The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was squeaky clean, free of any overt politics. Or at least that’s the impression I got from watching the main channel of China Central Television.
If any athletes whipped out a Darfur banner or a Free Tibet T-shirt, I (and all of China) missed it. I saw no foreign athletes wearing masks against the air pollution, or pins or lapels pushing any cause.
What I saw were a lot of stadium seats filled with excited, and very hot, people. They cooled themselves as best they could with hand fans, some of them bathed in sweat on a sultry summer evening. The ceremony went over four hours long, ending just after midnight.
Yet there were minor moments, political or not, that struck me, especially the parade of athletes from the 204 countries taking part in the games.
Apart from China, guess which country’s athletes waved Chinese flags as they marched through the stadium? No, it wasn’t the squad from Hong Kong, nor was it the team from Macau. The Taiwanese athletes did not hoist the red flag of China.
Japan, China’s most loathed historical foe, instructed its athletes to clutch small Chinese and Japanese flags together as they circled the stadium. I thought it a generous touch.
So who got the biggest cheers? From the television broadcast, big cheers went up in the crowd for Spain, France, Russia, Iraq and … Canada. I couldn’t figure that last one until I saw Mark Rowswell walking among the Canadian athletes. Rowswell is known to one and all Chinese as “Da Shan,” the foreigner who has utterly mastered Chinese and appears on national television all the time as an emcee and product promoter.
Of China’s neighbors, I’d say the loudest cheers in the crowd went up for North Korea.
And of course there were thunderous cheers for the Chinese squad. The stadium shook with chants of, "Zhongguo, jia you!" or "Let's go, China!"
The stands were filled with dignitaries of all kinds, presidents and princes, but on Chinese television, the cameras constantly lingered on the Chinese leaders. While party chief Hu Jintao was first among equals, the entire standing committee of the Politburo sat beside him. So did former President Jiang Zemin and his wife. Jiang, after all, led the Chinese government when Beijing won the right in 2001 to host the games.
It’s clear that the party is staking all on the games going well. I think they will probably sleep well tonight.