For Chinese, A Long-Awaited Occasion of Hope and Pride

Post reporter Amy Shipley talks about the extravagant ceremony that opened the 2008 Summer Games at the National Stadium in Beijing.
By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 9, 2008

BEIJING, Aug 8 -- Hours before the first performers began entertaining the crowd Friday, a doctor from Sichuan province sat on the curb outside the iconic Bird's Nest stadium with his 7-year-old son, waiting to go in. He had no water, no umbrella, to protect him from the sun; those had been banned for security reasons. His wife could not join him on the curb; she was barred from entering the neighborhood because she had no ticket.

But Huang Biao was armed with a brand-new pair of binoculars, a $286 camera and a giddy sense of hope and pride about the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Games.

"I don't have much expectation for the singing and the dancing, but from the behavior of the athletes and the volunteers, I hope they can show the new look of China," Huang said, smiling broadly. "Definitely there will be nothing like China's old 'sick man in Asia' image."

With more than 80 heads of state in attendance, the epic production was much more than an advertisement for China's economic and athletic prowess. Many Chinese saw it as heralding a resurgent empire.

"The rise of China is not a dream anymore," said Zhang Teiwang, 50, joining the 91,000 other spectators leaving the Bird's Nest after an extravaganza that lasted four hours and 10 minutes.

All across the capital, ordinary people watching the long-awaited Olympic kickoff said the event presented to the rest of the world a strong, unified China whose time had finally come.

Huang Jisu, a playwright and deputy chief editor of International Social Science magazine, didn't care for the music but said the ceremony's message was one of survival.

"The Olympic songs, I don't feel very good about. It sounds like some prostitutes are trying to attract business," he said. "But China has walked out of national crises and reached today's achievement. We are going to attend the world affairs and write the history of the world together with other countries. China has been reborn, instead of being very careful in front of foreigners."

In a narrow hutong alley, dozens of neighbors gathered at a local shop to watch the ceremony on a small TV set that had been turned to face into the street. After an outdoor dinner of peanuts, chicken's feet and bitter melon, the crowd dwindled to Li Yuming, who sells goods on the Internet, and shop owner Chi Heli, both 32.

"Did you know China's population is 1.3 billion?" Chi said. "It's not easy for China to develop to this level with that big a population. This is the first time we've hosted such a big world event."

The ceremony showed the nation's newfound strength, Li said.

"Right now, the country is rich and people are strong, and we Chinese are really standing up," Li said. "Twenty years ago, no matter where we Chinese stood, people looked down on us. But now no one dares to invade us anymore."

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