Discuss as:

China lives through 'year of extremes'

BEIJING – The number eight is considered so auspicious here that the Chinese leadership decided to launch the Summer Olympic Games at 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month of the year.

The number eight has long suggested luck and good fortune because in Mandarin it sounds like the word for prosperity, as Raymond Lo, a feng shui expert, explained to us back in July. But, depending on the time cycle mapped out on the Chinese calendar of elements, eight could have positive or negative portents. "This year [suggests] the earth is not stable," said Lo. "And, also, the number eight also represents children."

Image: Olympics
Reuters file

China's national flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, on August 8, 2008.

Indeed 2008 turned out to be a turbulent year for China — and two of the worst disasters befalling its youth were the Sichuan earthquake and the baby milk scandal.

The quake, which struck early on a May afternoon, destroyed thousands of classrooms and may have killed as many as 19,000 children out of the estimated 90,000 people killed or missing.

And in September, just two weeks after the Olympics ended, the public learned that a leading brand of powdered baby formula contained melamine (a chemical used to artificially boost the milk's protein content), which was later reported to have killed at least six infants and sickened nearly 300,000 others.

Between the success of the Summer Olympics and everything else, 2008 was, as cultural critic Raymond Zhou observed, "a year of extremes" for China.

Click here to read the rest of Adrienne Mong's report on China's tumultuous year.