Empathy in the Time of Coronavirus – Interlude (III)

Happier times, Longji, Guangxi Province, China

There’s a story associated with the above picture that is insightful and funny, and interestingly relevant in these times.

I was in China, spending time in the Pearl River Delta, where I was visiting various factories in Shenzhen and Dongguan, in an attempt to understand manufacturing changes in China. I decided I also wanted to visit rural China, so I could better understand the demographic changes happening across the country, to understand why people would move to the Pearl River Delta. I had a talk to give in Guilin, which is famous for the upright karst formations and the Lijiang River.

Countryside outside Guilin
Lijiang River — note construction cranes on the edge of this scene

So my guide and I went to Guilin, and planned a side trip to Longji (The Dragon’s Back), in the mountains, famous for its terraced rice paddies. Longji is also in the heart of the Zhuang ethnic minority, people who do not identify as Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China.

Stairs — always stairs

We stayed in a broken down hotel with little water, and the infamous hard Chinese beds. After we checked into the guesthouse, it was time for a stroll up and down the mountainside. Anyone who’s been to China will tell you that mountainous regions are famous for steps, and Longji was no different.

Longji rice terraces

At various places, there were overlooks. And on those overlooks were young women dressed in native costumes. For a fee (something like $2 US) they would pose with you. There were three on this particular overlook, and two were being pushy. The young woman in this picture, though was holding her peace off to the side.

So I selected her. We had a very fun 10 minute situation where we posed in the standard poses. I bowed and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. She smiled.

I then continued around the rest of the loop, using my bad Mandarin to raise hell with the old women who occupied a different town square up the mountain. “Why are you not wearing a wedding ring?” they asked. “Because I’m not married,” I replied. “But you should be married,” they said. I replied “But I have no money!” They started laughing. “Well that’s why maybe you shouldn’t be married!”

Some humor is truly transcultural.

After the remaining walk, I trundled down to the small bar in the village, ordered up a Tsingtao, and sat down. There was Wifi, and I turned on my computer.

After about five minutes, a beautiful young woman came walking directly toward me, in modern dress (she had a Tommy Hilfiger sweater on,) literally making a beeline. It startled me a bit, as she stuck her hand out. Of course, she was the young woman earlier up on the hill, in the costume.

With the aid of Google Translate, we spent a delightful hour of conversation. She explained to me her life. “1/3 of the season, I am getting a B.A. in Accounting in Guilin where I go to school. 1/3 of the time, I am in the costume, making money for my family and to help pay for school. And 1/3 of the time, I am helping my father behind the Shui-Nyu (the water buffalo) planting rice.”

Lots of shui-nyus everywhere

What she had offered was a view into a transitional society — one moving from Tribal value sets, that were obviously still very strong, to a future where Performance/Goal-based thinking and Legalistic/Algorithmic rule processing would dominate.

Understanding this is vital in communicating with people about the virus. Different Value Sets will be receptive to different messaging, with different complexity. I am writing for the top of the complexity stack in my posts. But if you want to communicate down the stack, you have to realize people can only understand what they are developed to understand.

An example. If I were coaching her on what to tell her grandmother, this is what I’d say. “Nǎinai/Ama, I love you. And now, to honor you, I will take care of you as you stay in this corner of the house and do not go out. One day, you will play with my grandchildren.”

It’s not that hard.

A prosperous historic village outside Guilin – Not Longji


Closer to the Western milieu, for all those that are authorities, I would recommend remember the Little Prince — especially, when the Little Prince visited the planet where the King had set up shop.

From the book, online here (Chapter 10) —

For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.

“If I ordered a general,” he would say, by way of example, “if I ordered a general to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not obey me, that would not be the fault of the general. It would be my fault.”

“May I sit down?” came now a timid inquiry from the little prince.

“I order you to do so,” the king answered him, and majestically gathered in a fold of his ermine mantle.page28image3814125184

But the little prince was wondering… The planet was tiny. Over what could this king really rule?

“Sire,” he said to him, “I beg that you will excuse my asking you a question−−” “I order you to ask me a question,” the king hastened to assure him.
“Sire−− over what do you rule?”
“Over everything,” said the king, with magnificent simplicity.

“Over everything?”

The king made a gesture, which took in his planet, the other planets, and all the stars.

“Over all that?” asked the little prince.

“Over all that,” the king answered.

For his rule was not only absolute: it was also universal.

“And the stars obey you?”

“Certainly they do,” the king said. “They obey instantly. I do not permit insubordination.”

Such power was a thing for the little prince to marvel at. If he had been master of such complete authority, he would have been able to watch the sunset, not forty−four times in one day, but seventy−two, or even a hundred, or even two hundred times, with out ever having to move his chair. And because he felt a bit sad as he remembered his little planet which he had forsaken, he plucked up his courage to ask the king a favor:

“I should like to see a sunset… do me that kindness… Order the sun to set…”

“If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry

out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?” the king demanded. “The general, or myself?”

“You,” said the little prince firmly.

“Exactly. One much require from each one the duty which each one can perform,” the king went on. “Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.”

Here is hoping that our authorities remember that their subjects are under stress, and ask what is reasonable. Empathy is the cornerstone.

3 thoughts on “Empathy in the Time of Coronavirus – Interlude (III)

  1. The local Fire department now has many people who tested positive for COVID-19.

    I was talking to some last night in front of the building where i am currently staying—the person I know who lives there with his wife and hangs out on the same corner i sit on to read or play guitar–i suspect also set that place on fire by mistake.

    . the FD managed to put it out within an hour.

    (the other local building down a few blocks owned by same company that owns this was completely burned down a couple years ago. That displaced 300 people—they were throwing babies out the windows. i think the only person who died was the person who set the fire. 3 shootings on that block also a couple weeks ago. )

    I suspect the person who i think set the fire—it was on his floor– is also a petty theif and ‘crackhead’ .

    (his wife is always selling bus tokens and panhandling, and a bike owned by someone i know mysteriously dissapeared after he walked by it—it wasn’t locked up — most people around here dont touch things which are not theirs— he denied to me that he knew where it was.
    but he just moved here from south carolina.)

    Today it seems like i have the coronavirus. Headache, fever, cough, and finally today ‘shortness of breath’—almost couldn’t make it to the beer store.(when i did, and sat out in the sun for awhile reading, i felt better.

    https://necsi.edu has a few things on coronoavirus. https://ariv.org/abs/physics/0312062 was also in my reading material–i used to print everything i found interesting on www –i’m glad my printer doesnt work anymore. i printed out enough.

    I’ve had the flu off and on all winter (and dont get no flu shots because almost everytime i go to a hospital i come out, cured, and then immediately am sicker than when i went in. (last time someone took me to a hospital for a mild case of pneumonia—they said i’d be out in 3 days which turned into 6 week on life support since i got a bad reaction to medicines and then sepsis.)

    I got a bill for 220,000$ (3500$/day) which i couldn’t pay—had no insurance. they discounted it to 8-15G$ which i gradually paid off. i think i got that pneumonia because i went to one of these (‘fake’) environmental/social justice 3 day 24/7 protests with the ‘compassionate’, caring and also paid’ activists (since they aren’t CEOs of big companies they decide at least they can order around people at protests for a good cause, and get paid doing it. If you are nice and respectful (perhaps empathetic), can memorize ‘the party line’, they may appoint you to a position of authroity so you can order people around and get paid2.

    Its interesting in 6 weeks i can get hospital treatment costing more than i have made my entire life, but i can’t get a reasonable job that pays 10-20G$/year. (I was told either you go into student debt so you can get a ‘good job’ , or you get a job like removing and breathing lead paint which doesnt require a phD–the people who employ you have those. and some will also give bonus pay in cigarretes and alchohol on top of your 10-15$/hour so you will be sure to come back for more .)

    Maybe talking to the fire department was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. i’ve also been told to wear a jacket if its 40F or lower otuside but i don’t.

    I’m just self-qurantining and drinking only fluids and go to the park and stay away from everybody. I also dont plan to tell anyone i may have this—they may know if its gets too bad. i’m not going to a hospital. college students already are handing out free vegetarian food and soap on the street. they put it 6 feet away from you.

    china has some weird looking mountains or rocks, and terraced farms–i imagine that took alot of work.


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