(BEIJING, 8 August) -- China welcomed the world to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on Friday with the roll of thunder from two thousand fou drums and a battering of fireworks across the Chinese capital -- from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square to the National Stadium.
Fourteen thousand performers offered the 91,000 people in the National Stadium, popularly known as the 'Bird's Nest,' a history lesson in China's contribution to world civilization. The spectators that packed the stadium held the first of some seven million tickets to the 2008 Beijing Games, in which nearly 11,000 athletes will jump, run, cycle, fight, swim, sail, ride and shoot their way to Olympic glory.
The Opening Ceremony began with a 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 countdown in the Beijing dusk. Then a roar of thunder came from the floor of the National Stadium where 2,008 drummers beat line after line of fou, an ancient Chinese percussion instrument. The drummers chanted as they struck the fou, "Friends have come from afar, how happy we are." This phrase comes from the work of Confucius (551 BC-479 BC), one of China's most important educators and thinkers.
Then came the fireworks.
To begin, 29 huge firework displays were shot up into the air across the four axis of the ancient capital: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and just above the National Stadium. The impressive firework display was intended to remind viewers of China's legacy as the civilization that invented gunpowder, first used in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1276 AD).
As the firework footprints reached the Bird's Nest they illuminated the Olympic Rings in the stadium bringing a resounding round of applause from the audience.
Few could see the steel wires and pulleys that carried fairies across the sky above the Olympic rings.
In the second act, children representing each of China's 56 minority groups carried the five-starred national flag across the stadium to soldiers who were waiting to hoist it onto one of two flagpoles nearby. After the flag was raised, all joined in the singing of the Chinese national anthem, 'The March of the Volunteers.'
The second flagpole awaited the Olympic flag.
The next section of the Opening Ceremony paid homage to China's contribution to the world's writing heritage. Almost 900 performers came together to create characters with their bodies.
In one act, the performers danced across a stadium-length scroll of paper, creating an ink painting in their path. Next, 100s of men inside boxes bobbed up and down to create the Chinese character 'he,' which in Chinese means both harmony and peace.
The next section mingled celebrated forms of Chinese Opera with themes brought from China's ancient Silk Road traditions in a performance of music and color.
Before the audience was able to digest the artistic presentation of China's ancient past, the second section of the performance, entitled 'Beautiful Olympics,' which underlined aspects of modern China, began.
A thousand illuminated dancers formed a dove of peace that then broke up, regrouping to form of human-web that replicated the lattice structure of the 'Bird's Nest.'
The processional section of the ceremony began with a shattering display of shadow boxing martial arts and magnificent images of man and nature.
By tradition, the Greek Athletes led the 204 competing National Olympic Committees (NOC) teams into the stadium in a marching order dictated by the order of strokes in each country's Chinese name.
The Chinese delegation was the last to enter the stadium. Chinese flag bearer Yao Ming, accompanied by Ling Hao, a 9-year-old survivor from the Sichuan earthquake, led the Chinese delegation into the stadium.
Each athlete walked over a paper scroll on the floor of the stadium, leaving their footprints on what then became the Protocol Platform for the Olympic speeches. Clapping dancers and cheering athletes greeted the entry of the five-ringed Olympic Flag, as children sang the Olympic anthem and fireworks sparkled in the sky.
Liu Qi, President of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), welcomed the athletes. "Hosting an Olympic Games has been a century-old dream for the Chinese nation," he said. Adding, "A prime mission of the Beijing Olympic Games is to enhance cultural exchanges between peoples throughout the world."
IOC President Jacques Rogge added his welcome, telling China that the world was grieving with China and the millions who lost family members or were displaced in the tragic earthquake in China's Sichuan province. "We were moved by the great courage and solidarity of the Chinese people," he said. "As one dream, may these Olympic Games bring you joy, hope, and pride."
Then China's President Hu Jintao formally declared the opening of the Games.
Eight flag bearers - Zhang Xielin, Pan Duo, Zheng Fengrong, Yang Yang, Yang Ling, Mu Xiangxiong, Xiong Ni and Li Lingwei then circled the stadium with the Olympic flag, which was raised as 80 children sang the Olympic Anthem in Greek.
Women's table tennis player Zhang Yining then read the Athletes' Oath on behalf of all competitors.
Then, the moment that more than 91,000 audience members and billions more around the world had been waiting for arrived - the Olympic Torch appeared-- carried around the arena by eight torchbearers.
The 7th bearer, champion Volleyball player Sun Jinfang, passed the flame to legendary Chinese gymnast Li Ning, who was hoisted high into the air to "run" along the roof's edge. When he reached the cauldron that had unfurled during the athlete's march through the stadium, a burst of flame lit up the sky.
The Ceremony ended with another magnificent fireworks display staged by a total of 600 engineers from hundreds of locations around the city, some as far away as the Great Wall of China.
Opening on 8th day of the 8th month of 2008, the 18-day-long Olympic Games will take place in 37 different venues, and will award a grand total of 302 Olympic medals to the winning athletes.