The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL, map below and main text) between the eastern and western coast of the Malaysian peninsula, bypassing Gunung Tahan, had precedents in other physical links: there are Chinese records, paintings and writing, of sailors and fishermen docking in Kelantan during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), Song after that.
The above Qing-era map, circa 1890, shows the red-marked overland route (more than 6,000 km) traveled by the Australian G.E. Morrison from Shanghai to Myanmar’s Yangon (Rangoon then). It suggests that the physical, infrastructure connections between China and the rest of Asia, Southeast Asia in particular, had been an ancient idea, already in practice centuries ago. Too bad the Americans see it differently; they have been converted to the notion that relationships are based primarily on power. And too bad the ECRL is farther screwed up now with 1MDB
On a Sultan, on CCCC-1MDB, on a Miss Brown
Before the China-Myanmar border, two hours by road, Ruili on the Chinese side, Namhkam Burmese, is Dehong 云南德宏, a small prefecture town (in hierarchical order of importance: province > prefecture > county > township > village > family). Under construction by the municipal government was a five km-or-so city road radiating out of the center. Upon returning two years later on the way to Myanmar, I found it still in the same state, still a mess, half boarded up, trees choked dead by the dust, four out of five shops closed because of the intolerable conditions and an unusable road.
“No money,” an official says.
“Demand for it. The Center has lots of money.” (Beijing is known in the adjective, zhongyang 中央, Central.)
“They are far away and if it arrives… you know.”
Yes, I know: in the ride money spills out of the back of the truck at numerous stops, from Beijing to Kunming then Dehong.
On the third occasion, I discovered the road sparkled in the sun, a new five-lane dual carriageway on which you could land a Boeing 747. “What happened?”
The story is this: The Center, in the person of Xi Jiping, flew pass in a helicopter one day, noticed the perpetual clouds of dust, inquired, and everything was wrapped up in six months. The situation doesn’t differ much from a pre-election campaign roadworks in some god-forsaken kampung.
Sometimes, if Fate is on your side, luck beats a leaking truck.
Chinese society and bureaucracy, according to the latter’s communism, is supposed to be flat but it’s top-down. Confucius, the world’s first democrat, was unlikely to succeed if he had tried inverting that pyramid structure but his construction of social relations on a series of concentric circles does pull decisions in all sorts of directions by zig-zagging through the top-down hierarchy. It’s called Connections, 关系 guanxi in China, a euphemism for corruption between business and officials, between thief and police, and so on.
Although the CCCC, or China Communication Construction Co. Ltd 中国交通建设股份有限公司, is listed in HK (the democratization of business and social relationships), it answers to the Center ultimately.
Return for a moment to yesterday’s images concerning CCCC and 1MDB: notice how the word ‘nominated’ leads the page description of CCCC’s planning. In hanyu it’s ti ming 提名, a phrase you would encounter often should you come to China. It leaves the impression that your life is not your own; it has to be first anointed. This is false.
The Chinese are some of the fiercest individualist anywhere in this planet, explaining why, in a fundamental way, the Chinese Communist Party fears direct elections: they’d get whacked like there’s no tomorrow. And then there’s neither Islam nor Christianity to constrain the Chinese.
Still, why be nominated? The answer, for brevity’s sake, lies in the Confucian notion of ‘station in life‘. Liu Qitao as chairman of CCCC isn’t there by virtue of being rich or influential or connected or he owns the most shares; he is chairman by the accident of birth, in the beginning, of life later on. Sometimes we call it Fate or Destiny. Accident of birth still has consequences, though, only in different ways to different lives. Within his immediate family, he is father to a child; in his family home, the son to a father; in HK a superior to many thousands of subordinates; yet in Beijing he is subordinated to the Center. In each situation, therefore, he is governed by a set of different and separate rules. The rules governing friend-to-friend, father-to-son, superior-to-subordinate are different.
This social system of ethical relations constrain the Chinese into how a person conducts life. Which explains why the Circular was written in the mainland Chinese script (简体字) that was intended for the Center: Liu Qitao has to bow his head writing and sending it out.
Break those rules — by offering or accepting a bribe, for example — Liu Qitao will face dire consequences, either the inside of a jail or a bullet fired from behind his skull. This is to show that on top of the rules of individual conduct are the rules of the State, the Center, in that series of concentric circle series. It’s hard to be a Chinese official whether in government or in the state-run corporations; the rewards are meager, the task heavy, and the road is meandering. Liu’s position, his station in life, includes saying nothing over the Sarawak Report‘s disclosure about CCCC and 1MDB; that’s the job of the Center. Clare Brown can shout herself hoarse, it will still illicit nothing. Call it ‘elegant silence’ if you wish.
Through the prism of her bigoted western Christian morality, and in her haughty English tones, Clare has attempted the insinuation of 1MDB/Najib Razak side by side with Chinese corruption. Imagine, she thinks, two corrupt parts bound together would birth a Super Corrupt. The slander aside, produced with Clare’s racism and her moral prejudices, fed to her through the western media, she writes one half on presumptions and the other half on the slight of a Malay government that had the audacity to spit at her.
More likely than Clare, one ought to give Liu Qitao the benefit of the doubt not only because of the rules imposed by ethics and by the Center, but especially because of this: China knows little of what goes on beyond China even if they sit in Hong Kong or Taiwan. They read only Chinese, information access is limited, their preoccupation is their station in life, which means that their understanding of how life is lived outside China is, in effect, next to nothing.
Years ago, in her naive days, Jian (bottom) would have asked because others have many times done so: Why do they use English in Hong Kong? Are the people not Chinese?
Imagine thus asking them or asking Liu Qitao to comprehend Umno or Najib Razak or 1MDB. Or try explaining the actions of the US Department of Justice. Their sole idea of a government, or public officials, is that they collect your money, after which they shouldn’t get in the way of a people’s happiness.
In China, a Chinese is asked even by the educated, the professional class: 你是马来人啊 — You’re Malay! Nodding, one should answer it with a qualification: 马来华侨 malai huaqiao. In translation it means, Overseas Malay. (Jebat! Melayu! Don’t laugh, that literally translation isn’t what you think it is.) In an instant, their faces light up.
Confucius: Is it not delightful to receive friends from afar?
[The post title is from Bertolt Brecht]
Happiness is when the Sultan belanja
Never in the 3000-year-long Chinese history of emperors and rulers has a king belanja KFC. Never.
盼三年 to three more years…
Winter 2014 in a near deserted street, Hong Kong; a street-performing couple.
“Let’s do this, Jian; pick up some pocket change, post it on Tudou. You sing, I collect money…. But you can sing!”
舊夢不須記 dreams might not remember
相识也是缘份 when Fate meets