Little Lin Miaoke won the hearts and minds of the Chinese people for her stirring rendition of "Ode to the Motherland" at the Olympic opening ceremony. But there was anger in Beijing yesterday at the revelation that she mimed the rousing patriotic anthem, while the real singer was a little girl whose looks just didn't make the grade.
Chen Qigang, musical director of the ceremony, said the song was not actually sung by Lin, who has been christened the "Smiling Angel", but by Yang Peiyi, also aged seven. He said Lin had been chosen ahead of the more gifted singer because she was prettier. "The reason for this is that we must put our country's interest first," Mr Chen told Beijing Radio. "The girl appearing on the picture must be flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people. We had to make that choice. It was fair to [both girls]. We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance."
Lin made a huge splash in the domestic and international media for her performance. There were scores of stories about how the little girl, who has been in TV commercials with the actress Zhao Wei and the champion hurdler Liu Xiang, had to get through a tough interview process and beat off hundreds of other hopefuls to get the nod to sing the song.
Yang Peiyi, a first-grader at a primary school in Beijing, was putting on a brave face, telling Chinese television she did not regret the fact that her face had not been used for the ceremony and that she was honoured to have her voice beamed to the estimated 15 per cent of the world's population that tuned in. Some Chinese bloggers likewise claimed both girls were heroes, but others were horrified at the message the decision sends to children. "Since this happened, seven-year-old kids all think you should judge a person according to his or her image," said one blogger. "They now think that being good looking is better than having a good voice. Shame!"
Another blogger added: "Personal image can have an effect on a country, and a negative image is not in the national interest? What a joke! Why don't they just cancel the programme? Don't relate everything to the national interest."
The lip-syncing scandal came as organisers revealed that the 29-footprint firework display at the heart of the opening ceremony contained much digital sleight of hand, and that digitally enhanced video was superimposed on to live footage of the fireworks section outside the stadium.
Gao Xiaolong, head of the visual effects team, told The Beijing Times it had taken almost a year to create the 55-second sequence. He said actual fireworks could be seen outside the stadium but it was logistically impossible to film them by helicopter, so the decision was made to recreate the effect digitally.
The ruse even extended to getting the weather forecast right so as to simulate the same smog as on the night, and adding camera shake to simulate filming from a helicopter. "Seeing how it worked out, it was still a bit too bright compared to the actual fireworks. But most of the audience thought it was filmed live, so that was mission accomplished," said Mr Gao.
Another trick China is using to boost the atmosphere at the Olympics are rent-a-crowd volunteers to fill embarrassingly empty seats at some events, including judo and archery. Some tickets have been bought as an act of patriotism or as gifts for business contacts – but have not been used. Mr Wang, a senior official on the Beijing organising committee, said: "If they find that there are not enough people, or if they find that there are too many empty seats, they organise some cheerleaders."Reuse content