Let the games begin
Aug 11th 2008
The city behind the spectacle
THE 29TH Olympiad begins, at least for me, with what should be a great intellectual encounter. It is a discussion, held on the morning of the opening ceremonies, in an avant-garde art gallery, between two men whose creations are among the most striking of the remarkable buildings that China has erected either for the games or in time for them: Terminal 3 of Beijing’s airport and the National Stadium, commonly known as the bird’s nest.
These two iconic edifices will define Beijing for many visitors. The terminal building, opened earlier this year, is said to be bigger than all of Heathrow’s terminals combined. Its golden roof and red columns evoke the grandeur of the Forbidden City. It cavernous, serpentine form resembles a dragon, a symbol of China.
The stadium is a mass of intertwined steel beams; it looks just like its nickname. Its image adorns a recently issued banknote-the only one in circulation with no portrait of Mao Zedong.
In most other capital cities, the designers（ of such monumental buildings ）would be in hot demand on the lecture circuit. But there are complications in China. Many of the architects involved in Beijing’s most famous Olympic edifices (or buildings erected in time for the Olympics, such as the new headquarters for state-owned television) are foreigners.
The man behind the terminal is Lord Norman Foster, a British architect. The bird’s nest architects are Herzog & de Meuron, a Swiss firm. Their artistic adviser was Ai Weiwei, who is Chinese. But Mr Ai happens to be an outspoken critic of the games.
修建航站楼的是英国设计师Lord Norman Foster.鸟巢的设计师们是瑞士公司Herzog & de Meuron.他们的艺术顾问是中国人艾未未,但他直接批评北京奥运会.
Ten hours before the games begin, Lord Foster and Mr Ai find themselves in a small lecture room in an art gallery opened last year by a Belgian couple, Guy and Myriam Ullens, on the north-eastern edge of Beijing. The gallery itself makes some Chinese uneasy. Some of them do not like the idea that foreigners are running what has become one of Beijing’s biggest non-profit galleries of contemporary Chinese art.
奥运会开始前十小时, Lord Foster和艾未未出现在一个艺廊的一个小讲堂里,这个艺廊由一对比利时夫妇Guy 和Myriam Ullens于去年开办,位于北京的东北边缘.艺廊本身让一些中国人觉得不自在.他们不喜欢外国人经营的艺廊成为现在北京最大的非盈利艺廊.
Chinese officials are in a particularly prickly mood. They fear the Olympics will be marred by protests against China’s human rights record and its policies in Tibet and the western region of Xinjiang. The Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, like many other foreign-run concerns in China, has to be cautious. At the start of the talk, the audience is reminded that the topic is Terminal 3. People are not to raise questions about politics or the Olympics.
The opening ceremony of the games is hours away from being held in Mr Ai’s bird’s nest, but the speakers and audience keep to their instructions. The bird’s nest is far too sensitive a topic. Mr Ai has condemned the way the stadium and the games in general are being used by the Communist Party to show off. This time he confines his remarks to the new terminal (about the construction of which he has helped produce a book of photographs). The gallery is doubtless grateful.
The Ullens Centre is in a cluster of former state-owned factories that have been rented out to artists and galleries. It is swarming with security officials and Olympic volunteers this morning. Officials say 798-the name of this area, after the codename of one of its former military factories-has become one of Beijing’s biggest attractions for foreigners after the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. But like many parts of Beijing, 798 feels unusually devoid of visitors. China’s paranoia about protests has led to tougher visa restrictions, which have kept many foreigners away.
The opening ceremony at the bird’s nest this evening is spectacular, but with touches of the authoritarian. Zhang Yimou, a filmmaker who once pushed the boundaries of artistic freedom in China but is now an establishment favourite, directed the spectacle.
The display begins with 2,008 soldiers dressed in traditional (civilian) gowns banging in unison on drums. It sets an uncomfortably martial tone (more than half of the 14,000 performers this evening are troops). The uniformed goose-stepping soldiers who raise the Olympic flag do not help alleviate this.
Neither do China’s leaders, who watch impassively from a podium in the sweltering heat dressed in near identical suits. Performers move in perfect unison or in regimented choreography in a way that would make North Korea, a master of such extravaganzas, envious.
China is missing its chance to smash stereotypes: the opening ceremony displays a nation marching in lockstep. It avoids overt political references, but does little to refute Mr Ai’s criticisms that the Beijing games are, for China, about politics. A normally vibrant city feels stifled. Dissenting voices are subdued.
译者：soleil, enhua10000 http://www.ecocn.org/forum/viewthread.php?tid=13259&extra=page%3D1