Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

5.4 Yang Peiyi, the “Jan Brady” of China

So despite Mike and Carol Brady’s wordy protestations to the contrary, we all know that Jan Brady was a second class citizen in the Brady household.  It was, as she claimed, “always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”  Marcia was the prettiest.  Marcia was the one who got all the boys’ attention.  Marcia sang lead vocals for the “Silver Platters.”

Yang Peiyi, the Chinese Jan Brady

Yang Peiyi, the Chinese Jan Brady

We met China’s own Jan Brady this year, the seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, when we discovered that she had been the beautiful voice behind the “Hymn to the Motherland” sung during the dazzling Olympic Opening Ceremonies.  But we never actually saw her.  Instead, we saw someone else:  another young girl had been chosen to lipsynch Yang’s voice, as it had been decided by the Chinese government that Yang Peiyi simply wasn’t pretty enough to represent her country on television.

Now I have seen pictures of Yang Peiyi; and I, for one, think she is adorable.  It incenses me that this cult of beauty has taken such strong hold around the world (and especially among young girls), suggesting that unless you look a certain way–meaning, perfect–you are somehow not worthy.  Hence the dramatic rise in teenagers who are getting plastic surgery before they are 18.  (Even in China cosmetic surgery has become a boom industry, as it is well known that attractive people earn significantly more than their “average”-looking counterparts.) 

But in ushering Yang Peiyi to the sidelines in August, China took this message of perfectionism and exploded it for all the world to see, much like the fake fireworks that were aired on television during Opening Ceremonies but weren’t actually set off in Beijing that night because of smoggy conditions (they filmed the fireworks we saw during an earlier dress rehearsal.)  The message that rang out was: image is all.  Appearance is the most important thing.  Looks matter more than talent.

In broadcasting this type of message, China is certainly not the only guilty party; the beauty bias is endemic to much of the (particularly Western) world.  It just put those values on display in an unprecedented way.  In effect, it felt like the culmination of the “reality as artifice” movement that has become so commonplace in our own society.  The much-hyped advent of “reality” shows proves this, as they often feature very good looking people, in staged situations, competing for large sums of money and camera time.  It is hard to believe anything we see anymore.

Lin Maioke replaced Yang Peiyi in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Lin Maioke replaced Yang Peiyi in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics

But what makes Yang Peiyi’s case so fascinating is the graciousness with which she accepted her fate.  After competing in a difficult nationwide contest for the coveted singing role, and participating in all of the dress rehearsals up to the evening of the event, Yang stepped aside for the more physically “acceptable” Lin Miaoke.  “I am proud to have been chosen to sing at all,” she has said.  And when asked how it felt not to be on stage for the event, she simply replied, “my voice was there.”

Perhaps, at age 7, Yang has achieved the wisdom and self-composure it takes some of us a lifetime to learn.  Or, perhaps, she simply understands what often happens to pretty people who get a free ride through life.  After all, Marcia may have been the poster-worthy Brady girl; but she ultimately turned out to be a cocaine addict who swapped sex for drugs and even slept with her brother, Greg. (I know.  Eew.  I’m getting visions of the Johnny Bravo jacket.  But I digress.)  

So if being Jan means having a life of relative normalcy, maybe it isn’t such a bad gig, after all.  


A little taste of the Brady kids’ musical stylings, courtesy of YouTube.  Come to think of it, it might have been a great anthem for the Obama campaign:


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