Beijing, Aug 8 (UNI) Under a full moon, one of the most controversial Olympic Games ever was given a spectacular opening here tonight with a ceremony that traced China's 5000-year-old history and the secretive country's phenomenal rise to a world power.
It was an immense demonstration of power and unity blended powerfully by a futuristic theme - exactly the message that China wanted to send out to the world that has been critical of its governance, its environment and its human rights record.
The next 15 days will see a total of 11,438 athletes from 205 nations competing in 28 disciplines at the Beijing Games - the 29th edition of the modern Olympics.
Held amidst the tightest of security, the opening ceremony very clearly put forward China's stated view that during the games it will not only showcase the culture and history of the country, but also try to be international and understandable to the outside world.
And it made a good beginning towards that at the arena known as the Bird's Nest. China put on the most expensive opening ceremony ever in the Olympic history to mesmerise an audience of 90,000 spectators that included nearly 86 world leaders, including US President George W Bush, and a billion television watchers.
Prominent among the audience of Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers was Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and her children Rahul and Priyanka.
The three hour extravaganza was one of China's best guarded secrets ever since it was in the works for three years. And those present in the arena realised that they were seeing one of the greatest shows on earth, a show that will be difficult to beat by any nation in the future.
The main performance of one hour was divided into two parts.
China's iconic civilisation that spans thousands of years was condensed into one hour with modern technology and wire performances.
A moving sea of what looked like white tower blocks, bright lights, artistes floating over the track, kung-fu formations being made and humpbacked whales cavorting around the rim of the Bird's Nest, it was a brilliant show by more than 15,000 performers. The entire show was choreographed by renowned Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou.
The gala, of course, began with the beating of the ancient Chinese drum, the Fou. That was followed by the display of the Olympic rings and the Chinese national flag.
As soon as the one hour introductory show was over, the athletes of the nations taking part paraded into the main arena.
The parade saw a Chinese twist in the order of the teams.
The countries were arranged according to the number of strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese, in ascending order.
Which means India came in the 55th place, while the Olympic Games pioneer in 1896, Greece began the parade.
Host China was the closing nation of the parade.
The Indian contingent, dressed sharply in traditional golden 'shervanis', was led by shooter and Athens Olympics' silver medallist Rajyavardhan Rathore.
After that, the more serious part of the ceremonies took place. Speeches by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and BOCOG presidents, oath-taking by athletes and referees were followed by the releasing of pigeons and lighting of the Olympic flame in the stadium.
That was followed by the spectacle of 30,000 shells shooting into the sky above the Olympic Green.
The closing artistic section was as sensational and ethereal as the rest of the opening ceremony. Chinese pop star Liu Huan and British singer Sarah Brightman gave a scintilating performance.
And the climax of the art performances was a firing squad displaying thousands of pictures of smiling faces collected from around the world. And as that was happening, fireworks mimicked 2008 smiling faces in the sky.
For a country that invented fireworks, it was only fitting that China ended the opening ceremony with an unbelievable pyrotechnic display which included the shape of the Olympic Rings formed in the sky.
As Zhang Heping, director of BOCOG's opening and closing ceremonies, said, it was a Chinese story told in the language of the world. And if the opening was any indicator of how the games will be organised, then China could well be sure that the world is going to forget the political controversies dogging the country for the next 15 days.
UNI HSB RAR HS1915