Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China and its transition imperatives 26.5: remembering China’s straw dogs

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on December 25, 2015

I have found myself adding quick publication supplemental installments to this series a lot over the past year or so, and continue that pattern here, writing and uploading this posting on December 24, 2015 – the day before it is to go live. Usually this means inserting a series installment between one that has already gone live and one other that is finished and final-edited and uploaded, but that has yet to go live. This time I offer an out of sequence entry with two regular installments finished, uploaded and already waiting that have still to go live on this blog.

What is the rush to add this in now? Usually I add these fractional number installments the way I do, because I see a pressing immediate need to respond to breaking news of what has just happened or to events that I see as imminently about to transpire. I write this here and now as the end of 2015 approaches, and in respectful remembrance of way too many who have been thought of and remembered way to little, and certainly in the corridors and meeting rooms of power in China.

I wrote in the title of this posting of straw dogs; what is a straw dog, and particularly in this context? Mao Zedong liked to refer to his opponents: his enemies as running dogs and those he would use as straw dogs. But the basic term goes back much farther than Mao or communism do. The term goes back at least as far as the birth of Taoism and the writing of its seminal text, the Tao Te Ching. And that dates back to at least the 4th century BCE.

It is likely that this term was used there in that text, because it was already so culturally familiar that anyone hearing it, would automatically know what it meant and implied. So straw dog as a specific term, might in fact go back in its true origins to a thousand or more years earlier. But to bring this intended digression into focus for this posting and its discussion, I turn to an explanation of straw dog that was offered by an early Taoist scholar and teacher: Su Zhe. (He was much more than just the politician and essayist that the Wikipedia article behind that link would suggest.) And I quote a translation of a part of one of his essays, as offered in the above cited reference link to straw dogs, as just offered above:

• “Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them.”

Who are China’s straw dogs today? Who were they for Mao and who are they now for his successor in search of supreme power, Xi Jinping?

I find myself writing this in the immediate aftermath of an entirely manmade landslide disaster that ran through the heart of China’s city of Shenzhen. Shenzhen was just a village near Hong Kong when Deng Xiaoping selected it as the site of his first showcase example, Special Economic Zone in 1979. And the pressure was on, to build this once-village into a modern city and at whatever cost and as quickly as possible. This was to showcase Deng’s power and authority and China’s Communist Party’s power and reach, and the emerging economic power of their country as a whole. And then the earth trembled and began to flow from the carelessly assembled mountain of soil and construction debris and industrial waste that had been placed over an old flooded quarry, uphill from the city center (see this news piece as just one possible reference to this event: Shenzhen Landslide Casts Shadow Over China’s Success Story.)

This is not an isolated event, and even just for this past year (see A Year of Disasters in China for a brief news piece that only highlights a few of the more troubling events of 2015 in China, that fit Shenzhen’s basic pattern.) I have been writing of China’s manmade ecological challenges and disasters for years now in this blog. And in anticipation of Parts 27 and 28 of this series, that I have already written and uploaded to the blog server, I note here that one of the core issues that I raise in them is the disastrous and even deadly drop in air quality that China is now experiencing in their nation’s capital: Beijing, and across a wide swath of their nation as a whole.

• Who are China’s straw dogs? Their citizens; their own men, women and children.

Mao took this approach to China’s teaming millions and blood flowed. His successors in power have willingly followed his example in that, and even when they did seek to find a way out from under his dead but still crushingly powerful hand. Now Xi, in his rush to achieve personal power and authority continues that too. And his government and his country’s one Party continue that, raising their people onto an altar to industrial and economic power and prestige, just to cast them down … and in both cases in honor of that same god-like goal, and “not because we love them” and “not because we hate them” but rather because China’s powers that be are not “partial” – or concerned, and because that is the way things are.

And as a final thought here I return to consider Mao’s, and now Xi’s running dogs – anyone who might in any way question or challenge any of this, or in any way doubt China’s Party or government or the decisions and actions that they take. And I close this posting by offering a link to a brief Op-Ed essay that Ai WeiWei wrote for the December 22, 2015 edition of the International New York Times: Courage on Trial in China. Sadly, this is only one of many possible references that I could cite here for that set of issues and challenges that China and its people face.

Part 27 of this series is already written and scheduled to go live on January 5, 2016 and Part 28 is ready to go live on this blog too with that scheduled for February 4, 2016. You can find this entire series and all of its postings at Macroeconomics and Business as postings 154 and loosely following for Parts 1-12 and for a supplemental posting: Part 12.5. And see Page 2 to that directory for subsequent main sequence and supplemental installments to this too. You can also find other, China-related postings and series at those directory pages, and at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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