Frank and Nick: Is the Provisional Agreement a Really Shrewd Move?

The Taiwan website Storm Media has offered a rationale of sorts for Pope Francis’s “provisional agreement” with the Chinese government on the status of the Catholic Church in China: “Toward China, ‘A Daring Advance to the East,’ with a Deliberate Choice to Remain Silent: Is Pope Francis a ‘Cold Machiavellian’?” (December 23 2018).   Continue reading Frank and Nick: Is the Provisional Agreement a Really Shrewd Move?

Divination Song (卜算子)

Sheng. Mao.(ca 1310-136)); ink and color on paper









Li Zhiyi (ca 1048-1117

You live near the river’s source

And I where it has run its course

I see you only when I dream

And yet we drink from the same stream.

The water keeps on flowing,

My yearning keeps on growing.

I wish your heart were like my heart

And we’d no longer dwell apart.

(Sort of.) For a contemporary musical rendition by the late much lamented Theresa Deng (, 1953-1995), see here

The Provisional Agreement, a Month or So Later

Joseph Zen Ze-kiun

The New York Times has published an extended critique by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun (陳日君—Mandarin pronunciation: Chen Rijun), Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, of the September provisional agreement between the Vatican and Beijing, whereby the Vatican agrees to recognize those Chinese bishops appointed by the political authorities (via the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association), and the political authorities in turn allow the Pope a veto over the appointment of future bishops. Zen asserts that the Pope has been fooled both by the Chinese authorities and by his own bureaucracy. The Pope is an Argentine and all of his life has seen communists as the oppressed. He does not understand that when they gain power they become the oppressors. The Pope desires that the official and underground communities in China come together again, but the consequence will be “the annihilation of the real church in China.” “If I were a cartoonist,” Zen says, “I would draw the Holy Father on his knees offering the keys of the kingdom of heaven to President Xi Jinping and saying, ‘Please recognize me as the pope.’”

Continue reading The Provisional Agreement, a Month or So Later

Han Feizi on How to Get Your Way

with the Boss, Your Spouse, Your Lover, Anyone in a Position to Help You or Harm You

“If you indulge him and humor him, you may ride on his back.” (Silk painting, Warring States era (475-221 BC))


The dragon is a gentle beast. If you indulge him and humor him, you may ride on his back. But beneath his throat there are transverse scales a foot long, and if you touch those scales, he will kill you. The lord of men also has transverse scales. Someone who is able to avoid touching the ruler’s transverse scales is well on the way to mastering the art of persuasion.

This is a passage from the Han Feizi, considered to be one of the early masterpieces of Chinese prose. The book named for its assumed author, Han Fei (c.279-233 BC), the major thinker in the “Legalist” tradition. The Legalists believed that the way to public order was through a strict set of laws rigorously and impartially enforced. They assumed human beings were inherently self-seeking: each one of us is out for one’s self. The way to stable order is to assure that good behavior, as set forth in the laws, is rewarded, and that violations of the laws punished. Good behavior will then accord with self-interest. There is much in Han Fei’s thinking that is consistent with contemporary rational choice theory.

Continue reading Han Feizi on How to Get Your Way

Vatican’s Deal with Communists Risks Undermining Chinese Catholics

Catholic Church in Old Dali, Yunnan Province

On September 22, the Holy See announced it had reached a “provisional agreement” with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. This deal may undermine Chinese Catholics, many of whom may secularize or go Pentecostal. Or the deal may subtly undermine the Communist Party’s authority by recognizing some papal authority.

For the full analysis, see here: