Surely you are familiar with The Little Prince, written by Antoine de St. Exupery? Maybe, in the halcyon days of your childhood you curled up in your parent's lap and listened to the voyage undertaken by this Prince? Perhaps you read it by yourself, when you got a little older? Maybe you have seen the movie, or even heard it on the radio.
In case you haven't, let me summarize.
The Little Prince, on a voyage across the universe, happens on a pilot – an Earthling, stranded in the desert with his crashed plane.
“Please, draw me a sheep.” was the Little Prince's opening gambit.
Our aviator, very much preoccupied with earthly concerns such as his dwindling supply of water, the fear that he might not be able to repair his craft, and a snake that wends its way sinuously through the story, initially fears he might have lost his mind, for there was nothing but sand, as far as the eye could see.
“Please, draw me a sheep.”
How could the Little Prince have known, coming from far across the stars, that this aeronaut had once aspired to become a great artist? Unfortunately, his elephant-inside-a-boa-constrictor drawings resembled hats and, persuaded by the adults in his life, he soon gave up his dream of art. And now, this odd little man, this prince, in white breeches and a long blue coat, with his hair as fair and fine as cornsilk, wanted him to draw a sheep.
Through the various sheep presentations – that one is too sickly, that one appears old, we learn that the Little Prince's concern is less for a sheep than for what he left behind.
The Little Prince's home is an asteroid. It has 3 volcanoes: 1 active and 2 extinct, that he cleans regularly. He gardens meticulously lest baobab trees take over his little planet. His drifting rock is so small he can witness the sunset thirty-seven times simply by moving his chair a bit.
He left his home on a quest for knowledge and has traveled far and wide, and met interesting – and some not-so-interesting people. Now, on Earth, lonely, homesick and tired of traveling, he asks for a sheep to accompany him on his long journey home.
And why would he want to go back to that churning bit of rock, when the whole universe is his to travel?
Because his asteroid has one feature that he absolutely loves.
The Little Prince's Rose is a character onto herself. She blew onto his planet and sprouted – nearly was eradicated because our Prince thought she might be the beginning of a baobab! Avidly curious, he watched her grow and finally bloom, and he was captivated by this capricious Rose who demanded so much of him.
Did his heart break when he left her behind? I think he didn't realize how much he loved her, when he left her. Still, he had to have an inkling of his feelings to be so concerned that she might catch cold from the night air, or that a tiger might get her.
“I have my 4 thorns to protect me” Rose boasted.
Four thorns! Against tigers or chill air! What will those 4 thorns do against all manner of danger?
China reminds me of The Little Prince's rose: staunch, proud and believing that all she has – and all she is, is enough to protect her against anything, when those four thorns are not nearly enough to defend herself against all the ills of modern society. That the sheer sovereignity of being Rose is enough credibility, China believes. That her delicate beauty is reason enough to be loved, in spite of her caprices.
In another time, on another planet, four thorns might have been enough to defend itself from the world. But not today.
Of course, beyond the enchantment of this classic tale we find that, really, his Rose is all that matters to the Little Prince. He might have continued on his journey had he not seen a garden full of roses and realized his Rose is not very different from that whole horde of bobbing, nodding roses. Still, the flower back home is special because she is his.
And this very love for what is uniquely China enraptures the Chinese. In spite of global social advances, in spite of the bias (against the poor, against women) and hardship of traditional life, people here cling to their mores, no matter how damaging they can be.
I await the time when China will realize, as the Little Prince did, that one's singular -albeit remarkable qualities is not enough to engender unconditional acceptance. I wait for China to find its place on the global stage, no better or worse a country than any other.
But then again: I wait for other countries to adapt to not being better or worse than the rest of the nations, too.