Olympic games start today in Beijing

August 8, 2008

Well the big wait is over, as you wake up and read this the games will have begun, with a spectacular opening ceremony. Like them or loathe them the games are big business and this year it is China’s chance to show the world that they have emerged from a past locked away in secrecy and communism and have emerged as a major force in the world. Good luck China, we hope the games are a great success for the nation of China and for the athletes of the world. Below is an interesting view point from Bill Schiller, the Toronto Star’s Asian correspondent.

In the darkness before dawn they come in their thousands, flowing into Tiananmen Square beneath the iconic portrait of Mao Zedong as early as 4 a.m.

They’ve come for the flag-raising ceremony, a ritual that takes place each morning here, with the faithful arriving from all across China: from Henan and Hunan and Yunnan provinces, even far-flung Xinjiang.

They’ve come on a kind of pilgrimage, fulfilling a dream.

The ceremony takes two minutes. But it’s an important ritual for Chinese.

“Everyone in China dreams of coming to Beijing,” says 71-year-old Wang Qing Fu, a retired, white-haired civil servant and native Beijinger. “It’s the capital. It’s the political and cultural centre of the country.”

For the next few weeks as many as 16,000 athletes will fulfill a dream as well, coming to compete in a city that still remains a mystery for most.

An estimated 500,000 foreign fans will follow.

And what they’ll see is sure to surprise them, for on the surface at least, Beijing is a booming modern metropolis of 17.4 million people with smoothly paved highways, skyscrapers and shopping malls, and luxury goods that only the world’s major capitals can offer.

From the moment they touch down at the new $3.6 billion Terminal 3 at Capital International Airport – designed by British architect Norman Foster – they’re sure to be shocked and awed by Beijing’s new monumentalism.

After all, that’s the point of the city’s massive seven-year, $40 billion makeover: This is Beijing’s showcase moment.

The Bird’s Nest National Stadium with its 10 tonnes of steel-woven lattice work; the Water Cube National Aquatics Centre with its tactile blue geometry that resembles bubble wrap – these alone would be signature pieces of architecture in any major city in the world.

But there’s more.

A new National Theatre know locally as “the egg,” designed by French architect Paul Andreu, and a massive, gravity-defying China Central Television centre designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and German partner Ole Scheeren, regarded by some as Beijing’s Eiffel Tower. The CCTV headquarters features two angular towers linked in mid-air by a cantilevered bridge of offices some 36 stories above the ground – with absolutely nothing beneath it.

Critics contend there hasn’t been such a makeover of a major metropolis since Baron Haussmann ripped up parts of Paris in the 19th century.

But Beijing’s makeover hasn’t pleased everyone. He Shuzhong worries that Beijing has become a city lost in transition.

“As an ancient city, Beijing ranks among the very few, very important cities in the world,” he says.

But where it is headed now, he is unsure.

“No one knows the direction,” says He, founder and director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Centre. “There doesn’t seem to be any clear-cut plan.”

With rare interruption, Beijing has been the capital since 1403 when Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle decided to move it here from Nanjing.

Beijing means “North Capital,” Nanjing, “South Capital.”

But He is concerned that the headlong drive into the future has placed much of what remains of the ancient city in peril.

His efforts have focused on trying to save its alleyways, known as hutongs, the narrow lanes that once filled the city’s ancient grid system, lined with homes whose front doors give way to hidden courtyards inside.

Today, many courtyard homes have been ground into dust.

In 1949 when Mao Zedong founded what the Chinese call “the new China,” there were as many as 6,000 hutongs in Beijing.

Beijing was then an architectural marvel, an ancient walled city with 16 magnificent gates.

Today the gates are gone, the walls have vanished and so have many of the hutongs. There are just 1,000 hutongs neighbourhoods left. But it is there and in the parks close by where China’s ancestral rhythms can be seen on display each morning.

People rustle out from their neighbourhoods into the city’s parks in early morning, passing bicycles and early morning traffic on the way, to perform qiqong, the slow-movement exercises people in the West call Tai Chi, and to meet and chat with neighbours.

And they might grab a jianbing, a Beijing pancake laced with egg and spices sold from street vendors all over the city.

Even their way of bidding goodbye – “man man zou,” or “go slowly” – speaks of a life different from the breakneck speed of development rippling across the city.

As he speaks, He Shuzhong is seated in his modest offices in Xilou hutong.

A few blocks away, the dust and din of traffic in a city with 3.3 million cars – 1,000 new ones roll on to the streets daily – rage at midday. But inside the Xilou hutong, all is cool and quiet: It’s one of the secrets of old Beijing.

What is not a secret, though, is the importance that these Games hold for the Chinese government – despite denials that there is a link between sports and politics.

According to Chinese cosmology, all important buildings are constructed on, or as close as possible to, the north-south power axis extending from the Royal Palace at the Forbidden City.

So it was when Tiananmen Square was built, again when the Monument to the Martyrs was constructed, and finally when Mao’s body was enshrined in its mausoleum.

And so it is for the Olympic Green and main venue. They too are located on, or next to, the power axis.

“This was intentional,” says He. “The planners emphasize the link … and everyone in China knows the importance of this axis.

“That importance is beyond words.”

Well they are now officially open and I have included some very cool video footage of the opening ceremony put together by mtvkriar91 – thank you – it is indeed spectacular – what a tremendous opening ceremony.


One comment

  1. see the vídeos of the opening ceremony here


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