The “Sacred Flame” comes to Tianjin!

…and we, along with tons of other people, almost saw it.

Click the photos for a bigger view.

We left in the morning around 9:30 and joined the roving crowds trying to navigate a district-wide maze created by all the multiple layers of police barriers starting blocks away from the actual torch route. Everyone seemed happy, and there were lots of kids with flags and stickers and t-shirts and stuff. Each barrier had about 20 cops.

We finally threaded through an apartment complex to get behind one line of roadblocks, only to end up at another, prettier, Fuwa-decorated police barricade. A banner on the lamp post in the median said something about harmoniousness. In the distance we could barely discern the line of privileged, colour-coordinated citizens who lined the actual torch route (which we travel every week going to the gym). A scalper tried to sell me “the last four” entrance tickets for $15 each. We spent time with the crowd and engaged in some international diplomacy (aka letting strangers pose with you for photos). We tried getting closer through other nearby apartment complexes, but they were blocked. The closest we got to the Torch was these guys:

For a unique and interested look at what the Olympic Torch means to China, I recommend checking out “FAQ#7: Why were Chinese people so angry about the attempts to seize the torch in the international torch relay?” Writing for The China Beat, Susan Brownell reflects on her participation in a “psychological intervention” event for traumatized Sichuan schoolchildren. Their assigned task was to “bring the Olympic spirit into the schools in order to aid the recovery.”

Against the background of the furor over the international torch relay, observing the reverence and emotion for The Torch and The Torchbearer made me suddenly see how cynical we are, more often than not, in the West, as a product of our secularized, rationalized society in which there are only small spaces in which it is acceptable to express reverence for symbols. A picture appeared in my mind which is an exaggeration but perhaps with a kernel of truth: In China, the majority of public expressions take place in a vast field of rituals and symbols, while the protest zones that were recently announced for the Olympic Games are the small, circumscribed spaces where critical analytical thought is expressed. In the US, the majority of public expressions take place in a vast field of critical analytical thought, while ritual expression takes place in small, circumscribed places like churches and, arguably, sports events. I realized that at least part of the anger that many Chinese people felt at the disruptions of the international torch relay was the result of the (to them) appalling and uncivilized lack of respect for a nearly-sacred object. [Full Text]

I agree!

For more on the Torch and what it means to many Mainlanders, and how most Mainlanders are likely to perceive Western protesters and advocacy journalists, see these articles from two overseas Chinese (in English):

  • Olympic torch relay – the Chinese village version

    This series of pictures comes from an amateur photographer in Henan province (连接). It’s of a self-made torch relay at a local school and restaurant, in a small village in the mountains of Henan province. No corporate sponsors, no media coverage… just possibly the best relay this year.

  • Why are the Chinese so upset about the Western human rights activists and advocate journalists? Do not violate my Chinese feelings, or, rather, sensibilities.

    After lamenting Western misunderstandings of the Chinese, their political arrangements and culture, it behooves to examine some Chinese misunderstandings of the West with regard to the attention their country has received from human rights activists and advocate journalists, especially in the run-up to the Olympics.

    Why are the Chinese viscerally sickened by the following scenes from the Western media?

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