Ok, here’s a question to which I’m sure I should know the answer, but don’t. Let me take you back to the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony last summer. Lin Miaoke, you will doubtless remember, was the nine-year-old girl whose singing apparently accompanied the arrival of the Chinese flag in the Bird’s Nest Stadium.
You will doubtless also remember that she was miming – the song was actually sung by seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, who won a competition to take part in the ceremony but who was judged by a member of the Politburo to be too ugly to be seen representing China. (Incidentally, Yang Peiyi had already replaced another girl who was apparently even less visually suited to the job.)
There was something of an outcry, and petitions to let Yang Peiyi sing at the closing ceremony. All jolly splendid. But here is the question: Just why is it more important to be fair to ‘ugly’ kids than to tone-deaf ones? Maybe Lin Miaoke was just as wounded that her voice wasn’t acceptable?
I know the traditional answer is that how well you sing is down to years of hard work and dedication, it’s something you can improve, so you have a choice about it. Your appearance is just a given.
This ‘choice’ logic is the same that’s used to determine what groups attract protection from discrimination. (Just while we’re in the area, I may as well point out that this is why cyclists never have much joy in arguing that some of the abuse we get from newspaper columnists is equivalent to racism. You can’t stop being black, but you can stop being a cyclist.)
But with seven-year-olds? Most kids I ever remember being good at singing just were – it wasn’t something they’d worked at, not at that age.
The real answer I suppose would to have been to let Yang Peiyi mime to the singing of Lin Miaoke at the closing ceremony. I wonder why no one suggested that.