Olympic Opening Ceremony Celebrates ‘One World, One Dream’
By Tim Hipps
National Guard Bureau
BEIJING, Aug. 12, 2008 The elaborate opening ceremony of the 29th Olympiad here Aug. 8 featured a display of China’s long and distinguished history and culture intertwined with the “One World, One Dream” theme of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“Beijing, you are host to the present and the gateway to the future,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge proclaimed before a sellout crowd of 91,000 at National Stadium. “Thank you.”
An audience of 400,000,000 was expected to watch the spectacle on television.
“Friends have come from afar, how happy we are,” is a well-known saying of Confucius, a famous Chinese educator and thinker whose thoughts deeply influenced later generations.
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were among more than 80 world dignitaries in attendance, along with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Bush became the first U.S. president to attend an Olympic Games outside of the United States while in office. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, also made history by occupying the chair of “Chef de Mission of the U.S. Olympic Team,” marking the first time the U.S. Olympic Committee has had an honorary chief of mission.
The four-hour extravaganza featured 110 minutes of music, beginning with the “fou,” the most ancient of Chinese percussion instruments, usually made of clay or bronze. Manned by 2,008 performers, the fou-produced sound of rolling spring thunder greeted friends from all over the world.
The music was specially created by 18 composers for a production that displayed 15,153 sets of costumes in 47 styles. Some of the performers rehearsed for 13 months in preparation for one of China’s most magical nights.
Six hundred people were involved in the installation, direction, and safety supervision for a display of 11,456 fireworks set off from 287 points atop the stadium and 8,428 more from 27 positions in the central area. Another 1,462 glowing and sparkling fireworks illuminated the upper rim of the stadium.
Gunpowder was invented in China during the Song Dynasty, 960 to 1276. People used the ingredients for gunpowder as medicines for illnesses in ancient times; the name “gunpowder” means “burning medicines.” The invention of gunpowder is one of China’s outstanding achievements in the history of human civilization that changed the course of world history.
A painting scroll revealed the origin and development of China’s history and culture. Paper is another of the four great inventions of ancient China. As one child sang “A Hymn to My Country,” 56 children clustered around the national flag of the People’s Republic of China to represent the country’s 56 ethnic groups. Immediately following, the famous Chinese painting “A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains” was visible on the stadium floor while the ancient stringed instrument, “guqin,” provided the “Sounds of Utmost Antiquity.”
Cliff painting, earth pottery and bronze vessels were displayed to reflect artistic developments of the Shang Dynasty -- 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C. -- and the Zhou Dynasty, 1046 B.C. to 221 BC.
The Great Wall was illustrated by smooth lines, both concise and vivid, with peach blossoms, romantic and enjoyable, that event officials said illustrated the sweet wishes of peace-loving Chinese people.
The “Silk Road” was an important vehicle for economic and cultural exchange between China and Western countries. More than 2,000 years ago, trade caravans set out from China with expensive silk, crossed the Hexi Corridor, and entered the European continent.
More than 600 years ago, Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty led seven shipping fleets with 27,000 people aboard a long voyage from Quanzhou that arrived in Western Asia and Eastern Africa, thus creating the well-known “Maritime Silk Road.” On opening night, a performer held an ancient compass, another of the four great inventions of ancient China.
In a later segment, Chinese pianist Lang Lang and 5-year-old Li Muzi welcomed a brand-new age. Lang is the first Chinese pianist to have long-term cooperation with first-class orchestras in Berlin and Vienna. He has played recitals in many of the most famous music halls in the world. During that performance, the kite was introduced as another Chinese invention.
An exhibition of Taiji manifested the integration of traditions and the future by illustrating the unity of man and nature. Taijiquan is the most representative shadow boxing among Chinese martial arts, characterized by the “combination of the dynamic and static and the interdependence of hardness and softness.”
The Eight Diagrams of Taiji symbolize eight natural phenomena -- heaven, earth, thunder, wind, water, fire, mountain and swamp -- that represent the changes of all things on Earth. A total of 2,008 Taiji performers formed a circle that illustrated grandness and consummation in the traditional Chinese concept.
As the program progressed, the smiling faces of children from around the world demonstrated the theme of “One World, One Dream.” A gigantic, 16-ton globe arose from the floor, adorned with 58 actors running on nine rings covered with an Olympic torch pattern. The runners seemingly were free from gravity and full of magic, fantasy and bravery.
The march of nations featured Olympic athletes from 205 countries, led into the stadium by Greece, in accordance with tradition. The host team from China concluded the march of nations.
As members of Team USA entered, they clearly received the loudest ovation of the evening -- until Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming led the Chinese contingent into the stadium.
The throng representing 596 U.S. athletes occupied more than 100 meters of the running track. As U.S. flag bearer Lopez Lomong was rounding the turn, members of Team USA were still filing into the arena from the opposite end of the stadium.
After eight Chinese Olympians carried the Olympic flag into the stadium, the banner was raised and the Olympic Anthem was played. Athletes' and officials' oaths were read, symbolic doves were released, and the Olympic torch relay concluded a 33-day journey abroad that covered 97,000 kilometers across five continents and 21 countries.
Chinese Olympic gymnast Li Ning ran 500 meters in about three minutes around the wall of the open-air stadium’s inner roof in what was possibly the most fascinating sight of the night. Supported by a cable, Ning at times appeared to be running on air before lighting the cauldron.
“Many would say that the Olympic Games are of great significance and have profound meanings,” opening ceremony artistic director Zhang Yimou said. “But I once heard someone say: ‘They are all our guests. We should make them happy.’
(Tim Hipps works at the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.)