(Reuters) - The Beijing Olympic Games started on Friday with a dramatic opening ceremony featuring a cast of thousands directed by acclaimed Chinese movie director Zhang Yimou.
The performance, which began with thunderous drumming, celebrated the arts and achievements of imperial China but skipped the fraught 20th century altogether.
-- A chanting troupe intoned the Confucian proverb “Friends have come from afar, how happy we are”.
-- Flying acrobats and a lone beribboned female dancer recalled the grottos of Dunhuang, painted in the Wei and Tang dynasties when camel caravans plied the Silk Road. Many view the Tang dynasty as the golden age of China, when it was wealthy and open to the world.
-- Blue-robed oarsman enacted seafarers traveling between Southeast Asia and the coast of Fujian, in southern China. Their oars became sails, painted with the “treasure ships” of the eunuch admiral Zheng He who reached Africa in the Ming Dynasty.
-- Dancers clacking bamboo props represented some of the oldest Chinese records, whose delicate brushstrokes are preserved on bamboo strips over 2,000 years old.
-- Undulating grey blocks symbolized the printing blocks of ancient China, which invented moveable type.
-- They morphed into the Great Wall, a frontier defence whose Badaling section near Beijing is an instantly recognized symbol of China.
-- Landscape paintings and scenes of court life were projected on a giant scroll that unfurled on the stadium floor, while musicians performed traditional airs.
-- Absent were references to the Qing Dynasty, when Western powers made inroads on the disintegrating empire, or the divisive 20th century, when civil war, the Japanese invasion and Mao Zedong’s absolute rule drove China into deep poverty.
-- Children clad in the outfits of China’s 56 ethnic groups carried the flag into the stadium. A male and female representative of each ethnic group sang the national anthem as the Chinese flag was raised, illustrating China’s claim to unite its diverse population under one nation and party.
-- Three astronauts “flew” through the stadium. China has sent three men into space and plans another manned mission later this year.
-- The ceremony concluded with an ode to regreening the Earth and a celebration of water, both important issues in China which is struggling with choking pollution and loss of farmland after nearly three decades of economic reform.
-- A glowing globe recalled the Olympic ideal of international harmony and China’s growing role as a world power.
Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Ed Osmond
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