Everest a Spiritual Trophy for Wealthy Chinese

Wednesday was the 60th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic climb to the top of Qomolangma, or Mount Everest, whose summit is neatly bisected by the border between China and Nepal. China Daily marked the occasion with a gallery of notable Chinese and other climbers who have reached the highest point on earth. Xinhua, meanwhile, noted the feat’s transition from a demonstration of national prowess to a “spiritual” form of extreme tourism for the country’s newly wealthy, supported by a thriving guide industry.

The first Chinese team reached the summit in 1960, when the country was struggling to build a socialist society out of grinding poverty, a legacy of the civil war.

The nation basked in glory on May 8, 2008, when a team of Chinese mountaineers took the Olympic flame to Mt. Qomolangma in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics Games, which was deemed a demonstration of China’s economic and social achievements over the years.

But Nyima Tsering and other younger Chinese mountaineers believe the greater significance of the activity is to make modern people reflect on themselves and their relations with the nature.

“The feeling has been growing within me all these years that mountains have life, and that we should not attempt to overpower nature, but instead we should respect and live in harmony with it,” he explains. [Source]

Spiritual communion aside, the surging number of climbers from around the world has caused concern over pollution and safety. Of the nearly 4,000 people to reach the summit over the past 60 years, more than 500 did so last year, picking their way past discarded equipment, “pyramids of human excrement,” and the corpses of some of the 240 who have died on the mountain. In April, a brawl broke out between European climbers and Nepalese Sherpas near the summit, while disagreement emerged this week over plans to ease congestion at a particularly difficult spot by installing a ladder.

This month, on the brighter side, an 80-year-old Japanese adventurer became the oldest person to make the climb, having previously skied down from the South Col in 1970. Yuichiro Miura “has since skied down the highest mountains on each of the seven continents,” according to Reuters, “following the tradition of his late father Keizo, who skied down Europe’s Mont Blanc at the age of 99.”