Beijing Olympics: One World, One Dream, One Official Cheer

June 7, 2008

On Thursday, Reuters broke the unusual story about Beijing Olympics organizers releasing an official cheer or “chanting routine”. It’s for local Chinese spectators who “might be lacking in proper sports etiquette”. (And just in case they’ve gotten some ideas from European soccer fans.)

The UK Telegraph reported today that China has issued official instructions accompanied by cartoons and illustrations showing a young girl in “approved postures”:

In the first frame she is beginning to clap; in the second, doing a thumbs-up gesture; in the third, clapping again; and in the fourth, holding both arms up in the air.

In time, she also chants: “Aoyun! Jia You! Zhongguo! Jia You!” meaning “Olympics! Add petrol! China! Add petrol!

Reuters translates this chant much too literally as “add oil”. The Telegraph translates it into “add petrol” and offers a more contextual translation: “Go, Go!” Or, more fuel, more power, which makes a lot more sense.

Li Ning, president of the Beijing Etiquette Institute (!) teaches people that the chants are flexible and they can — should they be so moved — replace the words “Olympics” and “China” with names of individual athletes or other countries. Apparently this would demonstrate “open-mindedness”. It would also be “in line with general international principles for cheering.”

Wow. Since China is importing much of the world’s best creatives to showcase its growth and power, I wonder if they consulted with these choreographers first. Nothing beats tried and tested popular appeal.

And nothing beats democracy — which we hope gets smuggled in with the other imports. Happy Saturday!

Two Chinas: Spectacles in Beijing, Ruins in Sichuan

May 28, 2008

I read Paul Goldberger‘s architecture column in The New Yorker today and appreciate his take on Beijing’s spectacular Olympic Green. He writes:

“If Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear — a testament to the global ambitions of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

At least two of the buildings on the Olympic Green—the National Stadium, by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the National Aquatics Center, by the Australian firm PTW Architects—are as innovative as any architecture on the planet, marvels of imagination and engineering that few countries would have the nerve or the money to attempt. The Chinese, right now, have plenty of both.”

What I really appreciate is Golberger’s ultimate point, which makes up part of his subtitle: “….but what message does it send?” It seems that the image of progress (something contemporary architecture is increasingly called upon to conjure) — rather than actual sociopolitical progress — is the administration’s goal. He critiques:

“…there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it. This is an Olympics driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning…

In both conception and execution, the best of Beijing’s Olympic architecture is unimpeachably brilliant. But the development also exemplifies traits—the reckless embrace of the fashionable and the global, the authoritarian planning heedless of human cost—that are elsewhere denaturing, even destroying, the fabric of the city.

Finishing Goldberger’s article, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between Beijing’s futuristic facilities and the post-earthquake ruins of schools, hospitals, and factories in Sichuan province, where the death toll now hovers around 70,000. The dialectical tension between these two Chinas sadly testify to the transiency and fragility of human constructions and fabricated utopias.

TOP: Photo from Goldberger’s New Yorker column on Beijing; BOTTOM: Photo by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times, two girls at the ruins of Juyuan Middle School

Ambassador Hello Kitty and Dreamworlds for Tourists

May 20, 2008

hellokittyJapan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has named Hello Kitty, the famous feline character mass-produced by Sanrio Co., as its goodwill ambassador to China and Hong Kong. This move is part of the ministry’s “Visit Japan” campaign which aims to attract 10 million visitors each year. AP reports that tourists from China and Hong Kong accounted for 16.5% of visitors to Japan last year and are poised to become the second largest group of tourists after South Koreans. The billion-dollar Hello Kitty brand is wildly popular among these groups and Kitty-mania is being pushed throughout China. A multi-million dollar musical, “Hello Kitty’s Dream Light Fantasy” opened in Beijing in March and is scheduled to travel to Malaysia, Singapore, and the U.S. as part of a 3-year run. hellokitty dream

The use of a cartoon franchise to market and cross-sell is not new. Snoopy speaks for MetLife, while Yogi Bear hustles family campsites and Shrek peddles cereal. A stuffed animal or an animated cartoon does evoke warm and cuddly feelings. What IS specifically different about Hello Kitty is its employment by Japan to communicate with China, a country it invaded 70 years ago as part of an imperialist policy to take over China’s vast resources. Today, the takeover is not being accomplished with the military. It is done with merchandising, wherein consumer goods (serial, mass-produced, inexpensive and therefore attainable objects) are endowed with human qualities and ambassadorial charm. Hello Kitty’s pitch is the dream of world peace, harmony, and abundance through mass entertainment, consumption of spectacle, and tourist spending.

And this pitch IS trademarked. Artist Tom Sachs, who just installed his Hello Kitty sculptures at Lever House earlier this month (and famously substituted Hello Kitty for the Baby Jesus at Barney’s holiday windows back in 1994), never got permission to use the ambassador’s likeness and could face legal action. In New York Magazine, Sachs proclaims, “Hello Kitty is so much a part of our popular culture, I don’t think anyone really owns it. It’s something licensed by Sanrio, but I think her spirit and love and purity belong to all of us.” He could have been speaking for the Japanese Ministry. Maybe Sanrio will let this one slide: it does elevate Hello Kitty into a cultural icon, which is great for business.

Olympic Protests Hint at a Global Revolution

April 7, 2008

Just as the IOC’s decision to host the XXIXth Olympic Games in Beijing signaled a massive shift in the global balance of power and capital, so has it pried open the floodgates of a transnational movement for revolutionary change. This is an unprecedented struggle for multiple worlds that has multiple authors, multiple constituents, multiple visions (not one world running on a neocon-neoliberal feeding tube; see my 3/28 post). This photo in today’s New York Times captures vividly the disjuncture between the old orders (represented by the vertical elements: gilded monument in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the background) and the bodies of the multitude (the horizontal socialscape of living and mobile people):


The protests in London and Paris that today extinguished the Olympic flame (for the first time since the torch relay began in the 1936 Nazi Games) are just one node in a larger constellation of contemporary, emerging forces. This constellation is vast, complex, and ever-changing, connecting the Zapatistas in Mexico, the poor in Thailand, the landless in Brazil, Sans Papiers in France, and countless unreported others. This constellation is radically different from the struggles of the American revolutionaries in 1776, the Paris Commune in 1871, the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the student revolutions in 1968. In “We Are Everywhere“:

“What is emerging now is a dialogue of a million voices which is building the first truly interconnected global uprising, an unprecedented transnational social revolution, a revolution made up of thousands of revolutions, not just one. A revolution that is not predetermined or predictable: not going around in circles but moving in every direction simultaneously. What we are witnessing now is actually a lot more like evolution, a work in progress that makes itself up as it goes along, constantly adapting to each others’ needs. An unprecedented global (r)evolution, is taking place and many of us don’t recognize it.

… As networks grow more connected, by webs and actions, wires and stories, many things will emerge that we, as mere neurons in the network, don’t expect, don’t understand, can’t control, and may not even perceive. The only way to understand an emergent system is to let it run, because no individual agent will ever be able to reveal the whole. The global movement of movements for life against money, for autonomy and dignity, for the dream of distributed direct democracy, are following an irresistible logic. It is a logic as old as the hills and the forests, an eco-logic, a bio-logic, the profound logic of life.”

Cargill’s Brave New World

April 3, 2008

This Cargill ad on yesterday read: “Cargill is helping new ideas emerge from nature. Find out how at So I clicked.

The site’s predominant color is green, a direct allusion to nature and sustainability (envy and inexperience, too, but that’s another story). The tagline reads “collaborate > create > succeed”, followed by “TM” for trademark, a symbolic claim to private property that has served Cargill extremely well. Case studies based on this so-special-let’s-trademark-it formula abound. In “collaboration” with its customers, Cargill has “created”: a new bread, a better burger, more flavorful pork, cholesterol-reducing milk, a new line of whole-grain cereal, a new crop of corn, a better foam, better feeds for dairy cows, better tasting sugar-free chocolate, better processed eggs, better quality beef for supermarkets, better frozen foods, better baby formulas. Even a better delivery system for refrigerated products in Central America. Success!

But what is “new”? Who defines what is “better”, for whom, and at what cost? These case studies are success stories for the customers Cargill serves: corporations and neoliberal economic policies. A “new” crop of corn or a “better” egg means genetically-modified substances that can be produced more consistently at increasingly lower prices, with more controlled shelf lives. These invariably benefit first world producers, NOT consumers (and third world consumers far far less). Even supply systems that appear to benefit difficult-to-reach communities are, in fact, channels intended to create more markets and thus, ring in more sales.

As America’s second largest privately-held corporation (where descendants of its founders still own about 90% of the company; the rest is owned by employees), Cargill holds unimaginable political and economic power over the world’s population and answers to a very exclusive and very privileged few. “Cargill creates” also means Cargill destroys. Its direct involvement in the deforestation of the Amazon, enclosure of the worldwide commons, active support of free trade and neoliberalism, and lobbies for opening up markets in China, Brazil, and Cuba, MUST be watched, tracked, discussed—and challenged. Another world is possible.

2008 Beijing Olympics: Free Tibet

March 28, 2008

The torch has been lit for the XXIXth Modern Olympiad which opens in Beijing, China on 8/8/08. Its slogan “One World, One Dream” promotes a globalized neoliberal hegemony where individuals share a single vision. Shockingly blatant and fascist in its call for autocracy (as opposed to democracy, which would translate into a “Multiple Worlds, Multiple Dreams” slogan), this multinational sports spectacle recalls two prior games: the XIth Olympiad in Berlin 1936 which coincided with the Nazi regime’s rise to power and the XXth Olympiad in Munich 1972 marked by the desperate Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.

In 2008, these games again prefigure a new world order, one dominated by China. Massive unrest in Tibet and the government’s violent military crackdown this month reveal just how repressive and authoritarian the Chinese reality still is (despite the pr frenzy over its art fairs, cultural hotspots, open doors, and new markets). While no one wants—or perhaps can afford—to boycott the games, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has already threatened to skip out. With so many eyes (and recording devices) on China, here’s hoping the Olympic Games do prefigure a new world order, one that includes—not just dreams of—a free Tibet.

A brilliant graphic published by Neil at Beau Bo D’Or:


…and a variation depicting Beijing’s air pollution: