The Torch Relay in Ancient China

In the Han Empire (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), there was a torch relay in the Nuo (傩) ritual of every 12th lunar month. The Nuo ritual was a very old religious ceremony for lustrating plagues. In the Han Empire, a torch relay was added to the ritual. In the Nuo ritual, a man acted the part of the god named Fangxiang (方相) whose duty was to drive devils away. Twelve men acted the parts of twelve divine animals in myth. They intoned the litany which described that the divine animals ate the devils. One hundred and twenty boys joined in chorus. After the chorus, all of them danced and cheered loudly round the imperial palace. They held torches for sending plagues off. When they arrived at the south front gate of the palace, they gave the torches to the waiting cavalrymen. One thousand cavalrymen handed on the torches from Chang’an (长安, the capital of the Han Empire, modern-day Xi’an) to the Luo River (洛水, in the west of modern-day Henan Province). They threw the torches into the Luo River. It meant all plagues were gone with the eastwards flowing river.

We can imagine the spectacular scenes of the torch relay in the Han Empire. The torch relay at that time was different from the relay of the Olympic flame, but, both of them have the same wish – for the peace and happiness of humans.

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