China promised another spectacular opening, and it delivered.
A festival of fireworks and pageantry on the Pearl River on Friday marked the start of the Asian Games, two years after the dazzling start to the Beijing Olympics. Athletes were ferried on 45 boats to an island venue shaped like a ship's bow for an extravaganza of light, water and flames.
More than 10,000 athletes from 45 countries or territories are competing in 42 sports in Guangzhou, a southern city that long served as China's window to the world. The world's second-biggest multisports event starts Saturday and ends Nov. 27.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declared the games open toward the end of the nearly four-hour ceremony. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was among the dignitaries on hand.
"Remember, you are part of history right here, right now," Olympic Council of Asia President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said during the ceremony. "Please show us your best performance, and show us the spirit of sportsmanship, fair play, friendship and respect to your fellow athletes and officials."
The ceremony was choreographed by Chen Weiya. He was the deputy to famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who crafted the Beijing opening.
"This part is a salute to those who make the Guangzhou's success possible and to all the Asian people who never surrender in faces of dooms or disasters," Chen said. "The ship is like Guangzhou, like China, and the whole Asia is sailing for a brighter future."
Except for those who won a lottery for tickets to the show, most residents in this bustling city of 10 million had little choice but to watch on TV.
The downtown area was locked down near the stadium. Residents within a radius of about two-thirds of a mile were ordered to leave their homes for the night, apparently to eliminate the threat of sniper fire.
Many downtown subway stations were closed Friday for security sweeps and streets in the vicinity of the opening ceremony were unusually quiet.
Twenty-eight gold medals will be awarded Saturday on the first day of full competition. There are finals in shooting, swimming, triathlon, judo, weightlifting, gymnastics and in dance sports, which is debuting at the Asian Games.
India has a good chance in the shooting competition, with Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang. The first medal is likely to be in wushu, the indigenous Chinese martial arts. Japan should be strong in women's triathlon and judo, while China is expected to lead the overall medal count.
After investing billions of dollars in venues and orchestrating civil obedience campaigns designed to ensure Guangzhou plays the perfect host, China saved a warning for its athletes until the hours leading to the opening ceremony.
In an address to athletes and officials, Chinese Olympic Committee President Liu Peng ordered the country's representatives to "behave," urging them to heed lessons from the "Wang Dalei incident."
Wang, the brash Chinese goalkeeper, was suspended indefinitely this week for posting a stream of online rants. After his soccer team lost its opener to Japan, he called his critics a "bunch of dogs" and "morons." He was benched for China's second match Wednesday, then suspended and ordered to "meditate on his actions."
It was the first blight on the games, for which preparations have been meticulous. China's official news agency, Xinhua, quoted Liu as saying Wang's "ill-natured" actions had a "negative effect on society" and breached the team's conduct code.
"It is understandable to lose a soccer game," Liu was quoted saying. "It is unforgivable to have disgraceful acts such as swearing at soccer fans. The Chinese delegation never tolerates such actions."
Chinese officials have talked openly this week about overhauling the state-run sports systems and enhancing the programs by stressing overall development rather than just results.
"We should put more efforts in education about moral conduct, raise the moral standard of the Chinese athletes, make the Chinese athletes stronger and more civilized," Liu said.
Of the 977 athletes on China's Asian Games team, 655 will be competing at a major international multisports event for the first time.