The 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony was held at the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest. It was began at 20:00 China Standard Time (UTC+8) on Friday, 8 August 2008, as the number 8 is considered to be auspicious. The number 8 is associated with prosperity and confidence in Chinese culture.
Featuring 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 and by many accounts "the greatest ever".
The firework footprints were set off at the rate of one every second; each represented one of the 29 Olympiads, signifying the Beijing Olympics as the XXIX Olympiad of the modern era. The 29th footprint arrived st Bird's Nest and transformed into Star Olympic Rings. Next, the rings were lift up by twenty "Dunhuang fairies" (Buddhist apsaras of the Mogao Caves).
Liu Qi, the head of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, gave a speech in Mandarin welcoming the athletes. His Excellency Count Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, followed with a speech in English, praising the Chinese for their warm reception and effort. The Count urged the athletes to "have fun" and to reject doping and performance enhancement drugs. This reminder was reiterated in French. Afterward, Hu Jintao, the President of the People's Republic of China, formally announced the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics by speaking in Mandarin.
The Olympic flag was carried in by eight former athletes from China. They were: Zhang Xielin (table tennis), Pan Duo (Everest mountaineer), Zheng Fengrong (athletics), Yang Yang (A) (short-track speed skating), Yang Ling (shooting), Mu Xiangxiong (swimming), Xiong Ni (diving), Li Lingwei (badminton).
The artistic part of the ceremony comprised two parts titled "Brilliant Civilization" and "Glorious Era" respectively. The first part highlighted the Chinese civilization and the second part exhibited modern China and its dream of harmony between the people of the world. The stadium was full to its 91,000 capacity according to organizers.
The ceremony was directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who was the chief director and was assisted by 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 welcoming ceremony began by a flame and an ancient Chinese sundial, awakened by the light of time from the sky, lights up 2008 bronze Fou drums. The drums, running like a time machine, form giant digits (in both Arabic and Chinese numerals) to count down the final seconds letter. A voice over "Shi, Jiu, Ba, Qi, Liu, Wu, Si, San, Er, Yi" to the Games and herald the start of the official opening time at 20:00:00.
The 2008 drummers play the bronze Fou drums and sing the quote from The Analects of Confucius written 2000 years ago: "Isn't it delightful to have friends coming from afar" to welcome friends from all over the world.
Attention was then turned to 56 young children representing the 56 ethnic groups of modern China, and donning respective costumes. They marched in the flag of the People's Republic of China as a young girl in red, 9-year-old Lin Miaoke Lín, was seen performing "Ode to the Motherland", while miming to the voice of Yang Peiyi. Only one-third of "Ode to the Motherland" was sung, to save time. The flag of the People's Republic of China was then handed over to eight well-dressed People's Liberation Army soldiers who carried the flag in a slow, goose-stepping march over to the flag podium and the Chinese national anthem "March of the Volunteers" 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, ending with a rolled-up scroll painting to set the stage for the next segment. Ceramics, porcelain vessels and other Chinese fine arts artifacts were beamed on a giant LED scroll, representing the first of the Four Great Inventions of China, paper, and displaying animated graphics, 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 painting. This was accompanied by the sounds of the guqin, China's ancient seven-string zither, as played by Chen Leiji. The LED scroll then showed an old, rare painting by Wang Ximeng.
The giant scroll was then moved aside to show a fluid array 897 movable type blocks that formed three variations of the character Hé "harmony", representing the third great Chinese invention: the movable type press. The character was shown, consecutively, in bronze inscription, Seal script and KaisScript (Modern Chinese script). Performers in Zhou-era clothing representing the "3000 Disciples of Confucius", 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 into a small 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, indicating that the individual pieces of type block were not computer controlled and synchronized, but rather the combined efforts of 897 perfectly in-sync performers.
A Dunhuang fairy dances on the paper-which has become golden desert under the projection, held by hundreds of men in clothing of ancient diplomatic envoys. On the giant scroll is a depiction of ancient Silk Road on the land.. This was followed by a procession of men, in blue costumes, who with huge oars formed formations of junks, symbolizing the expeditions of Zheng He. A performer holding another great Chinese invention, the compass, in its ancient form a metal spoon floating in a fluid suspenseful vessel, danced in the center of the giant LED scroll that showed images of sailing junks and maps of Zheng He's seven voyages on Maritime Silk Road in the Ming Dynasty.
The segment represents the prosperity of ancient China as "The State of Li and Yue". Accompanied by the music of Kunqu, one of the oldest extant Chinese operas, the giant scroll expands and shows several beautiful classic ancient paintings from Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. At this point, two rows of huge royal dragon pillars called huabiao (P: Huábiao) emerged and stretched skyward, with the performers dancing to the ancient tune Chunjiang Hua Yuèye, as pink and orange fireworks were set off overhead.
The modern segment of the pianist Lang Lang and five-year-old Li Muzi performed a melody from the Yellow River Cantata. Around the pianists a sea of rainbow-colored luminescent performers swayed in wave-like unison to suggest the flow of the Yellow River. The illuminated performers, symbolizing modern-day China, then arranged themselves in the shape of the Dove of Peace, which wings were then set into motion as the performers moved about.
A Tàijíquán performance by 2,008 masters showed the fluid movements achieved when in harmony with nature. They demonstrated martial arts while combining to form geometric mass human formations. A skit was shown with schoolchildren drawing and coloring on the paper 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. Then, there was a light presentation showing brightly colored flying birds, symbolizing the rebirth of the phoenix and the bird-nest stadium itself.
Dream, the next segment was a celestial show and the arrival of astronauts symbolizing Chinese space exploration, with a gigantic, 60-foot, 16-tonned ball structure representing the earth. 58 acrobats tumbled right side up, sideways or upside down on its surface, which was then transformed into a giant glowing Chinese lantern.