Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Deft Dancing on the 'D' Word

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Here is the accepted format of what are the focus words and what are the taboo words for use in these four countries.

(1) India

Focus words: democracy, terrorism, Rajiv Gandhi

Taboo words: Buddhism, Indira Gandhi

(2) China

Focus words: development, trade, arms

Taboo words: democracy, Muslims, Dalai Lama

 

 President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ‘successfully completed’ his state visit to People’s Republic of China, which spanned from February 26th to March 4th. The Colombo Daily Mirror (March 5, 2007) carries “a joint communique by China and Sri Lanka issued at the conclusion of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s one weeks’ state visit to China.”

Being domiciled in Japan since 1986, I have been observing the verbal behavior of ruling Colombo politicians, who pout inanities on their begging trips when they visit Tokyo and Beijing. Before commenting on the ‘Joint Communique released by China and Sri Lanka,’ I wish to draw attention to President Mahinda’s interview to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, just prior to his state visit. Here are some excerpts, culled from the China’s People’s Daily Online, dated Feb. 25th.

Sri Lankans consider China’s development as theirs: president

[source: Xinhua news agency, Feb.25, 2007]

“‘We consider that the development of the Chinese people as our own development. Similarly, we look forward to the Chinese people considering the development of Sri Lanka as the development of China, due to the friendship between our countries’, said Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua made on Friday prior to his state visit to China, Rajapaksa said the relationship between China and Sri Lanka is built on a solid foundation….

Rajapaksa said China is developing very rapidly despite a very large population, ‘I believe we have a lot of lessons to learn from that development. I visit China just at the end of the (Spring) Festival season. As it is said in our language it is like visiting our relatives,’ said the president.’”

What is funny is that the ‘d’-word President Mahinda had stressed is “development.” How neat is this deft dancing on the diplomatic circus rope? The other ‘d’-word (‘democracy’) which the Sri Lankan politicians spew out frequently to the media, is a taboo word for describing anything relating to China and contemporary Chinese rulers. Isn’t this a simple demonstration of the phenomenon either that these Colombo politicians are hypocrites of the first degree, or that they are spineless not to offend their powerful hosts. China does not adhere to democratic principles. Period.

Diplomatic Spin with Focus words and Taboo words

During the past 20 years, I also have watched how the Colombo wordsmiths use spin in their texts for the begging trips of Sri Lankan top dogs (especially the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister) to the four Asian countries, namely India, China, Japan and Pakistan. Here is the accepted format of what are the focus words and what are the taboo words for use in these four countries.

(1) India

Focus words: democracy, terrorism, Rajiv Gandhi

Taboo words: Buddhism, Indira Gandhi

(2) China

Focus words: development, trade, arms

Taboo words: democracy, Muslims, Dalai Lama

(3) Japan

Focus words: Buddhism, investment, aid

Taboo words: arms, military training

(4) Pakistan

Focus words: arms, military training, Muslims

Taboo words: democracy, Buddhism, terrorism

 

The Affinity of Chinese to the Tigers

I also draw attention to two items in the released Joint Communique, and then muse on a few threads between these two items.

Item 5 noted that “The President [Mahinda] also gifted a baby elephant to the Beijing Zoo.”

Item 7 noted that “The two sides resolved to fight tirelessly against the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism and will step up consultation and coordinating on regional and international counter terrorism action.”

It's kind of President Mahinda to gift a baby elephant to the Chinese. But I’d say, he was not thoughtful about his animal gift. I have no grudge against baby elephants. In mid 1980s, one of President Mahinda’s predecessors [President J.R. Jayewardene] took along a baby elephant [named Jayathu] gift to Washington DC and presented it to President Ronald Reagan, with some fanfare. Sadly, a few months later, this baby elephant had a premature death. The autopsy revealed that it had parasitic infestation. One can only hope that Jayathu’s sad fate doesn’t re-visit the gift elephant of President Mahinda.

I’d say that President Mahinda had been ill-advised on what animal to present as a gift for the Chinese. In the world view of the Chinese, the elephant hardly registers on the radar. Just check the Chinese zodiac of 12 Animal Signs. The 12 Animals which feature in the traditional Chinese calendar (in the order of their appearance): rat, ox, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog and pig.

This year [the Chinese new year commenced on February 18 of this year] is the Year of Pig. President Mahinda made his trip to China last month, after the beginning of the Year of Pig. For the purpose of zodiac alignment, is it wrong to ponder awhile that Chinese might have been delighted if President Mahinda had taken a ‘Sri Lankan’ Pig to China as a gift?

Now to the cultural affinity of Chinese to the Tigers – the carnivore. Whatever the Colombo politicians and their panjandrums bad mouth about the LTTE to the Chinese, I have a hunch that for Chinese ears, it will hardly register. The reason for this lies in the animal motif of the Tamils and the LTTE – the Tiger. Chinese revere the Tiger, and the South China Tiger is one of their national emblems. Period.

In a recent, unsigned news-commentary date-lined Beijing, which appeared in the Economist magazine (Feb.22, 2007), one sentence reads as follows: “Many Chinese will take no less kindly to being told the tiger is an undistinguished mongrel, and that miscegenation is the way forward.”

Could this be a reason why in Item 7 of the Joint Communique, a bland and insipid resolve was written “against the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism.” A specific mention of the LTTE’s complete name has been omitted. While the Colombo rulers have battled with the LTTE since mid 1980s and have faced ethnic cleansing charges from Eelam Tamils since the mid 1950s, China’s rulers also have faced three-pronged separatism campaigns and ethnic cleansing accusations from Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Taiwan nationalists since the 1950s. Thus, a “resolve to fight tirelessly” as provided in Item 7 of the Joint Communique is nothing but a procedural formality.

The Tiger is one of the revered historical and cultural emblems of the Tamils. But how many Tamils know that the Chinese also show similar affinity to the Tiger, the animal? I have in my collection a 1933 zoological essay by Arthur De C. Sowerby entitled ‘The Tiger in China’. For relevance, I reproduce below the first few paragraphs of this old essay.

The Tiger in China

by Arthur De C.Sowerby

[courtesy: The China Journal, Feb.1933, vol.18, no.2, pp.94-101]

To the Chinese and other people of Eastern Asia the tiger is and always has been what the lion is and has been to the people of the West, holding the same place in their imaginations and fables. Just as the lion is the great feline marauder of Africa todday and was so of the Near East and even of Western Europe in the past, so the tiger is the great feline marauder of Asia both in fact and in tradition.

From childhood many of us who were born in China have heard innumerable stories in which the tiger, or lao hu, as the Chinese call the great cat, has figured more or less prominently, and in a great number of Chinese myths and legends this fearsome beast of prey plays an important role. To the Chinese the tiger is the symbol of strength and courage, just as the lion is with the Westerner; so much so, indeed, that its bones, flesh and blood are looked upon as medicine of extraordinary efficacy in giving the person who partakes of them the tiger’s strength and courage. For this reason they fetch a high price in the medicine shops, and a hunter who kills a tiger can make many hundreds of dollars out of it if he knows how to dispose of its remains properly. In Manchuria a tiger will realize a thousand dollars or more.

The ignorant Chinese of the country-side believe that the tiger is a Ta Sheng, or Great Spirit, and in the mountainous areas where it occurs feat it greatly. We were once told a story of how a hunter in the mountains of Western Shansi killed a tiger, whereafter the inhabitants of the neighbouring farmsteads and hamlets were greatly plagued by nightly visitations from the tiger’s soul or ghost, which could perform miracles beyond the powers of the animal in the flesh, spriting away people and cattle from locked rooms and byres.

Samuel Couling in his ‘Encyclopeida Sinica’ has the following passage:

‘In Chinese mythology the tiger is often found as a mount for the destroyers of evil spirits, such as Chang Tao-ling; and Hsuan Tan, the god of riches, is also sometimes represented riding a tiger. The beast itself is also counted divine and its picture is often seen stuck on the walls of houses, bearing the Taoist seal of Cheng Huang, and sometimes with the character wang, king, on its forehead. The tiger as guardian is often seen painted on the walls of magistrates’ offices and on private houses. Its claws or the ashes of its burnt hair are potent and expensive talismans.’

Just as the tiger figures prominently in Chinese mythology so it appears frequently in Chinese art, being a favourite subject of painters, sculptors, wood carvers and toy makers alike. It occurs frequently in the art of past ages, in bronze, in stone, in jade and in clay. Couling’s reference to the character, wang, which he says is ‘sometimes’ shown on the forehead of tigers in Chinese paintings, is interesting. As a matter of fact, it is always so shown in Chinese paintings of the great feline, for it is actually present in all Chinese and Manchurian tigers. Such a fact cannot have failed to impress the Chinese with their reverence for writing, and itself would be sufficient to account for the superstitious awe in which they hold the tiger. But add to this its enormous strength and ferocity, its cruel cunning, and the wild and lonely mountain fastnesses and gloomy forests it chooses for its lair, and it will be seen how readily the tiger lends itself to a prominent role in myth and legend in a country where these hold as great a place as they do in China.

Not only does the tiger figure prominently in China’s legend and art, it also often appears in the history of the country, but space will not allow of more than a few references. Marco Polo tells us that the Grand Khan Kublai used tigers to hunt deer, wild cattle, wild boars, bears and antilopes, while the animal is also mentioned many times in hunts conducted by the Mongol and Manchu Emperors of China. That it figured largely in the lives of the warriors and hunters of even earlier times is shown by its appearance on clay tomb bricks or tiles of the Ch’in period (255-206 BC) or earlier…

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