Sowing and Reaping
The Mandate of Heaven means that Heaven shows its displeasure toward a leader via occurrence of natural disasters, disease epidemics, widespread political opposition and foreign threats. Harmony, in other words, does not obtain. It is an ancient Chinese meme, probably created in the Zhou dynasty to justify its defeat of the former Shang dynasty.
Am I too isolated, or has nobody written a short post about Mr. Xi’s third term and the apparent displeasure of Heaven? I mean, I don’t expect dire warnings about the end of the dynasty coming out of China right now, but everyone can see that Heaven is screaming Condition Red (as it were) for CCP.
In Mr. Xi’s case, one can object – not all current misfortunes are coming directly from Heaven.There are some own goals. But reflect – the last emperor in several dynasties was a dissolute, uncaring, unreflective bum. Xi does not appear to be uncaring or dissolute (aside from his family wealth approaching a billion dollars) but own goals seem to be characteristic near the end of several dynasties. And Heaven finds its own way to throw the bum out, as it were.
Heaven can express its displeasure through celestial signs. Remember King Di Xin at the end of the Shang whose end was foretold by movements of Jupiter. A sign from heaven signaled the end of the later Han in 213 CE. David Pankenier in his 2013 Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, p. 194 -
An abundance of other literary and chronological evidence drawn from numerous Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) and Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) sources suggests that these celestial events were taken from the start to signal the Supernal Lord’s recognition of the legitimacy of a new regime, first Xia in 1953 BCE, followed by Shang in 1576 BCE, then Zhou in 1059 BCE, and finally Han in 205 BCE.
To be fair, no one in CCP is viewing current difficulties as portents based on the mandate. But let’s take a short review –
- a less than entirely successful 2022 Winter Olympics in the capital, of all places. Constrained media access and boycotts stood in sharp contrast to the positive world image from the 2008 summer games in Beijing. In 2021 CCP threatened countries that carried out a boycott, and many did carry out boycotts of varying types.
- a bromance with Putin that went south shortly after Xi publicly showed some leg by pledging “no limits” to the relationship. Now China is caught between Xi’s bromance and the Russian sanctions that threaten Chinese businesses that need foreign imports and exports. So for Xi, Should I stay or should I go?
- an unprecedented heat wave that has forced shutdown of business throughout southern China for lack of power (generated by hydropower that cannot function any more in the severely reduced river flows). See, for example, Honda's plant remains closed. The heat wave is said to be the most severe ever recorded in the world. From the wiki - According to weather historian Maximiliano Herrera, it is the most severe heat wave recorded anywhere: “This combines the most extreme intensity with the most extreme length with an incredibly huge area all at the same time. There is nothing in world climatic history which is even minimally comparable to what is happening in China.”
- apart from the heat wave and its attendant drying of rivers, the long term effects of global warming will be felt throughout China (and south and southeast Asia). These impact will start being felt about now. Foreign Affairs, August 2022 - China's Growing Water Crisis. Less water, less food, less energy. My own long term bet is on the River Amur in Russian Siberia – far from Moscow, close to Beijing and the water-short north of China.
- at the same time, the baby bust from the long term effects of the one child policy will force up social service spending at the same time that jobs are fewer, jobs that pay into the social welfare systems are fewer, expectations of students are higher, and the world is no longer so enamored of more Chinese products. Each year there are about five million fewer people of working age paying into the system. China will age very rapidly in the next decades. These impacts are being felt now.
- a virus that won’t quit despite the (actually heroic) measures to stamp it out completely and resulting damage to the economy.
- an own goal in first hiding news of the coronavirus, then downplaying its impact, then refusing to take any responsibility for its origin, then blocking attempts to discover the source of the virus. CCP threatened Australia for requesting further study into the origins of the virus. Another own goal is the “zero-covid” policy, which is Xi’s own creation and therefore cannot be altered, even though the local vaccines are not as effective as those in the US and Europe and the lockdowns are severely disruptive (not to credit the US’s own abysmal response).
- an own goal in crushing the real estate industry that accounts for 25%-30% OF GDP. Yes, it’s a Ponzi scheme, but its been a Ponzi scheme for a decade. Why crush it now? Michael Pettis has been sounding the alarm for a decade. Now, it is time.
- an own goal in shutting down after school tutoring businesses, which provided jobs for tens of thousands of young Chinese – at a time when job growth generally is minimal.
- an own goal in fostering wolf warrior diplomacy throughout the world, in which Chinese diplomats used threats, intimidation, and mockery of countries and their leaders by way of demonstrating… well, I guess Chinese “soft power.” No better way to turn the world against Chinese interests. Negative global views of China are now at historic highs.
- an own goal in stimulating a crisis in the Arunachal Pradesh border area with India.
- an own goal in moving some world opinion – including that of some businesses and governments - to prioritize human rights over economic development or company profits. Development and business profits first were always China’s trump in conflicts over human rights or local environmental or labor conditions. Less so, now.
- an own goal in the 2021 anti sanctions law that criminalized foreign businesses in China following human rights sanctions emanating from their home country (meaning, mostly, US).
- an own goal in rejecting world opinion (and that of the Tribunal of the Law of the Sea Convention) that claims to the “nine-dashed line” of sovereignty over the South China Sea are without foundation and illegal internationally.
- an own goal in destroying the “one country two systems” logic that allowed Hong Kong to flourish. Hong Kong is now firmly in CCP control and the world has noticed.
- an own goal in threatening Taiwan in ever more egregious ways, thereby stimulating negative reaction through Asia and promoting US interests in Asia and the Pacific.
- an own goal in forcing Sinicization on the Uighur population in Xinjiang, with concentration camps and other elements of human rights abuse. World opinion does not support CCP claims of job training and education – in mass camps with armed guards and barbed wire fences.
- an own goal in further restricting already heavily censored information about Chinese companies, so the stock markets become even more of an insider’s game than previously.
Mr. Xi came into power with a portfolio of reigning in corruption in CCP and overeager but unproductive investment, particularly in real estate. The concept was to ensure CCP survival in the 21st century. By Chinese standards he has done a decent job in attacking corruption; less well on real estate. But Xi can’t really get a firm hold on either one. Significant corruption, like the Chinese financial system itself (borrowers, lenders, developers, local governments) are systematically flawed. Corruption is built in to the relationship society, going back thousands of years. The financial system for real estate is a Ponzi scheme – for example, buyers take out a mortgage and begin paying monthly as soon as they sign the contract to buy, even though the unit might not be finished for a year or two or three. Developers take the money and finish their last project or bid on the land for the next. Bailing out developers or lenders is not the solution.
Foreign businesses in 2022 have been fleeing China – a complete reversal of the environment when Xi took power in 2012. Reasons vary – trade war related crackdowns on American businesses, the Kulturkampf against western products and ideas, or all of the above creating an excuse to give up on arbitrary threatening from suppliers or bad faith business practices. The revolutionary song “The East is Red” refers now to bad debt and poor stock market or business performance (a 1963 video here).
Heaven moves in mysterious ways. The mandate does not disappear in short order and doesn't have a termination date. But one has to think Heaven has delivered public notice.