By May 2007, construction of all 31 Beijing-based Olympic Games venues had begun. The Chinese government renovated and constructed six venues outside Beijing as well as 59 training centres. The largest structures built were the Beijing National Stadium, Beijing National Indoor Stadium, Beijing National Aquatics Center, Olympic Green Convention Center, Olympic Green, and Beijing Wukesong Culture & Sports Center. Almost 85% of the construction budget for the six main venues was funded by $2.1 billion (RMB¥17.4 billion) in corporate bids and tenders. Investments were expected from corporations seeking ownership rights after the Olympics. Some events were held outside Beijing, namely football in Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Tianjin; sailing in Qingdao; and, because of the "uncertainties of equine diseases and major difficulties in establishing a disease-free zone", the equestrian events were held in Hong Kong.
Beijing was awarded the Games over four competitors on July 13, 2001, having won an absolute majority of votes from members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after two rounds of voting. The Government of the People's Republic of China promoted the Games and invested heavily in new facilities and transportation systems. A total of 37 venues were used to host the events including 12 constructed for use at the Games. The official logo of these Olympic Games, titled "Dancing Beijing", featured a stylised calligraphic character jīng (京, meaning capital), referring to the host city. Media outlets reported unprecedented audience interest in the Games, and these Olympics had the largest television audience in Olympic history. Some politicians and non-governmental organizations criticized the choice of China as Olympic host because of the country's human rights record.
The opening ceremony officially began at 8:00 pm on August 8, 2008 in the Beijing National Stadium. The number 8 is associated with prosperity and confidence in Chinese culture, and here it was a triple eight for the date and one extra for time (close to 08:08:08 pm). The ceremony was co-directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and Chinese choreographer Zhang Jigang and featured a cast of over 15,000 performers. The ceremony lasted over four hours and was reported to have cost over US$100 million to produce.
A rich assembly of ancient Chinese art and culture dominated the ceremony. It opened with the beating of Fou drums for the countdown. Subsequently, a giant scroll was unveiled and became the show's centerpiece. The official song of the 2008 Olympics, titled "You and Me", was performed by Britain's Sarah Brightman and China's Liu Huan, on a large spinning rendition of the globe. The last recipient in the Olympic Torch relay, former Chinese gymnast Li Ning ignited the cauldron, after being suspended into the air by wires and completing a lap of the National Stadium at Stadium roof height in the air.
The 2008 Summer Olympics emblem was known as Dancing Beijing (simplified Chinese: 舞动的北京; traditional Chinese: 舞動的北京; pinyin: Wǔdòng de Beíjīng). The emblem combined a traditional Chinese red seal and a representation of the calligraphic character jīng (京, "national capital", also the second character of Beijing's Chinese name) with athletic features. The open arms of the calligraphic word symbolised the invitation from China to the world to share in its culture. IOC president Jacques Rogge was very happy with the emblem, saying, "Your new emblem immediately conveys the awesome beauty and power of China which are embodied in your heritage and your people."
The slogan for the 2008 Olympics was "One World, One Dream" (simplified Chinese: 同一个世界 同一个梦想; traditional Chinese: 同一個世界 同一個夢想; pinyin: Tóng Yíge Shìjiè Tóng Yíge Mèngxiǎng.) The slogan called upon the whole world to join in the Olympic spirit and build a better future for humanity. It was chosen from over 210,000 entries submitted from around the world. The mascots of Beijing 2008 were the five Fuwa, each representing both a colour of the Olympic rings and a symbol of Chinese culture. In 2006, the Beijing Organizing Committee released pictograms of 35 Olympic disciplines (for some multi-discipline sports, such as cycling, a single pictogram was released). This set of sport icons was named the beauty of seal characters, because of each pictogram's likeness to Chinese seal script.
The program for the Beijing Games was quite similar to that of the 2004 Summer Olympics held in Athens. There were 28 sports and 302 events at the 2008 Games. Nine new events were held, including two from the new cycling discipline of BMX. Women competed in the 3000 metre steeplechase for the first time. Open water swimming events for men and women, over the distance of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), were added to the swimming discipline. Team events (men and women) in table tennis replaced the doubles events. In fencing, women's team foil and women's team sabre replaced men's team foil and women's team épée. Two sports were open only to men, baseball and boxing, while one sport and one discipline were open only to women, softball and synchronized swimming. Equestrian and Mixed Badminton are the only sport in which men and women compete together.
The following were the 28 sports that were contested at the Games. The number of events contested in each sport is indicated in parentheses (in sports with more than one discipline, as identified by the IOC, these are also specified).