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April 25, 2003

Losing the Mandate Of Heaven

Losing the Mandate Of Heaven

The more the world's public health system learns about SARS, the worse the disease appears. Case in point, the SARS fatality rate, which a new measurement* has raised from 4% to 10% of all cases. The Beijing authorities have begun to institute desperate measures in order to curb the spread of the disease, quarantining 4000 people in their homes, shutting down factories and schools, as well as a second hospital less than 24 hours after closing a first one.

Trent Telenko of Winds of Change has theorized that the Chinese SARS epidemic will come to be seen as that country's Chernobyl, and he may well be right. If his infection rate figures are anywhere near the truth, then China is well on the way to between twenty-five to three hundred thousand deaths, with more on the horizon if the disease cannot be contained. Given that most of its 1.3 billion people are served by what amounts to a third world public health care system, the SARS epidemic could end up with a number of deaths comparable to the 1919 flu or the Black Death, even if the full effects of the disease are more or less confined to China. The repercussions of such an event would be incalculable, save for one. The Chinese government would collapse.

Since 1100 B.C. the ruling Chinese regimes have justified their rule via a doctrine known as t'ien ming, or the Mandate of Heaven. It is one of the most enduring Chinese political concepts. Put simply, the Mandate of Heaven is a lot like the Divine Right of Kings, with the caveat that when a regime fails, the Mandate passes to another party, who proves that the Mandate has passed to them by overthrowing the old order. The defeat of the Kuomintang was how Mao demonstrated that the Mandate had passed to him.**

But Mao has been gone for years, and the Communist claim to the Mandate has come under increasing pressure in the past few years. Falun Gong, like the Yellow Turbans and White Lotus sects before them, besieges the government on a spiritual front, poverty and unemployment attack on an economic front, and now SARS threatens the exposed Chinese public health flank. Falun Gong and unemployment are threatening enough by themselves, but SARS directly exposes the Chicoms to charges that the Mandate has passed from them.

Integral to the idea of the Mandate of Heaven is when a ruler loses the Mandate, Heaven responds by sending a natural disasters to plague the realm. As the Lonely Planet, of all places, puts it,

The Zhou period (1100-221 BC) saw the emergence of Confucianism and the establishment of the 'mandate of heaven' whereby the right to rule was given to the just and denied to the evil and corrupt, leading to the later Taoist view that heaven's disapproval was expressed through natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and insect plagues.

The longer SARS is epidemic in the Chinese countryside, the more likely it is it will be used as an example that the Mandate of Mao was not bequeathed to his successors, for what is SARS if not a natural disaster?

As its heavy-handed repression of Falun Gong members demonstrate, the Chinese Communist party will go to extreme lengths to quash perceived challenges to it's possession of the Mandate of Heaven. But there's little that government can do to demonstrate its fitness on an economic front, and the rapid spread of SARS shows its fitness on the public health front to be something of a moot point. Falun Gong can be contained, possibly, but poverty and germs cannot be. SARS is a disaster for the Communist party, an untreatable cancer on the body politic. Unless it is excised, Communist rule in China is doomed, and the excision itself may prove disastrous. Today's closing and quarantines have an air of "too little, too late" about them, and about the only stratagem the government has left to it is a complete shutdown of internal movement, which would enflame the urban population in a matter of days as food starts to run out.

Chernobyl, as disastrous as it was, affected Soviet rule only over the long term. In the short term, it killed only 30 people, less than have already died from SARS. SARS may well have a long term impact, but as fatality rates skyrocket and the Chinese economy starts to shut down, it's hard to see how the current Chinese regime will stay around long enough to feel them. Unless the epidemic has reached its height, or unless SARS somehow manages to burn itself out, neither of which seem possibly given the reports coming out of China, then that regime won't even last the three years the Soviets did after Chernobyl.

My prediction, based on the theory that what we are getting out of China regarding SARS is still just the tip of the iceberg, is that 2005 will dawn in China free of Communist rule. What will take its place, I have no idea, though I suspect we will see some U.S.S.R. style fragmentation as the center collapses. Given the abject state of Chinese public health care, if SARS doesn't kill the Communist party, then another disease outbreak will. It's only a matter of time.

*The article claims this gives it a comparable fatality rate to other RNA viruses, like Lassa Fever and Yellow Fever, and that may be true, but only for treated cases. If Lassa Fever or the Yellow Jack go untreated, the fatality rate is often upwards of 50%.

**If Taipei is part of China, yet still unconquered by the communists, then by a strict interpretation of the concept the Communist party has not shown that the Mandate of Heaven has passed to them. That could be one reason why China remains so sensitive on the issue. As well, should the Chicom regime collapse, the Taiwanese government could then claim the moral right to rule, on the basis that since they were not utterly defeated, the Mandate of Heaven had not passed from their possession. For economic and health reasons alone, that would be a tough argument for any mainland pretenders to argue against.

Other S.H. SARS posts can be found here and here. Judge for yourself whether I'm a keen-eyed observer of current events or raving loon.

Updates: New York City is reporting 18 "potential" SARS cases, and there is a new case in western New York. It's spreading, not receding, even in the U.S., where we were not only forewarned, but forearmed with one of the best public health systems in the world. The chances that are up to three million SARS cases in China appears increasingly more likely.

China closes a third hospital, and a Who official admits that the organization has no idea of what is going on in the rural Chinese provinces.

The Taipei Times calls for a complete quarantine of China.

In economic reations, Acer has suspended plans to manufacture notebook computers in China and Bandai Toys has ordered all 30 of its plants in China to sterilize every Sailor Moon they manufacture.

Posted by Bigwig at April 25, 2003 03:10 PM | TrackBack
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