Essays

The PRC Just Reached the Average Age of China’s Past Dynasties

History lessons for Xi Jinping – Isaac Beech

The People’s Republic of China just turned seventy years old. The fatherland is now the same age as Samuel L. Jackon, Ozzy Osborne and Prince Charles; the Chinese Communist Party is already older than Marx was when he died (64); and the government in Beijing has exceeded the life expectancy in Bhutan. Perhaps most tellingly, China’s latest political incarnation has also reached the average age that its previous forty-nine dynasties lasted.

In an excerpted piece the China Channel ran a year and a half ago, Harvard scholar Yuhua Wang studied lessons from China’s dynastial history, coming up with that seventy-year mean average, albeit accounting for “a wide-ranging variation from the Heng Chu dynasty (403–404), which lasted for less than a year, to the Tang (618–907), which ruled China for 289 years.” (It’s worth noting also that although there have been 49 Chinese dynasties or kingdoms in total, many overlapped with rival territories; there are roughly 16 periods of Chinese history, and half as many dynasties which ruled the entirety of what is now claimed as “China.”)

Dispatches

The Hungry Ghosts of June Fourth

Concrete and memory is all that is left on Tiananmen Square Isaac Beech

A hungry ghost, or e’gui 饿鬼, is the lingering spirit of a person who has met a violent or miserable end. In Buddhist tradition, it is the evil deeds of the individual which lead them to be reborn as a hungry ghost, below even the lowest of animals. But in more popular belief, the cruel end of a life cut short is enough to leave a ghost unanchored, unable to rest in peace, forever hungry, never sated.

On the night of June 3, 1989, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping sent some 200,000 troops into Beijing and created anywhere from several hundred to several thousand hungry ghosts. That we don’t know the precise number – likely something less than 3000, despite recent claims of 10,000 or more – is only a testament to the efficacy of the cover-up. If the human tragedy of it all feels too far removed geographically or generationally (I was three in 1989), videos and pictures remind us of what we were not there to witness.