Hangzhou: Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the COVID-delayed 19th Asian Games in the Eastern city of Hangzhou during a spectacular and at times raucous ceremony on Saturday, which organisers hope will lift the mood in a nation struggling with an economic slump.
Spectators in the city's 80,000 capacity stadium let out a huge roar as Xi was introduced and walked in to sit with visiting dignitaries including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The Games, delayed a year due to China's measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, will be the country's biggest sporting event in over a decade in several metrics, with around 12,000 athletes from 45 nations competing in 40 sports.
After the Chinese flag was brought out, the first team out was Afghanistan, whose female athletes, based abroad due to sport for women being banned by the Taliban, walked together with their male counterparts. Their flagbearers carried the tri-colour flag for Afghanistan which is used by international resistance movements and shunned by the Taliban.
I feel excited, particularly as a Hangzhou local," said a man surnamed Zhao on his way into the stadium. "It's a great chance to show the world how nice our city is it was also delayed by a year. But that gave us a chance to prepare even better."
In an often spell-binding ceremony intended to burnish Hangzhou's status as one of China's centres of technology and creativity, dozens of balletic dancers hovered above a digitally-projected lake in the wake of a flotilla of sail-boards.
In a modern take on the traditional lighting of the cauldron, a huge, digitally animated torchbearer "ran" the length of the stadium before settling to loom above the actual torch-bearer, China's Olympic champion swimmer Wang Shun.
In synch, the pair lit a huge, multi-pronged cauldron, prompting another bout of cheering and soon after, a digital firework display.
Organisers hoped a high-tech opening ceremony on Saturday will help drum up excitement for the Games.
The official slogan of the event, "Heart to Heart, @Future", represents the goal of uniting the people and countries of Asia through these games, officials have said.
"We should promote peace through sports, adhere to the principle of goodwill towards neighbours and mutual benefit and... resist the cold war mentality and confrontation between camps," Xi told dignitaries including Bach and Assad at a banquet before the ceremony on Saturday, state news agency Xinhua reported.