May 18, 2008

Earthquakes and mandates

The governing political principle in The Twelve Kingdoms is that of the Mandate of Heaven. It shares some similarities with the Divine Right of Kings that rationalized hegemonic power in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. But unlike the European kings, the Mandate of Heaven was not assumed to continue in perpetuity, but revealed itself in dynastic cycles. A successful coup d'etat was taken as evidence that the Mandate had been loss.

Claiming decadency from the Sun God Amaterasu, the Japanese emperor combined both the Divine Right and the Mandate of Heaven. In practice, by the end of the first millennium, political power had been completely separated from throne. It thus became politically convenient for a new shogun to seek a Mandate by seeking the blessing of the emperor, much in the same way the European kings sought the blessing of Rome.

In The Twelve Kingdoms, institutional corruption and natural and supernatural disasters are directly tied to the dynastic cycle. In medieval China, evidence for the withdrawal of the Mandate could only be offered post hoc ergo propter hoc. Modern technology could change that. This week on NPR, Morning Edition introduced the political implications of the Mandate of Heaven into its coverage of the earthquake in China:

In Chinese political culture, an earthquake, a famine, or a great flood can be seen as the end of the Mandate of Heaven. Heaven bestows power on leaders. But when Heaven sees that those leaders aren't handling the power well, it can take [that power] away. This is sometimes signaled by a great natural disaster.

One thing is certain: the earthquake has tragically revealed the consequences of very real corruption in the Chinese construction industry. Inspections recently uncovered similar corrupt practices in Japan, thankfully before an earthquake struck, and the architect and contractors went to jail. In an ever-opening China, politicians will no doubt lay claim to a "new" dynastic cycle, laying these sins at the feet of prior corrupt regimes.

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# posted by Blogger Robert A. Black
5/18/2008 10:24 AM   
You could certainly apply that here in the US, too. Hurricane Katrina was certainly one of the tipping points, if not the tipping point, that revealed just how badly the corruption and cronyism of the Bush Administration had affected the country.