Hu wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony

The New York Times reports on various calls for protest in China:

In a sign of the ruling Communist Party’s growing anxiety, President Hu Jintao summoned top leaders to a special “study session” on Saturday and urged them to address festering social problems before they became threats to stability.

“The overall requirements for enhancing and innovating social management are to stimulate vitality in the society and increase harmonious elements to the greatest extent, while reducing inharmonious factors to the minimum,” he told the gathering, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. Mr. Hu also urged those gathered to step up Internet controls and to better “guide public opinion,” a reference to efforts aimed at shaping attitudes toward the government through traditional propaganda and online commentators who masquerade as ordinary users.

It’s probably helpful to know that when a web site is censored, the popular term used it that it is “harmonized” — suddenly the quote above makes more sense with more layers of meaning.

It’s also helpful to know that Chinese lends itself to a level of play on words completely incomprehensible to English speakers, to the point that what we would call a pun is more like what a Chinese speaker would think of as a layered metaphor that just is an ambiguous artifact of the language, and occurs as nuance constantly in everyday speech — in translation this is sometimes called a composite meaning or connotation.  In political speech, it sometimes seems to occur at a frequency of more than once per word.

Much as I am a fan of democracy and free societies, civil unrest in China makes me nervous as a cat.  As the sharp and well experienced Rebecca McKinnon (former Beijing bureau chief for CNN, journo professor in Hong Kong, and former board member of The Tor Project among other interesting hobbies) tweeted last week regarding unrest in China (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Whoops!  There goes the economy.”

She doesn’t mean China’s economy.  She means everyone’s.  China is not as uniform in culture as Egypt, say.  Under the best of conditions and the worst of governments, you might consider China as a whole to be impossible to rule.  China is twice as impossible to rule under the strains of rapid economic and social change that have been stretching her like a string of catgut.  As the tone gets higher, China has been, gradually, equalizing its internal reality with the global reality — it is moving toward becoming a global country integrated with global culture, from a position not quite as insulated as North Korea not so many years ago.

When Galileo was condemned by the Catholics, it wasn’t because they thought he was wrong in his science; it was because they thought that what might seem like a (dare I say) unharmonized axiomatic dissonance with accepted cosmology (as taught by the church) might lead to a break in faith with the social contract (faith in the church leadership) which could lead to social chaos.

“They thought the Copernicus system defended by Galileo with such vehemence endangered the faith of simple people and that it was their obligation to prevent it from being taught,” is the modern Catholic apology and apologia. (Artigas/Sanchez de Tocha)

The Catholics tried to manage the flow of scientific and international information as the west hurled itself from medieval to renaissance culture, from the “old world” to the age of discovery, and tried to buffer the blows of change as it careened toward the enlightenment period — it was like a cultural singularity spread across time and space through a slower world.

China is hurtling, but from this side of the inflection point, we don’t know toward what singularity, what renaissance or dark age.  China is so big and so pivotal to the world economy and well-being right now.  Regardless of our politics, we should be hoping beyond hope that they experience evolution, and not a totally disruptive revolution, as they work out their growing pains.

Thanks to Bill Egnor/FDL for inspiration

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