The 2008 Paralympic Games opened on Saturday night with fireworks and spectacular performances before 91,000 people in Beijing's "Bird's Nest" national stadium.
The 4,000 athletes from 48 Paralympic committees paraded around the track in the vast new arena, which also hosted last month's Olympic Games.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven led the celebrations at the start of the three-hour event.
German President Horst Koehler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were among the international leaders who attended the ceremony.
Following the Olympics, the Chinese organizers are using a slogan promising that holding the 13th Paralympics will make "two games with equal splendour".
The opening ceremony was designed to take the audience on a "journey through space and time".
Some of the huge fireworks represented the universe and the emblem of the Paralympics, the Beijing Times Saturday quoted pyrotechnical director Zhao Weiping as saying.
"We have set the goal of 'two games with equal splendour' and, guided by the concept of 'transcendence, integration and equality', made the utmost effort in the preparation for the games," Hu said in a speech earlier Saturday.
"I am confident that, with the support of the IPC and the world at large, we will deliver a high-standard Paralympic Games with distinctive features," he said.
The government has retained restrictions on vehicle use during the Paralympics, while factories and power stations are operating at reduced production levels imposed before the Olympics.
More than 400,000 volunteers and 178,000 venue officials are being deployed, while more than 100,000 police will be on duty.
Organizers said all tickets were sold for events in the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube aquatics centre, but many remained available for other events during the 12-day games.
Some 350,000 members of cheering squads have been recruited to help to improve the atmosphere at less popular events.
The Chinese organisers have boasted of hosting the "greatest Paralympics of all time", though Craven reserved his judgement earlier Saturday "I think it's a very complete Games organization which means that this Games is going to be fantastic," Craven told reporters.
"But I'm not going to compare them on this stage or even at the end with other Games because each of the previous editions has been fantastic," he said.
The host nation has an estimated 83 million people with disabilities among its 1.3 billion population.
In a commentary published Saturday, People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, said China had made "remarkable progress" in improving "basic living standards, medicare, education and employment for the disabled".
Preparations for the Paralympics would contribute towards "fresh achievements made by China in promoting the cause for the disabled", the commentary said.