishes of the government or any political party.

That hypothetical comparison might suggest two important lessons to be learned from an otherwise inconsequential blip. First and most obvious, the Chinese Communist Party still tries to micromanage its vast and complex country. Not just the economy or news coverage, but which little girl scores higher on its cuteness scale. You don’t have to be a Westerner to see the ridiculous excess in that. The second lesson is more subtle. If Beijing goes too far in asserting the national interest, Washington stops way short of what’s needed. On this side of the Pacific, the “national interest” seems to begin and end with national and homeland security.

I’m happy to let the networks decide who shall sing the anthem while I’m still in the kitchen getting ready for kick-off, but I’m eager to see someone in Washington accept responsibility for defining the American national interest in economic terms. Somewhere between the excesses in Beijing and the deficiencies in Washington lies a happy medium that would serve each country far better.

Charles Blum

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