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“One World, One Dream, One Big Show” by David Long

What a great show China put on for the world! People have used the words “Amazing, Incredible, Stunning" to describe the show.   The Opening Ceremony was an opportunity to showcase to the world aspects of China that many may otherwise not have seen.   The technological accomplishments were noteworthy, however, the beauty, discipline and richness of the culture was uniquely evident during the most expensive and elaborate Opening Ceremony in the history of the Olympics. 

(Fireworks used to simulate footprints)

 Leading the extravaganza was director, Zhang Yi Mou, who directed 15,000performers from all over China.  Fifty-six children, the same number of ethnic minorities within China, paraded into the stadium with the flag of the People’s Republic of China.  During the parade of nations, the order of the teams' entry was determined by the number of strokes in the first character of their respective countries'  Chinese names.  The exceptions were Greece, the originator of the Olympic, who entered first, and China, the host nation, who entered last. Countries with the same number of strokes in the first character are sorted by those of the next character. For example the first character of America’s Chinese name contains 9 strokes. The last country is Zambia, whose Chinese name has 16 strokes for its first character.

While it may have seemed like a gigantic Broadway production, the show also symbolized some of the most important contributions of Chinese culture and civilization. A few symbolic features highlighted in the opening ceremony focused on four great inventions which originated out of ancient China.  Some of these may be quite familiar as having originated in China and others you may never have realized came from China. 

Gunpowder is an ancient invention most popularly used now in fireworks.  From the beginning to the end of the show, more than 30,000 fireworks were set off, some in the shape of footprints. The simulation of 29 giant firework footprints travelling from Tian An Men Square to the stadium symbolized the previous 28 Olympic Games, plus this current one taking place.  The footprints also symbolized China’s walk from the past to the present.

Papermaking has traditionally been traced to China about 105 AD, when an official attached to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty created  from mulberry tree pulp and used it to record information. Also, significantly, the (960–1279 AD) was the first government on earth to issue paper-printed money.  Some historians speculate that paper was a key element in cultural advancement. Since paper is so important in China’s history, opening ceremony director, Zhang Yi Mou used it  throughout the entire opening ceremony events. Below are some pictures of the different acts used to represent papermaking and its use throughout history.

( artists are dancing and use the brush and
black ink to draw the painting. )
( the painting done by the artists )
( the painting is added with green, blue and red color by children )
( More than 10,000  athletes’ footprints are left on the painting as they marched acrossed it during the parade of nations. )

Movable type printing also appeared in the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD) and is considered a cornerstone invention to the advancement of civilization.  A man named Bi Sheng carved individual characters on identical pieces of fine clay to create the first moveable type. . Each movable type had on it one Chinese character which was carved in relief on a small block of moistened clay. After the block had been hardened by fire, the type became hard and durable and could be used anytime and anywhere. The movable type pieces could be glued to an iron plate and easily detached from the plate. Characters could be assembled to print a page and then broken up and redistributed as needed. This technology later  spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Europe.  While originally it was developed as clay type, eventually type made of wood, lead, tin, and copper began to be favored.
Technology, a key  theme of the opening ceremony, was surprisingly symbolized  by humans.  In the ceremony when the moving blocks were seen, most would assume it was machine operated.  However, by the completion of this portion of ceremony,  out popped 2,000 Chinese performers.

(performers representing Moveable Type printing)
(Si Nan, Chinese ancient compass)

The earliest compass in the world, the Si Nan, is also known as the South Pointer and was invented over 2,000 years ago, during the Warring States Period (475-221BC). Different from the compass of today, Si Nan was composed of two parts: a spoon and a tray. The spoon was cut from an intact piece of natural loadstone, with its handle as the South Pole and its round, smooth bottom as the center of gravity. The tray was made of bronze , and at the center, there was a round, smooth groove. When the spoon was put into the groove, it would rotate. When the spoon stopped, its handle would point to the south, and its head to the north. This early invention and the variations that followed assisted travelers to explore beyond their borders and has helped to change the history of the world. Once the invention travelled west, navigators were able to travel  to many Asian and African countries bringing tea and other commodities.

(a performer is acting as Zheng He, an ancient navigator, who used the Si Nan to find the way to the west. )

Fireworks in the summer, writing paper for assignments in school, books to read, and GPS navigation devices, all owe their beginnings to Chinese innovation throughout history.   It was a spectacular national display that will be remembered well beyond the year 2008 for its beauty, brilliance and symbolism highlighting a great nation.

See our special offer in this month's newsletter for a free DVD of the Opening Ceremonies!