Less than two weeks after the closing of the Beijing Winter Olympics, China's iconic National Stadium burst into the limelight again as the Paralympic Winter Games opened on Friday night with a ceremony highlighting accessibility and inclusion.
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared open the second Paralympics in the country after the 2008 Summer Games.
Under the theme of "Improve, Go Beyond, Together," which is inspired by an ancient Chinese saying "One should aim to improve oneself as long as the days go by," the opening ceremony featured performers from all walks of life as individuals with and without disabilities came together to welcome friends from all over the world.
The one-and-a-half-hour-long ceremony reached its climax when Li Duan, Paralympic long jump and triple jump champion at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, placed the Paralympic torch in the middle of a giant snowflake-shaped cauldron which later ascended to the top of the stadium.
Belgium led the parade of athletes of 46 National Paralympic Committees (NOCs), as hosts China marched into the stadium last behind Italy, the hosts of the 2026 Winter Games, with Guo Yujie and Wang Zhidong holding the Chinese national flag together.
Guo is a female para cross-country and para-biathlon skier born in north China's Hebei Province with upper limb disabilities, while Wang is a key player of the Chinese men's para ice hockey team and has participated in the World Para Ice Hockey Championships in 2018 and 2021.
Team China, who is participating in their sixth Winter Paralympics, has sent a delegation of 96 athletes to compete in 73 events of all six sports.
"Following a successful Olympic Winter Games, the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games opens tonight as scheduled," said Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee president Cai Qi.
"In 2008, Beijing delivered a high-standard Paralympic Games with distinctive features. Today, 14 years on, Beijing is again the center stage of the Paralympic Movement -- this time in partnership with Zhangjiakou.
"Our goal is to achieve 'Two Games, Equal Splendour' and present a streamlined, safe and splendid Paralympic Winter Games for the world," he added.
International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons expressed his gratitude towards the Chinese organizers in his address.
"Change start with sport. Not only can it bring harmony, but it can be a catalyst to transforming the lives of people, cities and countries," said Parsons.
"As the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Paralympics, Beijing is proof of this.
"Ahead of these Games, hundreds of thousands of facilities have been made barrier free. The venues are magnificent. The organization is extraordinary. The COVID-19 prevention and control - safe and efficient.
"The hospitable Chinese people have built the stage to fully showcase the best of Paralympic winter sports," he added.
In a highlight of the ceremony, the Agitos, the symbol of the Paralympic Games, was painted on the palm of an individual with vision impairment. As the smallest showcasing of the Agitos in any Paralympic Summer and Winter Games, it was then passed along, beckoning more and more individuals with disabilities to change their lives with sport.
The Paralympic Flag was then carried into the stadium by eight honor guards including six Paralympic gold medalists, with the wheelchairs of four mobility limited individuals embroidered with the purple "WeThe15" logo.
As a wind ensemble band comprised of vision limited individuals, aging from 10 to 22, played the Paralympic Anthem, the Paralympic Flag was raised high in the stadium.
Eight para-athletes served as torch bearers in the final torch relay inside the National Stadium.
Fireworks in the shape of the Agitos, smiling faces and snowflakes lit up the sky of the dual Olympic city again, representing the purity, warmth and multicolored expressions of the Beijing Winter Paralympics.
The Paralympics will see over 500 athletes from 46 countries and regions compete for medals in 78 events until March 13. -