Praying for Tokyo Olympics under state of emergency

By Zhou Muzhi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 28, 2021
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Fireworks illuminate the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 23, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Tokyo Olympics are under way.

Back in 2008, I still contributed to the Globe magazine of Xinhua News Agency as a columnist while working as a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On the eve of the Beijing Olympics, I wrote an article titled "The times produce their heroes" on the plane from Boston to Paris, to celebrate the opening of the grand event from afar.

Unyielding Olympic spirit and unusual decision-making

Compared with the wide participation of and the public expectations for the Beijing Olympics, the Tokyo Olympics had to be convened under a state of emergency. It cannot receive overseas tourists, and spectators cannot watch most of its events on the spot. Japan not only loses nearly 100 billion yen in box office revenue and hundreds of billion yen of consumer spending in tourism, but also has to spend nearly 100 billion yen more in epidemic prevention and control. Hosting a grand sports event has thus turned into a rise to challenges amid strict anti-epidemic measures.

Japan had previously made adequate preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in fact, but due to the impact of COVID-19, had to postpone the event for a year. However, without effective anti-epidemic moves over the year, Japan failed to contain the virus spread.

Despite declaring a state of emergency, it does not practice complete lockdown, nor does it target zero COVID-19 cases. Therefore, it kept getting on the same route, and is now under a state of emergency for the fourth time.

Japan even launched a "Go To Travel" campaign last year to boost its tourism, with the Japanese government heavily subsidizing it in an effort to stimulate cross-region travel. This move contradictory to anti-epidemic routine abruptly drove up the number of COVID-19 infections.

Japan staked all its bets on COVID-19 vaccines, but did not invest heavily in developing and producing its own vaccines, nor did it readily open special channels for the approval of overseas ones, resulting in a serious delay in vaccination.

Facing up to outbreaks and strong opposition of general public

The opening of the Tokyo Olympics in the absence of extensive inoculation, effective quarantine measures, and sound medical guarantee may put the country at the risk of various mutated viruses.

People have thus voiced strong opposition to the scheduled convening of the Tokyo Olympics, and I often see rallies against the event outside my apartment in Tokyo.

COVID-19 cases have actually emerged in delegations from different countries, and the underprepared Japan will undergo potential challenges from coronavirus variants worldwide.

Despite so, the Tokyo Olympic Games go ahead after all. More than 10,090 athletes from over 200 countries and regions came to Tokyo for the Games, registering a record number of athletes and the largest number of sports on offer in Olympic history.

I would like to republish the article "The times produce their heroes" at this time to cheer for the athletes putting up brave fights under the pressure of the pandemic and pray for the Tokyo Olympics convened under a state of emergency. I hope that the athletes' brilliant performances in the competitions for glory and dreams will bring more hope and vitality to the world hit by the pandemic.

The times produce their heroes

Heroes thread human history. Their superhuman ability, willingness to accept challenges, valiant demeanor, and invincible belief are the qualities most appreciated by people. Their glory and dreams, and setbacks and failures, not only affect the rise and fall of the times and the survival and death of nations, but also constitute the spiritual legacy that later generations hail, inherit, yearn for, or lament.

The Greek hero Achilles and the defender of Troy Hector in Homer's epic poem are both mythological figures hailed by people for thousands of years no matter they win or lose. In China, Xiang Yu, Liu Bang, Cao Cao, Yue Fei, and Mao Zedong had all expressed invincible and heroic demeanor in their poems, gaining reverence from generations after generations of the Chinese people. Many masterpieces of classical Chinese literature, such as "Investiture of the Gods," "Journey to the West," "Romance of The Three Kingdoms," and "Water Margin" are all devoted to heroes with admiration and praise.

But pitifully, most of the times that produce heroes featured ongoing wars for years, countries in peril, national disruption, and people in destitution. The times indeed produce their heroes, but it comes at a much too high cost.

Greek fellows in the hometown of Achilles created a peaceful way to aspire for, follow and pay tribute to the great hero. The ancient Olympic Games were born in 776 B.C. and run through 394 when the Roman emperor abolished the Games. There were 293 Games during the 1,168-year span. The ancient Olympic Games were not only the arena to gather heroes, and the stage for heads of state to fight with wisdom and courage, but also the venue for exchanges of cultures, arts, and commerce.

Although the Roman Empire that had conquered Greece abolished the ancient Olympic Games, Greek people still had their own way to pay tribute to heroes. However, the Roman arena is more bloody, more barbaric, and more exciting. 

Similar events are not rarely seen in China. In the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, people staged horse racing, chariot racing and sword fighting as a custom, and events such as wrestling, horse racing and sheep snatching can be also found in many nationalities and regions today. Those events are legacies of the ancient festivals combining sacrifice, competition, social networking and market. 

The Athens Games were the first occurrence of the modern Olympic Games, which then gradually evolved into grand meetings for athletes to compete and show their mettle, power, and the will to challenge limits.

Jesse Owens, legendary African American track star, won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, foiling Hitler's attempt to take advantage of the Olympic Games to blow up Aryan superiority and racial discrimination.

Thanks to the popularity of TV, the Olympic Games can reach people around the world and enable them to watch games just like spectators on the spot regardless of geographical limitations. TV popularity brought business opportunities as well. The Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games made a profit through selling pricy TV rights and allowing sponsors to advertise exclusively. 

Today, billions of broadcast viewers, extensive media coverage by foreign countries, and a number of tourists coming from around the rest of the world not only offer a bumper business opportunity for the host country, but also a chance for the host country to show itself the world. 

In East Asia, the Tokyo 1964 Olympics and the Seoul 1988 Olympics both signified the rise of emerging industrial nations. The sense of exaltation spurred by the Olympics brought a renewed boom to the socio-economic development of the two countries. 

Tremendous changes have taken place in China during reform and opening up over the past 30 years, transforming the country from a poor, weak, and closed one to a trading and economic power, along with a leap in living standards of the people. More than 4 billion audiences around the globe, more than 20,000 overseas journalists, as well as more advanced internet communication technologies, will altogether make the Beijing Olympics a pageant that the whole world marvels at...

Although broadcast and intensive coverage bring the Olympics to every corner and every family around the world, a country's reports on the Games tend to focus on the events and stories associated with the country's athletes, failing to represent a full and diverse picture of the Olympics. In this sense, the Beijing Olympic Games will offer an important opportunity of showing the world to China. While the Chinese people are obsessed with the medal tally, a close look at the stories, personality charm, cultural traits and value diversity behind the competition would provide a refreshing perspective.

I believe the Beijing Olympic Games will not only prompt a new round of enthusiasm in China's development, but also provide a new vision for Chinese peoples to observe and examine the world. 

(Note: The Article "The times produce their heroes" was first published on the Global Magazine, volume 16, in 2008.)

The author is a professor of Tokyo Keizai University.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of 

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