"When is it going to stop raining?", asked Debbie, as she stared out the window of the Shanghai taxicab. "This is starting to get on my nerves."
It had been raining or threatening to rain since we got to town and now that we were heading out of town it seemed to only get worse. We were planning a side-trip to Sheshan, a church originally built in 1871 and an astronomical observatory founded by French Jesuits on a hilltop to the southeast of the city center - about 40 minutes away by car. At first the driver started whisking us off towards the airport, despite my forceful map-pointing and apparently unintelligible attempt to name our destination. My internal compass told me we were on the wrong track (somewhat harder when you can't see the sun) and we finally located the Chinese name of the spot in a guidebook. That turned him around and we sat there struck by the likelihood that taxi-drivers in Shanghai probably couldn't read English language maps, despite the fact that it depicted a place they presumably knew all too well.
Sheshan would have been dramatic to approach on a sunny day. Reaching 100 meters above sea-level (328 feet) and towering over the otherwise board-flat farming terrain, the hill would have been the obvious choice to site the observatory. This day it was shrouded in mist, which made the bamboo forest through which we walked to its summit all the more fantastic. The weather also meant that we were virtually alone at this well- documented side-trip for Shanghai tourists. Everyone else on the hill this day worked there, as far as we could tell.
Multiple sets of access tickets later, we located the dome of the observatory and its large optical telescope. Walking in through a back door, we photographed the whole works and then started to wonder where the gatekeepers had gone. Wandering the halls, we stumbled on what appeared to be a library. Sure enough, current scientific journals from around the world were neatly laid out as were the publications from this observatory. Then a man emerged from a back room and scowled at us. Shaking his finger he shooed us back out into the hallway and closed what had been a wide open door. We guessed we wouldn't be taking about the history of astronomy this afternoon.
Early Jesuit missionaries enjoyed remarkable access in 17th-century China largely due to their knowledge of mathematics and, crucially, astronomy. The Chinese lunar calendar was far from perfect and Western knowledge was needed to fix it. In Beijing, one of the few remaining relics of the old Tartar city wall sits just inside the perennially traffic-jammed second ring-road a few miles West of the old Forbidden City (now the Palace Museum). Surrounded by high-rises emblazoned with Japanese electronics company logos and shells topped with construction cranes, the Old Observatory is a truncated pyramid surrounded by grounds filled with massive devices intended mostly for measuring the motion of the sun and stars. One very similar Armillary Sphere sits in a courtyard at Sheshan. At Beijing's Old Observatory, eight of these gigantic cast bronze precision instruments adorned the roof and more rest in an adjacent park. And, in Beijing, we had a very aggressive salesman/guide relentlessly trying to sell us a replica.
The gift-shop was packed with scrolls, "ancient" coins and the usual tourist fare. However, in a case over in the corner, a handful of striking replicas of the original instruments outside were being offered. I picked out the Ecliptic Armilla which seemed most appropriate, not gold-plated and not too small either. "How much?", I asked. As is usual in Chinese shops, I was presented with a calculator with the price glaring at me in inch-tall LCDs. 400, it said. As usual, I said, "too much" and started to walk away. "How about something else," our guide offered? In order to help all involved not to feel insulted, we bought a small calendar device and exited the shop.
Our guide followed us out. Conversation quickly turned to the history of the observatory. It had been given to the care of the Jesuits in 1652 following the pioneering work of Father Matteo Ricci and his successors Verbiest and Schall in opening contact between the Imperial Court and the Vatican. Ricci first reached Beijing in 1598 and died there in 1610. We were told that the cathedral built on the site of his house was across town (now called South Cathedral and apparently the fourth structure at this location, with the first having been erected in 1703) and that his grave-site was still accessible. "A very great man," we were told, "A very great man."
Ricci was that indeed. In 1582, he entered China through the Portuguese settlement of Macao in the estuary below the port of Canton (now Guangzhou), the only spot on the Chinese mainland where foreigners were then allowed to live in and trade with China. Initially, he travelled inland in the robes of a Buddhist monk. Before long, however, he discovered that Buddhism was quite incompatible with his creed and that Confucian ideals much more closely approximated his convictions-not to mention the crucial observation that the entire intellectual and official culture of China was (at this time) firmly Confucian.
Changing attire to that of a Confucian scholar, Ricci successfully made his way to China's northern capital, Beijing, and was eventually able to present the gifts he had brought with him to the Emperor 1601, although not in person. He then set out to convert-partly through translations of works such as Euclid's Elements into Chinese and importantly by writing a book which detailed the close correspondence between early Confucianism (attempting to remove the syncretic Buddhist and Taoist elements that were later blended into the original doctrine) and his own Christianity. Conceived as "pre-evangelical" and deliberately leaving out much of the material to be found in a catechism, Ricci's The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven was first published in 1603 and formed the basis of efforts to convert literate, intellectual Chinese for more than a century.
Ricci's mission was not alone, however, and it was not unopposed. Beginning with his immediate successor in Beijing, Nicola Longobardi (also a Jesuit), and building into a full-blown battle between the Jesuits and their rivals in Rome, particularly the Dominican order, those who wished to undo Ricci's accomplishment were every bit as vocal as his supporters. Caught in between, not speaking or reading any Chinese, were a series of popes who could only postpone a decision and send off emissaries who were unable to and, perhaps, fatally compromised against reaching a conclusion. Those who did understand Chinese lined up forcefully on both sides of the Rites issue.
None other than the great German philosopher-diplomat Gottfried Leibniz attempted to sway the outcome by expanding the sometimes narrow theological context in which the Rites Controversy was being argued. He reasoned that for broad economic development China and Europe must reach out across the great Eurasian landmass and strike alliances with each other. Two great civilizations with strongly congruent philosophical foundations bracketed the Eurasian center and pointed to the possibility of global expansion of civilized life. In 1697 Leibniz published his book, The Preface to Novissima Sinica, which was subtitled "The Latest News from China" consisting of his own preface and a collection of writings, mostly by missionaries, from China. Later, his last and certainly most thorough work on the topic, Leibniz' Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese was composed in 1716 (the year of Leibniz' death) but never dispatched to his intended correspondent, Nicholas Remond, the same man to whom the Monadology had been addressed in 1714.
The final papal decision was reached in 1742 and it went firmly against Ricci and his successors. Confucian ancestor rites (performed twice monthly, often in public shrines) were declared to be superstitious and, as a condition for conversion, the Chinese were required to renounce them. Needless to say, this renunciation was rarely done, particularly not by intellectuals steeped in the Chinese classics. The observance of the rites was so deeply imbedded in Chinese civilization and their very practical contribution to strengthening the family structure in society was so obviously crucial to cohesion and overall stability that discarding the rites wholesale was inconceivable. With this fateful decision, the Vatican virtually ensured that Leibniz's bold dream of beneficial transcontinental economic alliances would evaporate. It took 200 years to reverse the Vatican's Rites decision and, by then, there was hardly a Confucian intellectual to be found to convert, so great a historic, social and religious tragedy did this soon become.
No, Europe's relationship-economic and otherwise-with China was not to be one of partnership, although missionaries were to feature infamously in that history, as it turned out. It was instead to consist of gunships and opium-laden China Clippers. The Chinese characterization of Westerners as barbarians seems quite justified given the combination of the dismissal of Confucianism by the Vatican and the repeated experience of brigandry when the Chinese came in contact with Western traders. But, of all the affronts presented to the Chinese, none can match the remarkable attempt to conquer China by forcing opium addiction upon it-an act justified in the name of "free-trade. When that rationale wasn't powerful enough on its own, the apostles of free trade orchestrated concern over the presumed mistreatment of Christian missionaries.
In 1840-2, following the efforts of the heroic (if somewhat naive) Commissioner Lin to shut down British (and American) importation of opium from India into China, the British blasted their way to imposing the first of a long string of "unequal treaties" upon the Chinese. The 1842 Treaty of Nanjing forced the Chinese to open five ports to foreign trade, opening the floodgates wider to opium trade but not yet legalizing the drug outright. That was accomplished by the treaties of 1860, including the Convention of Beijing, which were forced upon the Chinese following a sacking of an Imperial compound in the capital by British and French troops (with the Americans and Russians following close behind). In addition to huge sums paid in "reparation", many more ports were opened including key river ports well in the Chinese interior, massive land-area ceded to Russia, complete travel freedom for foreigners was demanded and the crucial requirement that China formally establish diplomatic relations with embassies newly placed in Beijing was asserted. There was even a clause in the Convention which prohibited the use of the term "barbarian" in official Chinese correspondence with Westerners.
The same thing happened again in 1900, this time on an even grander scale with eight nation's forces fighting their way into Beijing for more looting and massacre. The eight, now including Italy, Japan, Austria and Germany (as well as Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain joining as signatories but not with troops in China) forced the Chinese to sign the International Protocol of 1901-centering around what was to become known as America's Open Door Policy.
Curiously, the instruments which had remained in the Old Observatory in Beijing for hundreds of years figured prominently in the aftermath of this last invasion. The French claimed that the instruments had been a gift of Louis the XIV (one was) and so they should be returned to France. The Germans objected, since the Observatory was in the German "sector" and balked. In the end, five of the instruments went to the French legation (until they were shamed into returning them in 1902) and six were packed up to be displayed in Potsdam-with half sized replicas made and left by the Germans in Beijing. Indeed, this German booty was returned to China as a result of a specific clause in the Treaty of Versailles in 1921. Half of them again made the journey to Nanjing, transported by the Nationalists in 1933, purportedly to keep them from falling into the hands of the advancing Japanese. Nanjing itself fell, brutally, to the Japanese, but there the instruments remain on display, to this day.
As indicated in the title of this essay, there are many signs that we are witnessing a remarkable return to many of the conditions which led to the wholesale assault on China in the 19th century. Once again, warfare-information and economic warfare this time but every bit as devastating-is being justified by the purportedly unquestionable necessity for the Chinese to open themselves to the vagaries of the "free market." And, once again, "free-trade" rationalizations are being blended with wild stories of religious persecution. But, wait a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the story.
Shanghai is the city that opium built-as is, truth be told, Hong Kong. Scanning the guidebooks, we quickly decided to book a room in one of the world's most dazzling hotels, Shanghai's Peace Hotel. Occupying the strategic corner between the waterfront and, with its two separate wings, literally astraddle the city's central business artery (now known as Nanjing Road), the Peace Hotel carries its history proudly. The north wing, where we stayed, was once known as Sassoon House, since it served as the headquarters of the notorious E. V. Sassoon (notorious in part for the quote, "There's only one race greater than the Jews and that's the derby"). "Eve" Sassoon's grandfather, Elias Sassoon, first entered the China "trade" in 1844. "Eve" took the family's opium profits and used them to become Shanghai's top real-estate baron. Sassoon House also encompassed the socially pivotal Cathay Hotel (the south wing of today's Peace Hotel was then known as the Palace Hotel), where Noel Coward is said to have written his play Private Lives. Parties of legendary splendor filled the Cathay's ballroom and rooftop restaurant and, still to this day, the jazz band in the lobby bar draws a standing-room crowd. Finally forced out in 1949, "Eve" Sassoon is reported to have shown little overt sentiment, as he was purportedly confident that his assets were largely already safe in the Bahamas.
The waterfront area surrounding Sassoon House is still known as the "Bund." It was the gateway to the banking and customs houses that lubricated all the rooftop gaiety and leads back into the massive areas of town once known as foreign "concessions." The British had the largest. The French concession was arguably the most "entertaining" and is still popularly associated with the opium business. The Americans were on the other side of the river. And, they were each a law unto themselves with their own police, fire-fighters and court systems. Shanghai sits near the mouth of the Yangtze River (China's Mississippi) and was one of the five treaty ports opened up by the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. From a trader population of only 25 in 1844, by 1850 the number had grown to 150 and Shanghai had already clearly outstripped Canton as the central locale for foreign trade (i.e. opium for tea) with China. In the first half of the 20th Century, Shanghai operated as a "free port" and, therefore, was a magnet for refugees without papers and who had been refused entry everywhere else. White Russians flooded in following the Russian Revolution while Jews later packed the steamers fleeing from Hitler's "final solution."
On the wall of the south wing of the Peace Hotel there is a plaque. It reads, "International Opium Commission," giving a small hint of the "commodity" which dominated China's import trade and which filled the coffers of the many banking houses on the "Bund." Walking through the permanent antique-selling stalls on Dongtai street, many of the vendors offer purported opium pipes, carrying cases, smoking lamps and other opium paraphernalia. Almost certainly replicas, even if they are often passed off as genuine, there is a very open sense of what used to be an indelible part of everyday life in Shanghai as well as in the rest of China.
How did it happen? There is really no mystery, although plenty of twisted rationalizations is offered and a massive dose of we-don't-have-to-talk-about-this involved. By 1800 the English were consuming 20 million pounds of tea and by 1820 this had grown to 30 million. That's two pounds of the leaf for every man, woman and child in England at the time. Tea was, for all practical purposes, only grown in China in this period. It became a very desirable product, with enormous demand and very strong tariff revenues to collect. Reportedly, the Exchequer never registered less than $4.5 million annually-which at the time amounted to half the budget of the entire Royal Navy. But, the Chinese really had nothing which they wanted-other than silver-in exchange. Such an unfortunate imbalance could not be tolerated in the international trading system of the day (or, for that matter, this day), so something had to be found which would substitute for cash. A cash crop, so to speak.
England ruled India. Well, to be more accurate, an English company ruled India-the East India Company. With the exclusive monopoly for all English trade in the East granted it by the British Crown, the East India Company literally conquered and then ruled the Indian subcontinent with its own standing army. As it was their exclusive business to bring the tea back home, they would have been bankrupted without a way to balance out their trade with China. So, they decided to grow opium to trade for tea. By all accounts, the choicest farming land in eastern India was devoted by the Company to poppy growth. Tons of opium were then laboriously prepared, packed into special cases and shipped off to be smoked in China. Indeed, opium was illegal in China-until its legal importation was forced on the Chinese in 1860. But, through a smuggling distribution network as elaborate as anything conceived by the Cali Cartel, British trade accounts were balanced.
Indeed, the larger system of "free-trade" into which the opium scourge fit was quite global. As the opium left India, manufactured cotton-goods came in. And, where did the cotton come from? Some came from India itself but a great deal came from the American South where East India Company slave ships had been supplying the labor for the cotton fields from the earliest days. Throw in some rum and some molasses and you've got some remarkable fortunes to be made. For those in China, millions of lives were simply and cruelly discarded. For those on the Indian subcontinent, who were not permitted by the East India Company to manufacture their own cotton clothes, this was only one aspect of the ruin visited upon them by the Company. And for the slaves in the fields, well, we are all familiar with the results.
As leading American-system economist Henry C. Carey put it in his 1853 book, The Slave Trade: Domestic and Foreign, Why it Exists & How it May be Extinguished, "With every extension of the system there is increasing inability to pay taxes, and increasing necessity for seeking new markets in which to sell cloth and collect what are called rents-and the more wide the system the greater is the difficulty of collecting revenue sufficient for keeping the machinery of government in motion. This difficulty it was that drove the representatives of British power and civilization into becoming traders in that pernicious drug, opium."
Carey wasn't merely discussing an English phenomenon when he spoke of opium and China; it was quite American as well, or rather, very much a part of certain English-leaning American's commercial activities as well. A surprising amount of the historic fortunes of what has come to be known as the Boston Brahmins as well as the accumulated wealth of the shipping magnates and "merchant banking" firms along the Eastern seaboard originated in the China trade. A syndicate known as the Perkins Syndicate had its origins during the American Revolution when three members of the Boston Perkins clan fled the U.S. as British loyalists. Initially involved in slave trading, in 1789 it refocussed on opium. Cabots, Lowells, Forbes, Astors, Higginsons and Coolidges all became intimately involved through intermarriages and direct participation in the "family" business of the opium syndicate.
In Salem and Newburyport, Massachusetts, the opium trade became a matter of civic pride. An East India Society was formed and annually a "jollification" was staged in Salem during which members paraded through the streets in Chinese costume carrying Chinese artifacts-some of which can still be seen in the Peabody Museum on East India Square in Salem. Many in the group also participated in educational endeavors, particularly as prominent members of the board of the Harvard Corporation which ran the well endowed (yes, from the opium fortunes) Harvard College.
The opium trader's political association also became quite notorious. Known as the Essex Junto, they are thought to have backed the candidacies of Aaron Burr (eventually exposed as a traitor and the dueler who killed Alexander Hamilton) and to have advocated a Northeastern secession from the Union. Matthew Carey temporarily stymied the Junto plans by writing a forceful polemic denouncing the secessionist plans at their so-called 1814 Hartford Convention, in his book titled Olive Branch. Matthew Carey, an Irish Catholic and key member of the Philadelphia patriot circles, was the already mentioned Henry's father and, among his many accomplishments, publisher of much of the early history of the United States, including now ageless saws such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. Thomas Jefferson put it succinctly in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1815, "The British have hoped more in their Hartford Convention . . . The Marats, the Dantons, and Robespierres of Massachusetts are in the same pay, under the same orders, and making the same effort to anarchise us, that their prototypes in France did there."
The economic effects of "free-trade" in drugs and slaves and the misery they cause, just as Henry Carey so forcefully illustrates, are not an accident or an anomaly or a odd bit of mostly forgotten history. These effects are systemic wherever national sovereignty is undermined-as it has been in India and China for centuries-and whenever looting for profit replaces productive material economic growth. Systemic. Wherever and whenever. Then and now. And, it should not be overlooked that many of Henry Carey's and the American system's economic and philosophical opponents, including none other than Adam Smith, worked for the very same East India Company. Nor should we forget whose tea was famously thrown into Boston harbor-East India Company tea. Indeed, India House's roster includes John Mills, Parson Malthus, Jeremy Bentham and a gallery of Enlightenment luminaries. Ideas have consequences. Then and now.
Industrial growth has gotten a very bad name, as has national sovereignty in many circles over the past 50 years. What is now glibly referred to as the "new economy"-presumably operating on new computer-networked rules-was originally called the "post-industrial society." Those who schemed to promote this radical shift away from material, industrial economic growth have told us that growth would only lead to war-which in a nuclear age means certain annihilation. Equating the inevitably blinding extinction of modern warfare with nations and with their effort to grow national economies has become a remarkably subtle fabric of presumptions in many forms and guises, these days. Deeply imbedded, out of reach in everyday conversation, these presumptions paralyze us all too often-as we focus on pollution and intractable tribal rivalries and arsenals and doomsday-all the while missing the context of current history along with its anti-nation state foundations.
"Post-industrial" doesn't mean that capitalism goes away, of course. It does however mean a forced shift in the historic (and often uneasy) blend between industrial and financial capitalism, in which finance becomes the winner. Efficiency becomes the winner. Computers become the active ingredient shifting economic activity away from the material towards the virtual. Or, as one commentator puts it, "from atoms to bits." The new "virtual" economy has its political correlate, the withering of the nation state, as well as its military sibling, information warfare. Replacing humans with machines-as in "smart bombs" and fighting robots-is at the heart of all these flavors of de-materialized life. If carried out, the result can only reflect C.S. Lewis' penetrating concerns and point us towards the "abolition of man."
This much-touted shift away from the nation state is the same theme as the notion that finance capital should be completely without international control and, as we so often hear, impervious to national borders. And, it is no wonder that finance capital-in the form of the unregulated and highly speculative currency markets-is now the apparently preferred weapon to attack the nation state. Make no mistake about it, that is what has been going on for the past many months in Asia. Riots in Indonesia are the very real result of the long prepared shift from "atoms to bits." And, lest there be any doubts, speculators like George Soros frequently remind us that the real target is China. Once again.
The current "debate" about the role of the IMF in these matters is also illuminating. Some wish to preserve-albeit in modified form-an institution which was originally created to preserve the long-abandoned fixed rate currency trading system usually referred to as the Bretton Woods Agreement. Others wish to scrap the IMF and let the "free-market" chips fall where they may, whatever the misery and political turmoil might be. Still others want to create new institutions, thereby avoiding wholesale IMF restructuring. In particular, George Soros has called for the creation of a new insurance fund for investors and attracted a barrage of attackers for his troubles. What is going on here?
As might be expected, it is what is not offered by the various proposals that is most salient; what is left out is most important. Whether it is the "right-wing" let-'em-fall rhetoric of ex-banker Walter Wriston, the "left-wing" proposals of Soros or the "centrist" position of Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, there is no fundamental distinction to be drawn, no strategic differences to be noted between these essentially tactical positions.
For all involved, it is taken as a given that finance capital runs the show, that firm international regulation on the application and flow of that capital is not to be considered and that the consequences of the use of these capital flows to decimate national economies are to be blamed solely on those who suffer the most. Industrial capital is secondary. National sovereignty is secondary. Globalization (i.e. the dominance of finance capital and the whithering of the nation-state) is primary.
In all scenarios, regardless of the specific tactics forwarded, the intended result is likely to be quite similar. National economies held at economic gunpoint by global finance with the expectation of giving free-run to those who hold the most powerful economic weapons. When the local currency's value is cut in half that simply makes local assets cheaper to buy. Whether it is IMF "conditionalities" or means being prepared to undercut efforts to hold off foreign ownership of national assets-such as the little-discussed MAI Treaty now being negotiated in Paris-the result is likely to be the same: massive penetration of national economies with wholesale looting of assets bought at fractions of their "fair-market" values.
Does this differ in means and appearances from the forcing of opium into China to balance accounts? Yes. Is it different in substance and eventual outcome? I don't believe it is. This is merely the Information Age version of 19th Century gunboat diplomacy conducted in the realm of "bits" but still completely and overwelmingly impacting the real world of "atoms"-the world where we all live.
So much of the non-debate about the implications of computer and networking technologies (and more subtly, genetic engineering) is staked on the conviction that these technological shifts are inevitable. So often, these shifts are proposed publicly by radical utopians with little grasp of historic reality and without any apparent capacity to understand the systematic and, indeed, lawful consequences of their hopeful scenarios. We are all in need of a powerful antidote. There is no alternative except to launch a full blown public debate about these technological consequences, lest we truly be doomed to repeat our disastrous past mistakes.
But, to be fair, the British inundation of the Chinese with opium was hardly a mistake. It was quite deliberate. It was well known, referred to often in the British press and even debated on the floor of Parliament. But, whatever moral outrage could be mustered to rail against the practice, there was always the so-close-to-the- surface retort that the Chinese were "heathens" who mistreated Christians and, by and large, would not embrace the "faith." Much like the current persistent editorializing about the purported lack of religious rights in China-particularly as it regards Christians but, with great Hollywood solemnity, towards Tibetan Buddhists as well-the pattern of the use of typecasting the Chinese as somehow alien to Western principles forms a basis for mistreatment and, ultimately, plunder. This is clearly history repeating itself.
In an attempt to understand the history of the Catholic Church's involvement in these matters, I was quite fortunate to be able to speak at some length with a very knowledgeable source. Father Paul Chan is currently in charge of the Sino-American Amity Association in New York City. Father Chan was born in Fukien province to a family that considered itself Catholic as far back as they could recall. He remembers studying Confucius and Mencius by rote as a boy in his small village. He also remembers being excluded from the communal Confucian ancestral rites observances in the village temple because he was a Catholic.
Eventually making his way to Rome, Father Chan took two degrees (in Theology and Canon Law) although not soon enough to witness the first ordination of Catholic Bishops of Chinese ancestry in the Vatican in 1926. He recounts how Pope Leo XIII attempted to send a papal envoy to China to investigate Church matters there. Without any hesitation, he declares that the pope's efforts were blocked-by the French. It emerges from his discussion of this crucial period in Church history regarding China that French missionaries utterly dominated Catholicism in China. Other references closely concur. In Shanghai and elsewhere, French interests in China were almost exclusively associated with Catholic missionary work. Catholicism in China, indeed throughout Indo-China, were thoroughly integrated with French national and, presumably, imperial interests. In part as a result of the earlier decision in the Rites Controversy and, therefore, the Vatican's disengagement from the larger questions regarding China, Rome was simply not on the scene. As far as Catholicism was concerned, China belonged to the French.
In the 1920s, a somewhat bolder pope, Pius XI undertook to send an apostolic delegate to China, Monsignor (later Cardinal) Celso Constantini of Venice. Travelling incognito to the Chinese coast, Constantini announced his arrival only to be shunned by the French missionaries he had come to work with. Not accepted by the bishop of Shanghai, Constantini moved inland, to the city that is now called Wuhan, where he was welcomed and where he prepared his effort to move onto the seat of French Catholic power in China, Beijing. When he did finally arrive, at first, the French prelate refused to confer with Constantini. At length, however, a meeting was arranged at which Constantini made a particular point to inquire as to the French prelate's health. Assured repeatedly that his guest was robust, Constandini presented the communication from the Pope announcing his role as apostolic delegate and, in his authority as the Pope's representative, Constantini requested that his French counterpart leave at once to return to Europe. On the overland train through Russia, however, the French priest died.
As a result of the work of Constantini and others in China, Pius XI prepared to reverse the earlier 1742 resolution of the Rites Controversy. The French Lazarist practice of never allowing European priests to be subordinate to Chinese priests was undone by the ordination of Chinese bishops and, ultimately Cardinals. One of these, Paul Cardinal Yu-Pin went on to become the archbishop of Nanjing. Father Chan, in due time, became the secretary to Cardinal Yu-Pin, whom he later succeeded at the helm of the Amity Association. The resolution of Rites Controversy, as in other matters, was not promulgated by Pius XI who died in 1938 and had to wait for his successor, Pius XII. Indeed, as demonstrated this past Chinese New Year in New York, with full authorization from Rome, Catholic mass was celebrated and then followed-at the same altar-with a brief ceremony of observance of the Confucian Ancestral Rites. Presumably the same is now being carried out worldwide.
Confucius may be making a long overdue return to the scene, although I sense that this may not be soon enough to address Father Chan's immediate needs to find a successor for himself at the Sino-American Amity Association. Reviled by the Red Guards and, indeed, earlier "cosmopolitan" Chinese for centuries, Confucius is not an easy figure to locate in present day China. Confucian scholars are apparently far more prevalent in Taiwan (where the Ricci Institute is located) or Korea than on the mainland. Beijing's central Confucian Temple is not in very good repair and searching for paintings or statues of the sage in shops far and wide was surprisingly difficult. Foreign language bookstores had nothing on the shelves written by Mencius (perhaps the most important of Confucius' immediate successors) or by Chu-Hsi (the pivotal 12th century Confucian scholar, who Ricci actually mis-read). On the other hand, the work of what some have called the Chinese Voltaire, Lu-Xun, were lavishly on display. Lu-Xun's attacks on Confucius are strongly reminiscent of the parallel attacks on Leibniz by Voltaire in such works as Candide.
The identification of Confucius with feudal government and authority in general has, no doubt, limited the appeal of his thoughts, in our distinctly antiauthoritarian times. It remains to be seen whether official Chinese efforts at rehabilitation of the sage will open the right doors or merely further the well-established sense of the misuse of Confucius for eons as an excuse for the exercise of crushing imperial power (as well as its periodic dynastic usurpation). Indeed, Confucius, like his later admirer Leibniz and, for that matter Plato, whom Leibniz considered the wellspring and the origin of Western moral philosophy, all spent much of their lives in the pursuit of just and moral leadership. And, like the others, Confucius' search for a philosopher king was ultimately frustrated. For them, as for us, this frustration does not halt the search.
Perhaps Confucius needs to be seen in a new light. As the history of moral philosophy and religion shows, deeply held beliefs about the world are, at their core, not all the same as each other. Despite attempts to promote the view that all the world's religions are fundamentally identical-in the abstract-which has been fashionable since at least the time of the 1893 World Parliament of Religions, a closer examination shows something quite different. Much more plausibly, deeply held beliefs tend to fall into two different rival camps-not one common worldview.
In Western terms, this conflict is perhaps best reflected in the struggle during the first few centuries of the Christian era between what became Catholic Christianity and its historic bitter rival, known generally as Gnosticism. In our times, much effort has been expended to promote the Gnostic alternative as legitimate, despite its apparent historical elimination through anathamization in 2nd Century Alexandrian Eqypt. Of course, Gnosticism never disappeared as a belief-system in the West and, as some particularly astute scholars of the history of philosophy-particularly Eric Voegelin have emphasized, the 20th century is far more a Gnostic century than it is a Christian one. Attempts to understand modern history without this crucial insight invariably widely miss the target. Despite various attempts to identify utopian thinking as Christian (often because the utopians themselves adopted Christian disguises), returning to the Garden of Eden is emphatically not a Christian project; it is a Gnostic one.
This deep distinction-resting on completely opposed beliefs regarding the perfectibility of humanity and a fundamental dispute over mankind's fallen nature-has a precise correlate in the East. The same Greek (specifically Platonic) philosophy which animates Christianity is richly evident in Confucius. The striking congruence has even led some scholars to postulate that some earlier figure (perhaps Moses?) must have been a common ancestor to both traditions.
Likewise, the opposing anti-Confucian view-the Gnostic perfectibility-of-at-least-some- humans view-also has its Eastern expression, Buddhism. Specifically, Mahayana Buddhism (the roots of Tibetan Buddhism)-the "all-is-illusion" Large Vessel school-has been identified by Buddhist scholar Edward Conze as historically identical to Alexandrian Gnosticism. Disputed by others with a more narrow grasp of the history of ideas in Buddhist studies, Conze's identification makes a very strong case for the direct overlap between East and West. Christian and Confucian vs. Gnostic and Buddhist-the two fundamentally distinct views of humanity recapitulated and clearly opposed in the two great Eurasian cultures. This was Ricci's point as it was Leibniz's-although neither had the benefit of work such as Voegelin's to fully flesh out all the parallels.
Ironically, perhaps, there is substantial common ground between those who understand the death-centered character of Tibetan Buddhism in the leadership of modern China and those with a common understanding of Buddhism within the Vatican. This Pope's specific refusal to include Buddhism in his broadly defined ecumenical statements reflects one side of this understanding. The startlingly direct statement on the part of Cardinal Joesph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that
(In the Beginning . . ." pages 96 and 100) captures the sense of urgency regarding modern Gnosticism in important quarters. In addition, Pope Paul VI's strongly worded concern that the "smoke of Satan" has entered the Church amplifies the sense of conflict which all who are sensitive to such matters in human history must take care to remember.
Modern China is clearly a society in the process of opening itself to an outside world, once again. One view of these affairs would be to identify this as a non-Christian (even anti-Christian) Communist society admitting defeat and petitioning for a seat at the larger "free-market" table. This view is common editorial fodder nowadays, but it is likely to be wrong. Those who have taken the time to study Eric Voegelin's persuasive scholarship on the matter (particularly in his book, The New Science of Politics) might even add that, since Marxism is itself one of the dominant modern expressions of Gnosticism, China is, by its own self- identification, in the grip of Christianity's arch-enemy. Such a view would be a grave moral error with seriously troubling historical consequences, in my view.
China's period of Cultural Revolution, much like the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge and their killing fields along with all other utopian attempts to social-engineer humanity towards an unattainable perfection, are properly understood as societies which have given themselves over to a thoroughly Gnostic insanity. But, this is not the China of today. Quite the reverse. It could be said that the leaders of China today and certainly those in their 50s who will become the leaders of China tomorrow are the surviving victims of Gnosticism's forced death march. It is far more likely that those who are responsible for China's current opening are more directly and more personally familiar with the effects of Gnosticism's utopian excess on their lives and their families than many in the West. And, it is much more plausible that they are committed to ensuring that the China of their children never experience the terror which they have lived through.
China has opened to the West before. Perhaps it is appropriate to identify three such periods. The initial contact between Jesuit missionaries and the Chinese Emperor in the late 16th Century-starting with Matteo Ricci-potentially for the benefit of a lasting alliance with Christendom can be thought of as ending with the unfortunate and incorrect initial resolution of the Rites Controversy in 1742. In the 19th Century, enforced by gunboat and eventually with massed ground troops, China was pried open for the benefit of "free-trade" and missionary work. This opening could be said to have lasted until 1950, when the newly declared People's Republic of China began to rapidly close off its contact with much of the rest of the world.
This, the third opening of China describes the current period and, not surprisingly, has various important dates of note. Economic liberalization is usually dated as beginning in earnest with the initial formation of Special Economic Zones in 1979. However, as detailed in Lords of the Rim by Sterling Seagrave, historic conflict between power and wealth is a very ancient phenomenon in China. It could be argued that China is still in the early stages of this current opening which represents a fundamental shift in terms of that historic conflict. The successful elevation of those associated with Shanghai and therefore mainland Chinese commercial interests in the Chinese leadership at the recently concluded 15th Communist Party Congress-in particular the President, Jiang Zemin, and the top economic official, Zhu Rongii-marks an important new beginning in this process.
The China which I witnessed is certainly still awakening. Entrepreneurial zeal is in the atmosphere everywhere-from provincial officials competing for foreign factories to the vendors on the street. China will open, of that one can have no doubt, and, one hopes, open to the world on its own terms this time. For China and for the world's greater benefit.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot. The replica of the astronomical instrument-the Ecliptic Armilla. Our guide at the Observatory gift shop was severely disappointed at our failure to make a deal. Negotiations continued in the courtyard and a price of $250 was agreed upon. He went back into the shop but quickly emerged shaking his head. He said he couldn't believe that they weren't willing to budge and pledged to find another copy and to bring it to our hotel room for a private sale. Skeptical, we agreed. Later, because we weren't carrying enough cash, we arranged for a seller of silk rugs to also come to the hotel for a similiar transaction, so we began to figure that such arrangements weren't so unusual, after all. Indeed, our Observatory guide arrived at the appointed time but with a completely different replica. Try as he might, we simply weren't interested. Miffed, we decided that was the last of it.
But, while thumbing through a collection of historic photographs in a book called "Old Beijing in Panorama", we stumbled on a picture of German troops hauling off one of the original instruments from the Observatory. That photo again tipped the balance. The next day, on our way to the airport, we swung by the Observatory for the last time. With $400 in hand, we collected the Armiallry sphere. It stands 16 inches tall and, disassembled, still caused multiple hand searches as we passed through five or six airports on the way back to New York. In the end, those who held firm got their price. And, one suspects that, in matters of considerably greater consequence, China will continue on this course.
Mark Stahlman is President of New Media Associates, Inc. a New York based company involved in new media driven economic development. He is an author and analyst who focuses on the strategic intersection of technology, business and social trends. Mr. Stahlman formed New Media Associates, Inc. in 1992.
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