BEIJING, March 28 (Xinhua) -- About 20 Chinese cities joined a worldwide relay on Saturday night to switch off lights of major buildings for one hour to highlight concerns about climate change while calling for actions.
Tens of thousands of Chinese either turned off lights and appliances at home or joined outdoor activities such as candle-lit dinners and star-gazing parties, to show their support.
The iconic "Bird's Nest" National Stadium and the "Water Cube" National Aquatics Center in northern Beijing, usually illuminated by floodlights, went dark completely at 8:30 p.m. local time (1230GMT).
Dozens of glitzy hotels, office buildings, shopping malls and restaurants in the capital also switched some lights off for 60 minutes.
At a hotel next to the "Bird's Nest", more than 100 officials, dignitaries and journalists gathered to witness the symbolic ceremony which unveiled the China leg of Earth Hour, the global campaign organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
"I hope tonight's activity will inspire everyone to make energy saving a daily habit," Chinese actress Li Bingbing, an ambassador of Earth Hour campaign in China, said at the ceremony.
Famed Chinese pianist Lang Lang also appeared in a short video clip on the popular website Youtube.com, appealing his countrymen to "turn off lights" and support climate change action.
In Shanghai, China's financial hub, floodlights to illuminate some 160buildings, including the world's third tallest TV tower "Oriental Pearl" and the 492-meter-tall World Financial Center, also went down.
Skyscrapers with glowing windows dominating the night skyline are usually considered symbols of affluence and modernization in China. But Saturday night, going dark became trendy.
"I come here just to watch the Oriental Pearl to switch off lights. It's very special tonight because it sends an environmental message to us," citizen Yang Zheying said while standing under the tower.
In many Shanghai outlets of international fast food chain KFC, people enjoyed candle-lit dinners after the restaurants dimmed lights.
KFC said in a statement earlier that more than 1,300 outlets in29 Chinese cities would participate the Earth Hour activities.
Initiated in Australia in 2007, Earth Hour is a time zone-by-time zone plan in which people around the world are encouraged to switch off their lights for 60 minutes on the last Saturday night of March to show their concern about global warming and climate change.
About 3,000 cities in more than 80 countries and regions will join this year's campaign, compared with 35 countries last year, according to the organization.
WWF official Wang Limin said in Shanghai that the campaign aimed to send out more and clearer messages to world leaders before they meet in Copenhagen in December to craft a new global pact on curbing emissions of greenhouse gases.
Fast industrialization and urbanization has made China a major emitter and the government has promised to cut the nation's energy consumption by 20 percent by the year of 2010.
In a videotaped speech last week, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a global support of Earth Hour, saying it would be a clear message for action on climate change.
As a response, college and university students in Beijing, Nanjing, Wuhan, Shanghai and Baoding geared up for innovative activities ranging from outdoor lectures, walks, to an unplugged concert.
Some 100 students gathered at the prestigious Peking University in Beijing Saturday night, offering telescopes to passer-bys for them to observe the starry sky.
"Earth Hour should talk about not only climate change, but also the importance of darkness, because light pollution in cities has seriously affect astronomical observation," Liu Boyang, a sophomore majoring in astronomy, told Xinhua.
"I don't expect too many people to heed the call (for turning off lights) tonight. But this should not be only for tonight - we must do energy saving everyday," he said.
Popular website douban.com asked its users to "log off for one hour."
Even a mimic of the Eiffel Tower in an amusement park in south China's Shenzhen City plunged into darkness before the real one in Paris goes dark eight hours later.
"Enthusiasm of the Chinese individuals and governments (to support the campaign) has been overwhelming, though this is the first year for China to hold Earth Hour activities," Dermot O'Gorman, WWF China Country Representative, told Xinhua.
"This will send an important message to the world that people in China are becoming more aware of climate change issues," he said.
But not everyone is so convinced.
Dozens of posts on youdao.com questioned whether Earth Hour was as meaningful as many said, or just a hype.
"Think about carbon emissions caused by holding this activity, "an unidentified post said, while another post questioned whether people living without electricity should get credit because they "literally go dark everyday."
"It is true that Earth Hour is just for one hour each year. One person may be small, but we can make difference if we work collectively to change behaviors," said O'Gorman, who has been working in China for four years.
"People in China become more aware of and more concerned about climate change and environmental issues. Also the country is led by a very strong leadership which is also more aware of the issues," he said.
"This is a very important message to the world," he said.