Next month in Beijing, hundreds of people on drugs will run around in circles and throw things. I’ve heard various people here, enthused with the passion of the sacred flame, saying that this is the most important thing that has ever happened in China - displaying either a disturbing lack of knowledge of Chinese history or a very strange interpretation of it.
On Tuesday, to mark the one-month countdown to the great event, the China Daily gave us “30 reasons to watch the Beijing Games.” These include having the highest number of foreign coaches, the most mascots, the creation of a “170-page Chinese Menu in English Version” and the fact that 4,104 unfortunate babies have been named Aoyun (Olympics).
The four billion people who are expected to watch the games obviously don’t need persuading. But as one of the two and a half billion people who are not expected to watch the games, I find the China Daily’s list somewhat unconvincing.
Athletes, officials, spectators and tourists can pick up the Bible or just the New Testament for free during the Olympic Games next month.
Tens of thousands of copies of the Bible, the New Testament and booklets with just the four Gospels (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have been printed for the purpose, say officials of China’s Christian society.
According to Reverend Xu Xiaohong, “this is the first time an Olympics logo will be used on a religious booklet.” As with the China Daily’s list, I’m not entirely convinced by Reverend Xu’s assessment that this is “especially significant.” However, it does cast a new light on the Beijing Running Man symbol. In this context, he could perhaps be Jesus nailed to a red door instead of a cross. Or, maybe, Jesus deciding he’s changed his mind and making a run for it.
Reverend Xu (and a few hundred million other people) probably wouldn’t agree with me on that. I should be less blasphemous, more respectful and remember that “the Olympic spirit and the spirit of living a ‘purpose-driven life’ that Christians believe in come together in the combination.”
My problem is that despite eight years of publicity, I still don’t know what the Olympic spirit really is. I became even more confused about this after the Olympic torch relay in Tibet when I read the following:
The Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius - faster, higher, stronger - may have been intended as an inspiration for athletes but for this year’s games hosts, China, it has also become a rallying call to suppress dissent in Tibet.
At an Olympic torch relay ceremony in Lhasa last week, the Tibetan capital’s most senior Communist party official cited the 84-year-old motto to exhort listeners to crack down on “splittist” supporters of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
“Encouraged by the Olympic spirit of ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, Lhasa people of all nationalities will . . . resolutely smash the Dalai clique’s scheme to destabilise Tibet, sabotage the Olympics and split the motherland,” said the Lhasa party secretary Qin Yizhi.
As with many statements from party and government officials in Tibet, my first thought was: surely he didn’t really say that! It must be a mistranslation. But, as always, it wasn’t. He really did say that. The Olympic spirit according to Cartman.
Then again, this isn’t as bad as many parts of the Bible that aren’t in the Olympic Gospels booklet - the bits that exhort us to slaughter every man, woman, child and beast in conquered territories, or require us to execute anyone who works on Saturdays.