Fireworks filled the Beijing skies Friday evening and the hearts of Earth’s most populous nation seemed to beat in anticipatory unison. As the much of the globe looked on, China welcomed the world’s finest young athletes to The Games of the XXIX Olympiad in a memorable opening ceremony.
The show was a vast as China, as new as today, and as ancient as this proud culture. The ghosts of Confucius and Mao were clearly walking the stadium floor as China put on its best face for the world. In short, it was a display of the great paradoxes that is China.
We witnessed twinges of China’s totalitarian government that crushes internal dissent, commits cultural genocide in Tibet, and denies foreign journalists access to Internet. Conversely, the powerful heart of that nation and its people was almost palpable – even on TV. The good-natured, easy-going spirit of the Chinese people that is almost cliche was abundantly evident.
The Chinese people welcomed the world with a smile and enthusiasm unbounded by their restrictive environment. I recently heard a story on National Public Radio (NPR) where a 75-year-old Beijing man had learned several languages to help tourists find their way during The Games. One police officer had mastered 14 languages for the same reason.
The national pride reached a crescendo when the Chinese team, led by NBA star Yao Ming and 9-year-old Lin Hao, entered the stadium. Lin Hao was a victim of the recent Sechuan earthquake. He attained the status of a national hero for going back into his school and saving classmates. His story and his presence added a very human element to the drama.
The opening ceremony was punctuated by a death-defying Olympic flame lighting ceremony. 1984 Chinese gold medalist Li Ning, attached to wires like Peter Pan, ascended to the top of the stadium and then “ran” around the top of the entire stadium and lit the flame signaling the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Clearly, the people of China are committed to sharing their friendship and their culture with the people of the world. Over these next few weeks, we will find out if China will rub off on the world or if the world will rub off on China through this experience.
I suspect it will be a little bit of both and that is probably a good thing. The rest of us can gain from the seemingly eternal optimism of the Chinese people and China’s government can reduce its paranoia and recognize that contact with and information from the outside world are not such a bad thing.
If those two things happen, these Olympics could have positive effects on the global dynamic long after the last medal ceremony.
To the millions of Chinese who worked to prepare everything that made these opening ceremonies amazing, I say thank you and well done!
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