Wolf Warrior Diplomacy

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A little over two years ago, I made a rather detailed post on Lycogala epidendrum, commonly known as wolf's milk or groening's slime, and its metaphorical applications in China:

"Wolf's milk, a slime mold attractive to young Chinese?" (4/7/18)

During the interim, the popularity of this lowly amoeba has only grown, until it has become the model for an aggressive style of diplomacy on the world stage called in Chinese "zhàn láng wàijiāo 戰狼外交" ("wolf warrior diplomacy").  Synergistically, it has joined forces with another microoranism, this one called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), also known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and a host of other names that I will refrain from mentioning here for fear of pushing the wrong buttons (this is highly fraught topic, one that must be treated delicately, lest one stirs up a hornets' nest of conflicting onomastic opinions).  Together, COVID-19 and wolf warrior diplomacy have brought the world to the brink of pandemic strife.

In "1900 & 2020 — An Old Anxiety in a New Era:  Viral Alarm", Geremie Barmé has gathered together a rich assemblage of relevant materials and put them in a historical context going back to the Opium War (1839-1860). This is by way of preface to a powerful, gut-wrenching essay by Zi Zhongyun,資中筠 (1930-) titled "Gēngzi nián de yōusī 庚子年的優思" ("An Old Anxiety in a New Era
1900 & 2020"), translated and annotated by Barmé.

The following essay focuses on the disturbing resonances between the xenophobic extremism of late-dynastic Qing politics and recent developments occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, the author notes the resonances, if not the repetition, of unsettling themes and tropes in two ‘gengzi years’: 1900 and 2020. (A ‘gengzi year’ 庚子年 occurs every thirty-seven years in the traditional sixty-year lunar calendrical cycle. In modern times, and in the popular imagination, ‘gengzi years’ are associated with disaster and hardship: the gengzi year of 1840 coincided with the First Opium War with Britain; 1900 was the year of the Boxer Rebellion, discussed below; and 1960 marked a particularly harrowing period during the Great Famine that followed the Great Leap Forward.)

Nothing new under heaven.  The cycles keep coming back, ever more virulent.

The ongoing bane of wolf’s blood.


Selected readings


  1. David J Moser said,

    April 29, 2020 @ 5:47 pm

    Thank you, Victor (and to Geremie Barme), this is a fascinating and vital assemblage of materials. I'm acquainted with Zi Zhongyun, and find her to be one of the most courageous and clear-sighted intellectuals of her generation. Great to see this important article translated and distributed.

  2. Bathrobe said,

    April 29, 2020 @ 7:39 pm

    Barmé's Eating Chinese — a historical banquet from 2006, which you linked to at an earlier post, was fascinating for its focus on the explosion of Chinese gastronomy in recent decades. It provided great context for phenomena like the almost obscene obsession with food by many Chinese, from the spectacle of people taking far more than they can eat at buffets, to the appetite for wild animals that (by all accounts) led to the current crisis.

  3. Robert said,

    April 29, 2020 @ 10:08 pm

    "A 'gengzi year' 庚子年 occurs every thirty-seven years in the traditional sixty-year lunar calendrical cycle."
    I don't understand this statement when the "gengzi" years being discussed are all 60 years apart. And is it just a coincidence the 60 year cycle aligns with "0" years in the CE calendar?
    P.S. my autocorrect thinks "gengzi" should be "gandhi"

  4. cameron said,

    April 29, 2020 @ 10:25 pm

    @Robert: I think the line "A 'gengzi year' 庚子年 occurs every thirty-seven years in the traditional sixty-year lunar calendrical cycle" is poorly worded. What was meant was that a gengzi year occurs in the 37th year of each 60-year cycle. Hence gengzi years would occur 60 years apart.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    May 1, 2020 @ 4:20 am

    And is it just a coincidence the 60 year cycle aligns with "0" years in the CE calendar?

    The cycle of 60 is already present in Shang oracle bone inscriptions, so to the extent this question is meaningful the answer must be "yes".

    However, I don't see that the 60-year cycle does align with the CE calendar; what's special, or "aligned", about year 37 in one calendar being year 40 in another calendar?

    Any year in the cycle of 60 that lines up with an Anno Domini year that is a multiple of 10 will always continue to do so, since the cycle of 60 repeats every 60 years, and 60 is a multiple of 10. There will obviously be 6 such years†, no matter where cycle year 1 falls Anno Domini.

    † Assuming the Chinese year and the Christian year start on the same day, which is false for most of history.

  6. Kate Gladstone said,

    May 1, 2020 @ 12:01 pm

    I think the pastor would have beter expressed his meaning by saying: “You’re never too bad to come in, and you’re never too good to come back.”

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