BEIJING — For China, 2008 is the year of the Olympics, plain and simple, and the government kicked off the new year with stirring testimony to the positive changes wrought in the country because of the Beijing Games, which open Aug. 8.

China says the Games will show just how far the country has progressed, even while rights activists and press freedom organizations complain about the country’s human rights record.

“We will show the world 5,000 years of splendid Chinese history, the significant achievements of modern China and the zeitgeist of the Chinese people,” the People’s Daily, which is the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, declared in an editorial on New Year’s Day.

The Olympics have truly transformed the city, and there is a genuine buzz about the forthcoming Games.

“Free Tibet” campaigners and other rights groups, meanwhile, are hoping to use the Olympics to highlight their grievances, and some voices in Hollywood have complained about the participation of Steven Spielberg in the opening shindig.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has said that despite government promises to grant total press freedom, reporters are still being subjected to harassment, interference and even violence while doing their jobs. In a statement, the org urged Beijing to live up to its promises and expressed its members’ hope that “as a lasting legacy of the Games, the regulations will be made permanent, and will be fully implemented nationwide, including in Tibet and Xinjiang.”

The commercial benefits of the Olympics should be considerable. The Games are expected to boost flat-panel TV sales in China by 50% this year. Sales of flat-panel sets will surge to 12 million units from 8 million in 2007, according to a report from the China Electronic Chamber of Commerce.

China has pledged to provide digital TV broadcasting for the Games, prompting citizens to buy high- definition TVs to better view the two-week event.

On the last day of 2007, some 4,000 spectators gathered on a chilly night in Beijing to wave and cheer as local warblers sang songs related to Olympic dreams and spirit to usher in the year of the Games.

Most in the audience were university students wearing hats and gloves in the five colors of the Olympic Rings and sporting embroidered images of the Beijing Olympic mascots — the five manga-like Fuwa animals that are proving a huge merchandising success ahead of the Games.

Meanwhile, China Central Television broadcast a New Year’s gala — in English as well as Chinese, which is unprecedented. The show included performers from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India and many other countries and featured dance, opera, acrobatics, magic and a fashion show.

At Tuesday’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, members of the Chinese Falun Gong spiritual movement protested a float honoring the Beijing Games. Demonstrators wanted people to turn their backs on the float as it rolled along the route, though few appeared to join in the protest.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)