The Holy Olympic Torch, Atheism and Tibet

Beijing based poet, writer and blogger Dong Guangfu (董桄福) published the following essay online, partially translated by Linjun Fan:

The holy Olympic Torch has been lighted, and passed on across the world. The dream of a large country has been lighted up together with it, seething with excitement.

Isn’t it just a torch? Why must we light it in Athens, and on the “holy” ruins? Why must we ask priests to hold complicated ceremonies for it?

Because it is holy.

The holy torch is extraordinary because it carries the spirits, dreams, longings and aspirations of human beings.

The torch has been lighted to pass on the values of peace, unity, and friendship, which all human beings identify with, since the first Olympic Games. What’s also passed on through the torch is the purity and holiness of our spiritual world.

However complicated the torch lighting ceremony is, it would not seem strange in any country that has religious beliefs, respects freedom of religion, and recognizes spiritual values.

But the lighting of a holy torch seems rather awkward in a country like China, which believes in materialism and which has never recognized the existence of spirits.

Ancient Chinese culture is rooted in the worship of deities. The ordinary people have their gods, and the emperors believed they carried on the will of God on earth, and were worshiped as the Sons of God.

Unfortunately, this cultural tradition was cut off when Marxism-Leninism came to China from foreign countries, and became the dominating ideology.

The Cultural Revolution swept away all the ancient traditions and practices. During that time intellectuals were massacred, temples were dismantled, classic literature was destroyed, etc. In a word, all the holy aspects of people’s lives were regarded as superstition and ruthlessly eliminated.

What was left was the leader who was wished to live for tens of thousands of years.

What was the fate in China of the religions from foreign countries? The elimination was similarly bloody. All Christians have paid a high price for it. They were put under the administration of the secular “Three-Self” Church. Jesus was murdered for the second time in China. There is no God, but just the church who represents the ruling party.

This damage didn’t go away with the end of the Cultural Revolution.

In the sphere of ideology, our minds have been firmly occupied by Darwinism and the class theories of Marxism. This has resulted in the unrestrained pursuit of material gains among all the people in the country.

We are left with just one religion — money worship.

Anyone who has religious beliefs is still regarded as an alien in current Chinese society. The pursuit of human rights and freedom could still be charged as an attempt to overthrow the government.

There is no freedom of religion, although it’s clearly written in the Constitution. How many religious persecutions have happened during the past ten years? It’s what we all know, and there’s no need for me to talk about it here.

Because of the poisoning of materialism, the ruling officials believe that people would be grateful to them as long as their living conditions are improving. In fact, however, human beings rely not just on food to live. Their spiritual and religious needs are often stronger than material needs.

This is especially true in regions where minority ethnic groups live. Almost all the minority ethnic groups have their own myths and their tales of the origin of human beings. They have been following their religious beliefs ever since ancient times.

This is the case with Tibetans.

Tibetan Buddhism is the spiritual pillar of Tibetans. It has significant status in their life. Looking at the Tibetan pilgrims who prostrate for every step they progress, we can tell that how deeply they are devoted in their spiritual world. Most believers don’t have much material pursuits.

What they care about is spiritual freedom. They have strong affection for priests, living Buddhas and lamas. The reason why we regard the Tibetan Plateau as a holy place is because it carries the spiritual lights of human beings. That’s why we want to go there to worship and admire the spirit of the holy snowy land.

To such a spiritual ethnic group, it’s much more desirable that we give them adequate religious and spiritual freedom, instead of ample economic support.

As writer Wang Lixiong said, how could a boy be happy if you ask him to curse his parents every time before he eats his meal, every time before he puts on his new clothes, even though you provide him with regal food and luxurious clothing? Could he be comfortable? Could he be grateful?

We can’t win Tibetans’ heart merely by developing their economy. If we fail to understand this, more conflicts will arise, and they could be intensified into unrest like the current Tibetan incident.

Our government hopes that everybody believes in Marxism. It thus dismisses all religious belief as heresy. This leads to the most unbelievable ideological tyranny in the world – forcibly remolding people’s minds.

Can beliefs be changed this way? Can the minds be reshaped this way? The catastrophic consequence of such remolding has been exemplified by the Cultural Revolution.

How long do we want it to last? The revival of Chinese culture can not be achieved by economic means. The economy is just one aspect of human life. It can’t resolve various perplexities of the human hearts.

It’s undeniable that one reason for us to hold the Olympic Games is to make money out of the event. However, the greater value of the Games lies in the cohesion and rejuvenation it brings to a nation’s spirit. It lies in the exhibition of the spirit and manners of a powerful country to the outside world.

In other words, I emphasized the spirit and the origin of the Holy Torch, because I want to remind people of the holy and pure aspects of the Games. The torch, which represents spiritual values and beliefs, is being passed on right now. All preparation work for the Beijing Olympic Games is being conducted.

How much spiritual value have we prepared to transmit across the world, to go hand in hand with the holy torch? It might be a question that is worth the whole country pondering, especially its ruling officials.

The Holy Torch is not just a torch. The flame from Athens is different from other flames because of its origin and the spirit it symbolizes.

You can say that the Olympic Games is just a sports event with more participants and more games. However, it becomes a carrier of glory when attached with spiritual values of peace, unity, freedom and friendship.

Has the lighting of the Torch inspired holiness and freedom in the hearts of us Chinese? Has it enlightened some spiritual values beyond materialism? Has it inflamed the dignity of a nation which has been buried for a long time?