China Ascendant

The 2008 Beijing Olympics have begun with an enormous burst of pageantry:

BEIJING – Once-reclusive China commandeered the world stage Friday, celebrating its first-time role as Olympic host with a stunning display of pageantry and pyrotechnics to open a Summer Games unrivaled for its mix of problems and promise.

Now ascendent as a global power, China welcomed scores of world leaders to an opening ceremony watched by 91,000 people at the eye-catching National Stadium and a potential audience of 4 billion worldwide. It was depicted as the largest, costliest extravaganza in Olympic history, bookended by barrages of some 30,000 fireworks.

Presumably, this is “ascendent” in the sense of rising rather than in the sense of preeminent importance.

The Chinese are clearly looking at these Olympics as their coming out party, a sign that they’ve arrived in the world. The International Olympic Committee explained Beijing’s selection as host city:

The games, said IOC President Jacques Rogge, “are a chance for the rest of the world to discover what China really is.”

I think that’s probably going to be true although possibly not in the sense that M. Rogge intends and the Chinese leadership hopes.

The time and date of this opening, the eighth hour of the eighth day of the eighth month, is considered a propitious time:

By all indications, however, most Chinese have embraced the games, buying up tickets at a record pace, volunteering by the thousands for Olympic duties, nursing expectations of triumphs by their home team.

To their eyes, the omens were good. The ceremony began at 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 — auspicious in a country where eight is the luckiest number.

“It not easy to meet with such a date,” said Wang Wei, secretary general of Beijing Organizing Committee. “Hopefully this lucky day will bring luck.”

Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize good fortune when you see it.

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