During my most recent trip back to the US, the China question that I received more than any other was something along the lines of: “Just how big are the Olympics back in China?” There are plenty of ways to answer this (“really big” is probably the best), and I tried many of them, but as of today, my new answer will be this: “When the Olympic flame was lit in Greece, a ‘mere’ one-hundred-and-thirty-seven days before the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing, it received wall-to-wall, live coverage on no less than six state-owned Chinese television stations, during prime time.”
At the moment it’s 6:00 PM, I’m in a Beijing hotel room, and – wait – now it’s seven stations, watching this spectacle [in addition to the expected coverage on the news vacuums that are CNN and BBC], and I have to admit – having never seen one of these before – it’s the closest thing to Clash of the Titans as I’ve ever found outside of a second-run movie theater or the late show. This kneeling before the high priestess stuff is the very definition of camp (for Susan Songtag’s definition, click here).
Anyway, if there was any question about how seriously China (its government, television stations, and – in my opinion – most of its people) would take a disruption to the Olympic torch relay – especially in Tibet – let today’s coverage offer a partial answer.
[UPATE 3/25: Well, well. I wake this morning to reports that three protesters evaded 1000+ police and stormed the ceremony during BOCOG chief Liu Qi’s speech. No sign of that on Chinese television. Then again, in fairness, I was, um, blogging while the ceremony was happening, so it’s possible that I missed the key, brief moment in a hail of keystrokes.
On the other hand, I noticed a definite lag between the broadcast as it was shown on CNN and BBC, and the Chinese state-owned stations (I’d be very interested to hear from anyone else in China who watched the broadcast – and possibly saw the protest). Also, I think the television cameras were set up to shoot Liu and other speakers from the left, and from the front – so it’s possible that this didn’t show up on television at all. Whatever the case, I remember thinking that Liu looked rather sullen at the end of the ceremony, and now I know why.]
[UPDATE II: Chalk this one up to my declining powers of perception. Shanghaiist has posted a video of the protesters storming the ceremony and – though it’s quick – I shouldn’t have missed it. My only excuse is a possible tape delay. Also, Shanghaiist mentions that CCTV played stock footage of the Olympic site during the incident. I noticed this, actually, and just figured that it was part of some intermission until the actual lighting was to take place. All in all, a nice example of what happens when one relies exclusively on state-owned media, and how you can miss the trees for the forest in the process. I should have checked around before posting.]