Chung Kuo – The Wheel Turns…

Chung Kuo

Why would Jim Beeland Rogers, Jr., – one of America’s most prescient and successful investors – sell his New York City mansion for $16m and move himself, his family, and his life to Singapore at age 65? Why is his first daughter, now 7 years old, being tutored in Mandarin to prepare her for the future? Why would he say “If you were smart in 1807 you moved to London, if you were smart in 1907 you moved to New York City, and if you are smart in 2007 you move to Asia”? In an interview on CNBC in May of 2008, Rogers said that the people of China are extremely motivated and driven, and he wants to be in that type of environment so his daughters are motivated and driven. He also observed that this is how America and Europe used to be. In a recent (last week) interview with Cavuto, he advised all Americans with children to get them into Mandarin Chinese studies so that they would have a leg up in communicating with the movers and shakers of the future.

Civilizations rise and fall, political systems come and go. America’s birth helped to precipitate the remarably rapid descent of Great Britain from a colossus astride the world (remember: “The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire”?) to an island backwater perpetually in America’s shadow.

And now it’s OUR turn. The Wheel Turns.

It’s not surprising that I would, at 64, have difficulty comprehending that America began to unwind during my lifetime. Intellectually, I knew from adolescence that nothing could last forever, but just as I couldn’t imagine a world without me in it in those tender years, I couldn’t imagine a world with America in decline. And when in my thirties I DID begin to understand the inevitability, I saw it in some distant future, myself absent from the earth; through a glass, and darkly.

About fifteen years ago, my son Colby and I read a series of David Wingrove speculative fiction books called Chung Kuo. Chung Kuo is also the Wade-Giles romanization of the Chinese word for China. The books are primarily set 200 years in the future in mile-high, continent-spanning cities made of a super-plastic called ‘ice’. Housing a global population of 40 billion, the cities are divided into 300 levels and success and prestige is measured by how far above the ground one lives. Some – in the Above – live in great comfort. Others – in the Lowers – live in squalor, while at the bottom of the pile is ‘Below the Net’, a place where the criminal element is exiled and left to rot. Beneath the cities lie the ruins of old Earth – the Clay – a lightless, Stygian hell in which, astonishingly, humans still exist. These divisions are known as ‘the world of levels’.

In addition to the world of levels, there are the great meat-animal pens and sprawling, vast plantations to feed the population. There is also activity in beyond Earth. The ruling classes – who base their rule on the customs and fashions of imperial China – maintain traditional palaces and courts both on Earth and in geostationary orbit. There are also Martian research bases and the outer colonies, with their mining planets.

Originally published between 1988 and 1999, Wingrove planned the series as nine books (three trilogies), but after publication of the seventh volume Wingrove’s publisher insisted that the series be concluded in the next (eighth) volume, Marriage of the Living Dark.

In February 2011 Corvus/Atlantic Books will begin an ambitious re-release of the entire Chung Kuo saga, recasting it as twenty books with approximately 500,000 words of new material. This includes two brand new prequel novels, Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain and a significant restructuring of the end of the series to reflect Wingrove’s original intentions. The two prequels will cover events between 2045 and 2100 AD, telling the story of China’s rise to power. Once again, interesting science fiction of twenty years ago comes to reflect present-day trends and realities and to foretell what lies ahead.

The prequels should be particularly interesting and germane to our present circumstances.

These books aren’t for the faint-hearted; they’re thick, lots of detail. But the writing is fine, and they are very worthwhile. I think I’ll start at the beginning and re-read them all.

Here’s the story that made me write this. I started out to post just the link with a sentence of explanation, but…you know how that goes.

Here’s a link to a sharp little animated cartoon illustrating how the Chinese view Hu’s State visit to America.


Zhǔnbèi hǎo ba – Prepare yourselves.

This entry was posted in Civics, Devolution, Entropy, History, Military Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

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