Forced smiles do little to convey warmth
The commentators on NBC remarked that smiles were requested at the last minute for all the Chinese drummers involved in the Olympic opening ceremonies. A softening look was needed in combination with the precision and robotic beauty of their performance which could be seen as ‘intimidating’ to those around the globe. Since they used that word first, I will continue to use it for a bit.
Years ago, I sat in the Astor Court Chinese garden in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art wondering what kind of culture could produce the perfection and attention to detail that was surrounding me there. When you look at the art of a people, you see into their very soul and know them in a way that in no other view comes close. Both my mother and sisters were and are calligraphers so Chinese calligraphy in books, pictures and artwork has been looked at, discussed and desperately yearned for over the years. We have all been ‘intimidated’ by Chinese art.
It has taken a long time ‘ a very long time ‘ for the Chinese to become what they are today. That more than one billion people live together on the fourth largest country in land size is a statistic to consider. Also, even though they are an amalgamation of all kinds of ethnic tribes and cultures, the Chinese civilization has an identity that has continually evolved, with infusions from outside, for at least 5,000 years. Five thousand years! I find their age and wisdom gained from all that history to be another ‘intimidation.’
China is a goliath of work. These people are workers beyond anything that we can imagine. Forced work, communal work, volunteer work, but work it is. And as a group, it gets done. Period. I read about the recognition by the Chinese government authorities that the cities were the only hope for the millions and millions of peasants across China who needed work. They have had to rethink in a hurry their old system of rural and urban registration and make adjustments for growth in a new global economy. For example, take a 90-minute train ride from Hong Kong and you arrive in Shenzhen. In l970, it was a small rice-growing village, but now it’s a thriving city of more than three million people. Their assessment of reality, their ability to adapt and work toward a goal is also ‘intimidating.’
They also took this art of intimidation right to the front of the technology boom. That LCD screen on the field and the other mind-boggling techno gizmos used pretty much throughout the entire opening ceremony made a statement that the Chinese are in the forefront of all the new toys and games we all love.
What bothered me when listening to those NBC announcers was their implication by using the word ‘intimidation’ that we may have something to fear from this magnificent display of work, art and technology. Were the Chinese intending for us to be cowed, to use another related term, by this opening ceremony? That’s anyone’s opinion, but as much as I loved the whole thing, I thought it was just a little overkill and slightly like a rooster strutting its stuff. It wasn’t very Chinese-like in the way that I have come to respect over the years when viewing their art. It was not understated or subtle, but just the opposite. Art should never overwhelm. The awe factor isn’t as effective when it is arrived at by sheer immensity. In other words, the Chinese lost their center somewhat in these opening ceremonies. They were attempting to prove something to the world, and they did it by selling their artistic souls just a little bit.
It’s hard to intimidate when you are also exposing your own vulnerability. They have their problems, too: pollution, repressive government, human rights issues, population unevenness and more. Respect and intimidation are two very different things. Americans should respect China and study up on the ways they are pushing ahead of us in technology and alternative energy just to name a couple. I read an article about an innovative Danish industrial producer of wind energy hardware who has 35 accounts with Chinese companies and not one with the U.S.
China should also have respect for us and the rest of the world. Our nature is one that smiles just because. Those smiles that arise spontaneously in the moment are the source of our unpredictable natures and individual energies that fuel a different type of art and life. Americans are big smilers and seldom if ever intimidated. The drummers looked a little uncomfortable with all that smiling. It was a forced look to me, and any arising feelings of intimidation should have ended right there.