Mime Time

"The reason was for the national interest," the chief music director of the ongoing Beijing Olympics told Beijing Radio. "The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression. Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects. But in the aspect of voice, Yang Peiyi is flawless."

So you tell one girl that she doesn't sing well enough and the other that she doesn't look pretty enough.

A top official of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo made the decision. Literally 15 percent of the world watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last week. And what they saw, at least in my book, was not China at its best, but the ugliness and cruelty &

the lies and deception &

at its core. Shame on them.

The substitution of singers is not the only piece of sophistry and manipulation that has emerged so far from China's Olympic charade. The fireworks that supposedly filled the Beijing sky on opening night were supplemented by a piece of digital fiction for television viewers, inserted into the broadcast out of concern that the polluted capital city would look as smoggy as it often is to viewers around the world who the Chinese are so determined to fool. And notwithstanding the announcement that the games were a sellout, the Chinese have admitted that they recruited and outfitted "volunteers" to fill seats at events that would otherwise expose the failings of the Chinese organizers. Imagine not being able to fill a stadium in a country that is home to as many people as China. That takes work.

So the Chinese lie and cheat. Big news. The American women gymnasts have already figured that out. The Olympic spirit of fair and open competition, of sports above politics, is infected with hype and ratings and propaganda. Gambling in Casablanca? I'm shocked. If only Adolf Hitler had seen such possibilities.

But there is something about the switcheroo with the 7- and 9-year-old singers, the willingness to put both of them down in an effort to make the country look better, that leaves me viewing China with more distaste than did all the other shenanigans they've tried to hide from us.

Miaoke became an instant celebrity.

Maybe she really didn't mind miming instead of singing. But I doubt it. And I find it positively unbelievable that 7-year-old Peiyi, when told that her crooked teeth made her less than flawless and therefore inappropriate for viewing, wasn't hurt by the casual cruelty of the leaders of her country. She is being quoted as saying she didn't mind the switch, that she was honored to have her voice used. Who do you think told her to say that?

The injuries of childhood don't just disappear. I still remember being told to mime the words and not sing out when I was the age of these girls. It turned me off to music, sad to say, and to this day I find myself feeling jealous when friends tell me of the pleasure and peace they find at the symphony. And when a teacher, many years ago, said much the same thing to my daughter, we found her another teacher who taught her to sing and love music.

I also remember my mother telling me &

for reasons it took me decades to understand had more to do with her own lack of confidence than anything else &

I wasn't pretty, that I was too chubby, that my features weren't "fine" enough, that I should not expect to be one of the popular girls. Now, as an adult, I look at the pictures of my younger self and marvel that she could say such a thing. It was horribly hurtful, and it wasn't true.

I feel the same way when I look at the pictures of the 7-year-old who was not flawless enough to stand before the world and sing her country's national anthem. She looks very cute to me. I hope someone is telling her that her country's leaders were wrong. But it being China, I doubt it. "Ode to the Motherland" was the song she sang. Some Motherland.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at .

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