Fans crammed into the 34,000-seater arena shook red castanets and threshed green Chinese fans as technicoloured illuminations and roving spotlights flashed across riverside skyscrapers.
The promised "dream-like" three-hour spectacle combined 6,000 performers splashing across a flooded stage, flying men, gushing fountains, a ship roiled by waves and 40,000 fireworks.
"It's much better than I imagined," said Sun Haiguang, one of the spectators. Internet microblogs also buzzed with excitement.
"That was a gorgeous opening ceremony ... all my family are stunned," wrote a blogger called Luo Jun on the Sina website.
Goose-stepping soldiers raised the Chinese flag as the stadium stood to attention during the national anthem.
During the parade, rivals North and South Korea failed to march under a reunification flag while an otherwise boisterous Chinese crowd hushed momentarily when the Japanese delegation arrived on stage in a possible sign of recent bilateral tensions.
Authorities' efforts to safeguard the event -- opened by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao -- meant residential districts in the area were sealed off to traffic and pedestrians, leaving some residents grumbling behind high fences.
"It's a shame of course," said an elderly lady surnamed Chen near a 2.5 metre-high electrified fence. "We can't get closer to the river to enjoy the ceremony tonight."
Residents with views of the river were encouraged to leave their homes.
Regal Riviera, a luxury apartment block directly across from Haixinsha Island, the ceremony venue, gave residents an unusual choice -- leave or allow police to accompany them during the evening show.
Police set up security checkpoints at housing compounds with residents having to swipe identity cards to enter.
"Of course it's a pain," said Ludovic Mieze, a French resident. "But this is China. It was the same for the Olympics."
As with the Beijing Olympics, organisers have been desperate to depict the Asian Games as a symbol of harmony welcomed by residents of the booming metropolis.
Flag sellers on the streets and a small army of volunteers clad in bright tracksuits reinforced the message, speaking gushingly of the Games and their excitement for the opening.
But state-led efforts to drum up enthusiasm have fallen on deaf ears for many locals, who gripe about the disruptions caused by massive construction, traffic restrictions and demolitions.Asian Games
Residents at Xian village, a warren of old, squat houses earmarked for demolition and ringed by luxury apartments near Haixinsha Island, spoke of a tense atmosphere in the runup, with more than 100,000 security staff deployed to safeguard the event.
A number of villagers were arrested at Xian village earlier in the year during violent clashes with riot police who tried to forcibly evict residents from homes due for demolition.
"We have no freedoms," said a wrinkled village elder surnamed Lo in the village wet market. "Things are very tight."
A housewife surnamed Chen said she felt helpless against city developers.
"The city cares more about the Asian games than people's livelihood," she said.