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How the Opening Ceremony was born

Updated: 2008-08-09 15:49:15

How the Opening Ceremony was born
Burning "footprints" (Photo credit: Xinhua)

Special report: The Opening Ceremony of the Beijing2008 Olympic Games

(BEIJING, August 9) -- On the night of August 8, 2008, the sound of heavy footsteps thundered across the "Bird's Nest" as colossal burning "footprints" marched in the sky along Beijing's central axis all the way through the Olympic Green to the National Stadium. As the last "footprint" lit up the sky above the National Stadium, spectators all over the world began a virtual tour of Chinese culture; what they saw was ancient China and young China, a nation wishing to build a harmonious home together with friends from all parts of the world.

More than 20,000 performers from all parts of China including Hong Kong, Macao and Chinese Taipei, regaled audience members with martial arts performances and artistic story telling through song and dance. On the ever-changing backdrop and accompanied by amazingly complex displays of fireworks, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games was launched, literally, with a bang.

The creative team

BOCOG started soliciting programs worldwide for the Opening Ceremony in 2005. In 2006, 13 winning proposals started on their second round of competition. Based on the final results, a five-member directors' group was appointed from the three best teams. Zhang Yimou was chosen as artistic director and Zhang Jigang and Chen Weiya were selected as deputy artistic directors. Yu Jianping became director of the technology group and Lu Jiankang was made production director of the Opening Ceremony.

Creating artistic harmony

The creative team found that none of the 13 project proposals could be directly adopted for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. It would take time and effort to put a unique show together. Chinese elements that are already well-known in the world, such as Peking opera, martial arts, the Great Wall, terracotta warriors, the Silk Road and Zheng He's ocean voyages, were applied in almost all the proposals, but how should they be integrated?

The concept of a "painting scroll" emerged and most of the original program ideas unfolded around it, forming the artistic concept of "displaying the world on a small square," demonstrating the progress of blending Chinese culture with world culture.

Early drafts

In an early version of the program, complete with four chapters, the creative team used the ideas of paper, Chinese characters, the Earth and Chinese ink and brush painting as favored tools to express the themes of "civilization" and "harmony" in a liberal style. Leading officials also approved portrayals of the Silk Road and Zheng He's ocean voyages.

All members of the creative team believed that the Earth should appear in the Opening Ceremony, which thus conformed to the slogan "One World One Dream." Chinese painting was also one of the elements that the creative team emphasized. The concept of paper could combine perfectly with Chinese paintings and thus become the master link that ran through the performances of the Opening Ceremony.

In the summer of 2006, although a series of thoughts swarmed in the heads of the creative team members, they were having trouble harmonizing the themes in a final, cohesive manner.

Two parts to make the whole

By the end of April 2007, the creative team finally decided to divide the artistic performances into two parts: the first half, "Brilliant Civilization," would highlight the past 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, and the second half, "Glorious Era," would exhibit the great achievements and the new look of modern China, portraying the Chinese nation's dream of building harmoniously with the people of the world.

With this in mind, the final version of the project developed into the basic framework of a unique Chinese scroll, on which performers would expressively show the development of Chinese culture through time.

On this stage, "moveable type printing," "Confucius' 3,000 disciples," "The Analects of Confucius," "Zheng He's ocean voyages" and "Chinese ritual music" would all be showcased, depicting a weighty painting of the flow of Chinese civilization.

The long scroll would also incorporate China's more recent achievements, including the "Bird's Nest."

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