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Beijing joyfully steps forward

by Ed Odeven

BEIJING — There are numerous slogans plastered on walls and Web sites with equal frequency in Beijing. The “One World, One Dream” Olympic motto and “Light the passion, share the dream” theme for the torch relay are prominently featured.

There’s an unofficial motto — a mood, really — that’s visible in this city, too: joy. It takes many sizes and shapes, often in the form of a smile, other times in the enthusiasm the Chinese use to express “Welcome to Beijing” to foreign visitors. The fact that the world’s eyes are focused on China provides pride for the world’s most populous nation.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the passion and commitment that went into the preparations for the opening ceremony, a grand event featuring 15,000 performers.

The 3 1/2-hour, two-part extravaganza was the No. 1-viewed TV program worldwide on Friday. Frankly speaking, does anyone really care what was second on the list?

I doubt Chinese composer Tan Dun, whose music will be featured at the start of each Olympic event and for each medal ceremony (an estimated 24,000 times), was concerned about the day’s second-choice selection.

Tan was focused on a bigger task, just like hundreds of millions in this country. And so the beauty and extravagance of ancient and modern Chinese culture were on display at National Stadium. In his own way, Tan helped make sure this would happen.

His inspiration came from the design of the Olympic gold medals to be used in Beijing, according to an article in the International Herald Tribune. He had heard gold and jade were the selected materials and he began his research in a Chinese encyclopedia.

“Tan soon came upon the term ‘jinshengyuzhen’ — gold sound and jade vibrations — and discovered that it was both a musical and religious term that is carved in temples across China,” IHT reported.

“It is the very high state of Taoism — it expresses the highest state of harmony,” Tan said. “So I decided I wanted to use gold and jade materials to make my music.”

Hey, to strive to reach the highest state of harmony sounds like an admirable goal to have on any given day. For millions, though, they may have had other goals, such as waking up early (in the Western Hemisphere) to watch the opening ceremony.

On Friday night, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics symbolized world unity and a celebration of the power of sports to be a positive agent for chance. It was a beautiful music and dance production — a treat for the eyes and ears — and a reminder that every country likes to host a party.

The Olympic torch ended its 130-day, 130-city journey on Friday after 137,000 km, stopping at Beijing 101 Middle School for the final relay leg of the sacred Olympic journey before making its way into National Stadium for the ceremonial lighting of the cauldron.

China, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has undergone dramatic changes in recent years, transforming itself into an economic giant and one of the driving forces behind global trade.

There’s probably a lot of truth to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman’s groundbreaking book “The World Is Flat,” an in-depth look at how technology and globalism have revolutionized education, employment, communication and the livelihood of billions. Not surprisingly, China is featured prominently in this thought-provoking book.

China, more than any other nation, will feel the effects (good and bad) of these changes for decades to come.

The Olympics is the biggest example of Friedman’s treatise to date, the true launching point of China’s arrival as a global force. And it has provided endless hours of contemplation for sociologists, political pundits and average citizens in all corners of the Earth.

“It’s the defining moment in China’s modern history,” one analyst said on CCTV-9, one of China’s national broadcast stations, early Friday morning.

According to published reports, there are 23,000 journalists in China to provide coverage of the Olympics to various media outlets. There are 10,500 athletes here to compete for 302 gold medals in 28 sports. And more than 80 heads of state attended the opening ceremony, including U.S. President George W. Bush, who has been an outspoken critic of China’s communist regime.

By showing up for the Olympics, one commentator suggested that Bush “wants to engage with China” and move forward. The next U.S. president will share a similar obligation, as will other world leaders who choose to follow the United States’ lead or take different political stances.

Earlier in the day, IOC President Jacques Rogge, IOC Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch, dozens of world leaders and special guests attended a banquet hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Hu used the occasion to remind people of what the Summer Games means to China.

“The Beijing Olympic Games is an opportunity not only for China but also for the whole world,” Hu said in a toast to his captive audience. “We should carry forward the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and peace, facilitate sincere exchanges among people from all countries, deepen mutual understanding, enhance friendship and rise above differences, and promote the building of a harmonious world featuring lasting peace and common prosperity.”

Similar remarks are made by the Olympic host country’s leader every four summers. But for China, this is a big step in the right direction. The next step, though, will be the most difficult one to take.