From the imperial and overwhelming airs of Beijing 2008 to the discreet, brief and compact ceremony of Beijing 2022. From the powerful and disturbing drums to a choir of angelic children.
China understood that the world was waiting for the Games, but that the world is not for games.
The 14 years that passed between those Summer Games and the Winter Games inaugurated this Friday made it clear that the world’s most populous country, the second largest economy on the planet, no longer needs to demonstrate its power. It was enough with what it did in 2008, at overwhelming and at times uncomfortable levels, in an opening ceremony impossible to forget.
This Friday’s, perhaps because of the 23 F, -5 C, was something else. Much shorter, much more sober, much friendlier.
If that time it was attended by more than 80 heads of state and government, as well as representatives of royal houses, this time the number was four times smaller. The Winter Games, it must also be said, generate much less universal appeal than the Summer Games and attract half as many countries and a third as many athletes as their “big brother”.
But the diplomatic boycott was felt. On that occasion, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, and a long list of the world’s powerful came to the Bird’s Nest.
With the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Canada, and India joining at the last minute, the diplomatic boycott was compact but powerful.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), made the point elliptically during his speech at the opening.
“In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world: yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals, while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together. This is the mission of the Olympic Games: bringing us together in peaceful competition. Always building bridges, never erecting walls. Uniting humankind in all our diversity”.
If in 2008 the great questioning of China was its policy in Tibet, in 2022 it is the situation of the Uyghurs. In 14 years, the accusations have grown in volume and gravity.
“China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity and possibly genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the north-western region of Xinjiang,” the BBC wrote.
“Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms. There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as forced labour and of women being forcibly sterilised. Some former camp detainees have also alleged they were tortured and sexually abused”.
China denies these accusations, but in this context, what happened at the opening ceremony with the lighting of the Olympic fire in the stadium did not go unnoticed: Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier, was one of the two athletes who lit the fire.
The surname, of Uyghur origin, was a clear and subtle message from China to the Olympic world and to the world in general: this is our country, these are our people and we are in charge here.
From Friday, February 4 to Sunday, February 20, there will be time to prove, more than once, that this is indeed the case.