Paul Andrew Davidson
NOTES FROM BRAZIL.COM
Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.
“Be like water” (slogan of recent protests) is usually attributed to Bruce Lee but originates in an ancient Chinese tradition called Wu-wei, literally translating as “not trying” or “not doing,” It refers to the dynamic, effortless, and unselfconscious state of mind of a person who is optimally active and effective, which Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi famously called, in his book of the same title, ‘Flow.’ It is similar to the neo-Vedanta version of formlessness, which states that God, who resides in us all, has no form and that to be touched by That, one must oneself first be psychologically formless.
Neo-Vedanta was a strong influence on the emergence of the Theosophical Society, from the folds of which arose Jiddu Krishnamurti, whose teaching was later to have a powerful and enduring influence on the young Bruce Lee. And thus we come full circle. Lewis Caroll, author of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland used the same meme when addressing his protagonist’s quest to enter the secret garden. Alice was advised that she had to walk away from it (or from her desire) in order to gain entry into it. Carlos Castaneda made much of non-doing in his don Juan novels. In other words, non-doing is a powerful modern-age meme.
Bruce Lee’s teacher, Lip Man, once told him: “Preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it.”
And in Bruce Lee’s own words, “I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? . . . This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.”
It is clear then that ‘being like water’ can apply equally to the puncher and the punched. “The puncher IS the punched,” Krishnamurti might have answered.
Now we have a strange phenomenon. The Hong Kong Black-Shirt protesters identify themselves with Bruce Lee’s famous utterance. They think they are behaving “like water.” Why? Because, they say, the movement has no form, no organization and no leadership, a political version of Lee’s ‘Jeet Kune Do.’
Is it true that they have no form, organization or leadership? One can justly doubt it. Their uniform of black shirt, builder’s hat, gas mask, iron bar and umbrella are all marks of form. Their repetitive busting up of subway stations, Chinese businesses and any individual who challenges them on the street, are all form. How about organization? It is loose, but it is organized. There are several organizations who call marches and protests, set times, give tactical orders and manage things. The fact that they are secretive foes not negate their existance. And leadership? Yes. There is also that. Their leaders are there in the Council, they are also people who led the 2014 protests, who are feted abroad wherever they go and given great press coverage. You only have to spend a short time watching any major US or UK TV channel to meet the leaders. It is all very public. And behind them you have the foreign interests, but I won’t go into that right now.
Being like water does not equate well with being wet behind the ears.
The protesters are predominantly young, a lost generation of misplaced hopes. What does water mean to them? What are their objectives? Recall Lip Man’s words to Bruce Lee: “never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it.” Is it in that spirit that they act?
Water is indeed formless or, one could say, it forms any shape in which it is contained. But the major property of water is that it flows. And, according to the force of gravity it always flows downhill, towards the ocean. Water is always seeking to find its own level. How does this apply to Hong Kong and to the hopes and dreams of its young citizens?
Like water, Hong Kong is flowing downhill, but with a great resistance to the flow from the young, who would like it to flow backwards, back up the hill, right back to the times of British colonial rule. In what does this downward flow consist? It is the flow of a nation that, having been transformed in recent decades from an industrial colony of the UK into a financial colony of the UK/US axis, is now having the riverbed pulled away from under it and sees the ocean rising before it, ever faster and ever closer. What is that ocean and why is it rising?
The ocean is China. Water has to obey the laws of gravity, even if it is temporarily diverted in its downward flow, but it can never flow uphill, overcoming its true nature. There may be a little anti-capillary activity here and there but for the mass of water . . .
China is rising, as a world power, in all fields. In terms of its financial base, its industrial base, its levels of education, innovation, transportation, militarisation, sophistication and greatly impacting globalisation, China is on the up, destined to overtake the US within a decade or two. Yet historically, Hong Kong has been ahead of China and has somehow held its head above the rising ocean up until now. How is that? How is it that the ex-colony can have generated, among its youth, the expectation, as it exists, of prolonged and righteous superiority over its birth-mother?
Inflated egos on an inflatable cushion
Hong Kong has kept its head out of the rising sea because that head has been propped up on an air-bed. The puffed-up cushion is that of financialisation. HK became the financial hub for east-west trade, a financial bridge. HK is a financial hub for one reason only, not because its people are marvelously smart at numbers or innovation, but because a suitable bridge was needed. There is a history to its recent role, a brief history of no more than three decades.
Since the 1980’s China opened up to foreign investment at the same time as the cold war ended. Much of the initial investment in fact came from the capitalist producers of Hong Kong, many descended from the KMT who came across to the island with their ill-gotten gains at the time of the revolution. And those same capitalists building new factories along the mainland coast brought their super profits straight back to HK and even became financiers in their own right. With the aid of Wall Street and the City of London, a strong financial base was built from that base and the children of those thrown out of factory jobs were reeducated to be herded into finance jobs in the city.
It was a huge transition that took place in little more than a decade and broke with the past almost entirely and it was due to one thing, the opening up of China. Both the industrial jobs lost and the financial ones gained were utterly dependent on what was happening on the mainland and had nothing at all to do with any supposed enterprising spirit of HK culture. A false history was taught and the real past was fast forgotten. In that engineered setting, the mirage of ex-colonial superiority flourished, replenished by vast sums of new money that flooded the island, every cent of which came from abroad. HK thus had no industry, no agriculture and no future, other than this temporary function as a financial bridge. And the effect of all that money was to push up house prices astronomically and again impoverish the discontented worker.
On 1 July 1997, after 156 years of British colonial rule, which began with the Opium Wars and the consequent Treaty of Nanking (it is to be recalled that Queen Victoria was the biggest narco-trafficker in world history), Hong Kong and it’s 6.5 million inhabitants was handed back to China by the United Kingdom. The ‘one country, two systems’ settlement was a temporary one set to last fifty years, until 2047. We are now almost halfway through that period and something significant is happening that is setting all this violence off and unsettling the calm waters of post-colonial transition.
The finance-inflated cushion which has kept the HK head out of the water against the rising tide of China for three decades is now seriously leaking air. China itself is developing independent means of carrying out the big trades it needs. China’s financial market is maturing rapidly at the same time that the historic privileges accorded the US dollar following World War Two are in rapid decline. And let’s be honest, Brexit is not helping, precisely because it diminishes the global role of City of London, upon which the future of HK as a vassal state of the British financial empire was predicated. One is tempted to conclude that all should be over for HK, bar the shedding of tears and the gnashing of teeth. And that would have been the case were it not for a final water twister in the tail.
The virtual demise of Hong Kong as a financial hub, bridging east and west, comes at the same moment that a rift is fast opening between that same east and west, namely, the coordinated campaign of financial and regulatory warfare against the Peoples Republic of China by its main global adversaries, the US, the UK and the EU and their assorted allies. This is a war of attrition, a scheme designed to wear China down and hold it back while at the same time continuing to take advantage of the commercial opportunities it offers global capital. It is a contradictory and many-faceted attack rather than a direct one.
Here, Hong Kong plays a useful role. The fomenting of rebellion among HK disaffected youth is a ploy to get China to hit back, thus creating a public image of a China that is brutal, uncivilized, vengeful, anti-democratic and ripe for either regime-change (very unlikely) or else ostracism. I believe the west is trying to create a sort of new cold war, rather than a hot one, to contain China behind an exchange wall that the west controls and in such conditions that Hong Kong can again play a protracted role as an east-west bridge, similar to that Yugoslavia played during the Cold War. The west promotes the idle hope among the idle hopeless of that territory, a hope in such a role for Hong Kong.
The perishing dreams of a melting iceberg
The only form in which water can stand above water is when it is ice, that is, frozen. An effort to freeze the role of Hong Kong as an east-west bridge is what is going on. It is what the youth are being lined up for. This is the battle. The downward slope towards 2047 needs to be dammed up. The rise of China has to be stymied. The force required to accomplish this has to also harness, by means of spiritual exploitation and political manipulation, the youth of HK. The ‘international community’ will react strongly to any move towards a smooth transition from ‘one country, two systems’ to communist rule. Hong Kong is being played as a flashpoint in a political gambit and its youth are expendable pawns (or prawns, if we are to extend the ocean metaphor) in that game.
A watery grave or a choiceful fate
”We are water.” No you are not. Currently, you are grains of dry sand blown in the wind by forces you do not comprehend and, in your hopeful, hopeless ignorance, you do not wish to understand. You are living someone else’s dream, which for you will become a nightmare. To be as water means to go WITH the flow, not against it, and in this case the flow is that of history, which, like gravity, cannot be long denied.
Remember or learn about Wu-wei. Don’t ‘try.’ Don’t ‘do.’ Find a path that goes WITH the flow of history, not against it. Mark the transition as a coming of age or as a rite of passage. If you are religious, understand the derivation of that word, re-ligere, to join back together. If you have material aspiration then view China as your material future, a land of unheard of promise that will be the very center of humanity in a short while.
If you want freedom, democracy, whatever you call it, first be free of your illusions in systems built on greed, the very worst characteristic of the human being. Be free of that. Be free of vassalage. Neither the US nor the UK are your friend. If you want to change China, change it. Fight to make it better, for your future is there and nowhere else. Above all, be like water . . . and you will never need an umbrella again, I guarantee it.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
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