Thursday, June 9, 2016

THE EUNUCH WHO BECAME A GOD (repost)

Odds are, this blog entry would be in Chinese – were it not for a twist of fate that made the mighty Ming dynasty turn isolationist after the death of Admiral Zheng He in 1433.

I remember reading about the exploits of China’s legendary eunuch admiral, Zheng He (sometimes rendered Cheng Ho), as almost a casual footnote in the history books. All the big names in navigation were, of course, European: Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus. Occasionally I’d come across a reference to Leif Eriksson’s discovery of North America in 1001; or an apocryphal tale of some intrepid (or gloriously intoxicated) Irish monk crossing the Atlantic in a coracle centuries before Columbus stumbled upon the West Indies.

It wasn’t till fairly recently that the world has seen a resurgence of scholarly interest in the geopolitical significance of Zheng He’s Seven Voyages between 1405 and 1433. Gavin Menzies published in 2002 a best-seller called 1421 in which he postulates that Zheng He had despatched a few ships from his gigantic Treasure Fleet to explore the oceans west of Africa, and that the Chinese had successfully circumnavigated the world a full century before Magellan (more on this at www.1421.tv). Menzies suggests, furthermore, that Zheng He’s scoutships may have visited North America (where Ming pottery shards were recently unearthed), sailed as far south as Australia, and perhaps even the Antarctic. The eunuch admiral’s navigators produced detailed maps which found their way to Europe, initiating a fever of maritime exploration at the beginning of the 16th century that saw Portugal, Spain, Holland, and England competing for supremacy at sea as a means to world domination.

In any case there can be no doubt whatsoever that the absolute master of the global seaways in the 15th century was Admiral Zheng He - loyal emissary of the Ming Court, supreme commander of the imperial Treasure Fleet, fearless explorer, and diplomat extraordinaire. Eunuch jokes aside, Zheng He was a ballsy larger-than-life hero who towered above his peers at a standing height of nine Chinese feet (approximately six-foot-eight by modern measure).

Zheng He’s name at birth was Ma Sanpao. He belonged to a Central Asian tribe known as the Semur which converted to Islam before migrating to Yunnan Province. When the Chinese army invaded Yunnan in 1382, the 11-year-old Ma Sanpao was taken captive, castrated, and given as a personal slave to Prince Zhu Di, who seized the Ming throne from his elder brother Zhu Yunwen in 1402, proclaiming himself Emperor Yong Le (“Everlasting Joy”). During Zhu Di’s military campaign against his sibling, Ma Sanpao distinguished himself as a cunning and fearless fighter. Yong Le was determined to extend tne glory of the Ming Dynasty to the far ends of the earth. Having rebuilt the Great Wall so that China’s rear end was covered, he conferred on Ma Sanpao, his brave and trusted eunuch warrior, the nom de guerre “Zheng He” and offered him the title, “Admiral of the Western Seas.”

Atmospheric cutaway of a Chinese Treasure Ship from the voyage of Zheng He in 1405 (Stephen Biesty 2011)

Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng He embarked on seven voyages that established Chinese naval and diplomatic supremacy in 36 countries - including Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, The Philippines, Brunei, Java, Aceh, Temasek, the Melaka Sultanate, Siam, India, Ceylon, the Maldives, Persia, Arabia, the Swahili Coast of Africa, North America, and the Pacific Islands. Zheng He’s fleet was truly massive. One biographer writes: “No other nation on earth had ever sent such a fleet onto the ocean. It included sixty-two large ships, some 600 feet long, larger than any other on the seas. Hundreds of smaller vessels accompanied them.” On certain voyages Zheng He’s Grand Fleet carried as many as 28,000 crew and the decks were lined with huge tubs of earth for planting vegetables and fruit trees. Fresh bean sprouts - and tofu in every imaginable form - were a staple diet at sea, providing the crew sufficient nutrients to minimize scurvy on long voyages.

Emperor Zhu Di was succeeded in 1424 by his son Zhu Gaozhi, whose 9-month reign was fraught with palace intrigue and financial anxiety. He ordered an abrupt halt to all treasure ship expeditions and concentrated on internal affairs, believing that China’s security lay in a robust policy of agrarian reform. Some researchers speculate that, during the 8-year hiatus between his sixth and seventh voyages, Zheng He was charged with the establishment of an Imperial Intelligence Agency, a prototype CIA, in effect.

The next Ming emperor, Zhu Zhanji, ascended the throne in 1425 and was somewhat more outward-looking, reinstating the practice of receiving tributes from far-flung vassal states – but it wasn’t till January 1432 that Zheng He embarked on his last and largest voyage with 317 ships. Sensing it might be his final journey, the Admiral erected a stone pillar - inscribed with a detailed account of his previous voyages - at a temple in Chang Le on the Fujian Coast dedicated to the Celestial Spouse (a Taoist goddess). In the 1930s this important artefact was rediscovered, leading to a revival of academic interest in Zheng He’s remarkable accomplishments.

According to most accounts Zheng He (already ailing before he set sail) died on the return voyage in 1433 and was buried with full honors at sea; but we shall never know if he was reunited with his “missing parts” as was customary for imperial eunuchs. The Chinese believed that the deceased could otherwise never reincarnate as a man. Emperor Zhu Zhanji survived Admiral Zheng He by only two years and his passing marked the end of China’s seafaring era. Confucian court advisors advocating national introversion overruled the imperial eunuchs who sought to build upon Zheng He’s maritime achievements. The great shipyards at Longjiang were shut down, Zheng He’s voluminous journals were removed from the imperial archives (and destroyed or stolen), and in 1500 it was decreed that anyone building seaworthy vessels with more than two masts would be sentenced to death. In 1575 the emperor ordered the arrest of all merchants trading with foreigners and the destruction of all oceangoing ships. And thus the torch of naval exploration and systematic colonization passed into European hands.

Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, 51 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka

Melaka’s central location on the sea route between the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal made it Zheng He’s main port-of-call on all seven of his voyages. In 2005, to mark the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s first naval expedition, the multimillion-ringgit Cheng Ho Cultural Museum was officially inaugurated in Melaka, on the riverbank site of the Admiral’s original godown.

This massive project was funded by private capital largely raised by well-known Zheng He authority, Professor Tan Ta Sen, and the Gwei family (who contributed hundreds of priceless porcelain pieces to the excellent Ming exhibit on the second floor).

According to Gwei Tze Co, who took me on a tour of the museum, part of the godown also served as living quarters for one of Zheng He’s captains, whose descendants can still be found in various parts of Malaysia. He showed me a couple of wells dug during Zheng He’s stopovers, a source of potable water after all these centuries. Admiring a gilded bust of the Eunuch Admiral in the foyer, I sensed that this wasn’t so much a museum as a shrine to a great hero of antiquity who has attained cult status in certain quarters. Indeed, Zheng He devotees in various parts of Central Java continue to revere him as a deity every year in a ritual procession from Semarang’s Tay Kak Sie temple to a mysterious cave temple called Gedung Batu, said to have been built by Zheng He’s master pilot.

The Cheng Ho Museum also features a life-sized tableau commemorating Parameswara’s visit in 1411 to the Ming Court, where he was formally recognized by China as the King of Melaka. A Sumatran prince-in-exile, Parameswara sought refuge from his enemies in a sleepy fishing village on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula in the late 1390s and transformed it into the great Kingdom of Melaka.

Parameswara is recognized as King of Melaka by the Ming Emperor

Other exhibits include maps, paintings, a scale model of the Treasure Fleet, maritime artefacts from the Ming era, and dioramas offering a vivid glimpse of life amongst the Chinese community in Melaka after Zheng He’s arrival. If you happen to be in the vicinity, a visit to the thoughtfully appointed Cheng Ho Cultural Museum at 51 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka, will prove stimulating and thought-provoking. View an audiovisual introduction to Zheng He, or purchase books and DVDs on his remarkable transformation from eunuch to deity. Call 606-2831135 for more information.

[This article first appeared in The Hilt, December 2006. Uploaded 27 February 2007, reposted 14 November 2014]



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I KNOW WHO KILLED NURIN (revisited)

Nurin Jazlin Jazimin was only eight when she went missing on the night of August 20th, 2007. Twenty-six days later a young girl's naked body was found stuffed into a gym bag and dumped outside a shophouse. DNA tests indicated that the dead child was indeed Nurin. The cruel, perverted manner in which the child was molested and killed traumatized the entire nation. Apparently, Nurin's abductors had violated her with such vicious force, the poor child suffered internal hemorrhage from a ruptured rectum and succumbed to bacterial infection.


To date, Nurin's abductors and murderers have yet to be apprehended and brought to justice. Four men and a woman were picked up, questioned and subsequently released for lack of evidence linking them to the hideous crime. Then a 23-year-old Indonesian woman was arrested in Nilai, whereupon she swallowed a SIM card. She was admitted to the Universiti Malaya Medical Center where she refused to eat for days, but nurses finally managed to get her to purge the evidence. We'll never know what the Indonesian woman was trying to conceal because any data on the SIM card she swallowed proved unretrievable after prolonged immersion in her gastric juices. In any case I have found no follow-up reports on the results of the police investigation. What happened to the SIM-card-swallowing woman? Who was she anyway?

It would appear there are a lot of dark, dire secrets and unsolved murders in Malaysia - perhaps because the trail sometimes leads where it isn't supposed to go.

Like everybody else, I was deeply troubled by reports of Nurin's disappearance and the nightmarish manner in which she was murdered. And, sadly, Nurin just happens to be the most sensational case in recent years of child abduction, rape and murder - perhaps because she looked so utterly adorable. Everybody saw in Nurin a vision of their own precious and beloved child. To me, Nurin was the perfect symbol of the whole country - a beautiful, innocent soul with infinite potential, embodying all the exotic charm and irresistible allure of the Orient, and carrying the great hope in all our hearts for a wonderfully bright and joyful future.

Nurin was Malaysia's poster child, the fragrant flower of a dozen family trees and five hundred generations of fortuitous miscegenation. Only good things were supposed to happen to Nurin Jazlin Jazimin, not a fate so macabre you wouldn't wish it upon your worst enemy's children.

So who killed Nurin?

Nurin's dad, Jazimin Abdul Jalil, buries another dream; meanwhile, criticized for his incompetence, Police Inspector-General Musa Hassan threatens to charge Nurin's parents with "negligence."
It was the distillation of all the unresolved anger, moral debility, hypocrisy, unmitigated greed, powerlust, resentment, disillusionment, repressed and thwarted sexuality in our collective unconscious. The accumulated psychosis of century upon century of unexpressed hostility against the order of the day. All the behavioral shortcomings of megalomaniacal monarchs and their willing minions; every cover-up of every transgression that has ever been perpetrated against the helpless, powerless, and the vulnerable. Every disrespectful act ever directed against the Sacred Feminine by a misogynist patriarchy, more concerned about maintaining its public image than with correcting its private misdemeanors. Every untruth ever uttered by a politician, every erotic indiscretion denied or glossed over, every malicious thought harbored in the minds of those that misgovern, every instance of hubristic and ruthless power abuse by control freaks in high office who were granted the authority to inspire and lead - but instead misused their status to exploit, enslave and disenfranchise.

DEAD OR MISSING, PRESUMED DEAD: what's the link between sexual repression
and child murder-rape?
Indeed, it was all the sins of all the Fathers visited upon one excruciatingly adorable child. And the Mothers, too, for silently abetting and conniving with, over so many centuries, this systematic rape of innocence and beauty and truth.

Every one of us is guilty of murdering Nurin who keeps quiet and shrugs whenever an unjust law is legislated into being by myopic, pusillanimous, self-serving parliamentarians - laws like the Internal Security and Police Acts that allow the State to arrest, torture and detain political dissenters without habeas corpus and forcibly disperse peaceful public gatherings.

Censorship policies that favor violence over eroticism: wherein it is permitted to view humans being punched, kicked, knifed, shot and blown to smithereens - but scenes of tender passion like lovers kissing and harmless amorous acts expressing affection are strictly forbidden, labeled "immoral" or "sinful" by religious hypocrites.

In a nation where a grown man or woman can be accused, publicly humiliated, subject to a mock trial and sentenced to nine years' jail for allegedly indulging in consensual anal or oral sex - but fabricators of evidence with evil and malicious intent are promoted to top positions in government where they are given the power of life or death over others - there is little chance of survival for the beauty, truth, and innocence that Nurin symbolized.

Here we are, shedding crocodile tears for victims of our own moral apathy - whether they be abductable 8-year-old nymphettes or street-savvy 22-year-old urban guerrillas with suspected links to criminal syndicates - while the most corrupt, spendthrift and murderously vindictive woman in the country preens herself before a gilded mirror in preparation for her debauched spouse's utterly undeserved rise to the highest position in the land...

Just knowing that millions (perhaps even billions) of ringgit have been squandered to prop up this grotesque travesty of human decency, truth and justice makes me shudder. And whenever I hear people robotically sing the praises of our "great" former leader, Dr Mahathir - the man who gave us Putrajaya, the Petronas Twin Towers, and massive delusions of grandeur, in exchange for the nation's soul - I make it a point to take a dozen deep breaths... access my genetic archives... reclaim my divine heritage... and declare to the entire cosmos...

HELL, NO! HEAVEN, YES!!!

[First posted 3 February 2009]


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Another case of much ado about nothing (reprise)



Many years ago I met a Sufi master whose profound understanding of Islam truly impressed me.

But before I continue with this story, let me state that almost all the Muslims with whom I have had close friendships have either been Sufis - or were gravitating towards a mystical interpretation of Islam. The mystical approach is experiential and private; whereas ritualistic religion is regulated by public behavior and therefore tends to be tribalistic in nature.

I find it impossible to have an intelligent conversation with fundamentalists of any persuasion - whether Muslim, Christian or whatever. This is because fundamentalism is antagonistic to intelligence. Wherever violence erupts over religious differences, fundamentalism is invariably the root cause. Brawn and brute force override brain and heart when independent thinking is suppressed.


Looking up the word "fundamentalism" in my trusty digital dictionary, I found this concise summary:

"Islamic fundamentalism appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries as a reaction to the disintegration of Islamic political and economic power, asserting that Islam is central to both state and society and advocating strict adherence to the Koran (Qur'an) and to Islamic law (sharia), supported if need be by jihad or holy war."

There you have it. Fundamentalism is basically an outward manifestation of ego insecurity. An entire tribe or nation can suffer from ego insecurity and seek refuge in hardline dogmatism and fanaticism. You could say it's a pathological condition and, as such, can be quite easily cured - once the hidden hand behind the reactionary forces is revealed and surgically amputated.

In every case you will find that the chief puppetmaster isn't even a believer. He cynically exploits the gullibility of the mindless mob and manipulates its collective pain-body through control of the mass media and law enforcement.


Coming back to my Sufi friend who enlightened me about the essence of Islam. He pointed out the significance of a triconsonantal syllable in Arabic and Hebrew which expresses peace, harmony and wholeness: the Arabic SaLaM and Hebraic ShaLoM are the commonest embodiments of this key to being truly muSLiM.
Sin-Lam-Mim (Arabic: س ل م‎ S-L-M; Hebrew: שלם‎ Š-L-M) is the triconsonantal root of many Semitic words, and many of those words are used as names. The root itself translates as "whole, safe, intact."
[Wikipedia]
Note that this triconsonantal syllable forms the root of the words "Islam" and "Muslim." This places the frequency of peace, harmony and wholeness at the very core of Islam and any sentient being that consciously aspires towards attunement and harmonization with the Whole of Existence is intrinsically Muslim.


When one has embraced the essence of Islam, no other rules apply. All observances, injunctions and rituals (specific to a historical and sociocultural context) immediately become irrelevant and meaningless and fall away of their own accord. As such, Islam in its pure, essential form can be said to be the ultimate guide to attaining cosmic equilibrium and liberation from illusion. This is precisely the teaching of wu-wei  found in the Tao Te Ching and it corresponds perfectly with the highest aspirations of Zen Buddhism. It also resonates effortlessly with the concept of yoga or sacred union with the Godhead or Source.

What about the name "Allah"? Does it have a special meaning? My learned friend explained that the word, written as Al-Lah means The Great Void - or The Nothingness from which Everything was born. In other words, Source.

Every Tibetan Buddhist aspires to return to and consciously merge with The Great Void. The Nothingness is a key element in Chaos Theory which postulates that Order (structured existence or an actualized state of being) emerges either randomly - or as a focused expression of desire and will from the Primordial Chaos (Infinite Potentiality). It all makes perfect sense to me.

The mystical understanding of Allah and Islam frees us from a narrow and limited distortion that can only lead to divisiveness and discord. Indeed, the way my Sufi friend explained Islam made me instantly receptive and I realized that this was truly a sophisticated philosophy with universal appeal and cosmic wisdom. No compulsion, no harsh and punitive rules, no exclusivity.


Alas, the crafty hoodlums who rule over unthinking mobs must of necessity opt for the most demented, inane and constricted interpretation of any belief system in order to have any control over the untutored passions of their flock. They will set up formal councils and academies to determine the parameters of belief and behavior and vigorously persecute (and even execute) anyone who preaches any form of "deviancy" from the orthodox doctrine.

We have seen what the Spanish Inquisition (which lasted from 1478 till 1834) was really about - the brutal and violent suppression of religious dissent and heresy for the benefit of a corrupt and greedy ruling elite. In this day and age we need a Malay Inquisition like we need a hole in the pocket.

Allahu Akbar! The Nothingness is All! So why so much ado about NOTHING?



[First published February 2010, reposted  5 August 2013]