The Duke of Zhou Visits Zhongnanhai

Imagine The Duke of Zhou at Zhongnanhai

 Duke of Zhou at Zhongnanhai?

Confucius modelled Chinese leadership on the Duke of Zhou, a virtuous regent who governed proto-China 500 years earlier and who invented the concept of the ‘mandate of heaven’–which a virtuous ruler earns if he does well for the people and loses if he does not govern for the wellbeing of all the people. Confucius placed his ideal ruler at the head of the national family and stipulated that his legitimacy rests on his virtue and his effectiveness in taking care of the entire family.

 Duke of Zhou at Zhongnanhai

The system worked well until 1905 when the Qing dynasty lost the mandate by being corrupt, stupid and neglectful of the wellbeing of the people. The dynasty fell and there was the usual fighting, invasions and misery for 50 years– the average inter-dynasty gap–until a new dynasty, led by a military genius, Mao Tse Tung, seized the throne on horseback.

Does this sound farfetched? Well…

Imagine you’re serving tea at this afternoon’s meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee. President Xi is there, along with Premier Li and the five others and they’re discussing the agenda when who should walk in but the Duke of Zhou, dressed in full regalia? The Committee members look a little startled, but there’s no mistaking the Duke: they’ve seen dozens of portraits of him.

He apologizes for the lack of notice but says he’s returned from the Celestial Realm because all the dead emperors urgently asked for a report on their beloved country. After a pause, President Xi welcomes him and the Duke begins asking questions:

 Duke of Zhou at Zhongnanhai

“What’s happening with the barbarians?”

“No problem,” says FM Wang, “we just hired a barbarian named Erik Prince. He’s allied with our main barbarian enemy (led by a savage called Trump) and we’re paying him to control the barbarian Uyghurs and cut off their funding from abroad”.

“Sounds familiar. And flooding?”

“We’re on it,” says PM Li. We finished the Three Gorges Dam a few years ago and the North-South Water Transfer will be finished next year”.

“I can’t believe you guys have finished those projects. We’ve been talking about them forever. Good work. And what about the Treasury? How are the empire’s finances?”

“Solid,” President Xi replies. “We’re holding three hundred billion in gold, three trillion in foreign exchange and domestic savings are at an all time high. Our economy is 30% bigger than the biggest barbarian’s and growing three times faster”.

“And the people? How are people? Are you earning the Mandate of Heaven?”

“We’re all over it,” says Yu Zhengsheng. “We eliminated the rice tax, 80% of the common people own their homes, pretty much everyone’s got a job, and the economy will grow 6.7% this year. According to Edelman, we’re getting 80% trust ratings and Pew reports that 93% of the people approve of our policies”.

“Eliminated the rice tax, eh? That will be news when I get back. And what about corruption? Before I left to come down here I was chatting with the Hongwu Emperor and he was still steaming about his anti-corruption drive. Says he’s been misunderstood and the historians have pigeonholed him as a tyrant. He hates historians! He told me, “If I’d thoroughly eradicated corrupt officials in addition to those already imprisoned I would have had to deal with no less than 2000 people from each of two prefectures alone.

Those useless men took part in none of the four useful occupations but utilized my prestige to oppress the masses. People outside the government did not know how wicked they were and they said I was harsh in my punishments (they saw only the severity of the law and didn’t know that these villains had used the name of the government to engage in evil practices).

In the morning I punished a few; by evening others committed the same damn crime. I punished these in the evening and by the next morning again there were more violations! Although the corpses of the first had not been removed, already others were lined up to follow in their path.

The harsher the punishment, the more the violations. Day and night! I couldn’t rest. I frankly didn’t know what to do. If I enacted lenient punishments, they would engage in still more evil practices–then how could the people outside the government lead peaceful lives? What a difficult situation it was! If I punished these persons, I was regarded as a tyrant. If I was lenient toward them the law became ineffective, order deteriorated, and people deemed me an incapable ruler. Really, it was an awful situation”.

“Ah,” replies Xi, “we have some good news on that front, I’m happy to say. There’s a new technology that allows every citizen to report corruption to us immediately and anonymously. We send teams racing out to audit the scoundrels and so far this year we’ve jailed 32,000 of them”.

“32,000? That is impressive! I was lucky to get through a dozen cases a day in my time. Everyone’s going to be relieved when I tell them about that. You guys are doing excellent work. One last question: what about the old Chinese dream of establishing a xiaokangsociety that would include everyone? Is that dream still alive?”

“Your Grace,” says President Xi, “we’ll have a xiaokang society fully implemented by December 2020. Extreme poverty will be eliminated–in fact, we eliminated urban poverty last year–and justice will be evenly administered throughout the empire. Next on the agenda is a datong society and the State Council is working on checklists for it as we speak. We’ll begin implementing it in 2022. Our goal is that, by 2122, the killing will have become unnecessary and people will be able to leave their outer gates unbolted at night”.

“Well,” says the Duke, “Master Kong will be delighted when I tell him that datong is finally on the agenda. He’s been a bit down lately, worried that people have forgotten his ideas. You know how those shengren can be; a bit difficult. But I can see you don’t need any help from me. Keep up the good work. Thanks for the tea. It’s as good as I remembered. Bye”.

The moral of the story is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  1. Zhongnanhai is a former imperial garden in the Imperial City, Beijing, adjacent to the Forbidden City; it serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the State Council of China.


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