It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. But for whom?
Anyone who watched London's Olympic Opening Ceremony, and recalled Beijing's Opening Ceremony, had to catch the major differences in storytelling and visual presentation. The London Olympics opened with history, and so did Beijing's, except the individuals rambling around the "English countryside" inside the London stadium were anything but precise and controlled. London had drummers too, just like Beijing, but these drummers were seemingly beating on old metal cans, in dirty clothes, trying to drum louder than the fellow next to him in true western fashion. China's Olympic drummers were aligned in such a large precision pattern that it was probably spotted from outer space.
London's ceremony presented a long and complicated play of what made the UK great. London highlighted the contributions of the collective, those who brought eras such as the Industrial Revolution into being, but mainly it was individuals who were highlighted for their literature, music, film and so on. If any individuals were greatly highlighted in the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony, it was Confucius.
The London ceremony showed children singing from all parts of the empire, some in their pajamas, some in mismatched clothes. I found it a very touching and emotional moment in the program. I also thought the young girl singing in the Beijing ceremony was touching and emotional as well, until we learned of the Beijing director's decision to have a perfect-looking child mouth the words, while an arguably less attractive child with an incredible voice sang the song.
The Bird's Nest Stadium itself is a particularly good example of Chinese creative teamwork. Artist Ai Wei Wei's contribution was visual poetry in combination with the stadium architects. The London stadium seemed hooked up for a Cirque du Soleil performance after the Olympics clear out of London but there was certainly excitement in the air.
Looking back, Beijing's Opening Ceremony seemed to be a celebration, with a bit of smugness, for how far and fast China has entered the global stage. The London Opening Ceremony seemed to be a hodge podge of "ain't I great" showmanship. Yes, both ceremonies were beautiful in reflecting human nature. Both ceremonies were telling the story of their history. What was reflected in both was the very nature of their past culture: China is harmony working together while the West celebrates innovation out of chaos.
I also believe it is not so important what we westerners thought about the London Opening Ceremony, but what the East thought of the London ceremony. When the West watched the Beijing Opening Ceremony, we were amazed and somewhat aghast at the sheer size of the disciplined, organized and beautiful event. So Brazil's Olympic Opening Ceremony will be next. Will it be colorful and beautiful with steaks and chocolate for everyone? I hope so.