To light the Olympic cauldron, China chose two athletes: skiers Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Zhao Jiawen.
Like the rest of the highly choreographed ceremony, the choice of Dinigeer and Zhao appears symbolic and deliberate. Dinigeer is a Uyghur, an ethnic minority in China's far west region of Xinjiang — where China has been accused of massive human rights violations. The United States and United Kingdom have gone so far as to accuse the Chinese government of genocide against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.
The US State Department estimates that up to two million people have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017. China says the camps are vocational training centers, aimed at combating terrorism and separatism, and has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.
Many Western countries refused to send official delegations to Beijing for the Games due to the allegations of widespread rights violations in Xinjiang.
The decision to pair Dinigeer and Zhao — who is of Han decent, the dominant ethnicity in China — could be a propaganda display, as the ceremony was big on displays of ethnic unity. In addition to the pairing of Zhao and Dinigeer, members of China's 56 official ethnic groups joined to display the flag of the People's Republic.
China has, in recent years, deployed an all-out propaganda effort to shift the narrative in Xinjiang that includes sending state media reporters to the region to supposedly "prove" there is no oppression there and targeting Beijing's critics overseas.