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Olympics Open With Spotlight On Chinese Culture

Beijing is ready for the Olympics.

That's what organizers said Friday, hours before the opening ceremony, which began at an especially auspicious time: 8:08 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month in the year 2008. Eight is a lucky number in China.

The festivities began with a chain of fireworks from Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird's Nest, on the northern edge of the city. Details of the ceremony have been "a closely guarded secret," NPR's Howard Berkes, who is in Beijing, tells Renee Montagne.

Ceremony watchers won't see dancing cross-dressers or a lawn mower drill team, which performed in Sydney in 2000. There won't be cowboys and Mormon pioneers, as there were in Salt Lake City in 2002. And no half-naked Greek gods, like in Athens four years ago.

"Olympic hosts like to celebrate the unique aspect of their culture," Berkes says. "And for the Chinese, this is an opportunity to introduce the world to a China that many Chinese believe is maligned and misunderstood."

About 29,000 fireworks are expected to go off during the ceremony, with 20,000 people set to perform and 90,000 expected to attend. Zhang Yimou, the renowned director of House of Flying Daggers, produced the ceremony, so Berkes suggests that there may be martial arts fighters in flight.

"Expect modern flash and glitter and special effects that just happen to be recalling 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture," he says. The opening and closing ceremonies together cost around $100 million.

In the past two days, Berkes says, the security presence in Beijing has increased. There are soldiers with metal detectors, guards with bomb-sniffing dogs, and dozens of soldiers with riot shields. About 100,000 police and soldiers are on duty in the city.

Whether foreign dignitaries will boycott the Olympics is unknown. About 80 heads of state and members of royal families are expected to attend.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.