With a dazzling and emotional show that highlighted the value, dignity and dream of life, the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games opened in the Chinese capital on Saturday night, rallying the world under one shared dream of "transcendence, integration and equality" for the disabled.
"Ge Jiu Ge Wei (ready), Yu Bei (set) ... " At the order given in Chinese by International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven, nearly 100,000 spectators in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, in north Beijing, clapped their hands simultaneously to give a unique and resounding "go" signal to the world's premier sporting event for elite athletes with disabilities.
Photo taken on Sept. 6, 2008 shows the general view of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in the National Stadium in Beijing, China.(Xinhua)
A record 4,000-plus athletes from 147 countries and regions, 10 times the figure at the Games' debut in Rome 1960, marched into the stadium amid thundering cheers from the stands, before Chinese President Hu Jintao declared the Games open at 22:36 Beijing time.
"These Games will have more athletes, more competing nations, and more sporting events than ever before," said Philip Craven in his opening ceremony speech, calling them "milestones in Paralympic history."
The three-hour ceremony climaxed when Hou Bin, China's triple Paralympic high jump champion with only one leg, lit the cauldron for the Games.
With the torch on his wheelchair, the 33-year-old Hou used both hands to pull himself up along a hanging rope to the rim of the steel-latticed Bird's Nest to accomplish his laborious mission. Though suspended by wires, he had to halt and gasp for several times, with the entire crowd cheering him on loudly.
The Paralympic flame, first lit at the 600-year-old Temple of Heaven in south Beijing on Aug. 28, was relayed through 11 Chinese cities -- including ancient capitals Xi'an and Luoyang and modern metropolises Shanghai and Shenzhen -- in nine days, covering a distance of 13,181 kilometers and involving 850 torchbearers.
Fireworks are displayed during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in the National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, in Beijing, China, Sept. 6, 2008. (Xinhua)
Shortly before the cauldron was set ablaze, the IPC flag, which carries the IPC logo of red, blue and green curves -- a new design adopted just in 2003 and used at a Paralympics for the first time, was escorted into the stadium by a team of eight Chinese Paralympic gold medalists, and hoisted next to the Chinese national flag.
On behalf of all athletes and officials, Chinese athlete Wu Chunmiao and goalball referee Hao Guohua, holding a corner of the IPC flag, took the Paralympic oath, vowing to keep the Games competition fair and clean.
"Over the next 11 days, the heroines and heroes will undoubtedly be the athletes," said the IPC president.
The Paralympians, many in wheelchairs or on crutches and often seen supporting each other on the track, were ushered into the stadium minutes after the opening ceremony began at 20:00 Beijing time sharp.
All smiling broadly, they waved hands, hats and flags to the stands, and posed for pictures with team guides or volunteers.
The parade sequence was decided by the number of strokes of the first character of the delegations' Chinese names, and Guinea, whose name begins with a two-stroke character, became the leader.
As is customary, the host delegation entered last. Having surprisingly topped both the gold and overall medal tally at the Athens 2004 Paralympics with 63 golds, 46 silvers and 32 bronzes, China sent in the largest delegation of 547 members and 332 athletes to these Games.
Wang Xiaofu, a 20-year-old amputee swimmer who won three golds with three world records at the Athens Paralympics and will compete in seven events this time, carried the flag and spearheaded the team.
While the Chinese Paralympians, who will compete in all the 20 sports and 295 of the total 472 events at these Games, are eager and set to deliver on the home field and repeat their glory four years ago, they will meet strong contest from traditional Paralympic powerhouses like Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia.
Throughout the 1.5-hour march-in, the athletes were constantly applauded and saluted by the enthusiastic crowd, in which sat all top leaders of China and dozens of foreign dignitaries, including German President Horst Koehler, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and International Olympic Committee Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Seated on the floor of the stadium, the athletes joined the spectators to enjoy an hour-long art performance titled "Flying with the Dream."
The show, carefully prepared over nearly two years, was staged in a fairy-tale setting which had the entire stadium floor draped in blue and placed a glittering "white jade plate," 72 meters in diameter, in the center.
A young man who sings in a magnetic voice, an angel-faced 12-year-old girl who has a crazy love for ballet, and 320 pretty young women dressed in pure white silk gowns who float on the stage like fairies ... all looked so perfect and romantic until the large screens in the stadium revealed the cruel truth: the singer was born into total darkness, the ballet girl lost her left leg in the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake, and the 320 dancers are all with hearing impairment.
But sadness and sympathetic tears were the least things the artistic directors desired, and the spectators would simply marvel at the miracle of life and the undying power of dreams, when they hear the blind singer say "If I could see for only three days, the people I want to see most are my dad, my mom and all of you", see the girl in wheelchair keep practicing ballet with her arms and the remaining leg and pose beautifully on the shoulders of an able-bodied danseur, a