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Olympic Opening Leaks & Cultural Rivalry

Posted on:2008-08-01     Posted by :林俐

By Lin Li

South Korean television station SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System) has come under ferocious attacks in China for revealing a "secret" held dear by the nation – details of the upcoming Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.

The outrage from the Chinese public appeared to be stronger – at least in wording - than the official reaction that came on Thursday (July 31), when the Games organizer BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide expressed "disappointment" over the leak.

In the public sphere, words like "shameless", "thief", "immoral" and "moron" have been thrown at the broadcaster, which had on Wednesday (July 30) – just nine days before the Games' opening – aired some two minutes of footage showing a full-dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony, along with detailed commentary.

The SBS later issued a statement saying the footages shown was not an official rehearsal with an off-the-record embargo, but of practicing scenes filmed openly by its journalists; and that it regretted if the report displeased the organizer.

The explanation failed to calm public criticism. Online polls by major Chinese internet portals revealed that majority of Chinese despised SBS for spoiling the mystery of a showcase that the 1.3 -billion population had been waiting for seven years – yet the Korean viewers got a glimpse first.

On the MSN China website, where news related to the leak remained on top of its Today's Focus column throughout Thursday and Friday, over 2.6 million people were polled as of 2pm on Friday.

Those who believed that SBS had violated journalism ethics formed 40.83% of the respondents, while 32.2% strongly criticized and despised the broadcaster. Another 22.48% demanded legal action, and only 4.49% of the respondents said it was none of their business.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV voiced up during a news analysis program called News 1+1, and the special focus slot was entitled "It's our joy, don't rob it from us".

One of its news anchors bluntly called the SBS as the biggest loser in the controversy, adding that when Chinese media reported on the issue, even if journalists had learnt of the details, they used fuzzy descriptions to maintain the aura of mystery and avoid spoiling the "magic show".

One Chinese blogger painted in detail the ordeal of atteding the rehearsal, yet nothing was written about the show itself. As the author put it: "It is inconvenient to disclose details of the opening ceremony in advance, thus I have deleted 800 words here."

On a forum hosted on popular Chinese portal Sina, though some questioned the security checks and few doubted the need to guard the opening like a state-secret, majority of the messages left were attacks launched at the SBS in particular, and some targeted Koreans in general.

Posts surrounding the theme that the SBS had stolen the moment by airing footages obtained through "theft", as in the words of forum participants, spun off into other controversies related to "cultural theft" that had cropped up in recent years.

That could be traced back to 2005, when South Korea successful won UNESCO's recognition for its traditional Tano Festival as its national cultural asset and the world's intangible heritage.

The Tano festival falls on the same day as Chinese Duanwu Festival (or more commonly known as Dragon Boat Festival), on the fifth day of the fifth month in lunar calendar. The festival is rooted in paying tribute to a Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself more than two thousand years ago in order to alert the King of Chu State to revitalize his kingdom.

For a long time, though Duanwu was widely celebrated by Chinese, it was not made a national holiday like in South Korea. Only this year the Chinese government has listed it as a national holiday for the first time.

South Korea's move to apply for UNESCO recognition then sparked off debates as Chinese held that it was akin to claiming Qu Yuan was of Korean origin.

In the following years, more heritage contesting entailed. In 2007, South Korea issued a new 10,000-won currency with an armillary sphere printed on it, claiming the ancient astronomical clock which China took pride in having invented to be Korean national heritage.

Over the years, some Korean scholars also claimed to have traced the blood ties of several celebrated ancient Chinese personalities to Korean origin, including that of philosopher Confucius, royal court medicine man Li Shizhen, and Chinese beauty Xi Shi. One latest unconfirmed but widely circulated claim on Chinese websites since July 31 said that yet another Korean scholar suspected father of modern China Sun Yat-sen may also have Korean blood.

In light of the Olympic opening leaks, the rivalry of cultural identity between the two neighboring countries has been refreshed in Chinese online communities. Is SBS surprised by the backlash?


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