Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao lit the Beijing Paralympic flame at the ancient Temple of Heaven in Beijing on Thursday, kicking off the torch relay across China before the 13th Paralympics opens on Sept. 6.
In front of the symbolic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, deaf-mute flame collector Jiang Xintian lit the flame out of a concave, burnished mirror.
The flame was then handed to Jin Jing, the wheel chaired fencer and Olympic torchbearer known for protecting the torch from protestors in Paris leg of the relay, before it lit a torch held by Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee of the just concluded Beijing Olympic Games.
Liu passed the torch to Wen Jiabao, who lit a cauldron and announced the beginning of the 9-day torch relay.
The flame-lighting ceremony was also attended by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and another senior Communist Party of China official Zhou Yongkang.
The sacred flame will be sent to Xi'an in Northwest China and Shenzhen in the south, where the relay will be launched on Friday and Saturday respectively.
"The flame will symbolize over the next ten days the unique sporting spirit displayed by Paralympic athletes," said Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, at the flame lighting ceremony. "This spirit overcomes many obstacles in the search of sporting excellence."
The Temple of Heaven, a gateway between the earth and the sky in Chinese traditional concept, was the perfect location to light the flame for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, he said.
A total of 850 torchbearers will participate in the relays along two routes through 11 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
The "Ancient China" route will pass some cities of historic and cultural significance, including Xi'an, Hohhot, Changsha, Nanjing and Luoyang.
The "Modern China" route running through Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shanghai, Qingdao and Dalian will showcase the country's achievements in its modernization drive in recent decades.
Craven also appreciated Chinese people for portraying the Paralympic values of courage and determination, inspiration and equality during the recent national disasters such as the severe winter storm and devastating May 12 earthquake.
The Chinese capital has just successfully hosted the 29th Olympic Games on Aug. 24.
"We will try our best to prepare for the Paralympic Games and well serve the athletes, coaches and guests," said Liu Qi at the ceremony. "The Beijing 2008 Paralympics will be a unique Games with high quality."
About 4,000 disabled athletes from around the world will compete in the Sept. 6-17 Games.
The Paralympics carries on the great Olympic spirit and also bears the dream of 650 million disabled in the world, said wheelchaired Deng Pufang, BOCOG executive president and chairman of the China Disabled Persons Federation.
Liu Qi (L), president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG), lights the first Paralympic torch during the Beijing Paralympic flame lighting ceremony at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, capital of China, Aug. 28, 2008. The ceremony kicks off the torch relay across China before the 13th Paralympics open on Sept. 6. (Xinhua/Gao Jie)
"The torch relay will show the world the consistent efforts a vigorous country with rich heritage has made to promote a harmonious and beautiful world and mutual respect of human being," he said.
Workers are freshening up the decorations in Tian'anmen Square, arranging new flowers and changing the Olympics emblem to that of the Paralympics.
The Five Fuwas also had to make way for Paralympics mascot Fu Niu Lele (Happy Cow).
In the 12 days between events, the city will be busy getting itself ready for the Paralympics.
Posters, emblems and mascots are being changed in the 13 competition venues, the Olympic Village and the Media Village.
Some temporary disabled-access facilities are being erected in the Olympic Village, which will be called the Paralympic Village. It is scheduled to formally open on Saturday.
Subways, buses and tourist sites are also undergoing last-minute checks of their accessibility for the disabled.
"I am applying to be a narrator 'on the spot' for blind friends," said Wang Weili, who founded a small "cinema" for the blind.
During the Olympics, he narrated the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as competitions, for the blind in his 20-square-meter theater deep in a downtown Beijing hutong.
According to the BOCOG, half the tickets for the Paralympic events were sold. Those for events to be held in the National Stadium and the National Aquatics Center (Bird's Nest and Water Cube) are sold out.
(Xinhua News Agency August 28, 2008)