a curious Yankee in Europe's court

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Yang Peiyi we hardly heard you

Posted on the August 14th, 2008

If I were king of the world or ruler of China — neither of which I have any chance of ever becoming and I’m okay with that — I would send a limo to the home of that little seven-year-old Chinese girl with the killer voice (who got shoved behind the curtains because she reportedly failed the cuteness test) and I would bring her to the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Then I would put her on center stage and cue the orchestra.

I’m willing to bet a pair of favorite old flip-flops that a fair share of the world’s population would tune in and hum along as she sang her heart out. And in the process, Chinese leaders would win more points with public opinion than all the Olympic athletes of all time.

What could possibly top such a closing act and the restoration of good sense and fairmindedness it would represent? The only possible thing would have been if Yang Peiyi had been standing there in a pretty red dress in the opening ceremonies singing her heart out. But that’s a bell that can’t be unrung, so there it is.

For a humorous, compassionate and informative take on what happened to Yang Peiyi, I highly highly recommend Gail Collins’ column in yesterday’s New York Times (“I’m Singin’ in Beijing” Aug 13, 2008). Collins is a former editor of the Times editorial page, and was the first woman ever in that particular top job.

In her columns, Collins often approaches subjects with an emphasis on the informed perspective. Yesterday, for example, she pointed out that the China leadership is not at all alone in the world in its favoring of show over substance.

In this quote from the Yang Peiyi column, Collins frames the overall issue with her usual wit:

Now this is an Olympic crisis everybody can get into. While your heart goes out to the athletes suffering the agony of defeat, very few of us can internalize the trauma. Really, you have to be able to imagine yourself getting onto the balance beam before you can relate to the pain of falling off.

The chance that the Chinese leaders will right this particular wrong done to a child, not to mention the human heart, is pretty slim, I think. Reading Collins’ piece on it and her quotes from various experts at least offers the comfort that this was a slight felt round the world.

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