Friday, 5 February 2016

The Chinese Doing Superior Again.

Tonight’s episode of The Story of China was all about how the nasty Barbarians from the North came down and trashed the beautiful world of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE – that’s for academics who like dates and are also politically correct.) Isn’t it odd how barbarians always seem to come from the north? Maybe it has a parallel with fleas seeking body heat.

What I found myself most attracted to, however, was the ancient Chinese doctrine called Mandate of Heaven. At first I was tempted to suggest a similarity with the mediaeval European concept of the Divine Right of Kings, but then I thought again. As I understand it, the Mandate of Heaven may be summarised thus:

We the undersigned, being from heaven, approve of and will support the Emperor, but only as long as he rules wisely and justly.

The Divine Right of Kings, on the other hand, was the monarch’s excuse for saying:

I’m King because God says so, and that means I can do whatever I want. If you don’t like it, up yours.

Not quite the same, is it? And it’s how this guy went from having three heads to none in one fell swing (or two, as is sometimes claimed. For those who don't know, it's King Charles I who was beheaded in 1649 after losing the English Civil War. He is the only English king ever to have been executed through legal process, rather than assassinated.)

Next week’s episode of Michael Wood’s delightful series is about the Ming Dynasty. I’m looking forward to that one for two reasons:

1. The Ming Dynasty is known for having produced some pretty neat vases, and so is the place where I grew up.

2. Ming was my second exposure to Chinese culture when I was a child. She was a Pekingese dog. (My first exposure was – as has oft been mentioned – Rupert Bear’s girlfriend, Tiger Lily. She had no dynasty, but her dad was a great magician.)

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