A day after, China basked in the glow of all-round praise for a visually enchanting opening ceremony show of the 29th Olympiad that left over 100,000 spectators and participants breathless for its technological wizardry as well as for the sophisticated organisational execution.
Even its worst critics conceded that the country had indeed put up a dazzling performance that showcased its ancient 5,000-year culturally-rich history while projecting a super-modern face that few had associated with it previously.
The occasion provided an unprecedented surge of nationalism in Western - and free world - criticism for their repression of political dissidents, for stifling of personal and religious freedom and for its support to heretical nations like Sudan, Myanmar, Iran and North Korea.
Tian'anmen Square, the city's most prominent public square, was a sea of people till midnight - when the opening ceremony ended - who had their faces painted with colours of China and the Olympic Games, waved their flags and screamed and chanted “Go China” while watching the nearly four-hour ceremony that turned the 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium into a cauldron of Chinese civilisation and patriotic fervour.
The sky-streaking fireworks, numbering over 30,000 that set the Beijing firmament aglow, brought roars from wildly cheering spectators as well as the largest 639-member home contingent that brought up the rear of the 208 participating Olympic committees and delegations at the Games whose actual competition begin on Saturday.
But the loudest roar of admiration and wonder no doubt came when Li Ning, winner of three gymnastic golds at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, almost flew around the rim of the Bird's Nest - albeit with the help of a little visible taut wire - to light the sacred flame in the cauldron at the top in a flashing bit of acrobatic and technical daredevilry.
China's sentiments were echoed by Jacques Rogge, chairman of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who said: “For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors and inviting the world's athletes to Beijing for the Olympic Games. Tonight that dream came true.”
The local media were full of reports of “we did it” and a commonly echoed persecution mania about “why does the world hate us!”.
Liu Shajian, a young interpreter with foreign delegations, said the first things she did on Saturday morning were to watch CNN and BBC to see how they would report the event and whether they would be full of their “usual criticism” of Chinese systems and society.
An article in the Chinese newspaper Legal Daily, whose translation was made available, recalled how the country's Olympic pioneer Zhang Boling was once asked in 1908 when China would be able to participate in the Games, when would the country get its first gold medal and when would the country be able to host the Olympic Games.
While the first two questions were answered some years ago, the last question has now been answered. China, once bullied by “invading imperialist powers” and derided as the “sick man of East Asia”, has shown the world: “I can compete”.
There has been a wave of unprecedented show of nationalist support among the Chinese, not just in China but among the community the world over, condemning what one commentator called the “Western-biased views of China and its politics”.
Noting that while there were a lot of international media reports in the last few years on how China was going to become a world power and about the coming of the China Century, many Chinese said people through sheer guesswork but with little first-hand knowledge were trying to judge what China is and will be.
One angry Chinese expatriate, whose piece in The Guardian was reproduced in Beijing, asked angrily: “why are so many people in the West...so eager to jump on this moral bandwagon and punch China in the face without the basic understanding of the country, its culture and its people?”
Another commentator said, addressing the “US elite”, that the Olympics were a golden opportunity for them to cast away their preconceived opinions and lend their ear to the voices of the ordinary people of China, who are saying that “A real China is ready to show itself to the world”.
“The Olympic Games is an arena, from where China will make more changes in itself - keeping to its reform, opening wider to the outside world and playing the role of a 'responsible shareholder' on the world stage,” the China Daily, the capital's only English language newspaper, said in a lead editorial on Saturday echoing no doubt the official viewpoint.
“The Games mean a lot to China and the world,” it said.