One World

On the mountainside directly behind the Badaling section of the Wall there is a large sign with the English-language phrase, “One World One Dream.” Echoing the title of the 1985 charity anthem “We Are the World” (with which a People’s Liberation Army band had hilariously serenaded Obama at a state dinner the night before his Badaling visit), One World One Dream was the official motto of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This seemingly straightforward slogan, however, is actually grounded on a peculiar tension, balanced be­tween parallel appeals to cosmopolitan consensus and national dis­tinctiveness.

Beijing’s Olympic committee claimed that the One World One Dream motto was a composite of nearly a quarter of a million suggested wordings the committee had received from around the world. Underlying this facade of global consensus, however, is a strategic ambiguity at the heart of the slogan, in that it pointedly leaves unstated what the nature of this “dream” is that the world is imagined to be sharing. The motto’s rhetorical echo of China’s con­temporary One China principle suggests, for instance, that the slo­gan’s underlying logic could be interpreted as: One World One Dream. . . One China. The international protests that persistently dogged Beijing’s preparations for the Olympic Games, meanwhile, suggest a rather different reading that was made explicit when a group of international protesters rappelled down the Mutianyu sec­tion of the Wall near Beijing in July 2007 with a banner that read “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.”

Just as the appeal of the One World motto lies in its strategic am­biguity, the Wall’s status as a globally recognized symbol of China is predicated on its ability to permit a range of interpretations while appearing to present a unified front. The Wall’s power as a national icon, in other words, is made possible by the protean transforma­tions of its representations as they circulate throughout China and beyond.

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