In the first case Obama is comparable to Li Shimin, arguably the greatest emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). No, Obama did not kill two brothers in his fight for the crown, like Li Shimin did, and his campaign language was admirably more civil (and smarter) than his opponents. What reminded me of Li Shimin was Obama's big heart in choosing Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State.
After Li Shimin killed his oldest brother, Jiancheng, the crown prince who had tried to poison him, Jiancheng's key advisor, Wei Zheng, was arrested and sent to be beheaded. Legend has it that, knowing how talented Wei was, Li Shimin tried to convince Wei to work for him in exchange for a pardon. Wei refused, citing the Chinese moral "a loyal minister does not serve two Majesties." Li Shimin was touched by his loyalty and, at the last minute, just before the executioner's blade fell on Wei's stubborn neck, pardoned him anyway.
Then Wei was touched and convinced he should serve Li, reasoning that, only a great emperor could forgive an obstinate rival advisor like himself. Wei became a key minister in Li Shimin's imperial court after that.
The Tang regime under Li Shimin has been hailed by historians as one of the most prosperous periods in Chinese history, and stories of Wei Zheng bluntly admonishing the emperor to abandon bad policies (and behaviors), at times again risking beheading, are very popular. There is a consensus among historians attributing the regime's success to Li's daring in using talented rivals such as Wei, and to the guidance of ministers like Wei who dared to speak up and give wise, at times harsh, policy advice.
As an emperor, Li Shimin had taken over a messy job from his predecessors. Before his crowning, a border war with
The situation Obama faces now is not unlike Li Shimin's, with the remaining mess of wars to clean up, and a huge grim financial crisis to deal with. It is a difficult time that calls to use the able, whether they are friends or rivals. We have already witnessed Obama's wisdom in using capable past rivals to fill key positions; we now also hear that Hillary Clinton, as reported in The Economist, "has forgone any ambitions for higher office, preferring to make her tenure as American's chief diplomat the pinnacle of her career." So that's good – it makes me feel
By now you can see that I have been praising Obama by comparing him with Tang emperor Li Shimin favorably. My second comparison, however, is more ambivalent.
Now the scale of Obama's inauguration and the heavily publicized train trip remind me of Emperor Qianlong in Qing Dynasty (1611-1911). "Qianlong goes south of the
(image from www.997788.com)
An earlier Qing emperor and Qianlong's grandfather, Kangxi, also made six "southern inspection" tours from
CNN reported today that "In Baltimore alone, some 40,000 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the cold to greet Obama as he stopped on his way to his Tuesday inauguration. His welcome was raucous and animated, as the sea of people cheered, waved and took pictures." His response was calm, but I don't know if he felt like an emperor.
Kangxi and Qianlong were hailed as the two greatest emperors of the Qing Dynasty. The difference is, the most prosperous time began with the thrifty Kangxi and ended with the luxuriating Qianlong.
In terms of his inaugural extravagance, Obama is more like Qianlong. I asked my American husband if such extravagance is really necessary, and Bob said "it is the tradition" that each
One thing I know: the bigger the inauguration is, the bigger the expectations (and thus the potential disappointments) people might have. Such big promise might not be to a president's advantage.
Well, I have made the odd comparisons that are bound to meet some protest. If Obama is like Li Shimin, we might be heading for prosperity again. If Obama is like Qianlong, his term will be the end of the good times. If he's in between, well, then we might see a situation in between. Of course the comparison goes beyond Obama. Many of our political leaders are so caught up in their own parades they could easily miss what is happening to people.
This said, I must say I'm very much encouraged by the report that "Before getting on board the train in Philadelphia, the president-elect implored Americans to commit to a new declaration of independence -- rejecting ideology and bigotry -- as he acknowledged the nation faces severe challenges." (my bolding) .