Olympic flame lit in Bird’s Nest after 14 years
Spring of hope highlighted in ‘simple, splendid’ opening
Published: Feb 05, 2022 12:43 AM Updated: Feb 05, 2022 02:11 AM
Beijing 2022 opening ceremony Photo:Li Hao/GT

Beijing 2022 opening ceremony Photo:Li Hao/GT

Fourteen years after the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, the Beijing 2022 Winter Games kicked off on Friday with a same fervor of patriotic pride among the public. As Beijing officially became the "dual-Olympic" city, China also ushered in the traditional solar term "Li Chun" or "Beginning of Spring," which symbolizes recovery, injecting hope and confidence in the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike the 2008 opening that focused more on China's 5,000 years of history, the 2022 opening performance on Friday night mixed Chinese culture with innovating green and hi-tech concepts, highlighting China's present and future. This reflects the profound changes that took place 14 years later in how the Chinese people perceive themselves and how they hope the world perceives China.  

Beginning at 8pm, a number that bears "good fortune," the opening balanced "simple" and "splendid" on Friday night. 

The countdown show, themed "the Beginning of Spring," consisted of a video, a live performance and fireworks. The opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the 24th Winter Games, coincides with the "Beginning of Spring," the first of the 24 solar terms in the Chinese lunar calendar, symbolizing vitality. Fireworks bloomed in the Chinese word for "Li Chun" or "the Beginning of Spring," and the English word "Spring."  

It was also an opening ceremony that conveyed a strong sense of patriotism. With the improvement in China's national strength and status in the past 14 years, especially in the two years since the outbreak of the pandemic, China has become the only country in the world to overcome the pandemic, which has made Chinese people's recognition of the national path unprecedented.  

An unfurled Chinese national flag was passed by hand by representatives of all the 56 ethnic groups in China before the flag was raised. 

Team China paraded with "Ode to the Motherland," a song that has repeatedly brought tears to Chinese eyes on important occasions in recent years.  

The Chinese contingent includes 177 athletes, the country's largest ever presence at the Winter Olympics. China will compete in all seven sports for the first time at the Winter Olympics in 2022. Four years ago in PyeongChang, China only competed in five sports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed China's goal of becoming a sports powerhouse. About a century ago, the Chinese people sought to get rid of the label of the "sick man of East Asia," and now they are committed to becoming a sports power. This is a century-long dream.  

When the first Winter Olympics were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France, only 16 countries participated. Ninety-eight years on, about 3,000 athletes from 91 countries and regions will compete in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. As the Games with the largest number of events and gold medals in the Winter Games history, more athletes will strive for their dreams.  

I wish you all the best of friendship in Beijing… The hosting of the Winter Games is a victory of human solidarity and cooperation, and of the Olympic spirit, Cai Qi, chairman of Beijing 2022 organizing committee, said at the opening. "Beijing will show the world the resilience of humanity in the face of difficulties."

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach spoke highly about the dedication of the Chinese people. "Thank you for making these Olympic Winter Games happen, and making them happen in a safe way for everyone."

Rivals can respect each other and coexist peacefully…The Olympics are always a bridge of communication, Bach said. His words were met with loud applause.

President Xi then declared the 24th Olympic Winter Games open at the National Stadium in Beijing to a huge cheer. 

Beijing 2022 opening ceremony Photo:Li Hao/GT

Beijing 2022 opening ceremony Photo:Li Hao/GT

 Make the difference

Usually the most exciting part of the ignition was a bit of a surprise: two young athletes, Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Zhao Jiawen, did not really ignite the Olympic cauldron. Rather, they put the torch on a "huge snowflake," a snowflake cauldron with each delegation's name on it.

As for the lighting of the flame, chief director Zhang Yimou explained immediately after the opening ceremony that it represents the cultural confidence and concepts of the Chinese people in the new era.  

We are a family, we are a community with a shared future, we love the environment, we care about low-carbon environmental protection, Zhang said in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) on Friday.  

He said the unique lighting is also the embodiment of the traditional Chinese philosophy "knowing autumn comes by one leaf." "With only a small torch and small flame, people may think of the great Olympic spirit, a burning passion and romance of all mankind."

Choreographed by Zhang, the celebrated Chinese filmmaker who also directed the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics, the 2022 ceremony lasted about 120 minutes and featured 3,000 actors, in contrast to 4 hours, and 15,000 actors for his Beijing 2008 edition.

Changes were made even before the opening. Before the opening started, a 30-minute warm-up "square dance" show was presented by a group of ordinary people aged from 5 to 70.   

"In 2008, it was the first time that China held the Olympic Games. We wanted to show ourselves and let the world see our brilliant culture of five thousand years... because of the experience in 2008, we can rediscover ourselves and the world," Zhang said in a previous interview with CCTV.

The opening ceremony of the 2008 Games showed more about China's thousands of years of history, such as movable type printing, which is an ancient image of China.  

He said his team wanted to focus on the spirit and values of modern Chinese people in the new era, and show the young and dynamic side of China through modern art and technology.  

"Today is very different from 2008,"Zhang said. 

Zhang's words carry a lot of meaning, and it is not just the approach to hosting the opening ceremony that has changed. The excitement of the Beijing Games was also countered by a grave COVID-19 pandemic caused by the spread of the Omicron variant and geographical tensions. 

"China has adhered to the principle of putting life first to minimize infections, which is in huge contrast to some Western countries that gave up their resistance to the virus under the excuse of co-existence… It is clear to everyone that the response to the pandemic has turned into institutional competition. So whether the Winter Olympics can be successfully held has already gone beyond the scope of the Games themselves," said Song Luzheng, an international relations researcher at the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai.

"The world, which has been suffering from the pandemic for more than two years, badly needs a wonderful Olympic event, Song said. "The world is eager to recreate a wonderful time that will never be forgotten." 

The expert said it is a miracle that the Beijing Winter Olympics were held as scheduled despite the pandemic. And it shows the strong spirit of human beings who never compromise with fate in the face of disaster.  

"This will be the greatest contribution of the Beijing Winter Olympics to mankind and will be remembered in history," Song said. "Beijing 2022 comes with 'Li Chun.' Can spring be far behind?"