Sunday, December 13, 2009

When You Meet an Emperor, Smile

Pandolfini's Rules of Chess, Rule #8:

If you can't determine whether to accept or decline a sacrifice, accept it.
The Imperial Household Agency has seen reason. It is going to allow Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to the presidency of the People's Republic of China, to have an audience with the Emperor sometime this week. The hyper-sensitive bureaucrats of the Agency baulked at giving up one of their prerogatives: insisting on one-month's advance notice for anyone wishing to meet His Highness. It must have been especially galling to give up their precious to Ozawa Ichiro, currently leading his politial allies and minions on a visit to China.

Given the Democratic Party of Japan's ownership, for the time being, of majorities in both Houses of the Diet, annoying the Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Japan with tendentious adherence to internal regulation (How, if the rule was promulgated in order to protect the health of the Emperor, does the Imperial Household Agency know how the Emperor will be feeling in one month's time?) is probably not the smartest thing to do. Next year's Agency personnel budget might end up a little bit on the tight side, possibly.

By taking the course of valor, the Agency is allowing the possible emergence of a new tradition in China. Current President Hu Jintao also met with the Emperor when he himself was in the dauphin position in the Politburo.

Up until the fall of the Qing in 1910, the imperial institution in China granted symbolic legitimacy to those who ruled in East Asia, both the mandarins of the central Chinese Imperial Government and the kings of the countries surrounding China (Japan's tenno being the notable exception). Each new accessor to power remained symbolically less-than-legitimate until it received the Chinese emperor's imprematur.

China's present day rulers, having ground China's own imperial institution into ash, are bereft of a suitable symbolic assessor of a candidate's suitability for leadership. A visit to Thailand, the last survivor of the tributary kingdoms, might possibly provide a link to the past. It would, however, represent a humiliating reversal of status for the Chinese supplicant. Visits to the barbarian capitals of the former slaves of the Vikings (Moscow) or that rabble of rebellious barkeeps and farmers (Washington) would send all the wrong messages about the direction of history's flow. A visit to one of the great capitals of Europe would be even worse, admitting European justifications for colonialism were not utterly without merit.

However, Japan's imperial house provides is a direct link to a past purely East Asian and very nearly a meeting among equals. When the incipient leader of modern China meets the ancient line of Yamato, each side gains honor. That the Japanese would go against their own rules and receive China's heir apparent at short notice would be proof just of the greatness of China but the greatness of the one chosen to lead China.

That relations between two traditions are chilly, with the Emperor's father as one of China's grand historical baddies, gives the whole rushed application a frisson of uncertainty.

Xi might just want to show that a junior Chinese leader can importune the Emperor. I expect that when the two meet, Xi will not contort himself into an L-shape like that young American president did.

I look forward to the video.


owenandbenjamin said...

You can guarantee that he won't bow like Obama. He probably will not have even the slightest bow.

Anonymous said...

Even better, enjoy the Ozawa press conference where he takes the IHA and press to task for complaining about it. Watch part one here:

the other parts are linked. It's hilarious. I laughed out loud in the office at least twice.