People Of The Han: Are We Free Yet?

Why the Republic?

Last week marked seventy years of the People’s Republic of China. Seventy years since Mao Ze Dong declared “this Government is the sole legal Government, representing all the people of the People’s Republic of China. This Government is willing to observe the principles of equality, mutual respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty.” A lot has changed in seventy years. A generation has come and a generation has gone. Wars have been fought and wars have been lost. And the Chinese people, once starving subjects of foreign countries, have become a full bellied population of 1.4 billion and masters of their own fate.

What was most significant for the Chinese people was that the people’s republic represented an end to a century of humiliation and chaos. Within the 20th century, China had lost vast amounts of land and control over their own people. Hong Kong was leased off in exchange for stopping opium. Taiwan, Mongolia and Manchuria became Japanese colonies. And throughout the east coast of China, cities like Shanghai and Tsingtao became home to British, French and German territories. The Second World War fractured the country at its foundations. While Chinese immigrants had already found homes overseas in many places such as San Francisco, the war led to the explosion of the Chinese diaspora over the Western world. By and large the common people saw the People’s Republic of China as a relief from war and the beginning of unity and freedom.

Do the Chinese have more freedom under their own people?

“Seventy years ago, China put an end to a period in modern history in which the country was torn apart and trampled upon,” China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, told the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. “We stood up and became true masters of our country.”

While hindsight is said to be 20/20, the past can be understood differently depending on what lenses you were wearing. For me, it doesn’t appear the Chinese have any more freedom under their own people than foreigners. While extreme poverty has been abolished, the gap between the rich and poor has grown. Tibet, Xin Jiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong are no more unified than a slave who hates his master is. And if I turn the pages of the People’s Republic back even further, the mass starvation of millions in the 60s and 70s hints that maybe the Chinese have simply exchanged the hair color of its oppressors.

True freedom is willful service

The right of reactionaries to voice their opinions must be deprived and only the people are allowed to have the right of voicing their opinions…To the hostile classes, the State apparatus is the instrument of oppression. It is violent, not benevolent. (Mao Ze Dong)

What I’ve learnt is that true freedom is willful service. True unity gathers around a shared truth. As Tacitus once wrote of the peace of the Roman Empire, “they make it a desert and they call it peace.” The loyalty of the Chinese to their government seems to have been traded like farms for mansions. But as Hong Kong’s protests show, they have not won their hearts. As the People’s Republic flexed and strutted its might around Tian An Men square, I was reminded of what Orwell once said:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

― George Orwell, 1984

But my prayer and hope is that the Chinese will one day see that only when the law of God is established in each of their hearts and the scepter of his kingdom rests on the merciful shoulders of his son that it is then that they will truly be free and united beyond the color of their skin. Until then, China remains trapped by what my history teacher would warn us about: ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.’

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this. Isa. 9.6-7.

For further reading:

China’s National Day: How the CCP revolutionised China through Mao Zedong

China celebrates 70th anniversary as Xi warns ‘no force can shake great nation’ | World news | The Guardian

Link

Mao Zedong proclaims the establishment of the People’s Republic of China – archive, October 1949 | World news | The Guardian

Link

Communist Party of China – Wikipedia

Qing dynasty – Wikipedia

Curiosity Is Not Cereal

What does the worker gain from his struggles? I have seen the task that God has given people to keep them occupied. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end. Eccl. 3.9-11

Do you remember what it was like to watch an ant crawl through the cracks and crevices of your school grounds? Or to peer through the gap between the seat and the seatbelt buckle to see what mysteries lay hidden underneath the car? Did you ever wonder why parrots talked and other birds cawed? Do you remember…the last time you looked up the night sky?

For those of you who’ve reached the elusive status of ‘grown up’ you may remember the world back then was an interesting place. Somewhere and somehow the same spark behind every question ‘why?’ was extinguished in you, leaving only dull eyes beholding a gray world. You’ve seen it all before. As the great philosopher Peter Griffin said, ‘silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.’ I used to love eating Trix cereal. It had every color of the rainbow and was sold by a rabbit. Of course I had to eat it. But once I found that it was just sugar and coloring it gradually lost its sheen. Now I’ve replaced it with granola and oats. I’ve gone from eating the rainbow to eating like a horse; much better. But I had to outgrow Trix cereal if I didn’t want diabetes.

But it seems absurd to me that our curiosity often takes the same path. Have our lives become completely boring? No wonder we can’t seem to stop trying to avoid it ourselves. Few last more than a few minutes face to face with themselves. It’s probably why smart phones sell faster than hot cakes. One tap can transport you into an LED world filled with news and videos of whats not happening to you. Another glittering world seems to lie at your fingertips and the more you stay in it, the darker the adult world seems when you return back from your trip to the digital ether. Rather than grow with us, it is as though someone had taken our curiosity out the backdoor and put a bullet in his head. He had caused enough trouble as it was and for Mr. Certainty’s sake, his services were no longer required.

I’ve often wondered what role curiosity plays in our lives. Do we reach a stage where we can stop and stay where we are? It doesn’t seem humanly possible. Imagine working in an office where your role was to sharpen pencils. You sharpen a pencil one at a time until thousands are completed. But every morning the pencils return blunt. The same cycle repeats until you are old and gray and ready to go home. Insanity would not be far off. Yet a cat seems to have no problem with the same life, day in and day out. My cat wakes, eats, sleeps, plays and sleeps. She does this from dawn to dusk, Monday to Sunday. All the while her body ages and her whiskers grow longer. We seem to be the only particular beings who need to pursue something endlessly. The athlete who wins a championship is no longer a success the moment he gets it because in doing so he’s no longer winning it.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

I don’t think we’re drawn to an achievement but rather the pursuit of infinite goodness, truth and beauty. In each of us a void exists that seeks to rise above where we are now to grasp where we could be. The world shows us that finite beings don’t strive for infinite things. Animals don’t know that one day they will die. They don’t care about living on or being remembered. Yet every desire that I’ve ever had correlated to an object I could find in it. My hunger shows me that I need food. My thirst reminds that I need water. My loneliness draws me to find a friend. And so I must also conclude that my insatiable curiosity leads me to a world beyond this unbearable lightness of being. So our curiosity draws us from where we are to where we could be but it is a pity that it too often dies a lonely death.

Because you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee. Augustine, Confessions

The Problem of The Holy Fool

In 1869, Dostoevsky captured the problem of the holy fool as he was during his time and as he has been from time immemorial, from every people and place. His novel The Idiot portrays Prince Myshkin’s attempt to integrate into secular Russian society. As Dostoevsky’s ideal of Christlike love, he is childlike yet spiritually profound. But instead of respect, he is caught up in a world of vanity and desire. He is the butt of jokes, and often finds himself ridiculed, mocked and even despised. Much of it is because those around him are unable to use him in their social games as he seems to exist in a world alien to everyone else:

‘My joy is that there is no such world at all, but that the substance of life is in everyone! There is no reason to be troubled because we are absurd, is there? For we really are: we are absurd, frivolous, we have bad habits, we’re bored, we don’t know how to look around ourselves, we don’t know how to understand, we are all like this, all of us, you, and I, and everyone! And you aren’t offended by my telling you straight to your faces that you are absurd? There is the basic stuff of life in you, isn’t there? You know, I believe it’s sometimes even good to be ridiculous. Yes, much better. People forgive each other more readily and become more humble, we can’t understand everything at once, we can’t begin with perfection! To reach perfection there must first be much we do not understand. And if we understand too quickly we will probably not understand very well. I tell this to you who have been able to understand so much and — do not understand.’

Around the same time, Nietzsche’s message that those around him had not grasped the implication of God’s death in European culture could only take shape in his character of the madman:

God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console our selves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has so far possessed, has bled to death under our knife, who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? Nietzsche, 1882. The Parable of the Madman.

But those around him could only laugh and stare stunned at the madman. Realizing he had come too soon, he departs. He quips that just as the light from the stars take time to reach earth, the meaning of God’s death had yet reached his hearers.

Besides the 19th century, the holy fool existed in the ancient world too. The apostle Paul himself expressed that Christians should live in such a way, rejecting worldly concerns in their imitation of Jesus. But the rejection of common social rules — hypocrisy, brutality, greed and domination, the very drivers of human life itself, comes at the cost of being a figure to be mocked and an insult.

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

So what can these timeless grains of wisdom teach us about temporal life? I think it is that underneath the appearance of gullibility that is so easily derided, there is another face to the holy fool. It is that his words and actions reveal a heart hidden with truth and sincerity which can only be spiritually discerned. He makes plain what is hidden, and draws light out from darkness. But can those used to living in darkness bear to look at the sun? By the words of Anthony the Great: “Here comes the time, when people will behave like madmen, and if they see anybody who does not behave like that, they will rebel against him and say: ‘You are mad,’ — because he is not like them.” In Dostoevsky’s case, I think what he teaches us is that there is a cost to living with simplicity and sincerity. Yet the problem of the holy fool isn’t him but his hearers. Blinded by their own ambitions, they’re unable to receive his words as they are. It is a strange world we live in when those who seem mad can teach us the most about living. We would all do well to pay attention to fools from time to time as we pursue what it means to live well. If in revealing themselves they all reveal something about us, this world could certainly do with more holy fools.

To call a man a fool is not necessarily an insult, for the authentic life has frequently been pictured under the metaphor of the fool. In figures such as Socrates, Christ, and the Idiot of Dostoyevsky we see that foolishness and wisdom are not always what they seem to be. – Sam Keen, Apology for Wonder

To read on…

Foolishness for Christ – Wikipedia

Wise Fool – Wikipedia

The Unexamined Web: Weekly Wisdom from 11 Aug 2019

The rapid development of the web means that there is an avalanche of information to dig through each day. In light of this and of questions I get from family and friends about what I’m currently reading, I’ve curated a collection of the books and articles that I read each week and found the most enriching from a Christian worldview.

How do we flourish in the 21st century workplace? Link

Comment: “We are the most interconnected we have ever been, but we are the loneliest we have ever been. We work hard to build homes, bank accounts, and identities for ourselves but we still struggle for significance. What is the key to flourishing?” Highlights the 3 pillars needed for ‘flourishing’. The Christian paradox to flourishing in the workplace is to not seek the workplace as the source for it.

We Know They Are Killing Children — All of Us Know | Desiring God

Comment: An article worth resurfacing with the abortion debates raging in the upper house of the NSW parliament this week. A key point of the bill is the termination of a baby’s life after 22 weeks. From the bill it would seem like we struggle to know when life begins or humanity for that matter. But at the end of our lives when we will have to account for all that we’ve said and done, one thing we will never be able to say is, ‘we didn’t know.’

The C-Theory Of Time Asks If Time Really Has A Direction Link

Comment: While it may seem absurd to the everyday person to consider if time has a direction, modern physics considers that things happen backwards just as they happen forwards. We can only perceive of time as directional if we are assume that there are personal agents behind a sequence of effects. That is, Nathan sank a billiard ball into the corner pocket because ‘he’ hit it rather than the ball which simultaneously jumped up from the corner pocket and rolled into the white ball which then hit the cue stick. Link

The Cookie Crumbles Link

Comment: I’ve been enjoying listening to Senator Bernardi over the last few months. It seems that Australia is inching closer and closer to a recession. We would do well for ourselves and our families to prepare for that and to not rely on a government that struggles to repay its debts, create jobs (it can’t) or efficiently build enterprises.

Is An Insignificant Life Worth Living?

It has been a busy year so far for my family and I. At the beginning of the year I decided to begin studying my Master of Divinity degree at Christ College because I thought it was a better path to developing what abilities God had given me and how I would best help others. The semester was a hard one. Besides learning a completely new and dead language (Koine Greek) I also began a new role as clinical educator at work and the constant juggling between the 2 responsibilities meant that by June my body was worn out and my mind was absent. I needed a holiday. By July I was in Sabah, Malaysia enjoying the tropical weather and seeing my grandmother whom I had not seen in 13 years. But while the weather was sunny and the waves were calm, a storm in my heart still raged. I experienced a gnawing restlessness that grew each day and fully manifested itself only once I had returned to Sydney and prepared to return to ‘normal life’.

This restlessness of mine which I am prone to experiencing was crippling. Around the same time, I had struggled to know how I ought to rest and what to prioritize in the upcoming semester. Was I even studying the right course? Why was it so hard? How else should I be using my time? From the moment I entered my last clinical note, I think my mind had already begun to consider the alternatives I could be doing with my time and my life despite my constraints. Being open to new possibilities was exhausting, like never ending research for a product you want to buy. In the end, it came down to what I perceived as the absurdity of my life. What was the point of my labors if none of my work will be remembered? This is something that has become increasingly obvious to me. After all, Jean Calvin wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion at 26 while Nietzsche only became the youngest professor at the University of Basel at 24. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ Accompanying this feeling of insignificance is a feeling of missing out, that there is a life out there where I might be happy, leading everyday that I haven’t realized it to be filled with constant regret and envy at those to appear to have found it (though I haven’t actually met anyone who has yet). It wasn’t until the first day of returning to work at my clinic that I read this an article on restlessness in the Art of Manliness.1

One of the most valuable lessons for the young to learn is that it takes a great man to accomplish a great undertaking, and that both are necessarily few in one generation. If this lesson were learned and heeded half the heartache of our mature years might be avoided. Effort, and high resolve, and noble purpose are excellent qualities of character; but they can never enable a man to lift himself by the boot-straps nor accomplish the unattainable. It is at once the weakness and greatness of some to conceive what they attempt to do of so high a degree of excellence that no human power can reach it. The natural effect of this is a restless desire to accomplish something far beyond what is ordinarily attained even by surpassing talent. When such a desire has taken possession of the heart, the usual achievements of men seem poor indeed. With their broad views and far-sighted stretch of thought, it seems trivial to come down to the common affairs of every-day life. It is to them a small thing to do good and get good in the plain old common-sense way. J. Clinton Ransom, The Successful Man, 1886

Thanks to the technological developments of the last 2 centuries, the accumulation of wealth in the West and the emphasis on self autonomy, we are served a buffet of endless possibilities and enticed by endless temptations and expectations. How can one live in such a world? The solution I think seems to be by a good dose of humility. Just as the writer of Ecclesiastes concluded that there is nothing better for man than to fear God and keep his commandments, so Kierkegaard reminds us that there is little way of knowing if the life we have chosen for ourselves is the best. Often the responsibility of this immense choice can crush us from ever making a decision. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Humility and faith are the keys to enjoying the present and leaving the future to the One who sees all that is under the sun. Complement this with TGC’s article “How Do I Discern If My Ambition is Godly?” 2

Though we shouldn’t be overly introspective—exhaustively questioning the motives of everything we do—it’s helpful to keep a pulse on our ambition. I’ve found one basic principle helpful: Godly ambition requires both hustle and humility.

  1. ## How to Cure Neurasthenia (Restlessness) | The Art of Manliness
    Link
  2. Link

Understanding Millenials Through The Eyes of Kierkegaard

Photo by Peter Bucks on Unsplash
Photo by Peter Bucks on Unsplash

I write as one untimely born. I write as a millenial to millenials, whom by the end of this sentence may already be bored of the writing of this millenial. How wearisome it is to read something that doesn’t immediately capture one’s attention! Is it because one’s heart is searching for something else? Are you still reading this? Then I am surprised. And I trust you will then read on. This seems to be the paradox of the millenial — a person stuck hoping for an experience they remember and when such an experience finds them, they are remembering what they had hoped for. It is no wonder that the travel industry much profit from the wanderings of 20 year olds. Once a person has tasted the novelty of another country, they have engaged all their senses towards its sights and its sounds. The senses then dwell and eat away at the person while he or she works. Slowly but surely, its memories float to the surface and before they know it, they are off again in search of what they had remembered. But once there, what they had hoped for vanishes and is replaced by what they had remembered. And the chase goes on.

One of the ways reading Kierkegaard has helped me is to understand my own generation from the eyes of someone who lived 200 years ago. While we each have one life to live there are a few ways we can live. Kierkegaard captured this in his 3 stages: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthete lives for their immediate pleasures, the ethical for their responsibility to others and the religious by their faith in God (which transcends responsibility). But these 3 ways of living are not equally valid, as Kierkegaard hints at in his use of stages. Instead each one builds on the other until the highest mode of living is found in the religious.

From my own reflection, it seems that the typical millenial is characterized most by their search for the aesthetic. This is unsurprising given that global youth culture is marked by secularism. In secularism the lost of the religious mode of being gives way to the mode of responsibility (the ethical) but what millenials are subconsciously realizing is that without the religious there is no ethical. After all, who are other people to tell you how to live? Instead one is left with the individual including their tastes and what strikes their conscience. Do what makes you happy – as long as it doesn’t harm anyone (that you care about). The reduction of life to the immediate are present in many ways: in the preoccupation with lifestyles, in boredom and in the anxiety that comes with having to make decisions that ultimately have little meaning. These are problems that haven’t gone unnoticed. But their solutions seem far from simple and I hope to be able to start to pry them out little by little as I read further.

Further Reading

https://www.iep.utm.edu/kierkega/#SH1c

https://www.amazon.com/Either-Fragment-Life-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140445773

https://www.amazon.com/Stages-Lifes-Way-Kierkegaards-Writings/dp/0691020493

https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-03/connecting-with-the-new-global-youth-culture?fbclid=IwAR0CFxrebbnK5LTGIu3K9_Ro4ovyBslQcE5V6QRGv2OjNgj6WIASgL1X414

Gillette’s Ad Reveals Our Cultural Confusion About Man’s 2 States

What is a man? Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve been challenged to think more about this. It wasn’t a challenge because the concept of masculinity was previously unknown but because such a clear idea was being undermined. Recently, Gillette released a type of ad that I’ve been seeing more and more of. Rather than featuring a product, the ads center around who the company is rather than what they do. As a men’s razor company, the ad was addressed to all males but it clearly expressed a narrative that Gillette wanted to identify with and would cause controversy — toxic masculinity. Within 2 minutes I was treated to ‘manly’ behaviors from cat calls and mansplaining (someone still has to explain what this is to me) to kids wrestling and dads barbecuing. The message was that this isn’t ‘the best men can get.’ Instead, Gillette called on men to hold one another accountable to behaviors that have long been justified as ‘boys being boys.’ This was obviously a good ad right?

While some applauded Gillette and saw it as an encouragement towards male accountability, many more could do little but roll their eyes. ‘There goes another attempt to demonize men.’ As for me, I had 2 initial impressions of the ad. I didn’t have any idea what the ad had to do with their actual product nor did I feel the urge to buy more of it. So it simply seemed a bad ad from a marketing standpoint. But I’m not a marketer nor a critic so writing about this aspect of the ad wasn’t going to help anyone. My second reaction is what I wanted to write about and it was directed towards a deeper problem — the message of the ad. I was concerned because it reflected the confusion around sex and identity that has engulfed so much of the society I live and breathe in. In life there are certain things that you just have to live and let live. Toothpaste squeezed from the top rather than the bottom? You just have to grin and bear it. But the confusion around sex isn’t one of them. Being confused about sex doesn’t just hurt women but the men Gillette claims to help. Not knowing how to relate one’s self as a man or a woman means not knowing how to relate to each other. It means people without differences, unity without diversity and existence without meaning. Categories are how we understand being and male and female have always been a part of it. As a Christian, being unable to understand my design means being unable to relate my self not just to others but to God. So gender confusion hurts people because it doesn’t just affect lifestyles but existence and meaning itself.

The 2 Natures

In the book of Genesis, the first two human beings are created by God in his image. As his image, their responsibility would be of mediating between God and being, ordering the chaos of creation into the paradisical garden of Eden. But the first two human beings disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The reward of having their eyes opened is for themselves a curse. One of the curses for Eve the first female, is ‘your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.’ One result of that curse was the splitting of humanity into 2 natures – good and evil. So while Adam the first male was designed to order creation, the goodness of that order would now be twisted and perverted. The loving order and stability of Adam would now become the iron fisted ruling of a tyrant and it has continued in this way. In me there exists the wise king. Yet behind him lays the dark tyrant. They both look similar and at times it can be hard to tell who’s who. The courage, strength and aggression of our fighting men have often been the turning tide of wars. Yet these very same traits have caused the rape, pillaging and destruction of whole cities.

It seems to me that men are capable of heroic displays of virtue but are at the same time, history’s most destructive force. But I don’t think such a design was accidental. I have often looked up at the night sky to observe the beauty of the stars. But it was only when the sky was darkest that their light shone the brightest. Augustine himself recognized this when he observed that God would often use prosperity to remind us of his goodness and great calamities to remind us of our need. What we needed was something stable and unchanging. It was a reminder that what we needed was God himself. What men need therefore is true masculinity and the very God who restores them to it. I do not think the present threat in our society is excessive masculinity but rather a lack of it. When men protect those under their care the world is a safer place. When men create meaning rather meaninglessness the world is a truer place. And when men live as men the world is a more beautiful place.

With further reflection, I’ve become more sympathetic towards Gillette’s attempt to address this social problem. Let me be clear – I don’t endorse it. But I think it was their way of saying that there were wrong behaviors that males had justified as being intrinsic to who they were. This was badly expressed through the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. When I think about the encouragement to ‘suck it up’ as though stoicism saved anyone, I can see Gillette’s point. But harmful behaviors that are usually expressed by males does not mean that males usually express these behaviors. And I think this is what confused people and caused the controversy. Sexual harassment is no more a product of masculinity than lying is to femininity. Unless Gillette and those under the sway of toxic masculinity understand man’s two natures, they will only be able to address it by eradicating maleness itself. When you realize that men die on the job more than females, that they are the most frequent victims of homicide and that they account for 97% of war casualties, that’s not a great idea.