井底之蛙

1/3/2006

Why you could not be the Son of Heaven

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:58 pm

Late last night I found myself watching TV, and there was the World’s Strongest Man competition, taped in Chengdu last October. Apparently the competition consists of very large men carrying very large things around and puffing a lot. As it was in China they added a special event, the “ding carry” I can’t find a picture of the one they used on the web, but they had a large bronze ding (the three-legged kind) and the contestants had to see how far they could carry it.

A man with no neck explained to the audience that a ding () is an ancient symbol of China. Actually, it is much more than that. It is one of the forms of bronze ritual vessels that were used to make sacrifices to the ancestors. Yu the Great made a set called the Nine Bronze Tripods which had the names of all the dangerous creatures in the world on them, and thus gave the owner, the Son of Heaven, the ability to control nature. They became a symbol of the authority of the Son of Heaven, and both the Shang and Zhou kings held on to them as symbols of their position. As the authority of the Zhou kings declined various feudal lords tried to get their mitts on them. On one occasion the Tripods ran away from an evil usurper (hey, they have legs.) When the First Emperor tried to drag them out of the Yellow River a dragon cut the rope and they fell back in, never to be recovered. Chiang Kai-shek put them on his currency.

One interesting aspect of this is that the weight of these ding were a topic of some importance in the Warring States period. There was a story (In the Zuo, I think. 20 minutes of searching did not find it) about one of the feudal rulers asking how much the Nine Tripods weighed and how hard it would be to move them. He was told they were too heavy for him to move. The answer, it turns out, is that a ding weighs 175 kg. And to be the Son of Heaven you need muscles like this.

Pudzoanow

This is Manusz Pudzoanow of Poland the eventual champion. He carried the ding 90 meters, and I think he could have gone further.

The other interesting thing, of course, was that the event was in China. Apparently the assimilation of China to the modern world of sport and spectacle is proceeding apace. If China had managed to get an event like this 15 years ago they would have held it in Beijing and lots of bigwigs would have turned up. Now it only rates Chengdu.

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