Li Xing

Weathering storms in the New Year

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-31 07:51
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Li Kang (196 - 265 AD) is not one of China's best known writers, but this verse surely ranks among the "top 20" ancient Chinese words of wisdom:

The wind will assault the tallest tree in the woods;

The wave will wash away the dune closest to the sea;

And the populace will attack the one who stands the highest above others' heads and shoulders...

Li Kang's verse is often used to caution those who are aggressive or ambitious. A friend quoted it to me when I was studying abroad - we were walking on a beach in Honolulu, Hawaii.

I took it to mean that I should lay low and remain modest, contrary to some of the teachings about individualism I encountered in the West.

A more nuanced interpretation is that people should keep their egos in check and learn to cooperate with those around them; otherwise, they will not survive.

Of course, Li Kang's verse does not apply only to people.

As the New Year approaches and I reflect on the past 12 months - especially the two weeks I spent in Copenhagen - the verse keeps coming back to me.

In a way, it describes the position that China finds itself in at the moment.

For better or worse, China's situation is subject to superlatives.

To deal with the international financial crisis and the global economic downturn, the country delivered arguably the largest stimulus package in the world.

As a result, its economy recovered the fastest and has produced the most growth.

Financially, China has the world's largest foreign exchange reserves. In agriculture, it set a record in grain production, with farmers' average per capita net income exceeding 5,000 yuan ($783) last year

China has surpassed the United States and Japan as the world's largest producer and consumer of motor vehicles.

Vehicle sales, which are expected to reach 13 million by the end of the year, have boosted the economy and enriched the lives of many people, urban and rural alike.

Not all the superlatives are positive, however. Our eco-footprint has grown faster than any other country's, and our greenhouse gas emissions have increased the most.

In some ways, China is like "the tallest tree in the woods" or "the dune closest to the sea".

In the coming year, we are likely to endure harsher winds and tougher waves because of things we have done or not done.

In fact, storms have been gathering around China since the international climate talks ended with the Copenhagen Accord.

But China is not the only tree in the woods or an isolated dune on the shore.

Other countries can and should help bear the brunt of the wind and waves of climate change. China is certainly justified in resisting the pressure from some developed countries, which have not matched their promises with action when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Still, we must not neglect our duty to our children and our children's children.

We must redouble our efforts to blaze a trail of sustainable development, which includes reducing reliance on fossil fuels and cleaning up the waterways, the air, and the environment.

It is said that when the late Chairman Mao Zedong met with Deng Xiaoping in 1975, Mao quoted Li Kang's verse after Deng spoke of the possible opposition he would encounter.

Deng took this to mean that Mao considered him a leader and supported his efforts to clean up the mess of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

Whether we like it or not, China is now a world leader.

We must strive to promote sustainable development and a low-carbon economy, regardless of the coming storms.


(China Daily 12/31/2009 page9)