Hangzhou Asian Games opens, highlighting unity in diversity

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A digital torchbearer and swimming Olympic champion Wang Shun jointly light the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province, Sept. 23, 2023. [Photo by Dong Ning/China.org.cn]

The eagerly awaited 19th Asian Games officially commenced in Hanghzou on Saturday night, presenting a dazzling display that celebrated the depth of Chinese culture and history and emphasized unity in diversity.

At 21:16 Beijing time, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Asian Games open at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center. The event was graced by numerous state leaders and international dignitaries.

The Hangzhou Asian Games, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the third instance of China hosting the Asiad, following Beijing in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010.

Grand opening

The official inauguration of the Hangzhou Asiad coincided with the Autumn Equinox, one of China's 24 solar terms, symbolizing harvest and reunion in Chinese culture.

With the theme 'Tides Surging in Asia', water played a central role throughout the cultural performance. It symbolized the memories of the Qiantang river, the excitement of sports, Zhejiang's spirit, and the pulse of the times, illustrating the connection between China, Asia, and the broader world.

The Games' opening ceremony reached its climax with an unprecedented digital cauldron-lighting ceremony, wherein millions of torchbearers transformed the digital flames into a digital human figure on the Qiantang River before it ignited the cauldron together with swimming Olympic champion Wang Shun, the last of six athletes who relayed the actual flame within the stadium.

The primary cauldron tower consists of 19 distinct columns arranged in a "wave" formation, representing the 19 editions of the Asian Games.

Before the cultural performance, athletes entered in alphabetical order based on their national or regional Olympic Committee names. Women's basketball team captain Yang Liwei and swimming world champion Qin Haiyang bore the Chinese national flag during the athletes' parade. The audience in the stadium rose and cheered as the Chinese delegation entered.

Raja Randhir Singh, acting President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), expressed his gratitude to the Chinese organizers in his address.

"You have done a fantastic job in preparing for the Asian Games. The one-year postponement due to the pandemic was unprecedented in OCA history, but your diligence and determination will bear fruit over the next 16 days and you will be rewarded with the most magnificent and successful Asian Games ever," said Singh.

From September 23 to October 8, the Hangzhou Asian Games will feature 40 sports, 61 disciplines, and 481 events. China, the host nation, has the most significant representation with 886 athletes competing in 407 events.

Another highlight was the display of landmark buildings from various Asian countries and regions on vertical LED screens, promoting a message of co-existence and harmony.

Green, smart games

Over the past eight years, the organizers have prioritized hosting a green and smart Games.

A prime example of their sustainability focus is the Shaoxing Keqiao Yangshan Rock Climbing Center, a venue repurposed from an abandoned quarry.

Of the 56 competition venues for the Hangzhou Asian Games and Asian Para Games, only 12 are newly constructed, with the remainder being renovated or temporarily erected.

Despite the one-year delay, these venues have been utilized. According to HAGOC, since May 2022, all available venues have received 10 million visits, allowing the public to engage in fitness activities in these top-tier facilities.

"Even with the delay, all our venues are open for public use, benefiting local communities," stated Chen Weiqiang, Deputy Secretary-General of HAGOC.

The venues predominantly use green electricity, aligning with Hangzhou's goal to host a carbon-neutral Asiad. Some of the electricity comes from photovoltaic energy from regions like the Qaidam Basin in Qinghai Province and Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province, while others use wind power from areas including the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

In a significant decision, Saturday's opening ceremony omitted the traditional fireworks display. "As we want to reduce the carbon emissions as much as possible, we have decided to cut the fireworks performances," declared Sha Xiaolan, the Chief Director of the Games' opening ceremony.

Hangzhou, known as an enterprise and innovation hub, is using the Asian Games to showcase its advanced technologies, including big data, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

Self-driving shuttle services are available at several competition venues, and 5G technology enhances the game-watching experience for spectators.

A standout feature of Hangzhou's "smart Games" initiative is the digital torchbearer program, which allows participation in the torch relay for all smartphone users.

Launched on June 15, the online torch relay is open to not only Chinese citizens but also smart device users from over 40 Asian countries.

Games of friendship and solidarity

With the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris on the horizon, the Hangzhou Asiad acts as a proving ground for Asia's top athletes aiming for Olympic success. Moreover, 74 Olympic quotas are up for grabs across nine sports, including archery and tennis.

As a result, over 12,000 athletes are participating in the Hangzhou Asiad, setting a new record in Asian Games history. Powerhouses like Japan and South Korea, as well as smaller nations like Mongolia, have sent their largest-ever delegations to Hangzhou hoping to demonstrate their sporting prowess.

Yet for many, the Asian Games is about much more than sport. It also symbolizes friendship, solidarity, and national pride.

"Even though we know very well that our mission of medaling in China will not be easy, we are really chasing the honor," Palestinian beach volleyball player Abdullah Al-Arqan said.

That sentiment was echoed by Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad, who clinched a bronze medal at Tokyo 2020. "Our economic situation is difficult. But that makes us more determined to achieve and present a positive image of our country and its people," said Assad.

For Afghanistan's Muhammad Khalid Hotak, a 32-year-old Wushu athlete who started the sport at the age of 14, competing in China represents a dream come true.

"Wushu promotes peace and friendship among people. I have competed against Chinese champions on four occasions, which has been a valuable experience," said Muhammad. "I will work even harder to achieve success in high-level competitions."

"Heart to Heart, @Future" reads the slogan of the Hangzhou Asian Games. Charoen Wattanasin, vice president of the Thai Olympic Committee, interpreted it as conveying the importance of sincere interaction and mutual understanding, as well as the enduring journey towards the future.

He encouraged all participants of the Asian Games to advance in the right direction guided by this principle, while eagerly anticipating a brighter future.

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