Yang Hengjun: Let the Holy Torch Enlighten a Road of Simplicity, Nature and Harmony

The following essay was posted by Guangzhou-based blogger Yang Hengjun, and as translated by Linjun Fan:

Let the Holy Torch Enlighten a Road of Simplicity, Nature and Harmony

When China Central Television was broadcasting the Olympics torch lighting ceremony live from Greece, I watched the whole process. I have to admit that I found the complicated ceremony to be weird and funny at first, because I am not used to that kind of scene. What’s it like? It’s very austere. I have experienced all kinds of grandiose movements and activities in China. Whenever I think of the Olympic Games, images of large unified crowds pop into my mind. Also, it’s rare for our national television network to broadcast live such a simple and crude activity.

However, I was deeply attracted by the flame lighting ritual. The priestess presiding over the ritual was dressed in pure white. She lit the holy flame from a bowl on the ground, and danced elegantly with several Greek women similarly dressed on a nearby hillside. There were also eight bare-foot men, acting out various scenes of sports competitions on a lush grassland. Their holiness and beauty grabbed me.

I personally think that the simple scenes acted out by the eight Greek men with muscular beauty are the culmination of the flame-lighting ceremony. The significance of the ceremony in the minds of the Chinese government and the Chinese people could be demonstrated by the fact that the First Channel of China Central Television broadcast it live. However, we also know that people in
China don’t normally attach significance to simple and natural things.

Isn’t the ritual simple and natural? Look at the eight barefooted dancers, who were in plain clothes, acting out on natural grass poses that were condensed through thousands of years of sports history.

I have seen all kinds of pompous events in China. But the Olympic flame lighting ceremony struck me as being natural, clean, and harmonious, and stayed deep in my heart.

If I go further to say that these descriptions represent the spirit of the Olympic Flame, you might agree with me. So, will this spirit enter China when the Olympic Flame is passed on to our country on May 4th, and shine over the ancient holy land?

I have doubts about it. I watched several programs on other TV channels after the live broadcast of the flame-lighting ceremony, and found out that people in various parts of China were enthusiastically discussing the torch relay. They were very excited, especially those who live in the places where the torch will pass. This is a good thing, since the Holy Flame not only represents the peace-loving spirit of human beings, but is also combined with various other universal values that we are all longing for. However, I was disturbed by what I saw on the television screen. What did I see?

I saw on TV that local governments in China are starting to build grand structures to embrace the Holy Torch. Images of these buildings were shown on the screen. Some of them have been completed, rising high into the clouds and dwarfing even the Holy Flame on Mount Olympus.

I was deeply disturbed. I did a search on the Internet and found out that various local government officials have talked a lot about the torch relay. Some are saying that they will take the torch relay as their primary political task, or use it as the engine to revive the local economy. They are vowing to make it a grandiose and exhilarating event. They said that they wanted to safely send away the Holy Flame, but keep its spirit.

Do they know what the spirit of the Holy Flame is? How would they keep it? Will it be through the towering structures built with taxpayers’ money? Will it be through the monuments that disrupt the daily life of the public and waste their money? I am also worried about our effort to send the holy flame to Mt. Everest, for which we have been training athletes for months. How much will it cost? Whose money will be spent? Is anyone willing to tell the public about the expenditure?

I can say without hesitation that the areas where the Holy Flame will pass in the Chinese Mainland will have more impoverished residents and more polluted areas than any area that the flame has ever passed in the past thirty years. When the Holy Flame passes these areas, what can we do in order not to disgrace its arrival? What can we do to keep its spirit when it leaves? I think these are the questions worth pondering by various government officials and intellectuals.

We can talk about world peace and China’s rising under the brilliant light of the Olympic Flame. We can also talk about sportsmanship and universal values. But before we talk about such grand topics, should we first learn something from the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece? Can we talk also about being simple, natural, clean and environmentally-friendly? These values should also be part of our goal of hosting a harmonious Olympic Games.

Especially, I want to remind officials not to build costly structures for the torch relay. If they are willing to spend their own money to do it, I won’t object. But they shouldn’t use taxpayers’ money for it. I am afraid that local government officials will make the torch relay into a worshiping ritual for themselves, like ancient emperors, or make it into a venue for local politicians to praise themselves, burdening the public and disrupting social harmony.

Since the torch will be traveling on the Chinese mainland for three months and will pass many different places, we can think about how to conduct ceremonies for it based on local characteristics. Greece has lush grass to be used as natural dancing floors. Do we have similar resources? If not, perhaps we can dance on barren land – which could be inspirational and stimulating us to think about how to turn the barren land into lush grass.

Also, we shouldn’t just invite local officials to attend the torch relay, who would love to line up and pose for the media to take pictures. Perhaps we can invite people from various disadvantaged groups in the society to attend the torch relay, such as migrant workers, the elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed, etc, giving them a chance to feel the warmth of the Holy Flame.

I want to invite you all to observe the conduct of local officials when the Holy Flame passes their jurisdiction — whether they exploit or politicize the flame for personal benefits, whether they keep the rituals simple and frugal, or waste lots of money on costly buildings and ornaments, whether they keep it environmentally-friendly and harmonious, etc. We can compare the ceremonies with those in the richer countries who hosted the Olympic Games before, and learn some good lessons from it.

I want to remind the officials once again that please don’t build one towering buildings after another for the Olympic Flame. Please remember that the true lasting monuments are built in the hearts of the people. If the ruling officials don’t have the people in their heart, it’s useless for them to build numerous altars or monuments. These buildings might turn into places where their shame is posted.

杨恒均 2008-3-27