Disturbing reports about China reach me from a contact in the US Pentagon who, for reasons which will become apparent, I cannot identify.
The victory of the Communist Party in China marked a clean break with the past, a reinvention of the nation. But some traditions just wouldn’t lie down and die. One of these was ancestor worship, the veneration of the dead, based in the Confucian belief that the living owe a lasting duty of care to deceased family members. The most visible manifestation of this is the annual Quingming Festival when families gather to sweep graves and leave offerings. Quingming falls this year on 5 April.
In a country with a huge population and sparse land resources, burial space is now exhausted. A recent government initiative to encourage the living to maintain virtual graves on the internet instead was greeted with, ominously, the threat of civil unrest. It seems that only physical resting places will satisfy the Chinese people.
That being so, the astounding news is that the Chinese leadership is now looking to outer space. And its gaze has come to rest on the moon. Can the moon provide a satisfactory final resting place for this numerous and increasingly affluent people? Initial feasibility studies have included focus groups of ordinary Chinese citizens. Results show that they would be entirely content with lunar burial. It seems that the brilliant whiteness of the moon makes it particularly acceptable. White is the Chinese colour of mourning.
The Chinese government is now actively seeking to bring this about. My Pentagon contact reports that pressure is being placed on a reluctant US government and, in particular, on its capability, through NASA, to convey China’s dead to the moon until such time as China’s space industry can take over. This is just one last-ditch, hopeless struggle being fought by a dying superpower against a rising star. As my contact expresses it, “These guys have bailed out our economy and stuffed the pockets of ordinary Americans with dollars so that they can buy Chinese-made goods. We are already economically enslaved, dammit. Now they want to annexe our space exploration capability, and there’s not a thing we can do to stop them.”
Even though, under international agreements, the moon belongs to no one, this cuts no ice with the Chinese. Said my contact: “These treaties are as much use as tits on a boar hog. I mean, who’s gonna go after them and stop them?”
I decided to check out these allegations with the Chinese embassy in London. After the usual interminable delays I was finally put on the line to someone willing to speak to me, a Mr Lim Yu Zin. He asked me to describe exactly what I had heard. Then, with immense politeness, he responded, “Sir, I regret to inform you that I cannot possibly comment.” As he spoke I could hear in the background both suppressed laughter and open-mouthed guffaws.
I hope to bring you further updates to this story on the same day next year.