Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Might of Many

I remember reading a short story in high school about the fire ants of Brazil, entitled Leningen Versus the Ants. While the narrative itself revolves around the battle between the brains of man and the might of nature, I will never forget a scene in which an army of ants attacks a stag, stripping the meat from the bones in under six minutes. What a feat! Multiple cultures, including America’s Judeo-Christian culture, reference ants as the quintessential picture of industry and teamwork; a single ant is easy to kill but a colony of ants can move a mountain—literally!

A few days ago, I was reminded that China possessed this might of many in the latent power of a billion people. I was sitting outside reading a book when I noticed groups of students carrying chairs down the road. After 30 minutes of group after group of young men and women with their chairs, my curiosity was piqued until I put two and two together. That evening was the opening ceremony for the new freshman class—over four thousand students. The students I was currently watching were providing the seating for the evening. Yes, that’s right. Groups of students were moving all the chairs from all the classrooms from all over campus to the new indoor arena on the outermost edge of campus for the ceremony. My mind flashed back (as perhaps yours is now) to the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony. At that ceremony, the world was witness to China’s most powerful and most volatile resource—its people. Hundreds of thousands of individual Chinese men and women created masterpieces of performances during the Opening Ceremony, awing the world with their precision in moving as a single body: not a person out of place even though hundreds of individuals were in each performance. With the might of so many under the reigns of astute, perhaps severe, leadership, it is no wonder that China has found itself the topic of political and economic discussions the world around.

Oftentimes, I feel we in America have lost our appreciation for this value of teamwork and have forgotten that individuals are not stronger than the group. Places like Egypt, Libya, and certainly China still feel the intense pressure of the multitude, and as in the case of Egypt, the might of many people has been the catalyst for great change while in places like China, the political leaders tremble at the thought of domestic rioting. Susan Shirk, a former Deputy Secretary of State responsible for China, wrote a book titled China: A Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail its Peaceful Rise. Within its pages, Susan Shirk details the immense respect, to the point of fear, which Chinese leaders have for the power of the people. With so many people to keep content, China must continually walk a thin line of balance between squeezing the people with regulations and providing a sustainable way of life. This balance dates far back into Chinese history as demonstrated in an ancient Chinese four-character idiom: “Nei lua, wai huan”: When there is turmoil within, the barbarians without will inflict disaster. China’s first priority is and always has been domestic stability, and at the moment, China appears to have firm footing. Therefore, the real question is what the might of many—1,331,460,000 to be exact—can accomplish if pointed in a single direction. And all I can think of is a full-grown stag reduced to shiny white bones in six minutes.

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