This week at the Beijing National Stadium, the 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off with a bang. Anticipation for the opening ceremony had been somewhat overshadowed by the various controversies, protests, and boycotts surrounding this year’s games—so it came as little surprise that China doubled down on a celebratory spirit of national pride while making certain references (some more subtle than others) to these ongoing political debates.
Due to COVID restrictions and the chilly temperatures, the ceremony ran for just over an hour and a half (as opposed to the usual four hours) and featured some 3,000 performers, around a fifth of the total cast for the 2008 Games in Beijing. Still, it offered all of the theatrical pageantry China excels at, with breathtakingly extravagant costuming, thrilling light displays, and high-octane choreography—making for a fitting opener to this year’s competition.
Here, find everything you need to know about the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
The show opened with a high-tech performance
In keeping with China’s status as a global leader in technological innovation, the opening ceremony made up for its relatively low number of participants with an extraordinary spectacle created by an array of lasers, lights, enormous LED screens, and pyrotechnics. Despite the use of plenty of cutting-edge technology, however, the ceremony’s imagery was largely inspired by the natural world, with the narrative centered around the beginning of spring and featuring recreations of a variety of Chinese flora and fauna, including willow trees and butterflies. The most spectacular moment? The light sticks paraded by dancers that unfolded to create dandelions, before fireworks exploded above to represent the seeds of the flower spreading across the earth.
It was directed by Zhang Yimou
While director Zhang Yimou may be best known for the kaleidoscopic cinematography, lavish costuming, and eye-popping sets of his wuxia martial-arts epics Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the three-time Oscar-nominated director’s themes of resilience and national pride made him the obvious choice to direct the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, widely remembered as one of the most dazzling of all time. So it followed that he was enlisted to direct this year’s proceedings too—and he once again realized his distinctive vision with the ravishing visual splendor that has become his signature.
The ceremony served as an expression of Chinese national pride…
With its epic scale, the ceremony felt like an apt reflection of China’s grand ambitions on the world stage, as Beijing becomes the only city in Olympic history to have hosted both a Summer and Winter Games. So it made sense that much of the imagery paid homage both to Chinese history and China’s richly diverse culture today, while symbols and slogans referencing the recent Lunar New Year celebrations saw Yimou and his collaborators display their national pride.
…although the controversies surrounding this year’s Games were still felt
Impinging on the celebrations around this year’s Olympics have been the various protests and boycotts in response to China’s notoriously poor human-rights record, specifically given ongoing accusations of genocide against the Uyghur people in the country’s Xinjiang region and concerns over the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. The International Olympic Committee has come under fire for its continued efforts to keep politics at arm’s length, and in December, Jen Psaki announced that the Biden administration would be initiating a diplomatic boycott of the Games, adding to a list of 14 countries that will not be sending an official delegation to the event, including the U.K., Canada, and Australia. In a move sure to spark debate, Chinese officials selected an athlete of Uyghur heritage to light the Olympic torch, with many interpreting the move as a message to the West that China will not be cowed by the boycotts.
Team USA wore Ralph Lauren, while Feng Chen Wang outfitted the Chinese athletes
The bulk of the ceremony was taken up by the Parade of Nations, in which the athletes of every competing country walked the stadium grounds in celebration of the beginning of the Games—creating the perfect opportunity to check out each nation’s distinctive sartorial flair. Team USA, led by the flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster, looked especially stylish in their uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren. “Ralph Lauren is synonymous with the Olympics,” figure skater and Olympic bronze medalist Jason Brown told Vogue last month. “I remember so clearly the 2008 Olympics and the first time that Team USA walked out in Ralph Lauren. To have this full-circle moment where I get to be part of that is remarkable.” Meanwhile, in an interestingly avant-garde choice, the Chinese flag bearers wore colorful outfits by the London-based designer Feng Chen Wang, who hails from the country’s Fujian province.
The Olympic torch was a floating snowflake
As always, the ceremony’s climax came with the lighting of the Olympic flame, which this year was carried out by the aforementioned Uyghur cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Nordic skier Zhao Jiawen. And in an unexpected move, the Chinese Olympic decision-makers went for a design in the shape of a snowflake, consisting of individual flakes with the names of every competing country this year, in a nod to the Beijing Olympics’ central theme of togetherness. Meanwhile, the torch itself featured a red line representing “the winding Great Wall, the skiing courses at the Games, and mankind’s relentless pursuit of light, peace, and excellence,” according to its designer, Li Jianye. Let’s hope it inspires this year’s athletes to pursue their own form of excellence over the next 16 days of sporting events.
Originally published in Vogue.com