Children from China’s dominant Han population represented Tibetan and other ethnic groups in a key part of the Olympics opening ceremony, an official said in comments published today.
If confirmed, it would be the third faking incident of the ceremony, after it was revealed a girl was substituted as a singer because she was deemed too ugly, and supposedly live fireworks on the TV broadcast were pre-recorded.
Fifty-six children carried out the Chinese flag in a moment meant to showcase national harmony during last Friday’s ceremony at the Bird’s Nest stadium.
Organisers had claimed one was from each official ethnic group in China.
But they were in actual fact all from the Han group, which makes up more than 90% of China’s population, an official with the dance troupe that the children belonged to told the Asian Wall Street Journal.
“I assume they think the kids were very natural looking and nice,” the paper quoted Yuan Zhifeng, deputy director of Galaxy Children’s Art Troupe, as saying.
However, Olympic organisers had previously said that the children were from each of China’s officially recognised ethnic groups.
“Fifty-six children from 56 Chinese ethnic groups cluster around the Chinese national flag,” reads the media guide for the opening ceremony distributed on the night.
Beijing Olympic organising committee vice president Wang Wei today said he did not know whether the children were from the ethnic groups or not.
However, he gave a defence in general terms, saying it was common for official Chinese performances to have people dressed up to represent minority groups.
“I see nothing wrong exactly with (where) the children are from… it is a tradition in China in terms of giving a performance,” Wang told reporters.
When asked about the media guide for journalists that said the children were from those ethnic groups, and not the Han, he replied: “I think you are being very meticulous”.
A person who answered the phone at the Galaxy Children’s Art Troupe today would not answer questions from AFP.
The apparent fakery comes at a sensitive time for China over its ethnic groups, as Buddhist Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs have sought to use the Olympic spotlight to publicise what many say has been repression under Chinese rule.
Tibetan and Uighur leaders say their homelands have been flooded with Han Chinese since the 1950s as part of Beijing’s efforts to consolidate its rule in those far-western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.
Despite the efforts of China’s communist rulers to portray relations between the nation’s ethnic groups as “harmonious”, long-simmering tensions have erupted into violence in Tibet and Xinjiang during this Olympic year.
China sent in the military and sealed off Tibet following rioting in March, with Tibetan exiles reporting 203 people killed in the crackdown.
China denies those allegations and has reported the death of only Tibetan “rioter”.
In Xinjiang, more than 30 people have died this month in attacks on police and government offices that China’s rulers have largely blamed on Uighur “terrorists” who want independence.