Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Beijing Welcomes You"

For most music videos, the artist's creative intent remains a partial mystery to the audience. It's possible to make an educated guess on the influences and experiences that inspired a musician, but rarely is the song's stated purpose more explicit than the 2008 song "Beijing Welcomes You" by various Chinese musical and film stars to greet international tourists to the 2008 Olympic games. While reducing this song to a simple thesis statement fails to capture the complexities of its performers, the real points of interest are the cultural face China presented to the world and why the city of Beijing chose to present itself the way it did.

The city of Beijing underwent a massive facelift in preparation for the Olympic games. After receiving the bid in 2001, urban officials began a wave of hutong destruction and migrant displacement to make the city appear more modern and tourist-friendly. Alleyways upon alleyways known as hutong with their emblematic siheyuan residences were razed to create high-rise buildings and commercial spaces. As one of the last vestiges of traditional Beijing architecture, the disappearance of hundreds of hutong turned many neighborhoods into nondescript modernity, as irrecoverable past weaved into unrecognizable future. Lower-income migrants were forcibly relocated in the Olympic preparation process, further demonstrating the harshness of China's reform era growth model. No number of human lives or traditional buildings could stop urban planners from realizing their vision of Olympic installations on the same north-south axis as the Forbidden City.

The human toll of Olympic preparation was ignored in "Beijing Welcomes You"; instead, beautiful people in overly glossy costumes and historic sites such as the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven were prominently featured. The song "Beijing Welcomes You" is precisely the crafted image Olympic organizers wanted to place in visitors' minds. Despite an inauthentic representation, the smiles on singers' faces and carefully-controlled air are genuinely warm and inviting. Judging on friendliness but not authenticity, this song is a resounding success.

Traditions such as tai chi were juxtaposed with modern innovations like airports in this music video. In an oddly Chinese way, the mixture of the ancient with the contemporary seamlessly flowed. The diverse cast of performers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore helped support the song's message of inclusiveness, or at least proved the disproportionate influence of Taiwan and Hong Kong's cultural tastes on the mainland. As a simple welcome message, this song achieves its desired end. But the excessively manicured image of the song's performers and the city of Beijing left a reminder of the Olympic buildup's negative effect on traditional architecture and migrants.

*N.B. I'm posting the video with pinyin romanization because it is longer and features the name and nationality of each performer. There is a shorter version of this video with English subtitles if you would like to find it on YouTube.

1 comment:

  1. You did an excellent job of synthesizing all this information while making it entertaining to read.

    I realized there were costs to facelifting Beijing, but I had no idea what it would be. How did you uncover all this information/where did you go to find it?

    Thanks for sharing, Guy.