Posts Tagged ‘China’

Plus Puissant Que Jamais

January 17, 2018

Back in 2016 I never would have imagined that “the most powerful man in China” would end up demonstrating feng shui savvy (savoir-faire) in governing his own homeland, but at the moment it looks as though Manny Macron is doing just that.  What does Lunghu mean by this?  First let’s briefly review the feng shui flying star forecast for the Year of the Dog.  Then we can note the ways in which Macron’s recent policies may be construed as preemptive responses to the possibility of negative qi associated with specific malign or beneficial flying stars.

As you all surely remember from your grammar school lessons in feng shui fundamentals, the events of each year are influenced by nine invisible “flying stars.”  They’re called flying stars because –unlike ordinary stars– every year their positions rotate through the cardinal and semi-cardinal points of the celestial compass.  Each year one flying star is in the center position and the remaining eight are arrayed in their appointed peripheral locations (it’s a 3×3 matrix). Each star performs a specific role in affecting/interfering with/governing/influencing a particular aspect of human existence.  Taoism requires yin-yang balance and interaction, so some of the flying stars have negative influence on events, some have positive influence, and some are a mixed bag.  The “power” of each flying star is most evident along a directional vector relative to the position of the observer (i.e., a star residing in the northeast octant affects both Bob and Alice regardless of their own mutual proximity, distance or directional orientation).

In YoDg the flying stars are arranged as follows:

Traditional seers in the Sinosphere are oriented (intentional pun) to the South, and that’s where they ordinarily begin their analysis of flying star influences, rotating clockwise around the points of the compass to describe what each star portends. As a Euro-American navigator who has been indoctrinated to use the fixed star Polaris as a celestial point of reference, Lunghu will instead begin with the North to recount the catalog of this year’s flying stars.  First, the bad news:

  • North — The #5 Yellow Misfortune Star is in the north during 2018.  This brings chaos, tumult, bad luck and potential danger.  The San Sha (3 Killings) accompany the #5 Yellow Star to the North: death in the family, loss of wealth, and loss of personal reputation.
  • Northeast — The #3 Conflict Star brings hostility, arguments, litigation and misunderstanding.  This star can lead to violence, with tragic consequences.
  • East — The #7 Robbery Star is in the East this year.  In addition to monetary losses, the Robbery Star increases violence, aggressive behavior and political confrontation.

Now the good news:

  • Southeast — The #8 Wealth Star brings auspicious financial success, prosperity, happiness and joy.
  • Center — The #9 Future Prosperity Star arrives in the center.  Its effect won’t be immediate, but benefits will accrue down the road.
  • South — The #4 Peach Blossom Star increases knowledge, creativity and amorous interaction.  Spring Break on the Gulf Coast during the Rabbit Month will be sexier than usual.  Cote d’Azure?  More like Cote d’Amour!
  • Southwest — The #6 Heaven Star brings good luck, personal power, helpful mentors and lucky assistance when you need it most.

It’s not all good:

  • West — The #2 Illness Star increases risk of health problems and overall danger. This can be manifest as disorder in the body politic as well.

But it’s not all bad either:

  • Northwest — The #1 Victory Star brings personal success and triumph over the competition. You may need the help, because Tai Sui is also seated in the Northwest during YoDg.  If you don’t confront him by facing directly toward the Northwest, Tai Sui may support you with the #1 Victory Star –he’s got your back, so to speak.  Otherwise, unexpected obstacles may arise, friends can suddenly become adversaries, and good luck can turn into calamity.

Ca Veut Dire … Quoi?

OK, it’s now the Ox Month in the waning year of Yin Fire Fowl and almost the Year of the Double Yang Earth Dog, but (as Walter Mondale once said) “ou est le boeuf?” Where is Lunghu’s feng shui analysis of Emmanuel Macron’s gouvernance? Yeaux, we got dat right heah.  I’ll admit that I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to developments in France for the past several months, but that’s at least partly because I predicted a tough time for le pays gall during a period in which they would be “offending the year.”  Sometimes it’s best to avert your gaze while the really ugly stuff is underway.  Lactalis was only a mere droplet in the milk bucket of woe.  Did you notice that singer France Gall has died?  Unfortunately, things may only improve a tiny bit in 2018, because the Dog considers the Fowl to be among his foes (along with the Dragon and Sheep).

Hence the remedial measures which M. Macron has set en marche. Thus far I have only three examples of policy decisions which appear to indicate feng shui situation awareness, but I’ll be looking for more as YoDg progresses.

Exhibit A: France ditches plans for divisive Nantes airport

Macron’s deuxieme Edict of Nantes: plans to build a new airport at Notre Dame des Landes are summarily cancelled.  A Republicain apostate, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, delivered the news: “The project cannot go forward in an atmosphere of bitter opposition between two sides of the population that are nearly equal in size. The project is therefore abandoned.

First envisioned in the 1960s, plans for the airport were relaunched in 2000. A regional (Pays de Loire-Atlantique) referendum in 2016 found that 55 percent of local residents were in favor of the project. Environmentalists countered that the area had unique flora and fauna and that the new airport was unnecessary in light of the relatively low traffic at the existing terminal 30 kilometers away. The project’s cost, estimated at 730 million euros ($890 million), would have been about twice the cost of expanding the existing airport.

Where’s the feng shui? Nantes is the largest city in Western France.  The airport project has been a divisive political issue there for the entirety of the current century, not least because it was correctly viewed as a gigantic pork-barrel project primarily intended to enrich politically-connected construction companies and real estate developers.  Cancellation of the NDL airport project is intended to “cure” the maladie civil that has beset Loire-Atlantique for almost twenty years. This measure attempts to avert damage to the health of a fragile estuarian ecosystem in the West… and at the same time remove a focal point for dissent and hostility toward the state. Don’t ignore the #2 Illness Star in the West: address it.

Of course, there’s also a dimension of hardball realpolitik to this policy decision. The airport principals were part of an entrenched Nantes Republicain-PS coalition that couldn’t/didn’t jump ship to the Macron En Marche team when they had the chance in early 2017.  They remained loyal to party and patron, lost, and now pay the price.  Their more nimble confreres in Bretagne took the leap to the winning side and will be rewarded with funding for airport expansion and renovations at Rennes-Saint Jacques.

Exhibit B: France to lend Bayeux Tapestry to Britain

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce the proposed loan of the Bayeux Tapestry during a Britain-France summit meeting at Sandhurst with British Prime Minister Theresa May.  The tapestry depicts the invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy, better known as William the Conqueror, and his victory over the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The loan of the tapestry is contingent on tests showing whether the 11th-century embroidery can be moved safely.

#1 Victory Star in the Northwest!  Personal success and triumph over the competition.  Bayeaux (Normandy) is itself in northwest France, and of course England is located to the northwest of France.  As a former investment banker, Macron knows that all those London finance jobs –and the multi-billion euro deals that go with ’em– will be moving to Paris before and (especially) after Brexit.  Macron will also be handing T-May a tidy invoice for all those security improvements at the Calais end of the Eurostar Chunnel and ferry terminals.  And he’ll be completely charming throughout.

Harold_1066

Exhibit C: Macron plays the ponies in Xian

French President Emmanuel Macron bet on equine diplomacy during his first state visit to China — [by] presenting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping with a horse as a gift. The eight-year-old dark brown horse, a retired Republican Guard mount named Vesuve de Brekka, arrived in China on a special plane accompanied by the Republican Guard’s chief veterinarian and a member of the unit on January 4.  Vesuve de Brekka will remain in quarantine before joining Xi’s presidential stable.

This particular coup d’eclat is a two-fer: not only is the #9 Future Prosperity Star located at the Center this year (Zhong-guo = “central nation”), but –even better– the Horse is an ally of the Dog, so this diplomatic gesture is doubly auspicious.  Of course it’s also a triply appropriate gift because Xi Jinping loves horses … and will someday appear on equestrian statues throughout the nation (or at least in his hometown).

c’est pour la patrie, mon cher.

And speaking of hometowns, some folks here and there took note of the fact that Macron began his China visit in the city of Xian rather than in Beijing as is customary for yang guizi dignitaries.  Those who sought meaning in this choice of itinerary were inclined to accept at face value Macron’s own explanation of the choice: that Xian was the eastern terminus of China’s historic Silk Road, which Comrade Eleven is now seeking to revive with his global trade Belt and Road Initiative.  Not exactly.  There’s quite a bit more to the story, as Chinese well know.

Xi Zhongxun was born on October 15, 1913 to a land-owning family in rural Fuping, Shaanxi Province. He joined the Chinese Communist Youth League in May 1926 and took part in student demonstrations in the spring of 1928, for which he was imprisoned by the ruling Nationalist authorities. In prison, he joined the Communist Party of China in 1928.

Subsequently, he joined Communist guerillas north of the Wei River. In March 1933, he joined Liu Zhidan and others in founding the Shaanxi-Gansu Border Region Soviet Area, and became the chairman of the Soviet area government while leading guerillas in resisting Nationalist incursions. Eventually, in 1935, Xi’s guerilla base in the Northwest gave refuge to Mao Zedong’s Third Route Army and the Chinese Communist Party, allowing them to end the Long March. The base area eventually became the Yanan Soviet, the headquarters of the Chinese Communist movement until 1947.

Who is this Xi Zhongxun? The (now-deceased) father of President Xi Jinping, that’s who.  Shaanxi Province is the ancestral homeland of the Xi clan, and Xian is its capital.  Now do you understand why Macron went there first?  It’s what you call showing respect to the ancestors.  Which is why finesse is a French word.  Yeaux.  Even if there’s no immediate payoff, Macron is laying the groundwork for future prosperity with this initiative.

I can’t think of any way to end this blog post other than with a jarring thud. There are nine flying stars in the feng shui firmament, and Macron appears to have preemptively dealt with three of them so far this year.  Much work remains to be done, because there are still three negative flying stars demanding his attention:

  • The #5 Yellow Misfortune Star in the North
  • The #3 Conflict Star in the Northeast
  • The #7 Robbery Star in the East

He also has the opportunity to activate three auspicious flying stars:

  • The #8 Wealth Star in the Southeast
  • The #4 Peach Blossom Star in the South
  • and last but scarcely least, The #6 Heaven Star in the Southwest

That should be enough to keep him busy for a while.  I look forward to further feng shui magic from this most unlikely source.

 

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Moon-walkin’

January 1, 2018

While some folks talk their talk, others walk the walk.

President Moon Jae-in on Monday welcomed the new year with a three-hour mountain hike up Bukhan-san, [located north of Seoul], and watched the New Year’s Day sunrise.  Moon made the climb with a group of six young Koreans honored as “righteous persons” for the year 2017 because of their good deeds. Among them was Park Jeong-hyon, who was recognized for saving a woman from sexual assault despite being stabbed in the abdomen by the assailant.

Afterward, the hikers had breakfast with Moon’s chief secretaries at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

As I have pointed out on several prior occasions, political events and photo ops in Korea always have a subtext that is silently staged in the background, either with an artificial scenic backdrop or –as in this case– with a powerful natural landscape. Let’s review the messages and the medium.

First, Moon is acknowledging his political base –Korean youth– by publicly recognizing and rewarding their “righteous” civic behavior.  Moon is implicitly paying tribute to those tens (hundreds?) of thousands whose Yin Fire candlelight lit the way for his landslide election.  The fact that all six of his fellow hikers were male is either an effort to avoid sexist innuendo or a practical concession to the masculine feng shui energies of the current double-Yang-Water Rat month.

Second, President Moon is showcasing his personal physical vigor and active spirit. What other national leaders in the northeast Asian region are getting out of bed at 4AM in mid-winter for a three-hour mountain hike?  Kim Jong-eun? Not hardly.  Shinzo Abe? No chance.  Xi Jin-ping? Probably not.  Donald Trump? Not even for an early tee time.  Vladimir Putin? Sure, he could do it, but only for a covert operation.  Moon’s morning hike is a declaration that he’s healthy, he’s strong, and he’s going to work long hours to accomplish righteous deeds.

Third, the Bukhan-san Moonwalk evokes the awe-inspiring terrain and sweeping vistas that Koreans can expect to experience at the PyeongChang Olympics, just two months away.  Spectator attendance is likely to be a problem: bone-chilling cold and high travel costs will deter many Europeans and North Americans, as will lingering anxieties about potential flareup of geopolitical tensions in the region.  But all those doubts and inconveniences can be set aside when you’re gazing across a beautiful landscape from atop a majestic mountain peak.  At least that’s the hope of the PyeongChang Olympic organizing committee.

need lots more snow…

 

OK, that’s the more-or-less obvious political meaning to be inferred from President Moon’s New Year’s Day excursion. But what about the sub-subtext, the historical/cultural allusions that a cultivated Korean sensibility might be able to discern in this public performance? Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Location: Bukhan-san is a national park of 80 square km situated on the northern fringes of Seoul. Its name means “big north mountain.” It is also called Samgak-san, which means “three-peak mountain.”  In starting off his New Year by getting up early to climb the big mountain in the north, President Moon is yet once again asserting his intention to seek amity with the DPRK despite the fact that it’s uphill all the way.  Perhaps we can think of the three Kims as the three peaks of Samgak-san.
  • Amity is one thing, preparedness is another.  The mountain is also the site of Bukhansanseong fortress, built with a wall about 8.5 km long specifically to stop foreign invasion.  It is one of the representative mountain fortresses of the Joseon Era.  Who was invading Joseon back in the day?  Jurchen tribesmen from the north … or the Chinese.
  • Contemplate this: Sangunsa Temple (built by the monk Won-Hyo), Seungasa Temple on east Bibong Peak, Munsusa Temple halfway up Musubong Peak, and numerous other temples are scattered throughout the mountain area.

One day, King Taejo visited the great monk Muhakdaesa. The King wanted to amuse himself, so he proposed that they freely exchange jokes without concern for social status. “You look like a pig!” said Taejo to the monk.
Muhakdaesa replied, “And you, sir, look like Buddha to me.”
King Taejo was confused, “We agreed to forget our politeness and make fun of each other.  If you say I look like Buddha, how could that be funny?” asked the King.
Muhakdaesa replied, “Pigs can only see other pigs and Buddha can only see Buddha.”
Hearing this, Taejo realized his character was still immature and come to admire Muhakdaesa even more.

  • Taoism precedes Buddhism: The Year of Yin Fire Fowl is almost over, its flickering flame being inexorably quenched by the double-Yang-Water Rat (Dec/Jan) and yin-water/yin-earth Ox (Jan/Feb) months.  In forty-five days or so, the approaching double-Yang-Earth Dog Year will be here.  Double-Yang-Earth (strong earth supporting strong earth) is not merely soil heaped upon soil like a cropland furrow: it is solid rock piled high –a mighty mountain.  Moon Jae-in is already climbing that big north mountain, in company with six righteous citizens.  Does he know that the #5 Yellow Misfortune Star will reside in the North during the Year of the Dog?  I think he does, hence the six righteous citizens in his entourage.  There’s nothing like righteousness to ward off misfortune.

Later in the day, Moon made phone calls to public officials, including quarantine officials combating the outbreak of bird flu, PyeongChang Olympic organizers … and American soldiers stationed in South Korea and thanked them for their dedication to service.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to invite people from every social sector, including business leaders, to his office to exchange New Year’s greetings.

Compare and contrast.

 

Thalassocracy

August 21, 2017

It’s probably just me: news that Liberian-flagged tanker Alnic MC is owned by a Greek company named Stealth Maritime Corporation immediately inspired thoughts of 21st century naval tactics like AIS-spoofing and Aegis cloaking rather than fond memories of three-banked oarsmen in Athenian triremes.

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore before dawn on Monday, tearing a hole below the waterline and causing significant damage to crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms.  Ten sailors are missing and five injured. … Early indications [from photos of the damage] suggested that the warship may have turned across the bow of the tanker.

credit: Ahmad Masood

The USS McCain had carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea earlier this month, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China [atop a low-lying coral reef in waters also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines].

Upon mature but superficial reflection, I’ve compiled four provisional hypotheses to “explain” the unexpected recurrence of this sealane collision between a US Navy destroyer and a (much larger) merchant vessel.  Take your pick:

  • a) sheer incompetence and dereliction of duty on the part of U.S. Navy watchstanders in the McCain.
  • b) hacked navigation systems onboard the Fitzgerald and McCain, compromised by those fiendishly clever cyber-warriors of the People’s Liberation Navy.
  • c) feng-shui retribution decreed by Tai Sui, the Duke of Heaven, for disturbing the chi of the southern region during the Year of the Fowl (a resident of the South).
  • d) a brazen scheme by Seventh Fleet commanders to steer the (multi-million-dollar) repair work to whichever Malaysian defense contractor is now filling Fat Leonard‘s size 13 shoes.

Unfortunately, the U.S. military has problems you can’t fix by hurling money.  As they say in Murmansk, “The fish rots from the head down.”  What do you see when you triangulate those coordinates?

 

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