There is a little persimmon tree in our back yard with dozens of squat, oblong orange fruit hanging off, all 果实累累. Climbing up the tree is a sturdy vine that remains green, off which a few enormous squash dangle and a Virginia Creeper that has gone all red. A few dusty chickadees are there, standing midway up, picking at the fruit until a bullyboy blue magpie, lands and they all scatter.
I’ve had some time to consider this scene as I’ve just stood for the past hour with my face pressed up against the screen window. It’s the only place in the house where you can get reliable cell phone coverage and so I was pinioned there, smelling that zinc screen smell considering the chickadees and the fruit. The moment you turn away from the window it seems, the other party says “John? John are you there?” So you’ve no choice but to resume the position.
It’s Halloween here in Beijing and orange fruit, the green vine, and the blood red leaves are the right, evocative color combination for the day. Orange in ascendency, our Jack O’ lantern out there grinning atop the leaves set beside all this fallen fruit. The kids will be home early from school today. They’ll get costumed up and we’ll head out into the wild autumn night, armed with pillow cases to conduct their villa compound plunder. American soft power, American gluttony, waxing full. What kid with a choice would forgo a night of costumes and free candy with the world turned on its head? Will China’s indomitable rise one day mean the soft power projection of Chinese holidays on to the rest of the world? Dragon Boat racing in every city with a river? Ancestor Grave Sweeping Day on the rise the developing world?
The U.S. version of the holiday goes global because things like packaged candy are mass-produced early, Hollywood reinforces the ethos with a thousand films and children are indoctrinated with this irresistible ceremony of youthful mystery and consumption. America had some of these commercial possibilities first and established their version of ceremony as a modern norm.
Riffing in the “Seven Deadly Starbucks” (7DS) off a poster of John Hurt of Caligula fame in an airport, I had this to say on the topic of West’s tradition of defining modernity and of what it might mean when that baton is passed to, or snatched by China:
Rome forever amoral because Christianity had to happen, to destroy it, in order to save it, and properly frame it. Caligula, for one, had absolute power and was absolutely unhinged from moral constraint. The lesson for all good Western children is that power freed from an ethical framing is vile. There is a clear rupture in Western history, restart the calendar with the introduction of Christ and a millenarian promise. A progressive march from the darkness, through much greater darkness to the reclamation of Greek and Roman thinking, applied reason, scientific methodology toward a future that is an unerring waddle towards quantifiable betterment. And with each lurch, each notch of clear progress the renewed tension to reconcile or evolve our ideas of what is moral, even if formal religion itself is largely disposed of in the process. We drive the future. We will be first to articulate what electricity should mean for people, what an atomic age should mean, what an Internet should operate like.
How different the Chinese view of history! For all but the last hundred years the past was the ideal type. The Zhou had harmony, the Han had dignity, and the Tang had territory.  Answers to all questions concerning statecraft could be found in the past. Tune properly and enjoy the mandate for a longer time perhaps, but know that it must pass eventually and your line will one day fall and the cycle will begin again. The best ruler can only aspire to what has already been achieved. Defeats, indignation, scientific reasoning, dialectical materialism, altered the gaze forward. Modern China, progresses now, linearly, with the rest of the world. Catching up, overtaking has been an irrepressible theme for the last hundred-year dash. Belief systems then again, play catch up as they are lapped and lapped again by technological enablement. China wants to drive the future, but still must craft beliefs in reaction as others secure and articulate ever, new technical vistas. The CCP will try to fashion a new articulation, of modern Chinese dignity, drawing expediently from the vast tradition, but it will never dispel the notion that the mandate must one day pass.
How will Chinese ethics explain things when the breakthrough belongs to them, as it soon will? They’ll need to assert what this means for the world. Not simply react to another Western realization of progress. How will the West grapple with disruptive innovation, and ethical catch-up to an entirely non-Western power? Can the West and China articulate a new, hybrid ethical paradigm to buttress their shared responsibility for stability’s stewardship? Richard Oppenheimer reached to the Bhagavad-Gita when he welcomed the dire responsibilities of the Atomic age. The West has long enjoyed sole authorship of progress’ articulation. The CCP increasingly allows the nation to debate and define what a Chinese authored progress, that long sought dream, will mean for the nation and the world. Whether you're a Confucian who believes in dynastic cycles or a Marxist who knows that every economic system develops internal contradictions that lead to its’ demise, you know that this conversation is looming. It will stretch the nation terribly and compromise stability and quite possibly, one Party rule itself.
A “Chinese authored progress”: Is this really pending for the world? Depending on where you’re sitting you might be seen as a Snickers bar treat or a rotten egg trick. The West’s ability to solely define what progress is, appears to be passing though, like this autumn day into the exiting night ahead.
The Geraldo Pino & the Heartbeats song “Heavy, Heavy, Heavy” came on the mix this morning. Fine repetitive resonance that, for meditation on the theme of gluttony. Photographs of Geraldo suggest he could certainly have set out trick-or-treating as a convincing James Brown. This song is on a bunch of West African compilations. The groove is tight and the organ driven break is catchy but I never considered it for much beyond that. With lyrics like “the way she does the funky dances, she’s really, really, heavy.” I’d assumed I’d plumbed where it was Geraldo was coming from.
And geographically speaking, I’d assumed that was Nigeria. And I was wrong. He and the Heartbeats are, in fact, from Sierra Leone. This was curious, as Ghana and Nigeria always get all the attention, certainly musically at least, within English-speaking West Africa. Nigeria has by far the largest population. Sierra Leone is only one fifth the population of Ghana and one thirty-fifth the population of Nigeria.
Rdio has the album “Heavy, Heavy, Heavy” that must have all must have been recorded at roughly the same time as the aforementioned track, which is roughly 1972, so I dug in. I hadn’t been aware of his afro-centric, black power agenda, beyond the heavy dancing bit. Nor did I understand his influence on the apogee of West African popular music, Fela Ransome Kuti: http://www.retroafric.com/html/sl_notes/20cd-3.html
As Fela told the author Carlos Moore in his 1982 biography:
"I was playing highlife jazz when Geraldo Pino came to town in '66 or a bit earlier with soul. That's what upset everything, man. He came to town with James Brown's music, singing, "Hey, hey, I feel all right, ta, ta, ta, ta. . . " And with such equipment you've never seen, man. This man was tearing Lagos to pieces. Wooooooooh, man. He had all Nigeria in his pocket. Made me fall right on my ass, man. Ahhhhhh, this Sierra Leonean guy was too much. Geraldo Pino from Sierra Leone. I'll never forget him. I never heard this kind of music before-o, I'm telling you. Only when I went to Ghana shortly after that did I hear music like that again, soul music. Shit! If you could have seen him, man. And his equipment . . . something else!
I never got to visit Sierra Leone. Shortly after I might have there was a terrible civil war. I remember meeting a British woman who was teaching Freetown and she told me that she’d write her tests in the morning and give it to one of her staff to mimeograph and then find it for sale in the market, in the afternoon. I hadn’t realized that the nation, or Freetown, the capital, at least was a city of immigrants with a long tradition of higher education, not to mention heavy dances. With slavery abolished in 1808, it became a melting pot of various West African people’s, freed slaves and returnees from the West Indies and elsewhere. Twenty-five years later the first European style university in sub-Saharan Africa was opened there, anchoring the city as a regional center of learning.
A few posts backed I’d talked about the soft power flow of American Rhythm and Blues returning to West Africa and shaking performers like Fela. But it is important to remember that welterweights like Sierra Leone could also export disruptive, “heavy” soft power.
So which nation will be the next one to assert soft power so convincingly, that the children of the other nations all begin to celebrate their holiday? This may beyond the capacity of a flyweight, or even a middleweight to achieve. This ‘heavy, heavy’ testimony of civilizational prowess will likely go to whoever is most convincingly driving the arc of modernity.
 guǒshílěilěi: prodigious abundance of fruit (idiom); fruit hangs heavy on the bow / fertile
 The Zhou Dynasty was the paragon of harmonic virtue for writers such as Confucius during the Spring and Autumn Period. The Han have been popularized as dignified through and San Guo where Liu Bei fought to restore the Han line’s dignity as they slipped into the chaos of the Three Kingdoms period. Ask ten Chinese people what Dynasty would you like to have lived in, if you could have lived in any, and nine will reply “The Tang”. Usually the reason has something to do with size and strength. The Tang territory was Han Chinese and bigger than any other until the Qing, which was a non-Han, Alien controlled dynastic period.