China

Zhang for the Memories…of the Cultural Revolution

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The celebrated Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who orchestrated the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, dishes on why the London games won't stack up:

"I often joke with (foreign interviewers) and say that our level of human performance is second in the world," he said. "Number one is North Korea. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too. After hard training and strict discipline, Chinese achieve that as well."

By contrast, he found working in the west, where he has been artistic director for a number of opera performances, something of a shock.

"It was so troublesome," he said. "They only work four and a half days each week. Every day there are two coffee breaks, and no-one can suffer any discomfort because of human rights.

"This caused me no end of worry. One week, I thought everything had been rehearsed completely without any problems, but in fact they could not even stand in straight lines.

"You couldn't criticize them either. They all belong to organizations—some kind of institutions, unions. We do not have that. We can work very hard, and can put up with a lot of pain.

"We can achieve in one week what they can achieve in one month. That's the reason our performers give such brilliant performances. I think other than North Korea, no other country anywhere in the world can achieve this."

What makes this all the more stunning (and perhaps understandable) is Zhang's history:

Zhang was once regarded as a subversive, celebrated for making gritty "real life" films about life in China's rural provinces or beautiful but bitter dramas such as "Raise the Red Lantern", which won numerous awards in the West.

His films were censored and banned, but in more recent years he has come back into favour with the Communist Party. His latest films have been historical blockbusters, which often seem to have messages supporting the idea of strong leaders and state power.

[In an interview with a Chinese paper], he described how the opening ceremony rehearsals received repeated visits from "dozens" of state leaders who all demanded corrections and modifications, to the annoyance of other performers and directors.

"You do not have a chance to talk back. It is impossible to explain or reply, and you can't say, 'This opinion is not a good one, so let's not listen to it.' So what can you do? You must be clear-headed," he said.

More here, courtesy of the UK Telegraph.

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  1. I, for one, am 100% willing to sacrifice my country’s ability to put on a tiresome, over-the-top “ceremony” in return for my human rights.

  2. Amazing what a trip to the re-education camps does for one’s perspective, isn’t it? Just have that whole messy issue of thoroughly crushing the human soul to do it, but it’s not like souls are particularly valuable in a collectivist society anyway.

  3. He’s probably right. Let’s concede that authoritarian regimes are better at pageantry.

  4. I was about tp make a joke about subservient comfort women and the uniform thrusts at a Chinese orgy when I noticed the Asian Girls for Love and Marriage ad over on the right. WTF?

  5. We have a Pageantry Gap! We must invest billions into Pageantry to close this gap – our very civilization is at stake!

  6. I now truly understand the motivation behind Chinese Fire Drills.

  7. . They all belong to organizations-some kind of institutions, unions.

    I’m confused: Am I supposed to disagree with Zhang because he is a authoritarian or praise him for bashing unions?

  8. I don’t know where his performers came from, but a big difference with the west might be that they have a choice. Unions are only a small part of the equation- treat the talent like crap, and like cogs in your machine, and the good ones will go elsewhere. Maybe your labor in China doesn’t have that choice. Just like you don’t have that choice to disobey your superiors. What a fraud, thinks he is an artist that turns up his nose at western work rules but snivels at the feet of the bureaucrats ordering him around.

    The best thing London could do is… nothing. No ceremony. Don’t play their game, because you don’t need to.

  9. “I often joke with (foreign interviewers) and say that our level of human performance is second in the world,” he said. “Number one is North Korea. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too. After hard training and strict discipline, Chinese achieve that as well.”

    I guess my dream of the Beijing International Jazz Festival is a non-starter.

  10. Didn’t we hear about this before, in Katie M-W’s paean to mandatory adult diapers? Nick and Katie seems so disgusted with the weak and flabby West that they’ll accept any whip, as long as it hurts.*

    *As long as it hurts someone else, that is. I doubt if they’ll be in the human wave at the London games.

  11. When your life is on the line, you can do some pretty amazing stuff.

    Sadly, none of the performers were lowered into water tanks filled with laser beam wearing sharks.

  12. Their pagentry, their fireworks, their pile of gold medals – all these things have proven their social, political, racial, economic and sexual [see ad on right] superiority.

    That’s the purpose of the Olympics right?

  13. J sub D | August 26, 2008, 3:54pm | #

    I guess my dream of the Beijing International Jazz Festival is a non-starter.

    Not to mention the Beijing Improv and the Beijing Fringe Festival.

  14. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty.

    Just, wow. Says so much, no?

    You do not have a chance to talk back. It is impossible to explain or reply, and you can’t say, ‘This opinion is not a good one, so let’s not listen to it.’ So what can you do?

    Until the Chinese grow past this top-down rigidity, they will fail to overtake the West.

  15. Don’t worry, John McCain will fix it.
    If waterboarding won’t whip those nancy-boys into shape, he’ll just come up with whatever it takes that will.
    Pfeh.

    No hugs for thugs,
    Shirley Knott
    further convinced the Olympics is nothing more than organized thuggery

  16. Just, wow. Says so much, no?

    getting lots of people to do something in sync like that *is* impressive. it may creep me out, but that doesn’t make it unimpressive or stunning or even beautiful.

  17. ahem, i mean “that doesn’t mean it isn’t…”

  18. For some reason, I keep seeing the North Korean pageantry like the Korean “dance” in Team America. Women dressed in traditional costume twirling round and round and round.

    I also found it telling to watch the Cuban women’s volleyball team take on the Chinese ladies for the bronze. China has like, what, 600 million women? And Cuba not even 6 million.

  19. “You couldn’t criticize them either. They all belong to organizations-some kind of institutions, unions.”

    It’s called: Lack of professionalism through lack of competition. It brews whenever these unions or institutions are mandated by the State, as it happens in Europe, for instance.

    “We do not have that. We can work very hard, and can put up with a lot of pain.”

    Well, it is just as bad because the State over there does not tolerate unions. Pricks and prima donnas should be perfectly free to form unions, and employers should be perfectly FREE to tell THEM to take a hike. The problem starts when the State makes employers hire unionized people only, or the other way around – prohibits unions.

  20. Bahhh,

    I would put the drum line of my local predominately black college against that stiff faced collective we saw at Olympics any hour of any day. The sophistication in syncopation and rigorous technique would make those commies cry uncle.

  21. Once again, I’m astounded not just by the creepy totalitarianism of the Chinese, but by their utter lack of comprehension regarding how the rest of the world reacts to it.

    That’s some sick stuff right there, and this guy just throws it out there to a western reporter like he’s talking about the weather.

  22. I guess the youtube video of the “prison thriller” performance demonstrates the validity of his ideas, writ small.

    You know, I saw a kooky conspiracy movie about how the “world elite” wants to make the world less like America and more like China. One must admit, it’s kind of depressing how much appeal this triumph of the will stuff has worldwide, especially when compared to, I don’t know, say… liberty.

  23. I think his comments show that no matter how much of a “dissident” he is, he’s still culturally Chinese. Cultures are slow to change. Just about any American will respond positively to terms like “rights”, “freedom”, “democracy”, “Founding Fathers”, etc., and we sometimes fail to understand why they don’t have the same resonance elsewhere. Likewise, Zhang doesn’t seem to understand why the rest of the world wouldn’t be quite as enthused by his praise of uniformity and discipline.

  24. Someone I know was swooning over the floor performances just like all this.

    I was able to snap her to some kind of consciousness when I pointed out, “They’re fucking communists. It’s what they do. What did you expect?”

  25. Once again, I’m astounded not just by the creepy totalitarianism of the Chinese, but by their utter lack of comprehension regarding how the rest of the world reacts to it.

    That’s some sick stuff right there, and this guy just throws it out there to a western reporter like he’s talking about the weather.

    On another forum we recently had a Chinese guy show up who’d post stuff like that. It was absolutely bizarre.

  26. You know who invented all that Olympic pageantry, the rings, the Parade of Nations,opening and closing ceremonies…..?

    There is some rule precluding me from saying but Leni Riefenstahl made a beautiful movie about it back in 1936.

  27. “Don’t worry, John McCain will fix it.
    If waterboarding won’t whip those nancy-boys into shape, he’ll just come up with whatever it takes that will.”

    I knew it wouldn’t be long before some moron came up with a post about how John McCain or George Bush are no better than the dictators in charge of the most oppressive nation on earth.

  28. Between the opening and closing ceremonies and the primetime showings of gymnastics and diving I still can’t believe the Olympics weren’t being broadcast by Bravo. Gayer than gay.

  29. JD: bingo.

    J Sub D: Charlie Parker claimed (in an interview with Nat Hentoff, I think- boy he’s old ;O ) to have played for 13 hours a day, for several years. He would understand Zhang’s point. Most serious jazz musicians would, though I suppose few of them would think that being forced to do it was a good thing.

  30. Berlin, 1936.
    That is all.

  31. LEAVE JOHN MCCAIN ALOOOOOOONE!

    IF YOU WANT TO GO AFTER JOHN MCCAIN, YOU’LL HAVE TO GO THROUGH B!

  32. You know who invented all that Olympic pageantry,

    Would that your suspicion were true. Wikipedia, however, differs.

    the rings,

    Antwerp, 1920.

    the Parade of Nations,

    The traditional order was set in Amsterdam in 1928.

    opening and closing ceremonies…..?

    Most of the pageantry and tradition originated in Antwerp in 1920.

    There is some rule precluding me from saying…

    To be fair, Wikipedia does credit 1936 with some bit of tradition. Adolf Hitler was the first representative of the host country not to make a Speech of Welcome, but simply to declare the games open. Also, while the torch originated eight years prior, 1936 was the first year to see a torch relay.

  33. “Most of the pageantry and tradition originated in Antwerp in 1920.”

    I should have expected that: Miserable fat Belgium bastards.

  34. It’s also just an unfortunate coincidence that the Olympic salute is a stiff arm outstretched with the plam flat.

    At least its raised right from the hip, and not the chest.

  35. the Olympic salute is a stiff arm outstretched with the plam flat.

    At least its raised right from the hip, and not the chest.

    ???

    Joe, if you can raise your arm from the hip, you need urgent surgical intervention.
    Either that or you’re confused and you meant to say “leg”.

  36. Last night it occured to me that orchestrated spectacle, where the performers sacrifice individuality for a desired effect has been done, and done quite well, by westerners.
    Here are three fine examples from the awesome Busby Berkely.

  37. J Sub D: Charlie Parker claimed (in an interview with Nat Hentoff, I think- boy he’s old ;O ) to have played for 13 hours a day, for several years. He would understand Zhang’s point. Most serious jazz musicians would, though I suppose few of them would think that being forced to do it was a good thing.\

    This one?

    Number one is North Korea. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty.

    I think not.

  38. ajay,

    I mean, the hand goes from your hip/thigh, straight up and out, rather than coming to the chest and out in the ‘Heil Hitler’ fashion.

  39. B dearie, if you think that the communist chinese government is the most repressive tyranny on earth, you seriously have NOT been paying attention.
    About what I would expect of a McCain supporter.
    You contemptible twit.

    no hugs for thugs,
    Shirly Knott

  40. I think you guys are totally misreading his comments. The first part is just him noting the ethno-cultural superiority of the Chinese is doing drill. But his complaint about “human rights” are not complaints about liberty, but rather the socialistic, authoritarian “human rights” of the left. 40 hour work weeks, child labor laws, and government supported unions are not “human rights”. They are the exact opposite. He’s also taking a jab and Hollywood’s diva culture, which is again nothing but ethnic and cultural chest pumping. The Chinese probably are less diva-like, but they got plenty of problems unique to themselves too.

  41. About the only good thing Zhang Yimou ever did was give Zhang Ziyi her first role in exchange for her sleeping with him.

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