Sunday, 12 June 2011

George Yeo for President – A Dream or a Stone?

Less George, Less Yin for the PAP – Part 3
(The Dream of Red Chamber)

Besides the Chinese books that mentioned in the previous post, George also likes ‘The Dream of Red Chamber’.  This masterpiece of Chinese literature has a few names.  In fact, many experts agree that its original name is called ‘The Story of A Stone’ (in the form of a Jade). 

A stone as well as a dream

One needs to relate the relationship between the stone and the dream in the development of this romantic story.  Red Chamber in fact is talking about a stone from heaven traveling to the earth and wants to experience the human life. It is an extra piece of stone which supposes to fill the hole of the universal.  Due to its redundancy, this ‘useless’ stone then makes its way to the world to see the real life. How the rich and famous live? Why woman is water? And how Chinese culture, religion, philosophy influences their thinking and decision making?

It is like a dream describing a family from rich and famous to poor and notorious. It is the opposite of Pi Ji Tai Lai (). Pi Ji Tai Lai means when misfortune reaches the limit, good fortune is at hand. Out of the depth of misfortune comes bliss. Unfortunately, this rich family of Jia is from Tai Lai (good fortune) to Pi Ji (bad fortune).  And there is a well known saying that all monkeys disperse when the big tree (family) falls.  

Written by Cao Xue Qin, many believe he was telling his own story in the Red Chamber.  We need to know some backgrounds about this book, so as to understand why George likes it and has ‘yin’ elements in his thinking.

Mao Zedong valued Red Chamber over others

The Dream of Red Chamber is one of the 4 great Chinese novels (四大名著). However, it is very different from the other three (Three Kingdoms, Water Margin and The Journey to the West).  Three Kingdoms, another liked book of George, is very popular for strategy and war study. Water Margin and The Journey to the West too are used for business and management case studies although at a lesser extent.

Red Camber is different from the others in many ways: family and female centric, hidden meaning, political implication, cultural reflection of the time, different version etc. Mao Zedong valued Red Chamber very much and gave the highest mark to it.  This book accompanied him throughout the Long March.  And he had ever said that you needed to read it at least 3 times to have a better understanding of Red Chamber (as well as Chinese culture, value, strategy and political thinking).

Life is imperfect. Imperfection is great

Since its publication, no one has the full and complete version of Red Chamber. It has never been completed and its imperfection makes it even great which leaves many rooms for study, discussions, improvements and corrections.   Red Chamber not only has many names, it also has many versions and involved many people.  Since its publication more than 200 years go, many comments, researches, and studies have been carried out on various aspects of Red Chamber.  It has since become a Red Study (红学).

Red Chamber, as a family unit, is the refection of the society and people of early Qing dynasty. No other Chinese writings have ever given a complete picture of the time history as Red Chamber. It provides the first hand knowledge of the living, customs, family life/relationship, official and government politics and life of lower class people.  Their behaviors and how they mange life and face the political outcome are also well covered in the book.  From here, you will see different faces of Chinese, how they react under crisis, how they become poor and how they get promoted, how they do bad things, and how they mange a family.  All these show us the positive and negative aspects of Chinese characteristics.

How come George is not able to convince PAP to reform earlier?

Many things happened in the Red Chamber are beyond control.  You know the coming and you know the going but you are helpless and so you let go.  Is this what George read from the book and understand that he cannot push too hard for an early reform in the PAP?  Jia family’s misfortune is a fate. Does it also imply the defeat of George in GE2011 is a fate?

It is too early to predict the future of the PAP. However, as shown in Red Chamber, without reform, it will move from Tai Lai to Pi Ji. If you believe in fate, it may end like another Jai family and all the monkeys run away.

Tony and Jayakumar, both are right

By the PAP definition, the political reality in Singapore is that a President needs only to understand the complexity of the problems but must face the fact that he is powerless.  This can be further described in a dream and a stone like the Red Chamber.

It is a dream:
President lives in a dream and understands what is going on but … changes.

Asked by a reporter about speculation that he might be a candidate, the deputy chairman and executive director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC), Tony Tan had this to say: 'Like all Singaporeans, I am watching the political climate closely.

'It is clear that the next president of Singapore will hold office during a period of enormous change. In such times, my view is that it is more important than ever to have a president with a steady hand and a deep understanding of the complexities behind each decision the president may have to make.' (ST)

A Dream of deep understanding of the complexities is required for the President, just like the stone from heaven, after traveling around China in the early Qing Dynasty; it had a good understanding of the complexities of the nation, society and people.  But it is just a fine memory ad understanding. Jia family was also facing enormous political change as there was an infighting of leadership.       

It is a stone:
President only has limited power like a stone in particular … expectation.

Reiterating the legal limits to presidential powers, former senior minister S. Jayakumar said it would be good for all Singaporeans - especially candidates - to understand the president's role, so that nobody held wrong expectations.

'I am a bit surprised and disappointed over some of the statements and claims made by some of the would-be candidates about what they intend to do if they get elected,' he said.

These statements, he noted, implied that they thought the president was 'a centre of power unto himself, distinct from the government of the day', and had 'certain executive powers'. (ST)

The power of the Elected President is just a piece of stone throwing into a pond, no impact at all to the government.  The stone is not a foundation or institution that can change the government decision making. Jia family is just servant to the Qing Dynasty and had to follow instructions.

So the reality of the Jia family is that it is just a ceremony, especially when the Emperor makes his visit to Jiangnan (Southern part of Yangtze River).

It is a ceremony jade:
President cannot have own policy agenda and has no executive power.

Law Minister K Shanmugam issued a detailed statement yesterday to outline the role of the head of state - including the fact that under the Constitution, the President "has no role to advance his own policy agenda" and that he is "not empowered to direct the investment strategies" of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings. (Today)

'Singapore has a parliamentary system of government, not a presidential one. The President is the head of state, not the head of government. The Prime Minister is the head of government and has the authority and responsibility to govern Singapore.' (Asiaone)

How will George consider his political journey?

No matter whether George decides to run for President or not, (or some one else is running), the future position of Singapore President will be a dream, a stone and a ceremony jade.
Surely George is thinking very hard whether he likes to live in a dream, act like a stone, or as shown like a jade in Singapore political history.

Perhaps, after the reality check, when George returns to Singapore after his short break, it is better for him to remain in the sweet dream of a foreign minister rather than returning to heaven like a jade stone.

(End of the 3-part series)

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