Chinese Moveable Type at the Beijing Olympics: What Did It Say?
During the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics, audiences around the world bore witness to what appeared at first to be an animatronic display of oversized Chinese moveable type characters. From one moment to the next, they undulated hypnotically like the surface of a lake, only then to freeze into discernible shapes and configurations, such as the character he (和), meaning “harmony.” Quite suddenly, this crescendo of wonder and spectacle lifted off to even greater heights, all thanks to the final “reveal”: these carefully coordinated movements had been controlled, not by a computer (which would have been impressive enough), but through the orchestrated knee-bends and bodily elongations of 897 separate individuals, each ensconced inside his or her own respective Chinese character.
Only after the initial wonder began to subside did a new curiosity set in for me: Which Chinese characters were they, and what was being “printed,” exactly? Perhaps because of the “surprise ending” on that August night, it seems that no one has bothered to find out. And so, working with my research assistant Youjia Li to compile as many high-resolution photographs of the ceremony as I could find – and there are surprisingly few – I have set out to “read” the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, quite literally.
Rather than go it alone, I’ve decided to reach out here to the web community, to see what we can find together. Do you notice anything interesting? Do you by chance have any more high-resolution photos that show the rest of the characters? Do you notice any errors in my infographic? Any and all insightful comments will be cited with gratitude in my forthcoming book on Chinese information technology.
Please click here to download a high-resolution version of the infographic.