Having peeked at the Olympic opening ceremonie in London, I will hazard that if the Brits last a thousand years men will still say, this was their weirdest hour:
The noisy, busy, witty, dizzying production somehow managed to feature a flock of sheep (plus a busy sheepdog), the Sex Pistols, Lord Voldemort, the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a suggestion that the Olympic rings were forged by British foundries during the Industrial Revolution, the seminal Partridge Family reference from “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” a group of people dressed like so many members of Sgt. Pepper’s band, some rustic hovels tended by rustic peasants, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and, in a paean to the National Health Service, a zany bunch of dancing nurses and bouncing sick children on huge hospital beds.
Any Olympic opening is a propaganda exercise, but Friday night’s blockbuster show demonstrated the broader public relations challenge facing the Communist Party as China becomes richer and more powerful. The party wants to inspire national pride within China, and bolster its own legitimacy in the process, even as leaders want to reassure the world that a rising China poses no danger.
That has not been an easy sales pitch during the tumultuous Olympics prelude, in which violent Tibetan protests and a devastating earthquake revealed the dark and light sides of Chinese nationalism.
But for one night, at least, the party succeeded wildly after a week dominated by news of polluted skies, sporadic protests and a sweeping security clampdown. Across Beijing, the public rejoiced. People painted red Chinese flags on their cheeks and shouted, “Go China!” long after the four-hour opening had concluded.
“For a lot of foreigners, the only image of China comes from old movies that make us look poor and pathetic,” said Ci Lei, 29, who watched the pageantry on a large-screen television at an upscale downtown bar. “Now look at us. We showed the world we can build new subways and beautiful modern buildings. The Olympics will redefine the way people see us.”