Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fortune or Calamity? A Gift for Chongqing's Indicted Police Chief

In recent weeks, the news that Chongqing has cracked down on a large organized crime network commanded attention not only from Chinese people but also major Western media. (Update: even CNN is belatedly reporting it now .) WSJ, for example, calls the crack-down "sensational." To be sure, there indeed are sensational details surfacing in the investigation, and one of them is the story of the "Oh Fortune Oh Calamity" stone monument.

In August, I wrote in this space a post titled Chongqing's Judicial Chief Shot off Horse, about the arrest of Wen Qiang, a long time police boss and newly appointed judicial chief. I just read another Chinese report about the investigation of Wen's crimes, with astonishing anecdotes that don't come up in the English reports, and I thought I should share one of those with you.

Among the huge amount of wealth Wen Qiang acquired for being the umbrella for gang crimes and local government corruption is a luxurious villa worth over 30 million Yuan (about US$ 4.4 million), located in the scenic area of Wulong. Wen did not spend a penny on it: a local official gave him the land as a gift, and a developer built him the villa as a gift.

In the villa's yard is a stone monument weighing over one ton. In the front of the monument are carved four characters in seal script: 福兮祸兮, which can be translated to "Oh Fortune Oh Calamity." The phrase comes from Lao Tzu's famous line, "In calamity lies fortune, in fortune lurks calamity" ("祸兮福之所倚,福兮祸之所伏"). On the stone's back is carved 永安宫 ("Yong'an Palace"). The base is a turtle with a snake wound on its back, two animals that symbolize "fortune" and "calamity" respectively.

It is an unusual looking stone, but Wen Qiang had no clue as to its origin. Neither did the police investigators who found it after Wen's arrest. Experts of cultural relics were called to appraise it, and that brought out the story.

During the Three Kingdom period, in year 222, Liu Bei, the emperor of the Shu Kingdom, anxious to avenge his blood brother Guan Yu's death, brought an army 200,000 strong to attack the Eastern Wu Kingdom, despite Zhuge Liang's advice against doing so. The consequence was that nearly all of Liu Bei's army was destroyed by an 800-mile fire set by East Wu's general Lu Xun. The defeated Liu Bei retreated to a small town on the Yangtze and renamed it to Yong'an – "forever safe." It was there that the miserable and gravely-ill Liu Bei had the "Oh Fortune Oh Calamity" stone monument made, hoping it would bring a change to his and the Shu Kingdom's bad luck. He ended up dying there the next spring, leaving behind the ever-circulating tale of "Liu Bei entrusting sons" to us Three Kingdoms fans.

The original stone monument is still at the site of the Yong'an Palace, located in Fengjie County now part of Chongqing. I found a travel info webpage that provides a panoramic view of the monument and the historical site.

The stone Wen Qiang got was a replica. The person who gave him the "gift" had told him that the turtle and snake represent emperors and their highest court officials; only such important people could have the monument at their residence; and "Chief Wen is exactly such an important official in today's China." Wen Qiang admitted that he was very pleased to hear the flattering words.

It is reported that, after the investigators relayed the ancient story to Wen Qiang, he mocked himself by saying that his calamity today had been foretold by the "Oh Fortune Oh Calamity" stone when he received it five years ago. Now in detainment, he keeps saying to his guards "It's good to be an ordinary person. Ordinary is fortune."Well, his regrets came a tad too late.

Wen Qiang's trial has not started yet. It will certainly be interesting. It is good that Wen Qiang is down, but a more important investigation is still needed into the nature of the soil that nourishes wide-spread gang crimes and police corruption in Chongqing.

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