Of all the seven sins, pride is the deadliest. At least in China, where jealous spirits roam the sky and lurk in corners with stagnant qi. So apologize to guests for your scanty ten-course banquet, lest the New Year find you without rice. Belittle your new bride’s appearance, lest a randy official hear of her comeliness and decide to make an er nai of her. And when she bears you a fat little son, dress him as a girl and call him by a female name until his voice changes, for his life is as dear to demons as it is to you.
Some may think the recent floods from Sichuan to Guangdong a random but cyclical catastrophe, a quirk of this third stone from a smallish star. Fools and their science. We are not mere ants, dying by the drove at the hands of a child with a garden hose. We are humans, the sentient jewel in the universal lotus, and our actions have cosmic significance. Especially here at the center of the world, in the Middle Kingdom. Just as the Tangshan earthquake in ’76 presaged the passing of our Glorious Leader to that socialist paradise in the sky, recent cataclysms have tested China’s collective pride, represented in her Olympic Fuwa.
The Fuwa’s cuteness nearly masked their potent symbolism – China’s sense of pride and honor in hosting the Games, may they come soon and be over and done with and leave us in peace already. But the proliferation of their images, on everything from freshly-tattooed biceps to sanitary products, tipped off those unwholesome spirits whose sole aim is to plague and punish. And their wrath was symbolic, to let us know how the universe really works.
Yingying, the antelope, China’s highest jumper and fastest runner, from whence do you hail? That’s right: Tibet, scene of so much unpleasantness this past March. So much good will gored, so many soured guests who should come here with only sports-watching on their agendas.
Huanhuan – living fire, Olympic flame, the passion for competition you represent turned ugly, for when the fates were done with Yingying they turned on you, along with all those misguided chowderheads who thought dousing you would prove something or settle a score, instead of burning bridges.
Jingjing, what could be more authentically Chinese than you, a panda, indigenous to Sichuan? Back to the darkest pit in hell with whichever loathsome demon rent the earth and wreaked so much destruction in your ancient bamboo hills.
Nini, graceful swallow, you are outfitted as a kite. Weifang, in Shandong province, is famed for the kites it produces, and suffered a nasty train wreck during the May Holiday week. Heaven forfend more destruction from the sky, but some morbid souls claim that the swallow is also a symbol of Beijing.
Beibei, gleaming sturgeon, some believe last winter’s fury and devastation of China’s breadbasket was retaliation for the prosperity you promise. Surely pride’s wages have been paid twice over now, with the epic flooding of the Yangtze that is your home.
Yet there is a greater lesson in all this tumult and misfortune than the dangers of forgetting humility. We can learn it from the Beichuan farmer, bereft of a future but contentedly slurping his noodles in the middle of a tent city teeming with volunteers and survivors unbowed by their tragedy. His reply to the foreign reporter asking about his prospects: “I’m looking forward to the Olympics.” The resilience of China’s people shows that victory isn’t coming in first, but outlasting, outlasting bad luck, bad times, and anything else those nasty spirits care to throw their way.