I’m sure it was an impressive sight, but this is somewhat less than it seems:
On January 1st China’s first aircraft carrier (the Liaoning) and its escort group returned to base after 37 days at sea. A day later the Chinese Navy announced that Liaoning had successfully completed its sea trials. Liaoning was commissioned (accepted into service by the navy) in September 2012 but still to complete more sea trials before it was ready for regular service. Before commissioning Liaoning had performed well during over a year of sea trials. During that time Liaoning went to sea ten times. The longest trip was two weeks. All this was mainly to see if the ship was able to function reliably at sea. After commissioning Liaoning carried out 15 months of additional trials and preparations have been made for the first flight operations, which took place in late 2012. During the first year of sea trials some aircraft were spotted on the flight deck. This was apparently to make sure aircraft could be moved around the deck, and down to the hanger deck, without any problems.
What they didn’t do was launch or recover any planes. So far, Liaoning is a fancy way to take airplanes out for a nice cruise and then back to shore again. China has made a big first step, but they still have a long way to go before they’re actually capable of conducting carrier operations.