This entry was all brought to mind by my postponing with several a-bloating entries still in draft form, and taking time off to read article by Lei Feng in the Asia Sentinel, China’s Disasters by the Number:
Like the US post-9/11 and my fellow office workers, many of China’s Netizens have been trying to find meaning in what it is being called the worst year in the country’s history – though none mention the famines in the late ’50s or the Cultural Revolution years.
There were the crippling snowstorms of January, unrest in Tibet followed by what is widely perceived here as international insult and humiliation heaped on the “sacred flame” of the Olympic torch while it made its journey outside the Middle Kingdom. A horrific train crash came next and now the earthquake the Internet is abuzz with material that is familiar in its own way to Americans who have pondered the coincidences of the John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln assassinations (“Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln; both had vice presidents from southern states named Johnson…”).
It is also reminiscent of the weird idea that a Nostradamus couplet foretold the attack on the Twin Towers, or that the word “Satan” could be seen in the smoke that rose above the collapsed building on 9/11.
In China, it’s about numbers: add up the dates of the snowstorm (1-25), the Tibet riots (3-14) and the earthquake (5-12) individually and you get “8” normally an unusually auspicious number and the reason the Olympics will kick off on 8-8-08 (and why it costs significantly more to get a phone number with multiple 8’s).
The five tooth-achingly cute cartoon character Olympic mascots called ” — I think of them as exotic, colorful Smurfs are also now seen by some to be harbingers of China’s recent miseries. Representing a fish, panda, swallow, Tibetan antelope and the Olympic flame, those seeking coincidence see the panda as an earthquake warning, since the ravaged area is also home to China’s endangered giant panda; the Tibetan antelope well, you can figure that out; ditto for the Olympic flame; the swallow is seen as emblematic for the “kite city” of Weifang in Shandong province where China experienced a deadly train crash last month.
The remaining one is a fish symbol, representing water, which online doomsayers suggest could indicate pending horror in the Yangtze River.
Some Taiwanese TV stations are also blaming the feng shui of Beijing’s massive new “Bird Nest” Olympic stadium, saying it has “interrupted the pulse” of a giant dragon said to lie beneath the country.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt died, Josef Goebbels whipped out an astrological chart and confidently informed Hitler that the tide had finally turned in favor of the Third Reich. Nancy Reagan consulted astrologers. Aguinaldo supposedly had a potent anting-anting, Time Magazine reported in 1944 that Quezon was somehow convinced he would never die in the daytime (he died in the morning) and of course Ferdinand Marcos adorned his room with mystical pentagrams and had a great faith in the significance of the number seven. President Arroyo has had the presidential palace exorcised several times, she consults mystical nuns (one independence day celebration involved little flags adorned with some sort of slogan being dropped from a helicopter, apparently upon the prophetic exhortation of one such nun), while Feng Shui principles are applied to the layout of the Palace and so forth. Former Speaker de Venecia decided to support the last impeachment because he was receiving letters dictated by his dead daughter from beyond the grave. And Romulo Neri, apparently, does nothing without consulting the I Ching.
If, as Randy David says, the real crisis confronting our country is what he calls A Crisis of Modernity, then you have to despair of a political class that determines its political actions not according to a pragmatic cost-benefit analysis or anything else, but according to omens and other efforts at divination. Not least because this prevents any real, rational, analysis of political events and trends. Or then again, if numerology and divination helps us cope with an increasingly complex world, maybe it’s no big deal?