The ceremony was co-directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou along with Chinese choreographers Zhang Jigang and Chen Weiya. The director of music for the ceremony was composer Chen Qigang. It was noted for its focus on ancient Chinese culture, and for its creativity, as well as being the first to use weather modification technology to prevent rainfall. The final ascent to the torch featured Olympic gymnast Li Ning, who appeared to run through air around the top ring of the stadium. Featuring more than 15,000 performers, the ceremony lasted over four hours and was reported to have cost over US$100 million to produce. The opening ceremony was lauded by spectators and various international presses as spectacular and spellbinding.
More than 100 heads of state, heads of government and sovereigns attended the opening ceremony. The number of heads of state who attended the opening ceremony was by far the largest in Olympic history.
|List of heads of states and dignitaries|
A trail of 29 fireworks, another of the great Chinese inventions, in the shape of footprints were let off marching along Beijing city's central axis into the national stadium. The firework footprints were set off at the rate of 1 every second, each represented one of the 29 Olympiads, signifying the Beijing Olympics as the XXIX Olympiad of the modern era.
Next, twenty "fairies" (Buddhist apsaras of the Mogao Caves) were suspended in midair as they hovered near giant Olympic rings, each holding 45,000 beads. The Olympics rings were then lifted up high vertically to show the complete Olympics emblem.
Attention was then turned to 56 young children representing the 56 ethnic groups of modern China, each donning their ethnic costume. They marched in the flag of the People's Republic of China as a young girl in red, 9-year-old Lin Miaoke, was seen performing Ode to the Motherland while listeners heard the voice of Yang Peiyi, a seven-year-old. Some controversial phrases in the lyrics of Ode to the Motherland like "Whoever dares to infringe upon us/We shall call for his destruction!" were removed. The vast majority who watched the broadcast did not know of Yang Peiyi's role until several days later when music director Chen Qigang acknowledged in a Beijing Radio interview that Lin had been chosen to sing in part for her "flawless [...] image, internal feeling, and expression" while Yang Peiyi had been chosen for her voice.. This revelation has triggered similar controversy on Sydney Symphonic Orchestra's miming to Melbourne Symphonic Orchestra performance throughout the 2000 Olympics opening ceremony, as revealed in major Australian newspapers.
The flag of the People's Republic of China was then handed over to People's Liberation Army soldiers and its national anthem was sung by a 224-member choir while the flag was raised.
At the prelude to the section, "Beautiful Olympics", a short film was screened depicting the making of paper, another of the Four Great Inventions. Ceramics, porcelain vessels and other Chinese fine arts artifacts were beamed on a giant scroll slowly unfurling. At its center was a piece of white canvas paper, which then ushered in a performance of black-costumed dancers whose hands hid brushes that had been dipped in ink. They performed a dance while leaving their trails on the block of white paper, reminiscent of Chinese ink and wash art. This is accompanied by the sounds of the guqin, China's ancient 7 string zither, as played by Chen Leiji (陳雷激).
The giant scroll was then moved aside to show a fluid array of 897 movable type blocks that formed three variations of the character 和 (harmony), representing the third great Chinese invention: the movable type press. The character was shown, consecutively, in Bronze inscription, Seal script and modern Songti kaishu (Modern Chinese Script). 810 Han Dynasty-era performers representing the 3000 Disciples of Confucius, wearing feathered headgears and carrying bamboo slips, recited excerpts from the Analects: "Isn't it great to have friends coming from afar?" and "All men are brothers within the four seas." The blocks changed swiftly into a small-sized version of the Great Wall, which then sprouted peach blossoms, the Chinese symbol for openness. At the end of the sequence the tops of the movable type blocks came off to reveal 897 performers, who waved vigorously to the crowds.
The next segment saw ancient terracotta soldiers and Chinese opera, followed by a Beijing opera puppetry performance. The different types of Beijing opera performers were also enacted. Next, a troupe of female dancers dressed in Tang-era clothing entered, suspended by a rectangular extension held by hundreds of performers. On the ground was the map of the Silk Road. Another procession of men, in blue dress, with oars forming pictures of junks, symbolized the voyages of Zheng He. There was a celebration of the next great Chinese invention, the compass, which was in its ancient form, a metal spoon floating in a fluid suspensible vessel.
The next segment featured Kunqu, one of the oldest extant Chinese operas, with two opera artistes, a male singing and a female accompanying on a guzheng. Another male performer then paints on the scroll painting with a Chinese brush in front of several guzheng players.
At this point, two rows of royal dragon pillars called huabiao (华表) emerged as pink and orange fireworks were set off overhead, followed by a segment where pianists Lang Lang and five-year-old Li Muzi performed a melody from the Yellow River Cantata. Around the pianists a sea of rainbow-coloured luminescent performers swayed in wave-like unison to symbolize the flow of the Yellow River. The illuminated dancers, symbolizing modern-day China, then arranged themselves in the shape of the Dove of Peace, whose wings were then set into motion as the performers moved about.
Next, one thousand performers in green costume formed the bird nest shape of the Beijing National Stadium. A young girl flew a kite at mid-air, suspended from wires, as performers flickered light in an intricate pattern.
A Tai Chi performance by 2,008 Tai Chi masters in white showed the fluid movements achieved when in harmony with nature.
Next came a skit with schoolchildren drawing and colouring on the giant scroll and chanting poetry. These were the same children representing the 56 ethnic groups of China. They symbolized a Green Olympics (to protect the world). As their sequence drew to an end, the giant white paper was lifted vertically to reveal a drawing of mountains and waters with a smiling face as the sun.
There was a light presentation showing brightly-coloured flying birds, symbolizing the rebirth of the phoenix and the bird-nest stadium itself.
The next segment saw the arrival of the astronaut - symbolizing modern space exploration with a gigantic, 60-foot, 16-tonned ball structure representing the earth. 58 acrobats tumbled rightside up, sideways or upside down on its surface, which was then transformed into a glowing Chinese red lantern.
2,008 performers then held out parasols with smiling faces of young children. This was followed by red and orange fireworks in the form of smiley faces. The representatives from the 56 ethnic groups danced a vigorous folk dance. One western newspaper reported however that the children were not from their actual ethnic groups
In accordance with Olympic tradition, the national team of Greece entered first; the host country came last. Traditionally nations are ordered in alphabetic order of the national language of the host country; As Chinese writing is not alphabetic, the teams paraded by stroke order of the first character of their respective countries' names in Simplified Chinese. Countries with the same number of strokes in the first character are sorted by those of the next character. This made Guinea (几内亚) the second country to enter following Greece as it only takes two strokes to write the first character in the country's name (几). Australia (澳大利亚) marched 202nd, just ahead of Zambia (赞比亚), which was the last country to march before China. The first characters of these countries' names (澳 and 赞) are both written 16 strokes; the second characters (大 and 比) are three and four strokes respectively.
Announcers in the stadium read off the names of the marching nations in French, English, and Standard Mandarin with music accompanying the athletes as they marched into the stadium. The leading signs of delegations, carried by young Chinese women in stylish red dresses, had their names in these three languages printed in Chinese calligraphy style. Chinese names of most states were condensed to their short form when possible. For example, Bosnia and Herzegovina (波斯尼亚和黑塞哥维那) entered as Bohei (波黑) in Chinese, while Saudi Arabia (沙特阿拉伯) entered as simply Shate (沙特). The exception was the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which entered in Chinese as its full designation (前南斯拉夫马其顿共和国) because of the Macedonia naming dispute. China entered as People's Republic of China in English and French, but simply as Zhongguo (中国) in Chinese.
The athletes marched along the tracks toward the center of the stadium, which was encircled by white-capped Chinese cheerleaders welcoming each contingent. As they did so, they would step on colored ink before treading on the Chinese painting done earlier by the children and the performance artists.
Unlike in previous years, North and South Korea did not send a unified team; their athletes marched in separately as Korea Republic (South Korea, ) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea, ). Taiwan marched under the name "Chinese Taipei" per a 1989 agreement - and the Chinese media has seemed to follow suit, referring to Taiwan as Zhonghua Taibei ().
The Olympic flag was carried in by eight former athletes from China. They were:
They then passed on the flag to soldiers of the Peoples Liberation Army as the flag was raised and the Olympic anthem played. A multinational chorus of 80 children sang the Olympic Anthem in Greek. Chinese table tennis champion Zhang Yining and arbiter Huang Liping took the Olympic oath, representing athletes and officials respectively.
There was a short dance presentation, followed by bright yellow fireworks - representing the release of doves of peace.
At this point, the Olympic flame entered the stadium as a continuation of the Beijing relay leg from the outside. The Olympic torch was relayed around the stadium by 7 athletes, and was finally passed on to Li Ning, the former Olympic gymnast champion, the 8th and final athlete.
The eight athletes were, in order:
Li Ning, who was suspended by wires, then appeared to run horizontally along the walls of the stadium through to the Olympic cauldron, which at this moment was still not shown. As he ran along the upper wall of the stadium, the projection displayed an opening scroll, usually ahead of him, on which was beamed footages of previous torch relays around the world. At the final moment, a spotlight revealed the final resting place of the Olympics flame. A colossal torch situated at the top of the stadium was lit by a proportionately large fuse.
A flurry of spectacular fireworks of various colours and shapes, some projecting Olympic rings, others forming hoops, flower outwards, fountain or float down, accompanied the ending of the ceremony. The ceremony ended at 12:09 am, August 9, 2008 CST, which was later than the time originally planned: 11:30 pm, August 8.
Gillian Chung was originally scheduled to be a performer at the opening ceremony, but due to the Edison Chen photo scandal, director Zhang Yimou replaced her and her partner, Charlene Choi(not involved in the photo incident) with PRC C-pop act A-One. A-One was not a part of the performances on August 8.
In an interview after visiting Liu Yan in the hospital, Director Zhang Yimou said, "I feel sorry for Liu Yan, my heart is full of regrets, I’m deeply sorry. Liu Yan is a heroine. She sacrificed a lot for the Olympics, for me, for the opening ceremony." Shortly after the opening ceremony, in an earlier media interview, Zhang expressed: "I regret many things, many details of this performance, many things I could have done better. For example, there are performers who were injured. I blame myself for that.
Performers at previous Olympic opening ceremonies had occasionally synched to recordings of their own performance, such as the tenor Luciano Pavarotti at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, due to his pancreatic cancer. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra appeared to perform at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, but the music spectators heard was entirely pre-recorded, with some of the music pre-recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, described the ceremony as "spectacular" and an "unforgettable and moving ceremony that celebrated the imagination, originality and energy of the Beijing Games." He hailed the Beijing National Stadium as "one of the world's new wonders" and a "fitting setting for an amazing Opening Ceremony. Hein Verbruggen, IOC Member and Chairman of the Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, called the ceremony "a night to remember", "a breathtaking culmination of seven years of planning and preparation" and "an unprecedented and grand success" that exceeded all his expectations.
The AFP called it "a spectacular opening ceremony. The BBC and The Times concurred by calling it a dazzling and spectacular show in Beijing. The Associated Press praised the show as spectacular with an extravaganza of pageantry and "interlude of fervor and magic" as well as being "spellbinding" and noted the show steered clear of modern politics. The USA Today described it as an exhilarating display of China's thousands of years of traditions of art and culture, and the Art Daily stated it was a celebration of China's ancient history, along with sumptuous costumes from different imperial dynasties. The Spanish media were impressed by the opening ceremony, with Antena 3 describing the ceremony as "an astonishing effort," while Cuatro called it "awesome and impressive." Cadena COPE said it was "the most dramatic Olympic opening ceremony ever." Germany's Deutsche Welle also praised it as a spectacular and a firecracker of a show, and a trip through China's rich history.
While praise for the opening ceremony was widespread amongst the world's media, the Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times described some reactions as "cynical" and "hostile". The Globe and Mail had a column with title "The iron hand behind the magic show", some questioned the "heavy military theme". Asia Times, although praising the show as "stunning opening ceremony...with its panoply of color, painstaking choreography and sweeping portrait of Chinese culture and history" referred to the games as one devoid of "fun" in its article headlined "Awe (but no laughter) in Beijing".
Estimates of the global television audience varied: "around one billion" (Reuters); "experts estimated ... more than two billion" (Wall Street Journal); "2.3 billion" (MindShare); "Billions...probably the largest live television audience in history" (Bloomberg); "3 billion" (Sky News); "nearly 4 billion" (Xinhua); "estimated 4 billion" (McClatchy). This included an estimated 842 million viewers in China, with polls ranging from 63 and 69 percent of the Chinese viewing population, exceeding that of the 51-58 percent who watch the CCTV annual Chinese New Year gala.
The BBC reported five million viewers in the United Kingdom, the Seven Network had 7.8 million viewers in Australia, The Hollywood Reporter said 4.4 million in France watched the ceremony, the ARD estimated 7.72 million viewers in Germany, while in Italy, RAI had 5.5 million viewers. In the United States, the NBC network delayed its telecast by 12 hours for evening primetime viewing, though Americans in markets bordering Canada could watch it on CBC Television, and others watched clips of it earlier on YouTube and other online video websites. Still, it managed to capture 69.9 million viewers. The ceremony, therefore, became the most watched Opening ever held in a non-U.S. city by American audience. It is the biggest television event in the U.S. in 2008 since the Super Bowl and it also surpassed the rating for the 2008 Academy Awards ceremony and the finale of the American Idol. NBC dedicated their broadcast of the opening ceremony to the memory of Jim McKay, longtime Olympics commentator for ABC, who died two months earlier, as per a message at the end of the broadcast.