BEIJING - A 7-year-old Chinese girl was not good-looking enough for the Olympics opening ceremony, so another little girl with a pixie smile lip-synched "Ode to the Motherland," a ceremony official said - the latest example of the lengths Beijing took for a perfect start to the Summer Games.
A member of China's Politburo asked for the last-minute change to match one girl's face with another's voice, the ceremony's chief music director, Chen Qigang, said in an interview with Beijing Radio.
"The audience will understand that it's in the national interest," Chen said in a video of the interview posted online Sunday night.
The news follows reports that some footage of the fireworks exploding across China's capital during the ceremony was digitally inserted into television coverage, apparently over concerns that not all of the 29 blasts could be captured on camera.
China has been eager to present a flawless Olympics image to the world, shooing migrant workers and so-called petitioners who come to the central government with grievances from the city and shutting down any sign of protest.
The country's quest for perfection apparently includes its children.
Lin Miaoke's performance Friday night, like the ceremony itself, was an immediate hit. "Nine-year-old Lin Miaoke becomes instant star with patriotic song," the China Daily newspaper headline said yesterday.
But the real voice behind the tiny, pigtailed girl in the red dress who wowed 91,000 spectators at the National Stadium on opening night really belonged to 7-year-old Yang Peiyi. She apparently failed the cuteness test with officials organizing the ceremony, but Chen said her voice was judged the most beautiful.
"The national interest requires that the girl should have good looks and a good grasp of the song and look good on screen," Chen said. "Lin Miaoke was the best in this. And Yang Peiyi's voice was the most outstanding."
During a live rehearsal soon before the ceremony, the Politburo member said Miaoke's voice "must change," Chen said. He didn't name the official.
So Peiyi's voice was matched with Miaoke's face.
"We had to make that choice. It was fair both for Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi," Chen told Beijing Radio. "We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance."
A photo of Peiyi posted Yesterday on popular Web site Sina.com shows a smiling girl with bangs and crooked teeth. A China News Service story posted with the photo says a China Central Television reporter asked Peiyi whether she felt regret over the opening ceremony.
Peiyi responded that just having her voice used for the opening ceremony was an honor.
Whether the move was unethical has become a hot topic among Chinese.
"The organizers really messed up on this one," said Luo Shaoyang, 34, a retail worker in Beijing. "This is like a voice-over for a cartoon character. Why couldn't they pick a kid who is both cute and a good singer? This damages the reputation of both kids for their future, especially the one lip-synching. Now everyone knows she's a fraud."
Zhang Xinyi, 22, who works in marketing in Beijing, disagreed.
"I can understand why they picked the prettier girl. They need to maintain a certain aesthetic beauty during the opening ceremonies. This situation is not so bad, especially since it gives two people an opportunity to shine rather than just one."
Peiyi is a first-grader at the Primary School affiliated to Peking University. Her tutor, Wang Liping, wrote in her blog that Peiyi is both cute and well-behaved, with a love for Peking opera.
"She doesn't like to show off. She's easygoing," Wang wrote. She and other school officials couldn't be reached yesterday.
Another fly in the perfection ointment concerns attendance. Venues have plenty of empty seats, crowds at the Olympic grounds have been disappointing, and there's been a lack of buzz around the city.
International Olympic Committee officials urged Beijing organizers yesterday to let more people into the Olympic Green - the centerpiece zone of the games where most of the main venues are located - and find ways to fill up the arenas.
"We've been saying, 'You're missing a great opportunity to get more of your people in here to celebrate your games,'" said Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC's coordination commission for Beijing. "I would want to stress how important it is for the host city that the venues are seen to be full and everybody has the opportunity to enjoy the festivities."
Wang Wei, spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee, acknowledged there were not enough people in the green.
About 40,000 people passed through the area Monday, he said. The IOC suggested the figure should be increased to up to 200,000 daily and that organizers issue more passes to allow visitors into the green, which covers 2,856 acres in northern Beijing.
The Olympics' global sponsors are each paying tens of millions of dollars to be associated with the games but have complained that few visitors have been let through to see their pavilions.