Tibetan-Chinese Team Summit Everest with Olympic Torch


As reported on MTMD earlier, a Chinese team was attempting to summit Mt. Everest with the Olympic Torch. On Thursday, that team took the Olympic flame to the top of the world in a spectacular feat dreamed up to underscore China's ambitions for the Beijing games.

The climbers could be heard struggling for breath in a live television broadcast as five torchbearers each shuffled a few feet before passing on the flame to the next person. A colorful Tibetan prayer flag lined the path and fluttered in the wind. The final torchbearer, a Tibetan woman named Cering Wangmo, stood silently on the peak with her torch while other team members unfurled small Chinese and Olympic flags. They then clustered together, cheering "We made it," and "Beijing welcomes you."


"One World, One Dream," team captain Nyima Cering yelled as his torch was lit, repeating the slogan for the Beijing Olympics. "We have lit the torch on top of the world," another climber said. The stop at the top of Everest was meant to be the highlight of the Beijing Olympics torch relay. China has billed the Beijing Olympics as a glorious showcase of its rapid development from impoverished agrarian nation to industrial powerhouse.

But the Everest relay has been criticized from the outset because of China's often harsh rule over Tibet - where the mountain is located on the border with Nepal - and it drew even more intense scrutiny after Tibetans across western China erupted in anti-government protests in March. Organizers still hoped that the dramatic image of the torch atop Everest would counter some of the damaging publicity from protests that marred the international leg of the torch relay. (See The Politicization of the Beijing Olympics.)

Tibetan activists continue to accuse Beijing of using the climb to reassert its control over Tibet. China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time.


Politics aside, taking the torch to Everest's peak and broadcasting it live was a major technological feat and accomplishment. China's state broadcaster CCTV spent heavily to build a television studio at base camp and to construct transmission points at four camps on the mountain face. The team used torches designed by rocket scientists to take the flame along the final icy incline leading to the peak of Mount Everest. Fueled by propane, the flame burned brightly in the frigid, windy, oxygen-thin Himalayan air thanks to technology that keeps rocket motors burning in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The flame was carried most of the way in a special metal canister. As the team neared the summit, they used a wand to pass the flame to the torch.

The Everest flame is separate from the main Olympic torch, which on Thursday was on the opposite side of China, in the southeastern province of Guangdong, the heart of Chinese manufacturing. The main torch was not taken up Everest because a delay due to bad weather would have thrown the schedule off for the whole relay. The main flame will cross every region and province of China, returning to Beijing on Aug. 6, two days ahead of the opening ceremony.

The 19-member final assault team was comprised of both ethnic Han Chinese and Tibetan members, underscoring another government theme - ethnic unity. Significantly, the team captain and the final torchbearer were both Tibetans.

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Anonymous said...

I really hope that Tibet gets it's freedom. I've been studying Buddhism for many years now and the Olympics start on my birthday (8/8/08) so it would be wonderful to see Tibet liberated. I wonder why the Chinese government is so afraid of the Tibetan people?

May 09, 2008 10:29 AM
Jackie said...

It was an amazing feat but sadly as I am very anti the Olympic games in China due to their human rights and animal cruelty issues I keep hoping the flame will go out.

Time the UN stepped in and did something about Tibet but like Zimbabwe, Darfur etc there is nothing to profit from it financially so all they do is talk with no real action.

May 10, 2008 5:47 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Valerie, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I don't think the Chinese are afraid of the Tibet people. I just think they believe that they are part of China, the same way they think Taiwan and Hong Kong are part of China, and thus should be under Chinese Rule. International relations are very complex. It's really easy to sit at our computers, watch the news, hear about Human Rights violations and form quick opinions, but China has been a society for thousands of years, and really, who are we to impose our views on another sovereign nation just because we don't share the same values?

Personally, I want the Human Rights violations in Tibet and elsewhere around the world to come to an end. It would be great for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. However, I'm not so sure that Tibet needs to be liberated or granted political independence. China is an emerging world power. There are a great number of economic advantages and resources that the Tibetan people can take advantage of as citizens of China.

But what I am certain of is that Tibetans should be absolutely free to pursue their religious beliefs in any manner they choose to without the interference of a central government. The Dalai Lama has always been the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. It's critical that he remain so, and that the Tibetan people are treated with respect and all freedoms and rights of their society should be afforded to them as determined by them, and not us looking in as outsiders.

Jackie, in principle and theory I agree with you 100%. But like I indicate above, China is a very old culture and civilization. They have been around for millenia, and not being Chinese, I think it's hard to really make judgments about the Chinese from the outside, especially from the United States--there's so many great things about our country, but so many wrong things too. The fact that we still deal with racism and that people who theoretically are equal to one another, are not, is most shameful.

As for China, I prefer to look at the Olympic Games in hope. China is doing their very best to put on a good face for the world. As China emerges as a first-world super-power, they will struggle with and ultimately deal with the repressions of their people. They'll be forced to. Just as the Russians had to deal with them and are still dealing with them.

All, I wish it were possible to wave a magic wand and then suddenly everything would be right and perfect in the world, but deep down inside, I believe we all know that change--even in the route we take to work--is hard to make. Changing a culture, substituting new values, and more is impossibly hard to achieve in a short period of time.

Rather than condemn the Chinese for what they haven't done, I believe we need to congratulate them for every step they make in the right direction, even if the step is a token. Raising a child is not an easy process. Raising a puppy is not an easy process. To be successful, you have to be consistent, firm, but apply discipline with love. That's what gets results. Unfortunately, no one around the world is really offering much love to the Chinese, and I think that's a flaw within us all. We are so quick to find fault, but so slow to praise and congratulate. That's a human character flaw.

If we want real change in China, and I believe all of us do, I think what needs to change first is our approach, since obviously condmning the Chinese is not doing much good.


May 10, 2008 5:58 PM

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