Jiang given place of honour to see culmination of his efforts
The opening ceremony probably meant more to them than anyone else - a reminder of the excitement they felt when Beijing won its bid to host the Olympics seven summers ago.
Retired leaders such as former president Jiang Zemin are no longer at China's helm, but their presence at the four-plus-hour show was a tribute to their efforts to realise the 'dream of a century'. To host the extravaganza has been the dream of generations of Chinese leaders.
Well groomed and in high spirits, they made a rare show of unity with their successors at the National Stadium to witness what they boasted was one of China's most important victories in recent history.
A beaming Mr Jiang was flanked by his wife, Wang Yeping. The 82-year-old, who declared China's Olympics victory at Beijing's Millennium Monument in 2001, was honoured with a seat in the VIP enclosure, where he was joined by the nine most powerful leaders - of the Politburo Standing Committee - International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Mr Jiang was the only former leader given prominent air time during CCTV's live broadcast. China had been working on a bid for the Games through the 1990s and lost the 2000 Games to Sydney. Also present were former vice-premiers Wu Yi and Li Lanqing , and the eldest son of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping , Deng Pufang , who is executive president of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.