I don't watch the Olympics much anymore. The changes that have taken place since I was a boy have killed much of the thrill they held. Like Christmas, it has become a sad spectacle of human greed and excess. But I still check in occasionally for a game or matchup in the sports I enjoy the most.
I've come to expect and almost accept the usual acts of fraud that have come to be associated with the Olympic Games and most other major sporting events; A few doping scandals, some overt cheating, lousy judging and the like have become routine. We are used to the kind actions by teams and individuals, as well as officials, which offer the general revelations that our sports heroes are both human and fallible. The good guys don't always win. People cheat. Winners are suspect.
The opening ceremonies of the Olympics are one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the games. They are the most watched part of the Olympic showcase. They are grandiose in their presentation and are carefully choreographed to present the host nation in the best possible light to the world audience. And they are usually very successful in that endeavor.
But this year things were different. All that beauty and pageantry has been torn asunder and eclipsed by an ugly and despicable act. All the pictures that we were offered of the artistic and colorful costumes and dance have been overshadowed by the image of a 7 year old child with a voice as sweet as an angel. Yang Peiyi, is a beautiful, fresh faced young girl whose voice had become the musical icon of the opening ceremonies.
She is also a child who was denied her place in the ceremonies in a cruel and crushing act of unspeakable callousness. A child who had her heart broken and her dreams shattered because, according to her nation and the officials organizing the games, she was too ugly to be seen.
Never in my memory has a child been the victim of our national lust for success at these events. The desire to put on a show that is bigger and better than any that have come before has become an all consuming drive for the host nation. Obviously we have reached the point where nothing is sacred when it comes to our need to outdo what has been done before. And if the heart and dream of a little girl falls victim to that national narcissistic goal then so be it.
Her song touched the hearts of everyone who witnessed the great opening of the Olympic Games. Singing the song, "Ode to the Motherland", hers was the voice of hope and love that her country offered as their national flag was paraded before the world. But when it came time for the song to be heard and performed before the entire world live, she was denied her rightful place as a member of the opening ceremonies. Instead, the lyrics were lip-synched by a replacement singer. Someone that the Chinese government felt the world would prefer. Someone "better looking".
And with that simple reasoning the entire concept of what the Olympics are all about, the grace and beauty of athletic competition, changed into something grotesquely ugly; The shame of nations and their efforts at political propaganda.
In the story on CNN the reason for the switch was explained by Chinese official this way:
"The reason was for the national interest," said Chen Qigang, the ceremony's musical director, in a state radio interview. "The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression. ... Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects." The decision was made at the highest levels, Chen said.
"We had to do it," he said. "We'd been through several inspections. They're all very strict. When we rehearsed at the spot, there were several spectators from various divisions, especially leaders from the Politburo, who gave the opinion it must change."
Few who watched the Olympic ceremony realized the deception. "Tiny singer wins heart of nation," read the headline in Tuesday's China Daily newspaper.
"Lin Miaoke might be only 9 years old but she is well on her way to becoming a star, thanks to her heartwarming performance," the article gushed -- without mentioning she never sang a note.
It is mind-boggling in it's almost pathological indifference and cruelty regarding the feeling of the child who is the object of the "inspections".
I usually keep my emotions well protected and at a safe distance from deliberate hurt. I've experienced more than my fair share of name-calling and hurtful exclusion. And that was just at the hands of my siblings. But like most everyone, I still harbor secret, sad and painful memories. Most of them were caused by the mean-spirited acts of other children. Children can be unimaginably cruel when it comes to bullying and taunting their peers. But they are kids, with no real sense of how hurtful and lasting their actions are and we eventually get over the pain. I know that now as an adult... but back then the hurt seemed like it would never go away
But I can't recall being the target of the ridicule of an entire nation.
I am sure that kids in China can be just as bad when it comes to bullying as those I knew as a boy. For Yang Peiyi, the opportunity for her peers to hurl insult and invective will be almost endless. To the bullies in her life she will become the ugliest girl in the world. And they will have the national endorsement of their government and its leaders as validation of their insults. She is the victim of an act of outrageous callousness by a nationalistic faceless bully. Her name will be forever associated with the Olympic games and her shame will be revisited every four years for her lifetime.
I am as angry and sad as I have ever been over the actions that put this sweet, innocent human under such a harsh and sorry spotlight. As a result of her gracious efforts in support of her country and her incredible talent she will now forever be known as "the girl too ugly to be seen". No child should ever have to deal with such pain.
Maybe my words seem a bit over the top... perhaps they seem to exaggerate the effects and impact. But that's my point. As adults we have a better perspective... a greater range of experience... to help assuage our disappointments. But to a child, everything is big. Every experience is exaggerated. Each special or tragic moment we experience as we grow holds a larger than life place in our hearts, minds and memory.
All of us have stashed away in our heart some minor slight or small pain... an experience that happened in a moment but is remembered for a lifetime. Eventually we get past it. Even if we don't forgive or forget, we deal with it in our own way. We have to if we hope to get back to happy.
I hope against all hope that Yang Peiyi, survives the hurt. I hope she continues to present the world with the gift that her beautiful voice offers. But, I'm not sure I will be able to forget how much I was hurt by what happened to her. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the world reacts. I know I will never watch another Olympic event again.
Children are amazingly resilient. Yang Peiyi will survive her trauma. But her scars will be deep and permanent. The once beautiful girl has been told in no uncertain terms that she is too grotesque to been seen by the world she inspired with her beautiful voice. Not by the schoolyard bully, but by her entire nation... indeed, the world. How well and how long she can suppress the inevitable pain remains to be seen. But she offers hope already with her reactions to her story. She still illustrates what all children offer the world just by their presence. Hope.
Her comments show just how easy a child can forgive the unforgivable.
As for Yang Peiyi, she's been quoted as saying she was honored to have had a role in the opening ceremony, even though few realized just how big her part really was.
From the mouth of babes...
The Girl too Ugly to Be Seen
7 year old, Yang Peiyi. The Voice of the 2008 Olympics
9 year old, Lin Miaoke. Lip-syncher extraordinaire