I watched the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympic Games with my kids. They were, indeed, spectacular and the best I have seen in my life time (still having nightmares about pick-up trucks.) Bravo, China.
Aesthetics aside, however, there is the undercurrent of China's "coming out." Did the Chinese government really think that acing the opening ceremonies and netting the most medals will impress the whole world. Did they think that suddenly the world would say,
"Gee, my impression of China as a repressive country that jails journalists and monitor's tourists internet traffic was completely off base!
"Now that I have seen how masterful their Tae Kwon Do masters are and how dominant their rowers and synchronized divers are, I know that they are cuddly as a Luxembourger. Why, they are not a diplomatic or commercial rival at all!"
As if throwing your entire government into an enterprise detracts from the obvious fact that the government, at least, is authoritarian. We have seen the Three Gorges Dam, thank you very much. Point made.
Just as likely, I suppose, is that the event is aimed at building up the pride of the Chinese themselves. A proud and nationalistic Chinese population might prove more pliant to the ruling Communist party. What such a tool might be used for is yet to be seen.