Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How do you say "Milli Vanilli" in Chinese?

China dazzled the world with its $100-million Olympics opening ceremony which sought to present the image of a Utopian China replete with the perfect baby teeth of a little girl who sang a powerful ode to her country. Except the exquisite voice was not hers. It was the recorded voice of another little girl deemed less pretty than the one lip-synching on center stage.

The charming image of Lin Miaoke, nine-years old, "singing" her heart out in a red dress, appeared around the world while the unseen real singer, seven-year old Yang Peiyi, was replaced at the last minute because a senior Communist Party official thought it more important to feature a prettier child.

"The national interest requires that the girl should have good looks and a good grasp of the song and look good on screen," he said. "Lin Miaoke was the best in this. And Yang Peiyi's voice was the most outstanding."

You would think the Olympics would be about authenticity, competitors from every country doing their personal best. How is it possible, then, to justify choosing a "prettier" child over a genuinely talented one to represent her country?

In 1964, when Warner Brothers made a film of the Broadway hit show, "My Fair Lady," Julie Andrews, who had originated the role and garnered multiple awards in the US and Europe, was not cast as Eliza Doolittle because studio executives didn't consider her gorgeous enough. The role went to Audrey Hepburn, whose immense charm and beauty could never be disputed, but she was also tone-deaf. Her musical numbers were sung by Marni Nixon, for decades the movie voice of every actress who couldn't sing.

I had hoped we were past such superficial lunacy, but extreme reverence for physical perfection seems to be a worldwide phenomenon which won't quit. It is particularly disheartening when it trumps ability and sends young people the unhealthy message that no matter how hard they work to develop their talents, they will never be as good as those who were accidentally born beautiful.

In the words of Confucius, that other Chinese dude, "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."


Molly said...

Welcome back! How contrived! What a mean way to treat the little one with the beautiful voice, who I think also looks like a sweet little girl.

Molly said...
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thailandchani said...

I really like that quote. It does seem the whole world is infected with vanity.

Sometimes it occurs to me that most people don't really remember that physical beauty is an accident of birth. Physical beauty (regardless of the cultural standard that defines it) is entirely dependent on the two people who happen to make love and create a child.

Hardly anything to gloat about.

Yes, very superficial.. and not very bright.


MsLittlePea said...

I thought the little girl who really did sing was very cute. I don't get it either.

I can only imagine the damage to this pretty little girl's psyche that will incur from being told she was good enough to sing but not pretty enough to be seen.

meno said...

Image appears to be everything.

Kind of like those gymnasts whom i am pretty damn sure are not all 16.

The CEO said...

It would be simple to agree with you, but this isn't limited to the Chinese. The smallest American gymnast is already guaranted millions in advertising contracts because of her smile and her winning face. Certain American women swimmers have been doing advertising contracts for the last year, based on their looks and their Olympic prospects.

The motto of the Olympics used to be "faster, higher, farther". The costs to put on the Games is so huge now that Marketing also plays a huge part. China is just doing a PR job to the World after spending like George W. Bush to put on the Olympics. The fireworks we saw were also pre-taped, so they were also perfect. Los Angeles-like polution in Beijing I guess.

Anonymous said...

Yep, most disappointing. And I agree with the other commenters that we are certianly not immune form the same srt of manipulation and prejudice. Hell, even the stunnigly beautiful women who are models are altered by computers to be "perfect."

The Quiet Rage said...

The fireworks during the opening ceremony were also faked for us watching on television -- computer imaging.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you! It's nice to be back.

Both children are adorable, but sadly, the one whose beauty has been celebrated will probably grow up more confident than the one who was not considered worthy of being seen despite her angelic voice.


It should also be noted that physical beauty doesn't last a lifetime, but beauty of spirit does.

Sweet Pea,

I agree completely. When I was a child there was a saying, "Pretty is as pretty does." I guess that sentiment doesn't apply anymore.


Well, who is? :)

They look about half that age.


It's by no means only the Chinese. In fact, I used to believe that this kind of thing was typical of Western culture before I realized that it was so widespread.

I know the fireworks were taped. Beijing has been concerned about the effects of the unhealthy pollution on the games for a long time.


Yes, I have always derived comfort from that knowledge. I want to be airbrushed, too.

Quiet Rage,

Virtual fireworks don't seem the same, somehow.

Thank you for coming by!

EsLocura said...

The other night I was speaking with my niece (she is 14 yrs old) we talked about her trying out for the lead in a school production. As I encouraged her to "go for it" she told me that another girl who is 15 yrs old wants that part, and she is a lot prettier, I said so and she said "duh, auntie, haven't you heard the news, look what happened in china!" damn that "ugly" message is far reaching.

furiousBall said...

i think the real singer is a beautiful girl, think of how her parents feel

Rachel said...

There's so many fake people being fake, everywhere, and is it only competition making them that way?

Sometimes I wonder if there are any real people anywhere anymore. Sometimes I wonder that of myself.

Rachel said...
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Bob said...

China has done so much to put a pretty picture on these olympics - building walls to hide decrepit houses, banning traffic and close factories in an attempt to pollute less, not allowing people into the city from the provinces, etc. This is their stage from which they are trying to show the world that they worthy of 1st world status.

so, they are embracing the same ideals we do - if it looks good it must be good.

seems like moving ahead means becoming shallow. shame, that.

WNG said...

Welcome back!!! Missed you!!!
And, as usual, you're right. Her voice and her age would have made her beautiful in the eyes of the world anyway - who can resist a little child with a sweet voice? But China's going for perfection and not really caring so much about rules, propriety and feelings...yet again. They already kicked people out of their homes and changed athletes ages for these games, are we really surprised at this???

Nick said...

Unfortunately these days the Olympics like so much else seem to be about image and prestige above all. The ruthless removal of anything that got in the way of global acclaim - buildings, protesters, local residents, even entire neighbourhoods - was sickening to watch. The replacement of the 'unattractive' singer just sums it all up.

No doubt London will try to go even further in creating the perfect, unblemished Olympic spectacle, however fake it turns out to be.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

When I first encountered this story I was shocked; however, after watching a bit more of what’s happening in Beijing and again remembering how important the impression of perfection is to the Chinese Communist bureaucrats, I am no longer surprised. I am just saddened.

Cece said...

Sad. Very very sad.

Ian Lidster said...

Poor kid. But, that to me is what the Olympics are all about. But, I'm very cynical about the concept to begin with.

I was going to write how Milli Vanilli would look in Chinese, but I thought it might be deemed a tad racist.

To me, by the way, Julie Andrews was more attractive as a woman than the 'unable to sing a lick' Audrey Hepburn. I passed her on the street once in Honolulu and could not believe how skinny she was. And that was before she was ill.

Speaking of Julie Andrews, how about Harry Belafonte having his voice dubbed in Carmen Jones? Not operatic enough, he was told.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I hope your niece gets the part. That is a clear instance where talent should count.

(And if she's related to you, I'm sure she's a beautiful girl.)


I agree. Both children are beautiful. Apparently, the singer has crooked baby teeth which everyone knows is more important than her great pipes.


You seem pretty real to me, darlin'. It's those OTHER people I worry about.


One could draw that conclusion. Facade over substance seems to be the order of the day. It's really sad when a country bans its own citizens in the interest of show biz.


Yes, the little gymnasts... there is no way those children are anywhere near 16. They are barely out of diapers. So there's another fine message, that the end justifies the means and cheating is acceptable.


You have to wonder whom, exactly, is to benefit from China's improved status in the world community if its people are being treated so shabbily.

St. Nick,

I am quite saddened, too. I am not a very active sports fan, but the Olympics is an opportunity for young people from around the world to meet and forge an understanding based on common interests and shared abilities. Lying and cheating destroy not only the image of those who do it, but gnaw away at the fabric of the event itself.


Yes, it truly is.


You should be careful lest you be mistaken for a member of the Spanish basketball team.

I always thought that Julie Andrews was very beautiful and immensely talented, and that Audrey Hepburn was utterly charming and lovely, too. But casting a non-singer in a musical was just crazy. (Marni Nixon sang for Natalie Wood in "West Side Story," too.) As for Harry Belafonte, that's just criminal. He is (still) a beautiful man with a gorgeous, sexy voice.

seventh sister said...

I hope that we are not that far gone. No one could ever say that Barbar Streisand is a classic beauty but she has starred in some great musicals, comedies and dramatic roles due to her talent. Her off beat looks have been played up in some rolls such as Katie in 'The Way We Were'.

Some people don't consider Debra Winger a classic beauty either but it doesn't seem to have slowed her down much. She has played some great romantic leads.

I also think it is a shame that China did what it did with the little girls and I also know that the Chinese people don't necessarily share the same values that we do and try not to judge them for it. We all seem to be concerned that one childl was not deemed pretty enough but there was also one who was not deemed talented enough.

The Fool said...

How American. They'll make great Captalists.

Jocelyn said...

I read this news story, too, and was appalled--mostly for that little girl with the great voice...and her own darling face that somehow didn't measure up.

Hand to heaven, but your posts get me riled in the best way.

Julia said...

The singing scandal is just one of the many things I'm angry at China for. Their underage gymnasts really have me fuming. You can't look at those girls and tell me that they're all at least sixteen.

Brissiemum2 said...

Yep, it sends a terrible message to young and vulnerable girls everywhere, doesn't it......pretty wins and plain is always less desirable! Sad!

Anonymous said...

Boy, it is an amazing story. More than Milli Vanilli, this one has an odd twist -- we learned and were reminded so much about Chinese culture during the opening ceremony -- symbolism and piety and the beauty of truth. It was amazing how much "goodness" was packed into those few hours -- things we should hold dear to our hearts. I watched and wanted to be a better person

And then this story breaks and seems to belie everything that we saw that night, all the lessons of living we were taught. Heartbreaking.

And welcome back. It is sooooo good to read you once again. What a joy.

Anonymous said...

And the "real" little girl is cute a button!!!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I LOVE Debra Winger, especially her wonderful husky voice.

It did occur to me that the little girl whose beauty was featured was not allowed to sing, but her instant celebrity probably makes up for it.

My Chinese-born doctor tells me that there are still areas of the country where baby girls are drowned. He says that in another generation, there won't be anyone left for the boys to marry. This kind of puts the cultural values thing in perspective.. at least both little girls were allowed to live.

No Fool,

I think they're already there.


It was unfair to both children, but more unfair to the little songbird. I also can't imagine why anyone thought she was anything but darling.


The baby gymnasts look about 7 or 8 at most. It's a disgrace.

I would like to have better feelings about China than I do as I have always been interested in the culture, but the human rights violations in Tibet, Darfur, Burma and elsewhere overshadow the image they are trying to present at the Olympics.


It's especially sad when someone arbitrarily determines that Girl A is prettier than Girl B. Beauty is supposed to be in the eye of the beholder with no absolutes.

Thank you for your visit!


It's always disheartening to discover that we've been had, that the values put forth were mere merchandising.

I didn't see the opening ceremonies, so I really shouldn't offer an opinion, but there was much to be emulated in ancient Chinese culture (except for its treatment of females, of course.)

I think that Communism has eradicated much of the beauty of one of the oldest civilizations on earth, and that oddly, it has come full circle and behaves a lot like the Capitalism it eschews.

And I agree with you. The little singer is precious.

On a limb with Claudia said...


You have such a great heart. I'm delighted to know you.

Stinkypaw said...

Not only are they aiming for perfection in sports, now this! TOtally ridiculous and as bad as doping among the athletes... why can't we just accept people for they they are and look like, geez!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

It's sickening. All of it.
A beautiful facade for a whole country to impress the world.

It's the equivalent of putting liptstick on a pig (not one word about Miss Piggy). Glossed up garbage. False advertising.
I love what Chani said: "...infected with vanity".

And all the while fueling the destruction of other cities and countries and people... for what?

It strikes me as shocking irony that this culture which has put on it's painted face for the world, in its effort to be seen as a civilization of beauty, peace, tolerance, patience, morality and values, is inherently saturated with the deeply juxtaposed ideals that they are trying to mask.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Maria said...

And think of the lesson those two girls came away with. The prettier one knew that she was a fraud and the one with the voice was made to feel less than.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Awwww, you're going to make me cry.

Look who's talking!

Stinky Paw,

It sounds so easy, doesn't it? I think the obsession with winning is as much a drug as any of the so-called performance enhancers.


Chani is a very smart lady. and you ain't no slouch neither.

It saddens me that there is less and less difference among cultures. We are all sacrificing our uniqueness for a kind of one-size-fits-all monotony and it's increasingly difficult to tell where in the world you are.


It almost sounds like a Grimm's fairy tale - and they were very grim indeed.

RED MOJO said...

I just can't tell you how disturbing this is to me!

comfortandjoy said...


I don't have anything good to say except that this disgusts the hell out of me.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Me, too. It's just wrong.


Children learn values from their elders. These are really crappy values, ergo the kids don't have a chance.

I would have hoped that the Olympics would raise the bar for everyone, not deteriorate into meanness and cheating.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I knew it was serious when I saw a Krispy Kreme donuts stand in Waterloo station, in London.

We are all falling to even less than mediocrity and individuality has become the bane of humanity.

More's the pity.

Angela said...

Thanks for calling this out. Absolutely. *Shaking my head in sadness*

heartinsanfrancisco said...


And a McDonald's on the Champs Elysees.

Increasingly it seems that mediocrity rules, and that is terribly sad for all of us. I would rather fail on my own terms than succeed by conforming to some popular notion of merit.


What were they thinking? Well, we know what they were thinking, but WHY?

Miao said...

China was also sending a very wrong message to the Chinese people: It is perfectly all right to claim credit for other people's effort and contributions, that it is totally OK to discriminate someone because of his appearance. I have no doubt that if Stephen Hawking were born in China, China would be greatly ashamed of his disabilities and deformed physique, and would allow a Chinese 'Brad Pitt' to take credit for his brilliant scientific discoveries instead. Shouldn't we all be glad that Hawking wasn't born in China?

Miao said...

By the way, I am Chinese by race as well, but I'm a Singaporean. I think China has one of the richest cultures in the world and Chinese is arguably the most beautiful language; so it really puzzles me how such a wonderful country can produce such superficial, dishonest and unreasonable leaders.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


What an interesting idea you put forth regarding Stephen Hawking and Brad Pitt. Personally, I think Pitt looks quite simian, but that's irrelevant.

The message is a wrong and harmful one, wherever it is delivered.

I also consider China to have one of the richest cultures on earth and have always been drawn to many aspects of it, so the way the Olympics was handled in some respects was disappointing.

Thank you for your visit!

Miao said...

Wow. This is the first time I hear someone describe Brad Pitt as 'simian'!

Your blog is interesting. I will return more often in future. :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Pitt looks like an ape to me, an ape in good clothing.

Now Chow Yun-Fat -- that's different!!! He is a seriously gorgeous man.

Please do come back. I will always welcome your visits.

Miao said...

Chow Yun Fatt is very charming, isn't he? ;)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oh, yes, he is very charming.

Brad Pitt, eat your heart out.