China’s spectacular opening ceremony could not have been achieved in the West because labor unions and regulations would have got in the way, director Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) told a Chinese newspaper recently.
In an interview with Southern Weekend, Zhang, who is the director of the Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies, said China is No. 1 when it comes to holding mass performances in which thousands perform synchronized, highly choreographed movements.
“I think other than North Korea [and China], no other country can achieve this in the world,” Zhang said.
Zhang said he managed to get more than 15,000 people to perform various dances and moves at the National Stadium through a lot of hard training and strict disciple — something he doubts he could accomplish in Western countries.
“Foreigners admire this. This is the Chinese spirit. We can make our human performance reach such a level, through hard and smart work. This is something many foreigners cannot achieve,” Zhang said.
He was referring to the difficult task of getting so many people to move at just the right time and in the right way. For example, in one segment of the three-and-a-half-hour show, around 900 soldiers stood under movable type cubes and followed orders on when to raise the cubes to construct the character for “harmony” and depict China’s invention of printing.
Getting foreign performers to do the same would be very difficult, Zhang said.
“I have conducted operas in the West. It was so troublesome. They only work four-and-a-half days each week. Every day there are two coffee breaks and no overtime work at all. There cannot be any discomfort, because of human rights. This can really worry me to death,” Zhang said.
“Wow, one week, I thought I should already have rehearsed it [the program] very smoothly, but they could not even stand in straight lines. You could not criticize them either. They all belong to some organizations. They have all kinds of institutions, unions,” he said.
China does not have independent workers’ unions and Chinese performers can withstand discomfort, Zhang said.
“We can work very hard, can withstand lots of bitterness. We can achieve in one week what they can achieve in two months,” Zhang said.
Almost one third of the world’s population — a little over 2 billion — watched the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the market researchers Nielsen said on Thursday. The show was widely perceived as being spectacular, but controversy broke out later after it was revealed that the little girl who sang Ode to the Motherland was miming because the real singer was not considered pretty enough.
It was also revealed later that the 900 soldiers had to wear incontinence pads because they had to wait in the stadium for seven hours without a toilet break before their performance.
The hundreds of white uniformed girls who opened umbrellas with smiley faces also had to practice the simple move of opening an umbrella 1,000 times, one of them told Chinese media.
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