Posts Tagged ‘China’

Rarer Earth Metals

August 15, 2017

Carbon and iron are among the most commonly-occurring, non-gaseous elements on Earth –thus, effusive chemists might (with scant exaggeration) claim that our planet’s core and surface are largely composed of these two substances.  However, long before Mendeleev and Meyer thought of rearranging our whirling atomic chaos into serried tabular ranks, Taoist seers had divided all existence into five elemental categories: water, wood, fire, earth, metal.  Carbon (earth).  Iron (metal).  Carbon (coal).  Iron (ore).

China has announced that it will cut off imports of North Korean coal, iron ore, seafood and other goods in three weeks, under U.N. sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.  The Chinese customs agency said Monday that it will stop processing imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ores and fish at midnight on September 5.  A veteran trader based in Shandong who deals in coking coal and anthracite, and a Beijing-based iron ore trader with a company that handles North Korean iron ore, said the government stopped issuing permits to bring in iron ore several weeks ago.  Iron ore cargoes from North Korea are usually in concentrate form with relatively high iron content of 60-63 percent.

I like the timing of this announcement, coming as it does in the final week of the yang earth/yang metal Monkey Month.  Even better, the import ban goes into effect right in the middle of the yin earth/yin metal Fowl (Rooster) Month, just before the Full Corn Moon of September 6.  It’s probably no coincidence that this adjustment to Chinese trade policy will bring importation of elemental earth and metal feedstock commodities into closer harmony with the timeless rhythms of the celestial calendar.

From September 6 through September 20, the yin earth and yin metal energy of the Fowl Month will gradually transform into the yang metal/yang earth configuration of the Dog Month/October (essentially reversing the energy pattern of Monkey Month/August).  All the while, Tai Sui will be watching developments in the East from this year’s Western throne.  Nobody with any sense of the possible consequences will want to create a disturbance in the “self-penalty” Fowl Month.  Even when the official party line dismisses feng-shui as a feudal superstition, why take unnecessary risks with the people’s welfare at stake?

 

Lunar Land-scapegoat

June 22, 2017

Outmoded rituals –like the minor habits of daily domestic life– can be difficult to set aside even once their original purpose has long been lost to modern memory.  Nowhere is this more true than in the Moonrise Kingdom of New Baekje now taking shape upon the ruins remaining from Old Silla.  Amid the tumult and confusion of foreground regime change, longstanding cultural practices keep-on-keepin’-on … at the very margins of visibility.  Case in point, the presidential photo-op:

Way back yonder in the Lee Myung-bak era, Lunghu pointed out that visiting dignitaries at Cheong Wa Dae were sorted by their hosts into a hierarchy of international importance that was signalled by the subtly-coded backdrop before which the traditional handshake photo was staged.  Barbarian emissaries of semi-savage nations (Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia) were received in front of a Chosun-era folding screen depicting lowly foreign messengers performing their kowtow to the Korean emperor.  Diplomats and officials from valuable export markets in Europe and North America posed for their handshake with a glowingly resplendent golden screen behind them.  Close neighbors from China and Japan rated an auspicious Asian landscape painting replete with Sinitic symbolism.  A place for everyone, and everyone in their place.

This pattern from Lee Myung-bak’s Republic of Hyundai didn’t change during Park Geun-hye‘s Republic of Samsung, and thus far it hasn’t changed under Moon Jae-in‘s Republic of Candlepower.  That’s why Beijing-bound Beltway advanceman Richard N. Haass is backlit with a golden aura in the photo above.  Despite what Koreans might think of the monarch whose message he bears, the United States is still a precious ally in an unfriendly neighborhood.  As far as Koreans are concerned, the U.S. alliance is a vital relationship that can –and must– outlast four years of attempted sabotage inspired by Comrade Bear.

Upshift

That said, let’s never forget that national politics is –in every nation– a cutthroat, zero-sum, feast-or-famine struggle for survival.  So it should be absolutely no surprise that the newly-exiled courtiers of Old Silla (under the rebranded label of Liberty Korea Party) are seeking to exploit their well-established backchannel links with American conservatives to discredit the Moon government’s national security policies.  According to these hardened cold-warriors, a left-center/progressive/human activist like Moon Jae-in is someone who will place the freedom-loving Korean nation in jeopardy by being soft on China and squishy on Kim Jong-un.  Since President Moon currently has public approval ratings above 80%, they’ve inevitably chosen to attack his appointees rather than the man himself.  Thus their overt parliamentary maneuvering and covert media campaigns against foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha and national security adviser Moon Chung-in.

In fact, Hannara/GNP/Saenuri/Liberty Korea knows quite well that the new administration has no real wiggle room to dramatically alter inter-Korean relations: Kim Jong-un ain’t playin’.  Instead, what really worries the kleptocrats of Liberty Korea is the inevitable, inexorable impact of a looming government crackdown on chaebol corruption. Coming soon: a long overdue Brazilian-style carwash investigation, transplanted to Gangnam and points South-Southeast.

 

Gorilla in the Room

March 10, 2017

It has all the “elements” of an ominous feng-shui prophecy in the ancestral homeland of the domesticated fowl: carelessness with yin Fire destroys yang Fire Monkey in the southern capital of an ancient kingdom.  But this ain’t no accident, and it’s no laughing matter either.

Film buffs with the hottest ticket in Ho Chi Minh City were left running for safety after a giant model of King Kong went up in flames at the sizzling Vietnam premiere of the rebooted horror classic.  The blaze began as a glamorous announcer welcomed Communist Party officials, diplomats and celebrities to the screening of ‘Kong: Skull Island‘ on Thursday night.  A torch discarded by a fire dancer apparently ignited part of the stage, and the flames quickly spread to the scenery and backdrop.  … The fire was extinguished after five minutes.

Although some jaded Saigon cynics immediately dismissed Kong’s trial-by-fire as a Hollywood PR stunt, Lunghu believes that there’s a bit more to this spectacularly minor episode than mere capitalist marketing.  Instead, use a deeper perception nurtured by the Dao to understand this fifteen minutes of infamy as a feng-shui warning to the 300-pound gorilla of East Asia (the PRC) from the communist guerrillas of the yin Fire South: the Viet Cong. … Or vice versa.

Reflect deeply upon this.

 

Tigers & You-Freightees

January 31, 2017

Just a few indicators that we’re now into the month of the Tiger during the Year of the Fowl:

Korean tigers return to Baekdu-daegan mountain range

The [South] Korea Forest Service announced that it has transported a pair of male Korean tigers named Duman and Geumgang to the tiger forest at the Baekdu-daegan National Arboretum in Seobyeok, North Gyeongsang Province. The Forest Service has set up a system of barriers around the forest to allow visitors to observe the tigers in safety.

“Mt. Baekdu tigers are a protected species designated as Level 1 endangered wild fauna,” said Park Jong-ho, director of the Forest Service’s forest usage bureau.

 

Bobcat escapes from National Zoo in Washington

A female bobcat, believed to be about 7 years old, was found to be missing Monday morning from its enclosure at the National Zoo when it didn’t show up for breakfast.

“We know that she is absolutely capable of surviving, even thriving, in this area,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care. “If she doesn’t return, she would likely survive on a diet of birds, small rodents, house cats or small dogs that are left alone outside,” Smith added.

 

Man Mauled by Tiger, Killed at Eastern China Resort

A man named Zhang who climbed a fence at Dongqian Lake Resort in Zhejiang province to avoid paying the entry fee was attacked and killed by tigers when he into ventured into their enclosure.  The attack occurred on Saturday [New Year’s Day] at the Tiger Hill enclosure in Ningbo Youngor Zoo.  One tiger was shot dead by local police, and three others nearby were dispersed using firecrackers.

 

Precautionary measures in the Fire Fowl Year

Russia grounds Proton-M rocket for 3½ months

Russia’s workhorse Proton-M rockets will be out of service for three and a half months because of engine problems.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said some employees at the Voronezh factory had been involved in faking documentation linked to the rocket and would be “harshly punished.”  The director of the factory resigned last week after Russian officials concluded that the crash of a Progress [space] cargo ship in December was the result of a malfunction by engines built at the plant.

 

Don’t Embarrass The Bureau

January 26, 2016

J. Edgar Hoover had two principal mottos pronounced as guides for his FBI special agents: “No left turns” and “Don’t embarrass the Bureau.”  In Comrade Eleven‘s newly-renovated People’s Republic, left turns are once again mandatory, but Hoover’s second motto is still fully applicable.  And when the public embarrassment occurs under an intense media spotlight on the world stage, suddenly French economy minister Emmanuel Macron is the most powerful person in China.

Last week at Davos (Switzerland) M. le Ministre Macron impishly remarked,

“I said a few months ago that I don’t believe for a second the figures [for China’s economic growth] that are being given.  I think those [figures] that are still being officially announced are probably well above the [actual] reality but we just have to live with it,” Macron said.

the latest pretty face of imperialist running-dog capitalism?

the latest pretty face of imperialist running-dog capitalism?

After a weekend of earnest reflection and self-criticism among senior cadres in Beijing … Lo and behold:

China’s anti-graft agency –the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection– announced on Tuesday that Wang Baoan, the head of the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, is being investigated for severe disciplinary violations, a phrase which usually refers to corruption.  Wang, 52, was appointed chief of the statistics bureau in April last year.  He previously served as vice minister of finance.

The lesson to be learned?  Don’t embarrass the National Bureau of Statistics.

 

The Ugliest Duckling

March 27, 2015

Recently I had the good fortune to attend a book talk by Dutch sociologist Abram De Swaan (born January 8, 1942). The topic was one that many people would find disquieting, perhaps distasteful, or even repellent: the “modern” phenomenon of mass murder.  But American mass media wouldn’t be very interested in his message, because Mynheer De Swaan isn’t studying mere penny ante schoolhouse slaughter like Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Instead, his attention is focused on organized, large-scale atrocities perpetrated by armed political movements or government regimes, mostly in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.  Rwanda. Cambodia. Bosnia. The Final Solution. The Cultural Revolution. The Soviet Purges. And so on.  These episodes have generally occurred in the context of widespread social upheaval and generally at the instigation of a regime or state.

A-De-Swaan

De Swaan recommends approaching the mass murder phenomenon while bearing in mind (at least) four levels of social analysis:

  • long-term, perhaps dormant, trends in social transformation occurring at the time
  • political movements and state policies
  • interpersonal interactions in everyday social life
  • psychological/sociological patterns of individual interior “life-of-the-mind”

From this perspective, the groundwork for future atrocity is laid when latent social tensions are redefined by political actors to

  • accentuate social differences and divisions,
  • demarcate boundaries of “compartmentalized” social categories,
  • enact physical/spatial separation of these newly defined social fragments,
  • and accelerate psychological processes of self-identification, projection, internalization, fervent “othering” (and so on) within increasing numbers of the citizenry.

Once these ideological/political projects have achieved an as-yet-undefined level of cultural ubiquity within society, mass murder and atrocity become not only possible, but perhaps likely.

Just to keep the scorecard tidy, De Swaan has proposed four principal categories of mass murder:

  • the victor’s frenzy [ Sri Lanka, Japanese Imperial Army after the conquest of Nanking, etc. ]
  • regime by terror [ Soviet Purges, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge, Hussein Iraq, Assad Syria ]
  • the loser’s triumph [ 3rd Reich after 1942 ]
  • pogrom [ Armenia, 1948 India, Rwanda, Bosnia ]

He’s willing to consider two other possible candidates for mass murder:

  • intentional famine [ is he thinking of Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Kim’s North Korea? ]
  • air war: “strategic” bombing campaigns [ is he thinking of Germany unto Britain, USA/UK unto Germany/Japan, USA unto Iraq, Israel unto Lebanon and Gaza? ]

My_Lai

However, even with such a neat academic typology, mass murder is a messy business.  When confronted with gory horror of truly massive casualty figures, a common human reaction often seems to be one of incomprehension: “How could people do such a thing to their fellows?”  This question is exactly the starting point for the many researchers who have previously examined cases of attempted genocide, mass extermination, and wholesale slaughter.  De Swaan has reviewed the existing academic literature (such as it is) and found it lacking.

The initial wave of research in the 1950’s (understandably) concentrated on the notorious German case (then quite recent) and reached the comforting but none-too-rigorous conclusion that these “evil deeds” were perpetrated by evil men, or at the very least by men in the tenacious grip of “evil”.  Such men must be monsters, and as monsters must be eradicated.  Thus, the Nuremberg trials.  But De Swaan notes that this analysis relies heavily on the concept of “evil” without adequately exploring the full dimensions of what “evil” is understood to be.  Despite the fact that the term “evil” –in the European cultural context– is heavily freighted with a nebulous range of religious and moral meanings, early writers on the topic of mass murder generally limited themselves to defining “evil” as encompassing the perpetrators’ use of intensely cruel and painful methods of torture and killing on a large scale. This approach left the theological-moral/psychological dimensions of mass murder largely unexplored, and thus failed to adequately explain how nominally Christian people (in the German case) were able to engage in these types of behavior.

Soon enough, researchers came to understand that available evidence contradicted the sweeping claims of the “evil monster” thesis: many of the minor cogs in the vast killing machines were demonstrably less than monstrous, and in fact greatly resembled –and behaved like– the average Johan or Jurgen on the street corner.  They were still guilty, but they weren’t monsters. But what, then?

A decade or so later, thanks to the psychology research of Stanley Milgram and others, a slightly more nuanced view emerged: the claim that “ordinary men do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.”  Under social pressure, under conditions of psychological stress, two-thirds of otherwise peaceable, law-abiding citizens may participate in heinously cruel activities.  Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib.  According to this thesis, you or I could well be given a gentle push down the slippery slope … to become torturers and killers.  Ya nevah know…

As a social scientist, De Swaan is still skeptical:  what about all those people –the thirty-three percent– who wouldn’t go along with Milgram’s experimental program of participating in torture unto death?  How are they different from those who join the parade?  For De Swaan, this is still the preeminent open question.  But empirical data about non-participation doesn’t exist, so it’s necessary to look at the question from the opposite point of view.  Until better evidence becomes available, De Swaan has proposed what he calls a tentative conjecture about the types of people who do participate, drawn from psychological studies of former low-level German functionaries conducted after WWII. What type of person allows himself to become involved in situations where mass murder occurs?  According to De Swaan, many of these men exhibited a set of characteristics that may be related to their participation in mass murder. They were:

  • obedient
  • loyal
  • highly devoted to their families
  • low in their sense of personal agency
  • low in empathy

The gloss above, the earth below.

Reflecting on the personal traits summarized by De Swaan, I was first of all struck by the observation that low agency and obedience are not merely present in these men by simple coincidence –they’re mutually reinforcing states of mind.  If you have a low sense of personal agency, you may well be more inclined to follow the lead of someone else.  But secondly, I was intrigued by De Swaan’s portrayal of these vanquished German warriors as devoted family men.  On the one hand it seems entirely plausible that men of a defeated nation would retreat from public engagement into refuge in intimate family life, but there’s also a much more significant dimension of this mundane observation … hiding in plain sight.  Obedience, deference, loyalty, surrender of personal agency and emphasis on the nuclear family are –in Europe and beyond–  all features of patriarchal culture and ideology.  Time for a causal loop diagram.

Coercion-Domination

So then, could it be that men more deeply invested in patriarchy –with identities and self-perceptions strongly centered on their roles as fathers and patriarchs– are somehow more likely to become participants in organized mass murder when the occasion arises?  More likely to be obedient? More likely to defer? More likely to outsource personal agency to their “superior” in the social hierarchy?

In this context, perhaps it is intensely relevant that patriarchy’s stratified edifice rests on a simple, secret, almost implicit bargain: in exchange for obedient deference to the authority of the state, employer and social patron, patriarchy promises the lowly man a virtually unlimited dominion over his wife and children.  In return for the personal agency he surrenders in the workplace and polis, the petty patriarch is thus enfeoffed to be master of all he surveys within the walls of his domicile.  Were he alive today, renowned patriarch John Dalberg-Acton would undoubtedly take this occasion to remind us that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even at the nanoscale of an otherwise insignificant individual household within a much vaster society.

Should we then consider the possibility that the system and culture of patriarchy itself inexorably contains the seeds of mass murder?  Or should we instead, based on these indications, infer the persistent presence of repeatedly replicated social groups –networks of like-minded men– which use the techniques and mechanisms of patriarchy to maintain a privileged status within society and thereby command a correspondingly disproportionate share of social resources?  Perhaps these are men who are willing to deploy patriarchy’s fundamental tools of coercion and domination to their logical limit: the extinction of human life itself.

Reflect deeply upon this.  It needn’t be a binary choice.

 

Dawn’s Early Light

January 18, 2015

Back at the turn of the (solar) year, Lunghu provided his customary analysis of Kim Jong-un‘s New Year’s message and its attendant media coverage.  To offer a bit of graphical balance in the composition of that post, he included an image from ROK President Park Geun-hye‘s attempt at a preemptive media strike: her own New Year’s message, televised in (South) Korea on New Year’s Eve.  No analysis of her text seemed fruitful, and no commentary seemed necessary. Generally speaking, Western media didn’t even bother to report her remarks.

In the past, during the Lee Myung-bak dynasty, Lunghu found it more useful to examine the subtext than the text, the hidden message displayed or enacted during South Korean media events, often to be found hidden-in-plain-sight in the background scenery.  This practice is one that he has (regrettably) neglected during the Park II regime.  Well, it’s time to remedy that oversight with a brief and belated discourse on President Park’s stage set backdrop.

PGH_20150101

Reading from right to left in traditional Chinese style, we see a trio of spotted deer cavorting beneath a tall pine tree in a forest glade next to a plunging mountain cataract. A bit further to the left –above Park’s left shoulder and beneath her left ear– we can spot a cluster of large round pinkish-tinged fruits, probably peaches.  To her right (our left), at approximately the level of her right tricep, we can see half of a turtle swimming in the swiftly-flowing stream fed by the waterfall.  Finally, at the left-most side of the frame, we see the flag of South Korea draped on its flagstaff.

What can we infer from these symbols?

  • Pine: Emblem of longevity and resistance to the elements –the pine is evergreen and long-lived.  The pine is often depicted in Chinese art with other symbols of longevity such as the peach and deer.
  • Deer: Pronounced “lu” in Chinese, it is a homophone with a character meaning “wealth” and “official promotion.” When depicted with court officials, the deer signifies a wish for fame, recognition and a long, successful career.
  • Waterfall: Water symbolizes wealth, and the waterfall represents profits pouring in.  A lake or plunge pool next to the waterfall has the very auspicious name of “treasure bowl.”  Trees painted on the right-hand side of the waterfall are for keeping off misfortune.
  • Peach: Associated with Shoulao, the God of Longevity, the peach is a symbol of long life.  Even better, it can confer immortality: peaches grown in the orchard of the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu 西王母) instantly give the peach-eater permanent, godlike immortality and mystic powers. The wood of the peach tree is said to ward off evil.
  • Tortoise: Another symbol of longevity … and more. The tortoise also represents the cosmic order: its shell symbolizes the heavens, its body the earth, and its undershell represents the underworld. The Black Tortoise (玄武 – xuán wǔ) is the “Mysterious Warrior” guardian spirit of the north and represents the winter season.
  • Water, Mountains and Rocks:  This combination suggests peace and harmony in the country presided over by the emperor.

Adding It All Up

Longevity, longevity, longevity, longevity.  Four symbolic assertions (pine, deer, peaches, tortoise) that Park Geun-hye intends to be around for quite a while.  Probably not as long as her father (let’s hope!), but she’s announcing her intention to continue “a long, successful career.”  She may also be attempting to subliminally identify herself with Xiwangmu.

Money finds money.  Two symbolic assertions (deer, waterfall) of wealth and prosperity.  On the surface, this is a boast of South Korea’s prosperity.  But the anonymous artist who painted this backdrop may also be making a deeper statement.  In Seoul, money has traditionally had a way of pouring into the Presidential office from all sides. Its flow tends to intensify in the final years of a President’s administration, as s/he prepares for “retirement.”  Since it’s always impossible to completely fill the President’s “treasure bowl,” eventually one or two close aides must be sacrificed on the altar of public opinion when the corruption becomes too obvious.  Perhaps there are three deer in the Park Blue House who need to ward off misfortune with trees to the right of the waterfall.

Alles ist in ordnung.  Two symbolic assertions (tortoise, water/mountain/rocks) of order and harmony within the kingdom.  This claim isn’t entirely plausible, because Korean order is being enforced in an increasingly authoritarian manner and Korean “harmony” is largely a facade.  But in a Confucian society it’s a claim that rulers have to make so that they can justify their mandate for governance.

 

But Wait –There’s More!

In addition to all that Sinocultural symbolic allusion in the landscape backdrop, there’s also the symbolism of the South Korean flag –the Taegukgi. It has a rather interesting history as a national emblem that has evolved from a royal banner bestowed upon Korea’s Joseon Dynasty by the Qing Emperor of China. Long story short, the current ROK flag features four of the eight I-Ching trigrams (gua) arranged around a red/blue Taegeuk “yin-yang” symbol.

The four chosen trigrams are:

  • Geon (in the upper left, 3 parallel solid lines) symbolizing heaven
  • Ri (in the upper right) symbolizing fire
  • Gam (in the lower left) symbolizing water
  • Gon (in the lower right, 3 parallel broken lines) symbolizing earth

Flag_of_South_Korea.svg

Worth noting:

  • Geon is solid Yang
  • Gon is solid Yin
  • Ri is Yin-within-Yang
  • Gam is Yang-within-Yin

As displayed upon its staff (rather than when rippling in the breeze), the Taegukgi reveals only two of its four trigrams: Geon and Gon (Qian and Kun in Chinese).  Geon shows above the Taegeuk, and Gon below.  In a superficial reading of the symbolism, this arrangement places heaven above and earth below –just as one would expect in the natural order of things.  Or so you’d think.

However.  In Taoism and the I-Ching, things are not always what they seem.  Perhaps they’re almost never what they merely seem.  When Qian and Kun (Geon and Gon) are arranged one above the other in an I-Ching hexagram, the results aren’t exactly positive.  In fact, Qian / Kun = Pi; Hexagram 12 of the I-Ching, symbolizing obstruction or blockage.  Pi is denoted with the modern Chinese character foǔ  –meaning “not!”  The Pi hexagram describes a state of affairs in which Heaven (above) recedes up and away from the earth (below), blocking the cosmic interaction that permits dynamic development of the true Tao. “The Tao of the inferior man prevails and the Tao of the superior man wanes.”  The negative Yin energy of the earth dominates, Yang energy retreats.  The inferior man will not preserve justice and truth.

So this is not at all an auspicious symbol to display on New Year’s Eve, and not at all an encouraging portent for inter-Korean relations in the coming year.  It’s possible that Saenuri Party members are so thoroughly Christianized that the ancient I-Ching symbolism of the Taeguk trigrams isn’t fully understood or appreciated, and they’re unaware of the hidden message being proclaimed every time they stand beside the flagstaff.  The good news is that the Tao is all about constant, inevitable change. Obstruction will run its course and give way, the superior man will ascend to his proper place, and the Pi hexagram will be transformed into another configuration of Yang and Yin energy. Eventually. Inexorably.

Flag_of_the_king_of_Joseon.svg

 

Goat Tell It On The Mountain

January 6, 2015

Anyone needing additional indications that Chinese (PRC) foreign policy might be influenced by feng shui principles would want to know about a recent festive event on the Sino-Indian frontier:

Chinese and Indian frontier soldiers exchanged New Year’s greetings in a joint celebration near the western part of the border area, in a move aimed to enhance mutual trust between the guards.  China is confident in maintaining long-term peace along the border, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, noting the two sides have launched a series of cooperation and communication mechanisms in recent years.

Border_Gate

Although this may be good news for Chinese and Indian border guards, it’s not necessarily welcome tidings for would-be Tibetan refugees hoping to trek across the Himalayas to Dharamsala. The Chinese already have a policy of shooting whatever moves along the mountain trails, and the Indians aren’t exactly thrilled about having new residents in the neighborhood. Mutual trust, cooperation and communication mechanisms between China and India won’t make things any easier for the beleaguered Tibetans.

But that’s somebody else’s problem: for Comrade Eleven and the Central Kingdom, the paramount objective is to minimize the potential negative impact of feng shui Big Sha in the Year of the Goat. This means that problems in the South-Southwest must be avoided at all costs:

Each year, one of 60 Heavenly Generals in charge of assisting the Jade Emperor takes a turn at assuming the role of the Grand Duke (Tai Sui), and his appointment commences on the day of the “Lap Chun”.  Tai Sui is believed by Chinese to be a powerful Earth God who oversees matters that take place on Earth.  The goal is to appease Tai Sui at all times, since his mighty power affects various zodiac signs in different ways each year.  The penalty for offending the Tai Sui can come in many forms of misfortune, including ill health, accidents, career setbacks, financial loss, or personal injury involving loss of blood.

It is a common Chinese practice to pray to the Tai Sui at the start of a lunar year, to seek to be spared from harm and avoid ill feng shui winds or obstacles in life endeavors. The Tai Sui this year is in the South-South-West at 210 Degrees. Avoid facing the Grand Duke or disturbing him by “moving earth” in this region.  Keep an area affected by Tai Sui as calm and quiet as possible. This means keeping noise from any source to a minimum.

Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that the western part of the Sino-Indian frontier is located in China’s South-Southwest. Or maybe not.

Yin_Goat_stamp

In this feng shui context, Uighurs in Xinjiang Province should also modify their situational awareness:

In 2015 the Five Yellow Star lies in the West.  This 五黄灾星 & 三煞 is the catastrophe/ disaster star that represents just about any negative development that you could possibly imagine.  It brings with it loss of money and physical danger and a run of bad luck.

Is there a silver lining in the feng shui dark clouds gathering over Xinjiang Province?  Possibly.  The traditional feng shui cure for Medium Sha such as 5 Yellow is to place a string of six coins in the affected area, thus increasing the influence of the counteracting Metal element. Perhaps this means that Comrade Eleven will increase investment in the area in order to improve the lives of masses.  That’s what his father would have done.

 

Poverty As A Parable

March 31, 2014

For reasons that may as well remain obscure, Lunghu was recently reading a slapdash historical survey of seventeenth-century Europe.  Amid stories of court intrigues, dynastic struggles, religious wars and outsized egotism, an allegorial folk tale appeared:

One day long ago, two travelers appeared in front of Poverty’s miserable hovel in the countryside.  Custom of the age required that he provide his visitors with hospitality and refreshment, so from his threadbare larder Poverty scraped together a scanty meal of bread, cheese, fruit and a little wine.  The travelers accepted gratefully, and soon completed their repast.

Humble_hut

When they had finished eating, the two guests apologized to their host, explaining that they had no money to pay for the meal, but would grant any favor he might ask.  Little suspecting that his lunch companions were actually Saints Peter and Paul in disguise, Poverty modestly asked that anyone climbing his pear tree should be obliged to remain there so long as he, the owner, pleased.  This wish was granted, and the travelers proceeded on their way.

Not long thereafter, Poverty was able to catch some of his dishonest neighbors trapped among the limbs of the pear tree, but he released each of them with a warning to sin no more.  (Although none admitted his attempted theft, word quickly got around the neighborhood.)

At last Death appeared in person, intent on carrying Poverty to the grave.  The quick-witted peasant promised to come quietly … if only he was permitted to taste one last sweet fruit from the highest bough of the pear tree.  Death obligingly climbed to the top of the tree to pick the desired morsel, only to find that he was unable to descend.  With time a-wasting and millions more souls yet to be carried to their Maker, Death was forced to strike a bargain:  if released from the tree, he would not come again for his captor until Judgement Day.

Thus it is that Poverty will be among us until the end.

In its original formulation, this parable no doubt assisted the higher orders in rationalizing their thoroughly systematic exploitation of the lowly peasant, thus permitting noble, clergy and bourgeois to salve their consciences with the consolation that inequality and suffering has always been divinely ordained.  Modern folk have more or less dispensed with the need for any celestial explanation for poverty: they prefer rationalization to have a pseudo-scientific basis –in which the poor are poor because of their own deficiencies, genetic or otherwise.  But Lunghu isn’t sharing this story merely to observe that “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”  Nope, he’s announcing that he’s hungry, and that a succulent, ripe pear sure sounds delicious right about now.  Fortunately, there are no pear trees in the neighborhood, and in any case it’s much too early in the season.  A grocery pear will have to suffice.

In ancient China, peaches were the fruits that promised immortality.   In France, apparently, it’s pears.  As far as Lunghu is concerned, dou ke yi –both are good.

 

Here’s Lookin’ At Yu, Kid

January 13, 2014

I did something truly reckless right before New Years:  I bought a paperback collection of recent short stories by Charles Yu –‘Sorry Please Thank You‘.  A few years ago, I spotted Yu’s antichronistic novel ‘How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe‘ on a bookstore shelf, read the backjacket blurb, and put it on my Christmas list so that someone else could pay the steep retail price.  No regrets:  as I read ‘SFU’ that holiday season years ago/hence, I repeatedly found myself forced to set the book down, take a deep breath, and say to myself “Holy.  Fuckin’.  Shit.  This guy is fuckin’ hilarious!”  In a mind-bending, all-is-illusion, alternate-reality, deep-truth kind of way.

At the same time, I was seriously concerned for the author’s well-being, because I got the impression that here was someone who was teetering on the brink of his own existence, and it was by no means clear that he would be able –or inclined– to step back from the edge.  Well, based on this most recent evidence I gotta say Yu hasn’t stepped back, but he hasn’t quite stepped over the edge either.  Instead, using the short story form, Yu creates one opportunity after another to march right up to the brink, wander along the rim of the abyss, and stamp his heel at the place of his own choosing.  More like Roadrunner than Wile E. Coyote.  Let’s hope.

Wile-E-Coyote_cliff

Sorry Please Thank You‘  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  It’s something Yu have to read for Yu-self.

sorry_please_thank you

That said, it’s a rotten shame that Yu is not among the three finalists for the Story Prize, an annual $20,000 award for short fiction.  Instead, Rebecca Lee’s “Bobcat,” Andrea Barrett’s “Archangel” and George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” are the 2013 nominees.  The winner will be announced March 5.

Just one more thing …

Oh, and what the fuck should we infer from the fact that the only fully-named (forename plus surname) character appearing in Yu’s entire collection of stories –other than ‘Charles Yu’ himself– is “Hero of History” Chang Hsueh-Liang?  Author Yu is being just a bit disingenuous when he refers to Chang (aka Zhang Xueliang) as “a general in the Chinese army about whom little is known.”  Certainly, the role Chang has been assigned in ‘The Book of Categories‘ is murkily cryptic, but so was Marshal Chang’s alternate existence in 20th century history:

Zhang_Xueliang

Zhang Xueliang (1901-2001), nicknamed the “Young Marshal”, was the effective ruler of Manchuria and much of northern China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin, by the Japanese military in 1928.  After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Zhang traveled extensively in Europe before returning to China to take command of Communist Suppression Campaigns first in Hebei-Henan-Anhui (circa 1934) and later in Shaanxi (1936).

On 6 April 1936, Zhang Xueliang met with Zhou Enlai to plan an end to the Chinese Civil War.  Their discussions culminated in the (12 December 1936) Xi’an incident, in which Zhang and NRA general Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and imprisoned him until he agreed to form a united front with the Communists against the Japanese invasion of China.

After negotiations, Chiang agreed to form an anti-Japanese united front with the Communists, but Zhang was placed under house arrest for the next 40 years –first in Chungking, then (after 1949) in Taiwan. Zhang emigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1993. He died of there of pneumonia in 2001 at age 100.

[Zhang’s] papers, an extensive oral history and correspondence covering his life from 1937 to 1999 can be found at Peter H. L. Chang (Zhang Xueliang) Oral History Materials in Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

So, all this makes the reader wonder:  does Charles Yu’s own heritage extend back to Yu Xiajing –formerly of Shanghai, Ningpo and points east?