Saturday, October 9

China's Possum Tale: Reaction to Nobel Peace Prize award to Liu Xiaobo

Please do not humiliate me. I am a poor developing country.

I do not know, and I am pretty sure I don't want to know, why young possums think it's cool to hang upside down by their tails on tree branches. But there's not much sillier than a possum showing off unless it's bungee-jumping or China's apologists.

When China overreaches, such as hosting the Olympics while a huge number of Chinese go homeless and hungry and without basic repairs to the country's infrastructure, the apologists "Oooh" and "Ahhh" and jabber about China's status as an emerging superpower nation. When China gets exposed for acting like a tyrant the apologists reverse course and caution that developing China must not be humiliated on the world stage.

I've had quite enough of this talk of humiliation. If a 'developing' country doesn't want to be humiliated on the world stage it shouldn't act like a tyrant.

But egged on by the apologists, China's leaders have mastered the art of playing possum. For readers unfamiliar with the ways of possums (and opossums), they will play dead to fool a predator they think is too big to fight. Possums are so good at playing dead they even exude the smell of a dead animal, until the coast is clear enough for them to shake off the stink and rigor mortis and make a run for it. But when China's leaders want something outside their borders, such as a piece of India's land, no more playing possum; instead China's military takes a page from wolf behavior.

Wolves are not quite the pack animals that legend makes them out to be; as with the meerkats of the Kalahari Desert they are 'family' or clan animals rather than pack ones. But wolf clans are infamous for demanding control of more territory than they actually need to survive, just so they can feel secure.

China's apologists should remember that -- and also consider that Mao Zedong ruthlessly ordered the slaughter of every single wolf in China so they wouldn't threaten his animal husbandry reforms. Every wolf was hunted down and killed.

It is true, and over the years I've shouted out the truth on this blog, that Westerners seeking to destabilize China's government (and the governments of several other countries) have done so behind the mask of human rights/democracy activism. And even sincere Western activists have often helped sow tragedy by meddling in societies they don't understand.

But China has its own human rights/democracy initiatives, and they spring not from Westernization or a desire to break up China but from a recognition of certain universal truths and frank appraisal of what China needs to move forward in this era.

The Nobel Committee belatedly acknowledged the Chinese initiatives when they awarded the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo and explained the decision in a blunt lecture to Beijing. So to decry the award as humiliating to China is to betray the very Chinese who care most about their country.

China's leaders need to acknowledge that for a civilization of China's antiquity, playing possum whenever they want to appear vulnerable to the rest of the world is as silly as a juvenile possum clowning around in the trees.

The leaders can't have it both ways: have China treated as a superpower by other nations when it suits them and as a backwater when it doesn't.

The wolves are finally returning to China -- an auspicious and instructive omen if one knows how to read it. Starving wolves will prey on healthy livestock, and even on small human children and females, if the opportunity arises and they think the humans aren't armed with guns. (Wolves are masters of observational learning so they practically have a fear of guns stamped into their DNA by this era.) But wolves prefer to prey on the weak when it comes to picking on something their own size or larger because that kind of hunt uses less energy than going after healthy, strong creatures in the prime of life.

So they focus on the diseased, dying, and the old and very young animals that don't have protection from a herd -- and their observational powers make them a good judge of the weakest. They also eat carrion. And mice. And rats -- one of the all-star infectious disease carriers.

If you think of carrion floating in rivers, lakes, and wells, and how just one sick livestock can wipe out an entire village of humans, you can see that wolves are one of Nature's most effective infectious-disease control specialists. They remove animals and fowl that are disease carriers or will soon be carrion, which if not quickly disposed of breeds diseases that are deadly to humans.

For that reason I think one can trace a connection between the rise of horrific killer epidemics in China in the past century and the complete destruction of the wolf clans in China.

Rural China has been called a laboratory for infectious disease because Chinese villagers live in close proximity to pigs and fowl and other livestock. But since there were rural Chinese they were always living in close proximity to such creatures, and without the waves of killer edpidemics that characterized China in the modern era.

The difference is that after Mao's edict, the wolves weren't around to kill off the weakest domestic and wild animals that were likely disease carriers and eat up the carrion -- or snack on legions of rats.

There are infectious diseases, such as certain types of plague, that are so deadly to humans that if not treated with antibiotics the mortality rate is virtually 100 percent. There was one such epidemic in China during the swine flu outbreak, which I suspect is the only reason news of the epidemic got past China's censors; if my memory serves the disease was pneumonic plague, which is one of the plagues with a virtual 100 percent kill rate.

Luckily, or perhaps because they were watching so closely for swine flu outbreaks in the countryside, China's health authorities caught the disease and treated it with antibiotics before it wiped out everyone in the town although they had also had to quarantine the entire town.

But think about that. Think about the days before antibiotics. Entire villages and towns and clans, wiped out, within a matter of hours -- three, four days. Fast death, so fast that before people realized what was happening a person from the infected region had traveled to another village.

Yet wolves, as with some other animals, have such keen smell they can sense a diseased animal (or person) before the symptoms are obvious to humans. That ability, combined with their incredible powers of observation, allows wolves to unwittingly pick out the most likely disease carriers that can interact with humans. Mao didn't know any of that when he ordered the wolf genocide.

China's present leaders should ponder the awful consequences of Mao's extermination-happy mindset then realize it's unwise for humans to destroy everything they perceive to be a threat, for in its variety Nature gives to the human race all it needs to survive.

The same is true for the dissenting political view.

Twentieth Anniversary, Tiananmen Square protests
150,000 Chinese gather for Candlelight Vigil
4 June 2009, Victoria Park, Hong Kong

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