Background to the Games

Having lost the final vote to host the 2000 Games to Sydney by a margin of two, after leading in the first three rounds, Beijing did not bid for the 2004 Games. Recognised as the front runner for the 2008 Games, despite criticism of China’s human rights record, Beijing was selected after two rounds of voting in July 2001, beating Toronto, Paris and Istanbul. 

In the lead up to the Games the Chinese government took a number of steps to improve the lives of the disabled and protect their rights as equal members of society.

Legislation on the building of accessible facilities was introduced to meet the Paralympic requirements. From 2001 to the start of the Games, Renminbi (RMB) 1billion was spent on improving accessibility at 14,000 facilities, including roads, transport hubs and public buildings across China. 

Accessibility at 60 of the country’s most popular tourist destinations was improved at a cost of more than RMB 67million. Elevators and wheelchair ramps were installed at the most popular part of the Great Wall of China, and accessibility was also improved in the 600-year-old Forbidden City and Imperial Palace. 

A revised Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of People with a Disability came into force on the 1st July 2008, stating that state and society should take measures to improve accessible facilities and promote accessible information, in order to enable equal participation in social life for people with an impairment. A small example was allowing guide dogs and their owners into public places. This is taken for granted in many counties, but was completely new for China. China was an early signatory of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which came into effect on the 3rd May 2008. 

These Paralympic Games integrated many more aspects of the Olympics, which led to them being described as a 'Games of equal splendour'. The Beijing Games saw a formal agreement, which had been signed in June 2001, by Dr Robert Steadward, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the IOC, come in to force. Under the terms of the agreement the IPC and the Paralympic Games would receive the following benefits:

  • A full seven years for the preparation of the Paralympic Games.
  • Full support of the host city and the OCOG for the organisation of the Paralympic Games.
  • A financial guarantee of viability for the Paralympic Games.
  • Increased support for Paralympic athletes and team officials through travel grants, the elimination of entry fees and free provision of accommodation and ground transport.
  • Increased support for technical officials through free travel, accommodation and ground transport.
  • Support for the administration of the IPC.

Although athletes with intellectual disabilities were not included in these Games the process of inclusion began with a meeting held during the Games, between the IPC and the International Association of Sports for Persons with Intellectual Disability, which paved the way for more inclusive Paralympic Games. 

Beijing is set to host the Games again, the Paralympic Winter Games in 2022.

The build-up to the Games


Logo for the Beijing 2008 Summer Paralympic Games

The logo was in the shape of an athlete in motion, stylised similar to a traditional Chinese character and representing the 'Spirit in motion' motto of the Paralympic Games. The red, blue and green colours of the logo were to symbolise the sun, sky and earth.


The 16 Paralympic posters were released at the same time as the 16 Olympics posters, both sets using the same concept and having the same overall design.

Posters from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games

Posters designed for the Paralympic Games


'One world, one dream'

Changes to Events

Adaptive rowing was introduced as a new sport to these Games.

Helene Raynsford winning gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics

Helene Raynsford winning gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics ©Getty Images


Although hosted in Beijing, the Games were held over three regions with equestrian sports held in Hong Kong, around 1000 miles away from Beijing, and sailing events in Quingdao, around 350 miles from Beijing. 

1.82 million tickets sold and a further 1.62 million tickets provided to children, education and community groups. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were sold out, as were all swimming events and most athletics sessions.

The National Stadium known as the 'Bird's Nest'

Beijing Olympic Park also known as Olympic Green

The Park was also known as the Olympic Green or Olympic Forest Park because of the natural and artificial green areas in the gardens, it included pre-existing venues built for the 1990 Asian Games. It held ten of the venues, the Olympic Village and other supporting facilities. After the Games it was re-purposed as public multifunctional activity centre. 

  • National Stadium
    The main stadium was built in 2007 for the Games, at a cost of 330 million EUR (500 million USD). It became commonly known as the 'Bird’s Nest' because of the design from Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.
    Spectator capacity – 91,000, of which 11,000 were temporary seats.
    Used for opening and closing ceremonies, athletics.
  • National Aquatics Centre
    Chosen from three submitted designs, it became known as the 'Water Cube'. The design was developed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation with Australia's PTW Architects and Ove Arup Pty. Ltd. The 3,000 bubble-like shapes that make the roof and walls are made of an air-filled membrane.  
    Spectator capacity – 17,000.
    Used for swimming. 
  • Beijing National Indoor Stadium
    Constructed for the 2008 Games it was designed by the Beijing Institute of Technology Design and Beijing Urban Engineering Design & Research Institute.
    Spectator capacity – 19,000.
    Used for wheelchair basketball finals.
  • Fencing Hall
    Created in the National Convention Centre, there was a temporary training gym on the first floor with the competitions held on the fourth floor where there were ten fencing lanes.
    After the Games it was turned into a conference hall with capacity for 6,000 people.
    Spectator capacity – 6,000.
    Used for boccia, wheelchair fencing. 
  • Archery Field
    A temporary venue that was dismantled after the Games.
    Spectator capacity – 5,384.
    Used for archery. 
  • Olympic Green Hockey Field
    A temporary venue.
    Spectator capacity – field A 12,000, field B 5,000.
    Used for 5-a-side and 7-a-side football. 
  • Olympic Green Tennis Court
    The flower-shape was designed to allow natural ventilation for the competitors and spectators. The three main courts are dodecagonal (12 sided) to represent the 12 petals of a lotus flower.
    Spectator capacity – Main Court 10,000, No.1 Court 4,000, No. 2 Court 2,000, across the seven courts for the preliminary matches 1,400.
    Used for wheelchair tennis.

Outside the Olympic Park

  • Peking University Gymnasium
    Situated 8km from the central Olympic Village the gym was built for the Games with a roof designed to resemble a table tennis ball. 
    Spectator capacity – 8,000, including 2,000 temporary seats.
    Used for table tennis. 
  • China Agricultural University Gymnasium
    Building started in 2005 and the gym was ready for use in July 2007.
    Spectator capacity – 8,200, which would be reduced to 6000 after the Games.
    Used for sitting volleyball. 
  • Beijing Science and Technology University Gymnasium
    Built for the Games, it was designed by the Tsinghua University Architectural Design & Research Institute.
    Spectator capacity – 8,024 seats, including 3,956 temporary seats.
    Used for wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball preliminary round. 
  • Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium
    Spectator capacity – 5,000.
    Used for goalball. 
  • Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics Gymnasium
    Completed in August 2001 the building was renovated and expanded in 2007 for the Games.
    Spectator capacity – 6,000, about 3,000 of which were temporary seats.
    Used for powerlifting. 
  • Beijing Shooting Range Hall
    Construction of the building, which is designed to look like a hunting bow, started in 2004 and ended in 2007. It was used in April 2008 during the ISSF World Cup as a pre-Games test event. 
    Spectator capacity – 8,600, of which 6,430 seats are removable. 6,100 in the qualification halls, 2,500 in the hall used for the finals.
    Used for shooting. 
  • Laoshan Velodrome and Cycling Road Course
    Designed for the Games by Zhu Lv it was China’s first track with a wood surface.
    Spectator capacity – 6,000.
    Used for track cycling. 
  • Beijing Workers Gymnasium
    The gym was renovated for the Games.
    Spectator capacity – 12,000, including 1,000 temporary seats.
    Used for judo. 
  • Shunyi Olympic Rowing Canoeing Park
    Constructed between 2005 and mid-2007.
    Spectator capacity – 27,000.
    Used for rowing. 
  • Changping Triathlon Venue
    A temporary facility at Ming Tomb Reservoir in the north Beijing district of Changping.
    Spectator capacity – 3,000.
    Used for road cycling. 
  • Qingdao Olympic Sailing Centre
    Qingdao Olympic Sub-Village, at the former Beihai dockyard in FuShan Bay, had facilities for the athletes, administrators, media and logistics. Additional temporary facilities were created for transportation and spectating.
    Spectator capacity – 9,000.
    Used for sailing. 
  • Hong Kong Equestrian Venue
    Equestrian events were held in Hong Kong as there was concern that a disease-free environment for the horses could not be created in Beijing. Four new, air-conditioned, stable blocks were built to accommodate up to 200 horses.
    Spectator capacity – 18,000.
    Used for equestrian. 


Mascot for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Summer Games

Fu Niu Lele © International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

The mascot was a cartoon cow named Fu Niu Lele (in Chinese: 福牛乐乐), which translates as 'Good Luck!' (Fu)-Cow(Niu)-Happiness(Lele), the name was shortened to Lele. 

Designed by Wu GuanYing, who chose a cow because he grew up on a farm and saw them as gentle creatures who bonded with those looking after them. Lele, who was chosen from 88 submissions, was ceremonially unveiled on the 6th September 2006 at the foot of the Great Wall. 

In traditional Chinese culture cows are often seen as inviting good weather and plentiful harvests and showing characteristics of diligence, determination, courage, endurance and strength - seen in the spirit of Paralympians. 

The colours used to depict Lele are used in traditional Chinese New Year’s drawings and gifts.

The Paralympic Flame

The Beijing Paralympic flame was lit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the Temple of Heaven on the 28th August 2008. The Temple of Heaven, a collection of Taoist buildings in southeast Beijing, built between 1406 and 1420, is traditionally seen as a gateway between the earth and the sky and was visited by Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties to pray for a good harvest. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was renovated and restored at a cost of EUR 3.8M for the Games.

A 10-day international relay, through the future Paralympic host cities of London, Vancouver and Sochi, had been planned, but the Beijing Organising Committee changed this after a major earthquake hit Sichuan province.

It was replaced with two routes which saw 850 torchbearers pass through 11 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. The 'Ancient China' route which incorporated historically and culturally significant cities including Xi'an, Hohhot, Changsha, Nanjing and Luoyang and the 'Modern China' route through Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shanghai, Qingdao and Dalian which was designed to 'showcase the country's achievements in its modernisation drive in recent decades'.

The opening ceremony

The opening ceremony in the Bird’s Nest Stadium was held on Saturday 6th September, starting at 8pm, in front of over 90,000 spectators, with contributions from 4,813 performers. 

The ceremony incorporated two themes, 'One World, One Dream' and 'Transcendence, Integration, Equality'.

Before the main ceremony, on the Small Stage, there was a concert including military, folk and contemporary music, classic Chinese opera, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and pieces written specifically for the 2008 Games.

When IPC President, Sir Philip Craven, and Chinese President, Hu Jintao entered the stadium a clock counted down from 23 to 1, while images of Arabic numerals, ethnic minorities and highlights from past Paralympic Games were shown on a screen. Fireworks were launched when the countdown ended signalling the start of the Opening Ceremony. The military band of the Chinese Army performed the Chinese national anthem while actors dressed as cartoon versions of athletes in different coloured suits formed the Paralympic symbol.

The Parade of Nations saw Guinea walk out first. Rather than the usual use of the Latin letters to determine the sequence, Simplified Chinese, a writing system based on characters not letters, was used with the order based on the number of strokes needed to write the first character for the country.

Each of the 148 participating nations was symbolised by a feather, these were used to form a single feather above the stadium.

After the Parade of Nations, and continuing the bird theme, bird sounds were played in the stadium. Picking up on the 'One World, One Dream' theme, visually impaired singer, Yang Haitao, sang the song 'Heaven', in the company of a sunbird and surrounded by 300 hearing-impaired girls who communicated in sign language. The sunbird is a species of nightingale that is indigenous to China.

This was followed by a dance centered on a young girl in a wheelchair who lost her leg in the Sichuan Earthquake before a performance by visually impaired pianist Jin Yuanhui. Then robots, taking the form of cows, frogs, seagulls and ducks, came on to the stage, with the audience imitating the animal sounds as the robots changed form. After fireworks were set off, the mascot, Fu Niu Lele, was revealed.

After Han Hong and Andy Lau performed 'Flying with the Dream' the Paralympic flag was raised and officials and athletes’ oaths were taken. Six torch bearers relayed the torch to Hou Bin, three-time men’s high jump Paralympic champion and a Paralympian Ambassador. With the Paralympic torch fixed to his wheelchair, Hou Bin climbed a 39-metre-long rope to the roof of the Bird’s Nest using only the strength in his arms, to light the cauldron, despite having broken a finger during a rehearsal.

IPC President, Sir Philip Craven, said at the time

To watch him climb a rope from the stadium floor to the roof, with a broken finger rubbing on the rope, and with a flame on his chair, was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. That was the Paralympic spirit in action.

Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China, officially opened the Games and the ceremony ended with more fireworks.

During the Games

Construction of the Olympic and Paralympic Village began in June 2005. After the Olympics there were changes such as lowering the height of tables and widening corridors to accommodate wheelchairs. 

New accessibility facilities were opened at the Great Wall and Forbidden City, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, to mark National Help-the-Disabled Day.

At the Badaling section of the Great Wall, some 70 km north of Beijing, a 180m ramp was constructed along with a lift with double doors to allow wheelchair users to enter from one side and leave from the other.

In the Forbidden City, the traditional Chinese architectural feature of stone steps created barriers for many disabled people. To overcome these a lift was installed at the Wumen Tower which has nearly 100 steps and at Taihedian, Zhonghedian and Baohedian stairlifts for wheelchairs were introduced. Li Ji, Vice Director of the Forbidden City said

The barrier-free facilities and the ancient architecture in the Forbidden City complement each other, which embodies the concept of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games – 'Transcendence, Equality and Integration'. 

Around 30,000 volunteers were recruited for the Paralympic Games and their training began at the 2007 Good Luck Beijing sport test events. 

Volunteer medal from the Beijing 2008 Summer Paralympics

Medals given to all the participants, athletes, coaches and volunteers at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics

On the 11th February 2007 the Beijing Municipal Government started a monthly 'Queuing Day', with the slogan 'It's civilized to queue, it's glorious to be polite' as part of what they called the Good Manners Campaign for the Games which aimed to address part of what the Beijing Olympics Action Plan described as 'The problem of unbecoming behaviour in Beijing's social life'. On the first 'Queuing Day' some 4,000 queue monitors were reported to have helped over a million people queue at some 1,800 bus stops.

The Medals

  Peter Finbow competing at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics 

Peter Finbow's bronze medal and competing in wheelchair basketball at the Beijing Paralympics

Planning for the medals started in November 2006, with designers from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, the Academy of Fine Arts at Tsinghua University and China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation invited to submit designs. 

The chosen design was unveiled on the 14th Nov 2007 by representatives of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, Paralympic athletes and Paralympic Medal Sponsor BHP Billiton. 

Similar in design to the 2008 Olympic medals, the Paralympic medals have the Games logo on a rim of gold, silver or bronze with a ring of jade separating the central section from the rim. The central section has the IPC logo, 'Beijing 2008' in braille and the name of the event for which the medal was won. The medal design was chosen to signify the concepts of 'One World One Dream' and 'Two Games, Equal Splendour'.

Medal statistics

Great Britain won 42 gold, 29 silver and 31 bronze medals, finishing second in the overall medal table behind the Games hosts, China. 279 world and 339 Paralympic records were broken during the 12 days of competition.

Sophie Christiansen CBE winning Team gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics.

Sophie Christiansen winning Team gold in Para dressage ©Getty Images

British Paralympic athletes

  • Darren Kenny 
    In 1998, at the age of 18, Darren’s cycling career was cut short after an accident during the Junior Tour of Ireland which left him with a fractured skull and vertebrae and, within a year of that, a car crash which also left him with head injuries. In 2000 he started racing in events for the disabled. In Beijing he added 4 gold and 1 silver medals to the 2 gold and 1 silver he won in the Athens Paralympic Games in 2004. In the 2009 New Year Honours list his achievements were recognised with an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).
  • David Roberts
    After being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, David started swimming at the age of 11, having been told it was the best physiotherapy for him. After breaking the 100m freestyle world record at the 2008 Paralympic Trials, he went on to win 4 golds in Beijing and carry the flag for the Great Britain Team at the closing ceremony. Having been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2005, David was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2009. 
  • Lee Pearson
    Lee has a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which means muscles do not grow correctly so there is limited movement in the joints. Despite having had some 15 operations he is unable to move his knees or ankles so he controls his horse through his hips. In 1996 he discovered para dressage while watching the Atlanta Paralympics and in 2003 he won the elementary restricted title at the British Dressage National Championships competing against able-bodied riders, the only disabled person to have won a title at that event. Beijing saw him set a world record for being unbeaten at 3 consecutive Paralympic Games. In 2001 he was awarded an MBE and in 2005 an OBE as recognition of his equestrian success and services to sport for the disabled. In the 2009 New Year Honours List he received a CBE for services to equestrianism and disabled sport and in the 2017 New Year Honours List he was awarded a knighthood.
  • Sophie Christiansen
    Sophie started riding at the age of 6 as a therapy for cerebral palsy. She won the grade Ia freestyle team gold medal and silver in the individual test in Para dressage at the Beijing 2008 Games. In the London 2012 Games she won gold medals in team and individual competitions, which she repeated again in Rio 2016. Sophie is also a mathematics graduate and has to balance her training with a job at an investment bank in the City of London, while also being a prominent disability rights spokesperson. In the 2017 New Year Honours list she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to para equestrian. Read more about Sophie here
  • Anne Dunham
    At the age of 27 Anne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and became wheelchair bound at the age of 30. When she was 40, her husband sold his business and they bought a farm in Wales which they turned in to a holiday home and riding school which allowed Anne to seriously pursue her para dressage career. Anne competed at the Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games before winning her 9th Paralympic medal at the Rio 2016 Games. She retired in 2017 at the age of 68 and was appointed an OBE in the 2017 New Year Honours list for services to equestrian sport.
  • Aileen McGlynn and Ellen Hunter
    Visually impaired cyclists compete on tandem bikes with a pilot, the sighted rider on the front, with the stoker, the visually impaired rider on the back, both are awarded medals at the Paralympic Games. The Beijing Paralympic Games saw the pair, Aileen McGlynn, the visually impaired rider and Ellen Hunter, the sighted rider, add 2 gold medals to the 1 gold and 1 silver they won at Athens 2004. Both were awarded an OBE for services to disability sport in 2009.

Media coverage at the event

Beijing saw more TV coverage than any previous Paralympic Games, with 64 broadcasters, who brought 4,000 staff, providing coverage to 80 countries across all five continents. The global audience was estimated to be 3.8 billion people and broadcasting time tripled in comparison to the coverage of the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. China’s CCTV and BTV channels delivered 22 hours of coverage each day on different channels. The IPC’s online TV, launched for Beijing and channels provided an additional opportunity for people without access to a TV to see the Games.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony took place on the 17th September at the Beijing National Stadium and embodied the Games slogan of 'One World, One Dream' with themes of shaping of the future and the togetherness of people doing so.

The first segment, ‘A Letter to the Future’, saw members of the audience being encouraged by cartoonish figures, who looked like postmen, to write their wishes for the future on postcards. In the centre of the stadium a grassed area had flowers grown on it which said 'A Letter to the Future' in Chinese and English.

After the athletes entered the stadium, accompanied by highlights of the Games, a countdown from 23 was shown on screen. This was followed by a celebratory firework display before the Chinese flag was raised and national anthem played, signalling the official opening of the closing ceremony.

The idea of 'A Letter to the Future' was continued with a performance representing the lifecycle of plants, from sowing (writing wishes for the future), watering (working towards a better future in the pursuit of dreams) and harvesting (everyone benefiting from working together to create a better future) and finally, a celebration of the harvest.

In the next segment, 'Mail it to the Future', the postmen characters delivered the postcards written by the audience to the athletes. More postcards were put into a postbox in the middle of the stadium and these were later sent all over the world by China Post.

After speeches by Liu Qi, President of the Organising Committee and IPC President Sir Philip Craven the official closing of the Games was signalled with the Paralympic flag being lowered and handed over to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, the next host city. The London team delivered a performance, which included an iconic double decker London bus driven by Paralympian Ade Adepitan, which aimed to demonstrate how sport promotes the Paralympic Movement and can positively influence the lives of young people.


  • Ian Brittain, From Stoke Mandeville to Sochi : a history of the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing 
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