And dar'st thou, then, To beard the lion in his den....? (Sir Walter Scott)
While he lived, none dared defy, as if grasping by the beard, that prince who styled himself Ch'in Shih Huang-ti, the "First Emperor of China," the "Tiger of Ch'in." He dedicated himself to foundation of an empire he declared would endure "10,000 years," and to construction of a wall "10,000 miles long."
We cannot fault his claims in modern times, for despite lengthy periods of military chaos and political upheaval, 2,000 years later China survives as he formed it--a centralized bureaucratic state. His Long Wall, object of the greatest restoration project in history under the present Communist government, figuratively girdles the earth to hold all Overseas Chinese in thrall to the preservation of the many-splendored culture it was designed to protect.
Shih Huang-ti began the Great Wall in response to the dream that warned him "to fear not the tigers of the South, but the roosters of the North." Himself from the Northwest, and thus sensitive to the menace of the more northerly nomads, he sought to unite China's numerous feudal states by building an extensive system of roadways and canals. In connecting them physically, he succeeded, but in trying to overcome traditional distrust between North and South, he failed.
Separated by the natural barriers of climate, mountainous terrain, and the two great rivers of the Midlands--the Yellow and the Yangtze--the wheat growers of North China and the rice growers of South China have never seen eye to eye in China's 46 centuries.
Two rhyming couplets in northern dialect formed a verse familiar even today in the streets of Beijing: "Fear not Heaven, fear not Earth, but be wise in fear of the Cantonese." This ancient bigotry of the North toward the South expressed itself in many modern phrases embodying such sentiment--"the Cantonese loves only himself"; "the treachery of the Cantonese"; "the Southerners are people who always leap before they look." Northern poetic imagery named early frost, a great destroyer of crops, as "the white tiger of the South." On their part, the Southerners were equally unforgiving of the North.
Transposing their mistrust of each other to Western society as suspicion of any "foreign devil"--be he Caucasian, or Chinese with other roots--Chinese immigrants found themselves face-to-face with American prejudice against anyone not white, nor Anglo-Saxon, nor Protestant. They were therefore quick to extend metaphorically the Long Wall as the unseen guardian of their right to thrive in a Chinese culture no matter where in the world they might be. With one out of every four persons alive today a Chinese, perhaps they cannot be considered naive for expecting acceptance of so chauvinistic a claim.
The Chinese also brought with them to America a tradition very much alive in the 20th century, whereby boys from 12 to 16 were snatched from apprenticeship or school and taken by Chinese warlords to be soldiers. This tradition was practiced by the greatest warlords of all, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong.
The teen-age perpetrators of the Golden Dragon massacre--sprung from the overwhelmingly Cantonese population of Hong Kong--were nurtured in four vast shadows: the Long Wall of silent mistrust; the boy-armies of Chiang's Nanking government; the youthful Red Guards of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and the estimated one million worldwide membership in the Triads, 10 percent of which comprise a Chinese Mafia. The 13- to 17-year-olds of Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge, and the increasingly younger adherents of Japan's criminal empire, the Yakuza, should not go unmentioned.
That their kind proliferated in the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown, following the belligerency of American youth during the death throes of the Vietnam War, should have come as no surprise.
But Ch'in Shih Huang-ti willed another legacy to his kingdom, apart from a unified bureaucracy and a very Great Wall. As did the Romans to the Western world, the "Tiger of Ch'in" left a code of law to the Chinese, promising punishment without compromise to every criminal in the land. So it came to pass that once the Long Wall of silence was breached, and the bamboo tigers of the Golden Dragon had been ensnared, a fourth shadow fell over them, from which there was no escape: retribution for the crime.
Fortunately for Tom Yu and his Joe Boys, a comparison between interrogation methods imposed by Shih Huang-ti and those employed by American police stopped far short of the "checkerboard" scourge decreed by the "Tiger of Ch'in" for conspirators. In that discipline, squares of flesh were sliced from the culprit's frame as inducement to full confession and the naming of all co-conspirators. Such "checkerboarding" often led then to continued "slicing" until there was no more flesh to peel.
Under American law, the bamboo tigers were simply brought to trial, to be bearded like the lion in his den.