What was missing from the opening ceremony?
PARTICIPATING AUTHOR: MICHAEL DUTTON
Michael Dutton is author of Streetlife China, the prize-winning Policing Chinese Politics, and Beijing Time (HUP May 2008) with Hsiu-Ju Stacy Lo and Dong Dong Wu. He is Professor of Politics at Goldsmiths University of London.
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was a theatricalised depiction of China’s own account of itself..It was a history lesson. Like a Chinese history textbook, the performances at the opening ceremony staged a China of the future (with the pyro-techniques, stadium structure and the high tech visuals) that was built on an ancient venerated culture. The greatness of the past was now about to be rekindled. But what of the period in the middle that actually comes to define so much of this contemporary China? Here was a period that, in many respects, reorganised China and "morphed" these ancient customs into newer and more socialist habits. This difference is even etched onto the surface of Beijing’s urban landscape but more importantly, it has been central to the constitution of new post revolutionary communities that have come to represent what is now being called, "Old Beijing." Now torn down under the once ubiquitous character "Chai"--that is, the character meaning ‘demolish’ written on walls just before their destruction--these traditional neighbourhoods may have had pre-revolution housing stock, but the occupants, are in the main, a product of the communist period. It was when the communists came to power that these neighbourhoods filled up. They produced certain types of affect, judgement, and modes of thought, that were built on the logic of life of the system economic reform has swept away. This is the bit of history that the opening ceremony didn’t address. That which is repressed, Freud once noted, is not destroyed, only encrypted.
The opening ceremony might have been a history lesson from "spin city," but out on the street there are different lessons to be learned. Out on the backstreets are the little old lady or man of the neighbourhood committee. These days, they may be campaigning for a clean neighbourhood or a secure Olympics, but in the past they were the conveyor belts of everyday socialism in China. All too evidently there is another China and another Beijing that is lived but was not performed at this opening ceremony. <em>Beijing Time</em> takes the reader to these neighbourhoods and tries to understand the dynamics of these communities in a period when market development is destroying them.