Grand Olympic opening spectacle, China’s moment in time

August 8th, 2008 - 8:25 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

By Tarun Basu
Beijing, Aug 8 (IANS) It was a moment China had awaited for decades. With a spellbinding ceremony before 100,000 people in a stadium crafted in unwrapped steel like some space-age bird’s nest, China Friday launched the modern world’s 29th Olympic Games, telling the world it had arrived. Billions around the world watched in awe. Fifty years after chairman Mao Zedong withdrew his humiliated country from the Olympic movement in protest against the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) refusal to ban Taiwan, a resurgent China is using the world’s greatest show to make a global statement of achievement for what it widely expects to be its dominant century.

For President Hu Jintao, the Games were a great personal accomplishment after Tibetan dissidence and natural disasters threatened at one time to mar the Games.

As the stadium lay swathed in soft-blue light, with tens of thousands of Chinese chanting slogans and singing, what followed was a show blending traditional Chinese culture, modern technological wizardry and dazzling fireworks, all coordinated like clockwork.

Watching the meticulously choreographed three-and-a-half-hour ceremony was an array of presidents, prime ministers and other world leaders that included George W. Bush of the US with his extended family, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Shimon Peres of Israel, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Sonia Gandhi of India.

Besides those who witnessed it first-hand, an additional four billion people watched it globally. Millions of Chinese were glued to television in the streets and homes and there were reports of celebrations around the world - among them the widely dispersed diaspora - as the national obsession with the event peaked in a collective ability to reach a long-aspired goal despite a host of political problems exemplified in the Tibetan rebellion, unforeseen natural calamities and, most of all, international scepticism and censure about the country’s ability and moral right to organise the event.

Beijing’s efforts to display China as a modern state, on par with the world’s leading powers, have been clouded by a series of protests overseas over its human rights record, particularly over its handling of Tibet, even as it tried to distract it with a 19-leg, 137,000 km torch relay that culminated Friday night with the lighting of the Games cauldron by dubbing it the “Journey of Harmony”.

And till the ceremony actually began, under a sky that often threatened to erupt with a spoilsport shower and which the Chinese again typically tried to restrain by technological and tribal methods, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) remained on tenterhooks along with the government and people about any last-minute hitch to an extravaganza that is estimated to have cost over $1.8 billion.

At precisely eight seconds past the eighth hour of the evening on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the millennium - eight is an auspicious number for the Chinese - the grand show began with a roll of 2,008 square-shaped ancient Chinese fou drums, followed by the display of the five Olympic rings and the national flag.

After the singing of the theme song by West End star Sarah Brightman of Britain and Liu Huan, China’s most versatile singer, a 75-80 minute performance that is being called a “pre-ceremony” was held featuring folk and ethnic art from 28 teams across the country.

The core part of the ceremony, the artistic performance, lasted one hour. It was divided into two parts - one to highlight China’s age-old civilisation and the other to highlight China’s splendid rise as a modern nation.

“It is a Chinese story told in the language of the world,” said Zhang Heping, director of the opening and closing ceremonies, before the show.

The cultural performances were followed by the parade of athletes from 208 nations, speeches by the IOC and Bocog presidents, oath-taking by athletes and referees, releasing of pigeons and lighting of the flame in the giant cauldron to the accompaniment of 30,000 ’shells’ shooting into the night sky to the roar of the huge crowd.

The parade saw a Chinese twist in the order of teams: the countries were arranged according to the number of strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese in the ascending order.

And through all this, China announced its arrival to the world, seeking its resurgence - and global acceptance - after what was officially called the “100 years of national humiliation” at the hands of the West and Japan.

Ever since the Games were awarded to Beijing in 2001, China has invested billions in sports development. Its aim: to pip the mighty US in the overall medals tally after being a surprising second - above Russia - to the US four years ago at Athens.

Security during the opening ceremony was expectedly very tight - in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in the northwestern Uighur province that killed 16 policemen - with visitors, officials and even media asked to be in their seats at least two hours before the programme began.

In fact many facilities were suspended during the ceremonies, including some transport restrictions and suspension of wireless facilities from the stadium. And no one was allowed to take their own car to the Games.

Competition among 10,500 athletes will take place in the next two weeks in 28 sports and 302 events. And hosts China, a nation of 1.3 billion people, hopes to pull off what was once thought to be a pipedream.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in World |

Subscribe