On Tian An Men, Laurence Tribe, and the Mandate of Heaven

So it’s now the 6th of July (George W. Bush’s birthday, just by the way) and it looks like Tian An Men on the Potomac has been averted by the brave tweeting of the panic-stricken.


Just for future reference, here’s a little compare and contrast exercise:

I’m feeling a little discursive today, so I thought I’d point out that Tian An Men, 天安門, means “Gate of Heavenly Peace” — through which it now appears the Chinese Communist government delivered more than 10,000 peaceful supporters of democracy.

Tian An Men Square, 天安門廣場, is at the Entrance to the Forbidden City — the Imperial Capital — and has been the focus of protests for a hundred years at least.

It’s called 天安門事件 (tian an men shi jian), the Tian An Men Incident or even “the Tian An Men thing” because it would be impolite to call it a massacre. Except in the People’s Republic, where you can’t even search for 天安門事件. Seriously: here’s the search on Google. You don’t have to read Chinese — just scan down the list of sites, looking for “cn” as the top-level domain. None at least on the first page, although a number from “tw,” Taiwan.

So then people started to refer to 六月四日事件 as the “Fourth of June Incident,” or 六四事件, “the 4th of June thing.” Don’t bother Googling that ether. You can find some “cn” links, for example on Baidu, China’s Twitter — but they lead to “404 page not found” pages. In fact, the number 8964 — 八九六四 — is considered suspect.


(Chinese really is a wonderful language. 天安門開了 — “the Gate of Heavenly Peace is open” — means “your fly is unzipped.”)

On the Fourth, I posted a piece: We May Consent To Be Governed But We Do Not Consent To Be Ruled. I was a little surprised at one bit of controversy when several people objected to the notion of being “governed.” Referring to the dictionary, we find that “to govern” means to “conduct the policy, actions, and affairs of (a state, organization, or people),” while “to rule” means to ” exercise ultimate power or authority over (an area and its people).”

It’s a useful distinction, and one that’s largely been lost, especially among the self-proclaimed “higher classes.” At the beginning of Obama’s first term, Valerie Jarrett committed a Kinsley gaffe when she said Obama would be “ready to rule on day one”:

I don’t think she thought twice; she said what she meant. The clerisy, the “higher classes,” do believe they are entitled to rule, and that it’s the place of the government to rule the people — not to merely conduct the affairs of state with the power they are delegated.

That’s certainly what the Chinese government thinks, and there’s a long history in China that assumes the current government has “the mandate of Heaven,” Tian ming (天命) and can do anything — until it loses that mandate. They are entitled to rule — and they demonstrated that belief, and continue to demonstrate it now.


The brilliance of Jefferson’s geometrical logic was that it denied any government could have the Mandate of Heaven; it was always subject to the limitations of “Nature and Nature’s God.”

Tribe and the left fear two tanks and two Bradleys on the Mall because in their hearts, they don’t accept that the government exists to merely to carry out the affairs of state; they truly believe it has the Mandate of Heaven to rule.

They fear Trump in the presidency because they think the government has a right to absolute power, a power which only they are qualified to control. Tribe doesn’t realize it, but his Gate of Heavenly Peace is open and has exposed him for what he really is.


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