The Army

HK protests, 2019

“I’m fine now, but I still worry for my cousins who are still in HK.”

I was catching up with Irene via video call. I was still in Saigon, and she was currently in London. She was one of the approximately 350 thousand Hong Kongers who had a British National Overseas passport, and since she had been involved in protests in the past, and even been arrested once, decided that it wasn’t safe for her and her family to remain there, so they took the difficult decision to emigrate to England.

“I can imagine it mustn’t have been easy. How are you adapting there?”

“It’s ok. I’ve been to London before, but never stayed longer than a couple of weeks. Fortunately I can do my job remotely, so there’s no money worry for now. People here have not wisened up of the threat of this pandemic, but at least there is talk now of imposing a lockdown. We’ll see how that develops. How are you holding up there in Vietnam?”

“All good. The government here is doing decent work in containing the virus. Essentially the health system in Vietnam is very precarious, so they cannot afford to have community spread. They set up military camps and are imposing mandatory quarantine for everyone who arrives from outside, 14 days in isolation. It’s quite harsh, but effective.”

“One of the advantages of authoritarian governments I guess.” sighs Irene. “The world is messed up, and I think we are at a crossroads. The China formula is proving to be more efficient than we estimated, or expected.”

“What do you mean ‘the China formula’?”

“Well… you know, economic growth together with state control and popular support.”

“Does the Chinese government have strong popular support?” I ask, surprised. I am very interested in her opinion as an insider. The idea we have of China from the outside can be very biased and skewed. Particularly in Vietnam, they seem to have a love-hate relationship with their ‘brothers from the North’, with some people very critical, others admiring.

“Well yeah. Imagine, the country has gone through tremendous development, of the same scale seen by Europe after the second world war. Millions of people were lifted out of poverty. To the vast majority, the Party is a force for good.”

“You are right, but still people would feel dissatisfied by the state control or censorship?”

“I don’t think people care so much. The biggest worry you will have is whether your family is flourishing. If the government can guarantee that, you’d be surprised how much individuals are willing to not pay attention to.”

This is very obvious once stated, but we seem to take our ‘freedom’ as such a strong asset that we forget how much of it might be cultural. If people are being taken good care of and given the ability to improve the lives of those close to them, perhaps free press and the right to vote are not so important after all.

The Army needs perseverance

And a strong person.

Good fortune without blame.

Irene doesn’t seem to be finished with the topic, and I can see she has a lot more to talk about it. Her eyes brighten up, which usually means she will throw some analogy with physics my way. “You remember about potential and kinetic energy right? I believe that the economic power being developed and the population well being is a great source of potential energy for China. It’s there, stored, ready to be used in time of need. Much like an oil reservoir, if you have the know-how, can be transformed into movement and heat.”

“I’m not sure I understand where you are going with this.” I confess.

“Hear me out: If you have a certain resource, be it physical or people, it takes a good process, or a competent government, to make use of it. All potential energy is dangerous. We either leave them alone, or we use a lot of discipline and care to transform it into usable energy. Like an army needs an efficient general, a country needs a well oiled machinery, a set of processes, rules, behaviours, and culture even, that focuses the energy into production. The Chinese government still has many problems with corruption and inefficiency, but they are aware of those limitations and have been working to improve themselves. It’s the smart thing to do, since they seem to understand the benefit that can come from it.”

“Is that the view you get from Hong Kong? I am surprised that you would turn out to be an admirer of the mainland.”

“I am not saying this is the way the world should run. But I am realistic, I understand what they are trying to do. The only thing I admire is their insight into human nature and long term planning.”

“I think I understand what you are getting at. I guess that by giving people economic development they gain their confidence and trust, which gives the government a white card to make the necessary changes.”

Irene nods in agreement “Yep, they couldn’t do it by force alone. They need to capture the hearts of the people and awaken their enthusiasm. At least in theory, the Party is ruled by the people, so they need to have gained that authorisation to rule on their behalf. It’s a universal law really, that to lead efficiently you need to have that leadership bestowed upon you by the people being led.”

“How does the whole situation with the Uyghurs and with Hong Kong fit here, in this scenario of winning the hearts and minds of the people?”

This makes Irene pause for a couple of seconds. It’s a topic close to her heart, since she has been so involved in the campaign against the erosion of rights in HK. She sighs again “Well… I think that’s the danger really. Potential energy, like an army, is always dangerous stuff. I think this is one of the biggest failures of the Chinese government right now. In the heat of passion and delirium of victory there’s the danger of giving rise to unjust acts. It’s the duty of those in command to take care of those with little representation. History will judge them harshly otherwise. If they want to have unity and strength, they need to make sure to cultivate the goodwill of everyone. The energy of the people can only be a force for good if they are flourishing, with good values, and a human government.”

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The Book of Changes is a great source of insight. We explore each of the hexagrams in a modern context.

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Marco Zanchi

Marco Zanchi

Interested in mathematics, philosophy, and language. Head of engineering for BridgeU

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