Sunday, December 31, 2006

[china] the scope of the threat [part 1]

China continued…

As I learnt some Cantonese expressions and showed myself to be favourably oriented towards them, the hierarchy slowly thawed towards me and I was invited to the pub to play snooker with their top brass.

You might immediately scorn me for going along, rather than ‘shopping’ the four of them. After all, I was technically the under-boss, in my own country and running my own section of which they were a part.

I went along and their hierarchical nature was immediately apparent as well as their respect for my position. Not a drop of alcohol passed their lips to compromise me [never mind that my position there was, in itself, a compromise]. They played me at snooker and two allowed themselves to lose and two won. These were clearly of a higher rank.

Then in came one I’d only seen at a distance. He didn’t live in, he was about 22 years old and was allowed to stay on to complete his studies which strangely, he never seemed to do in all my time there. He wore a navy jacket, as distinct from their dark olive and we were introduced. He opened a cue case and took out two halves of a fine cue stick which one of the others screwed together for him. Nodding for one of the lower two to set up the balls, I went to help but he fixed me with a glare.

Naturally he wiped the floor with me and that got me invited to a meal with them. The surprise was that it was in the school kitchen to which blue jacket had a key and the bigger surprise was that he did the actual cooking, with the others buzzing around, assisting. It was lean cuisine but still a great meal. Then he left.

The whole thing was like a novel, except that it happened but an even bigger surprise came over the next few days. I’d been fed and drilled in some Cantonese expressions until I had them almost right and one of them, I was told, would get immediate silence.

The opportunity arose with an incident where one of them had been subject to some sort of humiliation, according to Lee, so I went to investigate. My colleague [the one who had stood on his rights] was shouting at some insolent beefy boy whose arms were folded across his chest and all the others were stamping the floor in unison.

I’ll tell you the words: “Sow lon pai”. The effect was instant. The stamping ceased, the arms went down from the chest, the line was resumed, my colleague stalked off in disgust and I didn’t have the least clue what to follow up that line with. Lee appeared and they filed into the hall in silence.

One day it went wrong. There was one mongrel of a young man who couldn’t possibly have been under 20 and he was throwing his weight about with some of the other ‘cultures’. I asked him to desist and he turned, picked up a rock from the garden and just stood, immovable, eyes trained on mine. Then he walked off.

I mentioned it to Lee and around seven that evening, there was a knock on my door and in came this young fella who towered over me and behind him, Lee and blue jacket filed into the room near the door. The young fella half bowed, muttered: “I verra sorry” and went to leave.

I hadn’t heard any word, hadn’t seen any gesture from the door but he scowled, turned around and spoke to the floor. “I never do it again.” The ones at the door nodded and the incident was over.

Weeks later, the police visited and he was arrested for helping blow up a restaurant in China town, along with two of the snooker players and one whom I’d met in town one day at a café.

I remember at the time this one, who had a winning smile and was clearly a hit with the Chinese girls, started telling me things about some city I couldn’t pronounce and how someone had had his heart cut out who’d offended the local head honcho. I’d put it down to too many horror films.

One last incident. One night someone tapped at my door and told me I’d better come quickly. I did and found, in one of the log rooms, an interesting scene. Kneeling in a circle around the room were about twenty boys and in the middle of the oval, also kneeling and head bowed, was one of the younger boys who’d clearly transgressed in some way.

By the far wall, seated on a chair, was blue jacket and when I came in, there was no mad scurrying and apology but a simple, quizzical gaze from blue jacket, as if to ask: “So, what’s next?” I made not reaction but stood there and looked at him. He gave the word, the assembly broke up and people went back to bed. They probably did it the next day, when I wasn’t on duty.

So, enough reminiscences. All those experiences did was confirm to me that the Chinese might have been polite but they were hierarchical, they obeyed without question, they could turn perfect harmony into perfect chaos in an instant and vice-versa and then it struck me that that was what the British were also like. The independent school tradition, the army, the navy and the kite fliers. It was an imperial mindset, still alive at certain echelons.

To return to the Chinese military, according to interviews with the current Chinese forces, the stories of ancient warcraft are embedded in Chinese culture, just as the West has its own history and its own literature.

The military calls the future multipolar world "amazingly similar" to the Warring States era and declares that China's future security environment resembles the era in several ways.

General Gao Rui, former Vice President of the Academy of Military Science (AMS), writes that the era is "extremely distant from modern times, but still shines with the glory of truth" and "the splendid military legacy created through the bloody struggles of our ancient ancestors and today has a radiance even more resplendent."

Part 2 will follow.

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