8.40 am, the impossible levitation over. Timberland boots off and body scan excitingly completed in secure efficiency. Yang scanner glides over my yin channels. Jing Luo, Jing Luo, Wei me away.
Again, the scale. Hēilóngjiāng, Black Dragon River (apologies for previous misspelling and lack of tones for the Great Guardian of China’s North East and thanks to my most adoring public ed) Below, the river coils over the black earth plain, it’s tributaries dammed. Every sixth industrial field or so is a squarely formed settlement of a few hundred ordered buildings. There are areas of the world, Celtic Wales for instance, where settlement was denser 2,000 years ago than today and the shape of the places far below would have been familiar to the denizens of Pax Romana but the density, scale, speed and extent of the productive power of China today is unique in human history. 42 years after the death of the warrior Emperor in blue when her GDP was 5% that of the United States, her recessional growth is now 6.5% and GDP per head is $8,000 and rising where it had stood at $155. (For discussion and credits see the inimitable old CPGB member Martin Jacques, political economist extraordinary, writing on line and hard copy in China (Pinch of Salt) Today. Jacques was a young theoretician in my own Party days in the late 1970s when the CPGB was traumatically and tardily abandoning the Soviet line and aligning with the progressive Eurocommunists. It was an exciting, if sometimes bemusing time for this young Comrade selling the “Morning Star, paper of the Left” outside Wimbledon underground! Martin Jaques went on to be an editor of the Independent and is now a leading Sinologist. Thank goodness not all the old theoreticians have turned to drink in this our time of need. I digress, again.)
9.04 and the landscape is unchanging. Calculate. Wind speed. Knots. Galleons. Kerosene.
The earth below in the heart of the Middle, 中 zhong, Kingdom is the fertile black soil of the North East. The earth of the South is yellow, the forbidden Colour of the Emperor. The Yellow Emperor, enthroned, bear like, Manchu bearded, Mongol eyed, resplendent in Yellow Dragon Catching Pearl Embroidered silk, the colour we know from the walls of the insane, the daubs of Van Gogh, the robes of Tibet or Antiques Road Show where the small yellow enamel box found for pence in a car boot box once sold for hundreds of thousands.
Contradictions or Xi Jingping Socialism with Chinese Characteristics? Monsanto sells the soya and wheat seed of the North at a dollar a ton cheaper than homegrown. The GM seed is specifically adapted to Monsanto fertiliser and is sterile. The farmers thereafter can neither fertilise nor reseed with traditional stock. The wildlife disappears. The people catch the single falling Autumn leaf like the Happy Prince’s last flower. The once fertile alluvial land is soon barren and reduced to dust. Monsanto raises the price of seed and rots in hell. The old trees of the plain were cut for firewood in the hardships of the mid years of Reform in the 1990s. The deforestation further erodes the soil.
9.12 am. Rocky small hills outcrop. The freeways from Beijing have straightened out for the people of the plain. The rays of power. President for life, Xi Jingping, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPC and Chairman of the Technology, Political and Everything Else Committees has declared that the Principles of securing Quality Reform and Growth will be progressed though AI and infrastructure. Belt and Road. The Scale of Development will now Deepen with Quality. (Enough capitalised emphatics!)
1.10pm. Relatively successful negotiation onto the London-Beijing flight. Below, the hilly, much less densely populated plains West of Beijing, the upper slopes, snow covered. I had forgotten a small pack of sweet strawberry juice in my hand luggage and there ensued drama at security. In the melée the red stamp on my boarding pass was forgotten and a last minute call is made for the panting, sweating, black clad, bestarred and blazoned youth. I am photographed, again, stamped and board.
In the Forbidden Palace the Emperor kept the Great Seal, large as an elephant in its own dedicated room. There are scores of neat black, linen bound books in the elegant Harbin bookshop recording contemporary and historic chops (seals 印章 ). Chinese is a representational language, I was told by my teacher, Dolly Yang, back in Lampeter and on the smartphone the Chinese keyboard can have a western, pin yin, keyboard with a line of characters above. The busy Beijinger may move dextrously from Chinese characters to pin yin so ensuring concise and accurate text speak with the economy of the modern medium. I wonder how German fits with Mandarin (discuss)?
3.30 pm Somewhere half an hour West of Irkutsk. I mean who on earth lives below? Did the horde cross? The rivers already frozen. The svelte fit Frenchman from Bordeaux at Beijing airport whose conversation in four minutes encompassed early snow conditions, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the battle at which Talbot lost and ended the 100 Years War (My Kind of Guy) said that the early snow is unprecedented. He said this with grim cheerfulness. He was en route to Pyongyang to work on Olympic Solidarity. He is based with the Olympic Committee in Lausanne and he said this with grim determination. He was a good looking, fine man and we promised to keep in touch through the usual channels.
3.55pm I begin to be fearful and strangely attach this to the man who knows the danger of the tipping point of the Empire I see far below. The quality of sleep. And the snow and ice has come. The frozen element of water sets.
The Northern Cold
The sky glows one side black, three sides purple.
The Yellow River’s ice closes, fish and dragons die.
Bark three inches thick cracks across the grain,
Carts a hundred picules heavy mount the river’s water.
Flowers of frost on the grass are as big as coins,
Brandished swords will not pierce the foggy sky,
Crashing ice flies in the swirling seas,
And cascades hang noiseless in the mountains, rainbows of jade.
Li Ho, Tang Dynasty. 791 – 817 AD
Who did he share it with, was it late at night when the others slept the sleep of the just, scribing the wonders to make sense of it all to himself only, did he have a wife, a secret friend, an unlikely companion? But no jet lag. Twenty years and plenty of time in prison.