Thursday, 07 August 2014

Maria’s Secret

Maria sat on the edge of her bathtub, looking straight at the display window of the test stick. She kept staring at it, in disbelief, after a pink line appeared first faint then distinct. She put her face in her hands and sobbed.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Renewal of Buddhism in Mainland China and its Interaction with the Government

Since the reform and opening up policy ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, Buddhism in mainland China is experiencing a dramatic revival. Out of the five major religions in China, it is in fact the one which has taken the most advantage of the conditions created by the government. Millions of tourists, Chinese or foreign, who take trips in China each year can attest to the fact that a large majority of the most popular sites are Buddhist shrines, constructed, or rebuilt within thirty-odd years. Almost entirely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the religion of Buddha Sakhyamuni rises from its ashes today with a surprising vitality, which shows his willingness to take his place in contemporary Chinese society and, as in the past - even more perhaps than in the past - to play a leading role in the modernization of the country.

According to official statistics, there are now more than13,000 buddhist temples in China, and about 200,000 monks and nuns. There are more than 3,000 temples and monasteries for Tibetan-language Buddhism, that is to say, lamaism, with 7 million faithful belonging to various ethnic groups, mainly Tibetans and Mongols, and about 120,000 monks and nuns. Pali-language Buddhism, mainly practised among various ethicities in south and south-west Yunnan, has around 1.5 million practitioners, with 8,000 monks and nuns in more than 1,000 temples and monasteries. The temples and monasteries of the Han nationality, which constitutes the main body of the Chinese nation, number around 9,000, with more than 70,000 monks and nuns.

Another sign of vitality is that several buddhist studies institutes have been also set up or reopened, with a view to training an elite class of monks and nuns with a deep spiritual life combined with a high level of education. This has resulted in many monks and nuns having a good knowledge of their religion and of modern sciences and they have already started to contribute to the propagation of Buddhism and to its dynamic integration in the socialist Chinese society of the 21st century. The first one was the China Buddhist Institute, reopened in Beijing, at the Fayuan Si (法源寺) in 1980.

All these achievements, and many others, have been possible only with the help and under the control of the government. The majority of temples, monasteries, and institutes which have been restored or rebuilt after the Cultural Revolution have received a substantial amount of financial support from state organisms, and the various activities which take place in them are subjected to the approval of the authorities, just like the other religions in the country. The extraordinary revival of Buddhism observed presently in China shows that the government is itself directly interested in the progress of a religion which, in the past, has played a decisive role in chinese history and civilization.

To better understand this interaction between Buddhism and the Chinese government, it may be useful to look back on the two thousand year history of Buddhism in China. It appears clear from the outset that the religion that came from India could take root and grow in the Middle Kingdom only with the support of civil authorities. This is clearly recognized by Master Dao An (道 安) (312-385) , a renowned translator and interpreter of Buddhist Scriptures of the Eastern Jin dynasty, which laid down the principle that "without the support of the leaders of the country, the affairs of the Dharma are not on solid ground." This principle, which somehow summarizes the history of the establishment of Buddhism in China, is also a kind of axiom that defines the line adopted over the centuries by the Sangha. The fate of the temples, their prosperity or decline depends on good relations with the state. What we read in the Annals of the Guoqing temple (國清寺) (Zhejiang) can be said of the vast majority of temples: "Over the centuries, the Guoqing Temple flourished and widely spread the Dharma thanks to the magnanimity of princes and emperors; wars and the contempt of the powerful led to Buddhism's decline. The Buddhsit tradition has continued uninterrupted - from profliferation to decadence and from decadence to profliferation - such is the characteristic of the history of the age-old development of the Guoqing Si". Zanning (贊寧) (919-1001), a Buddhist Master and author of Biographies of eminent monks of the Song Dynasty said one day: "Buddha entrusted the Dharma to kings and ministers." He was probably referring to two sutras now considered apocryphal, but which had throughout the history of China a decisive influence on the attitude of the princes towards Buddhism: the Humane King Sutra1 and the Golden Light Sutra2. In "entrusting the Dharma to kings and ministers," Buddha not only entrusted to them the protection of religion, but by this very fact gave them an authority allowing them to exercise direct control over the Sangha. The history of the temples shows that they are the ones who allowed the construction of monasteries, and often provided at least part of the funding; they also gave the temples their official names by the gift of an inscription together with an official seal, thereby giving it right to exist; they, also, were the who appointed the priors (fangzhang) of the main temples and give them the title of "national master" or "imperial master."

In short, the existence and activities of monasteries depended on their goodwill. They also often depended on their generosity, for princes and emperors like to be magnanimous and to give lavish donations: liturgical instruments, paintings, calligraphy, poems, precious objects, Tripitaka and so on, which make and enrich the cultural patrimony of the temples.


Naturally, the rulers of China's history were not all in favor of Buddhism, as evidenced by the great persecutions of the religion at various times, especially in the time of Emperor Wuzong (武宗) (841-845) of the Tang dynasty. But we can mention here, by way of illustration, the names of some of them who exerted the most positive influence on the development of Buddhism:

  • Liang Wudi (梁武帝) (502-549) He was the most fervent and the most liberal of the sovereigns of the Southern Dynasties, who were all favourable to Buddhism. A great supporter of the Sangha, he was nicknamed " the Bodhisattva Emperor"; leading his subjects to observe the Precepts, he entered himself on several occasions in a monastery, and built numerous temples, including the Kaishan Si (開山寺, now Linggu Si 靈谷寺), in Nanjing, to honour the memory of his favourite adviser, the Monk Bao Zhi (寶志).
  • Wu Zetian (武則天) (684-704) considered herself as the mother of Buddha, and the incarnation of Maitreya. Having formerly spent three years in a convent of Bikkhunis, she showed a special fondness for Wutaishan, where she built several temples and pagodas, donating to the mountain's collection of books, statues and valuables.
  • Kubilay Khan (1214–1294) From Kubilay (Shizong世宗), the founder, to Shundi (順帝), the last of the dynasty, the rulers of the Yuan dynasty were all fervent supporters of Buddhism, on which they lavished presents and favors. The number of temples increased, and the monastic population grew in a spectacular way. The most famous Lama was Basiba (八思巴), whom Kubilay named an imperial Master and his Prime Minister; he gave him the imperial seal and appointed him Great Pontiff of the Central Plain, enjoying authority over all Buddhists in the Empire. Basiba created the written language which bears his name; it entered common usage in 1269, and was the official language throughout the whole Yuan dynasty.
  • Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋) (1368-1398), the founder of the Ming dynasty had been a monk during his youth, and showed a great interest in Buddhism, both in terms of his personal convictions and for political motives. He helped it develop and organize, drawing up strict rules for admission to the Sangha and for monastic discipline.
  • Kangxi (康熙) (1662-1722) considered himself as the incarnation of the Wuliangshou Buddha (Buddha of Infinite Life, i.e. Amithaba). He visited the sacred mountain of Wutaishan five times; among other significant gestures, he conferred on the Great Lama of the Pusa Ding lamasery the seal of Governor, and ordered all the Authorities of Shanxi, including the Governor of the province and the General commandant of Datong, to pay him tribute. He had the great halls of the temple covered with glazed yellow tiles, a colour normally reserved for the buildings of the imperial family.
  • Qianlong 乾隆 (1736–96) considered himself the incarnation of the bodhisattva Guanyin. He visited Wutaishan six times, each time leaving laudatory signs of his passage, in the form of poems and calligraphy. At the death of Yong Zheng, he transformed the former Palace of the latter, the Yong He Gong, into a lamasery with imperial colours, conferring to Tibetan Buddhism one of the most prominent and most envied position in the heart of the Capital.
  • Cixi 慈喜 (1835-1908) also considered himself the incarnation of the bodhisattva Guanyin. She liked to be called "Laofoye" (老佛爷), meaning the old Buddha.

These examples and many others in the two thousand year history of Buddhism in China, show that when he "entrusted the Dharma to kings and ministers," the Buddha Sakyamuni actually secured the establishment and development of the religion in the Middle Kingdom.

The support of the princes demanded that Buddhists of the country made a commitment to promote national prosperity, security and stability. This responsibility was assumed largely by those of the members of the Sangha to whom was conferred the honorary title of "national master" 國師 or "imperial master" 帝師. Advisors to the sovereigns, they controlled the organization of monastic communities on the ground, and with their prestige and influence, contributed to the legitimacy of the central power. This was the case, for example, of Fo Tudeng (佛圖澄) (232-348), senior adviser to Emperor Shile (石勒) of the Zhao, thanks to whom Buddhism became the official religion of the kingdom3; of the national Master Kumarajiva (鳩摩羅什) (343-413?) whose unmatched quality of translations' ensured Buddhism a leading position); of Xuanzang (玄奘) (ca 600-664), who, without having the official title of national master, enjoyed the exceptional favor of the emperor, and made Buddhism in China a privileged religion; of the national master Amoghavajra, also known as Bukong (不 空) (705-774), who was one of the most powerful monks politically in the history of China, whose great religious authority consolidated the power of the leaders and promoted the prosperity of the country; of the national Master Chengguan (澄觀) (738-838), the fourth patriarch of Huayanzong, the School of the Flower Garland, who was the spiritual master of seven successive emperors; of Basiba 八思巴 (1235-1280), national then imperial master under Kubilay Khan, who worked efficiently for the political rallying of Tibetans; of Yishan Yining (一山一寧) (1247-1317), who was made responsible for restoring Sino-Japanese relations that had been broken off after the attempted invasions of Japan by Kublai Khan, in 1274 and 1281; and of many others. Besides the influence of these "national " or "imperial" masters, the inculturation of Buddhism on Chinese soil, and its uneven but continuous development for two millennia, were obviously also due to many other monks and lay Buddhists whose moral authority and writings were equally, if not more, critical, and whose action developed also in the framework of bilateral relations with the authorities.

This interaction of Buddhism with the civil and political power has been a constant phenomenon in the history of China. It explains both the success of the religion of Buddha Sakhyamuni in the Middle Kingdom, and the interest, as a whole, that princes and emperors granted it. During the celebration of the two thousandth anniversary of the introduction of Buddhism in China in 1998, Ven. Jing Hui (凈慧), vice-chairman of the Buddhist Association, could declare without fear of being contradicted: "Buddhism was introduced to China two thousand years ago. During these two thousand years, Buddhism has always played an obvious role of purification of the heart, it has raised the moral level, ensured the peace and the stability of the country, favoured national unity, protected the environment, assisted the poor and the needy. It has exerted a very deep influence on the politics, the economy, the culture and the popular customs of our country..."

The spectacular revival accomplished by Buddhism since the reform and opening up policy of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, shows notable similarities with the past in the process of the interaction between the religion of the Buddha and the country's leaders. Different as it is from the feudal dynasties, the socialist system of the People's Republic of China exerts on Buddhism, like on all religions in the country, a similar function of support and control, while the Buddhist communities, for their part, are invited to help with promoting national stability, unity and prosperity. The axiom formulated by Master Dao An in the 4th century is still true today, implicitely, the relations of Buddhism with the government: "without the support of the country's leaders, the affairs of the Dharma are not on solid ground."

The government's support and control effect change today through the Buddhist Association of China, whose objectives are clearly defined in the statutes: "The aims of B.A.C. are to assist the government to implement the policy on freedom of religious affairs , to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Buddhist circles, to propagate Buddhist teachings, to develop Buddhism under its traditions, to unite Buddhists nationwide, to work for the happiness of people as well as the prosperity of the country, to make contributions for the unity of the motherland as well as world peace." With the exception of Tibet, these objectives seem to meet no opposition in the country, and have actually favored the extraordinary revival made by Buddhism in the limited space of about thirty years. Thus can we make a connection between the role formerly entrusted by the rulers to their "national " or "imperial masters" and the institutional role assigned today by the government of the People's Republic of China to the Buddhist Association of China. The high-ranking officials in this association, exercise a moral and political authority that make them resemble the "national masters" of the past, and enjoy, both in China and abroad, a reputation that greatly favors the interests of Buddhism on the national and international levels, as well as the growing influence of traditional Chinese culture in the world.

In an important speech at the UNESCO on March 27, Xi Jinping (習近平), the President of the People's Republic of China, stressed the need to promote exchanges and mutual sharing of knowledge among civilizations. This speech, the first of a Chinese head of state before this organization of the United Nations, puts focus clearly as never before on the value and meaning of traditional Chinese civilization, to the extent of being called the manifesto of the renaissance of Chinese civilization:

"Having gone through over 5,000 years of vicissitudes, the Chinese civilization has always kept to its original roots. Unique in representing China spiritually, it contains some most profound pursuits of the Chinese nation and provides it with abundant nourishment for existence and development. Though born on the soil of China, it has come to its present form through constant exchanges and mutual learning with other civilizations..."

Buddhism originated in ancient India. After it was introduced into China, the religion went through an extended period of integrated development with indigenous Confucianism and Taoism and finally became the Buddhism with Chinese characteristics, thus making a deep impact on religious belief, philosophy, literature, art, etiquette and customs of the Chinese people.

It goes without saying that, for the president of the People's Republic of China, this interaction of Buddhism with the Chinese people means also interaction with the leaders of the nation. On behalf of the whole country, Xi Jinping points clearly to a certain direction:

"the Chinese civilization, together with the rich and colorful civilizations created by the people of other countries, will provide mankind with the right cultural guidance and strong motivation".

Thus, among all the world's civilizations, the thousand years old Chinese civilization appears to be a rich and potentially most effective partner. A civilization that encompasses traditional religions and philosophies, especially Buddhism, which has become over the centuries an essential component of Chinese culture. While showing, as we have just seen, the direction to be taken, the president of the People's Republic of China also expresses the hope placed by the Chinese people and their leaders in the Buddhist religion to promote the international role of China on the cultural level. The interaction between Buddhism and the Chinese authorities will from now, more than anywhere else, manifest itself in the traditional civilization "going out" beyond the frontiers in order to exert, within the alliance of civilizations of mankind, an influence commensurate to its thousand years old history.

Echoing the keynote speech of Xi Jinping at UNESCO, Buddhist circles are now committing themselves in turn to promote Chinese culture internationally. Ven. Xue Cheng (學誠), vice-chairman of the Buddhist Association of China, and one of the most prominent personalities of the Sangha, likes to emphasize the fact that Buddhism is, of the three religious components of China, the one which has had and will have the greatest influence. After being propagated in East and South East Asia. Buddhism has now extended its reach to Europe and the USA, and acts as a powerful vehicle for the revival of Chinese culture.

"If we hope to see Chinese culture, including Buddhist culture advance in the world", said Ven. Xue Cheng, "if we hope to see the civilization of China make an even greater contribution to the civilizations of mankind, we must above all 'go out' , go into all regions of the world, learn languages and understand the cultures of different countries, and in a process of continual self-improvement, allow the Chinese culture to bring happiness to men, and Buddhist culture, by the spiritual quality of compassion, bring freshness in the world."

This is also the conviction of Ven. Yong Xin (永信), abbot of Shaolin Temple (少林寺) and renowned vice-chairman of the Buddhist Association of China. The Shaolin Temple, by touring martial arts in the world, not only makes known the essence of traditional culture, but still more spreads this culture outside of China, helping China's culture "go out" into the world, expand its influence, and strengthen exchanges with other countries. Thjis is the crucial role that Shaolin Temple wants to play under the dynamic leadership of its abbot.

In "going out" of China, Chinese Buddhist culture will help expand the influence of Chinese civilization in the world, while the international rise of China, which is on the way to becoming a major economic and political power, will promote the extension of Buddhism in many countries. The interaction between the religion of the Buddha and the Chinese authorities, which has proven itself for two thousand years, takes on now a new dimension, at the global level.

Christian Cochini s.j.
Hongkong, June 19, 2014


For the original French please click here

1 仁王經, Ren wang jing. Its full name is the Prajnaparamita Sutra for Humane Kings Who Protect their Country. In some Chinese temples, this sutra is used today during prayers on behalf of the government and the country.
2 金光明經, Jinguang ming jing. It is a very important Mahayana sutra, and one of the most popular Mahayana sutras of all times.
3 The successor of Shile, emperor Shihu, promulgated an edict making Fo Tudeng a « national treasure » and granted him many privileges.

Wednesday, 02 July 2014

The Red Side of the Moon: China's Pursuit of Lunar Helium 3

This paper was presented at the "Tamkang School of Strategic Studies 2014 Annual Events" (4/25-4/27), and is going to be published by Tamkang University Press as a book chapter by the end of 2014. Two abridged versions of this paper have been published as articles on The Diplomat and The Eurasia Review, but here the paper appears in its entirety.

舉頭望明月 "Upwards the glorious Moon I raise my head." [ 李白 "Li Bai", 701-762]


When poets and lovers gaze at the Moon, they might also be looking at a clean and abundant resource that could meet the bulk of the global energy demand. In a world where energy requirements are bound to increase and fossil fuels are finite resources, the cratered satellite may offer mankind a way out of the energy conundrum: Helium-3. This element is a light, non-radioactive, and extremely rare on Earth isotope of helium that is mooted as the fuel of the future to enable nuclear fusion as a power source. It has been calculated that there are over one million tonnes of helium-3 on the lunar surface down to a depth of a few metres. Mining the Moon for the precious isotope, shipping it to our planet - and developing suitable fusion reactors - would provide clean energy for the next millennia. Alas, the costs and scientific challenges of such an enterprise would be phenomenal. Nonetheless, China - which allocates a stable and expectedly growing budget for space activities - appears determined to make it a reality of tomorrow. For years, Beijing has been systematically and patiently building up the key competence and platforms needed for an advanced lunar exploration program, under the conviction that 'walking on the Moon' is a reflection of a country's comprehensive national power. China stresses that its space program is for peaceful purposes and maintains its lunar mining would be for the benefit of all humanity. However, given the absence of wilful competitors, it is also speculated that the Chinese intend to lock up the resources of the Moon and establish a helium-3 monopoly. Thus, the question of whether China will act as a benevolent lunar dragon or create a helium-3 'hydraulic empire' might become one of immense relevance in the next decade.

Keywords: Moon, China, Helium-3, Nuclear Fusion, Lunar Exploration

1. Introduction

"Secure, reliable, affordable, clean and equitable energy supply is fundamental to global economic growth and human development and presents huge challenges for us." [World Energy Council, World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures to 2050, 2013]

According to a 2013 United Nations report, the world population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 20501. Of those future earthlings, 1.6 billion will live in India, and 1.3 billion in China2. By then, Nigeria's population is expected to surpass that of the United States3. Also, the forty-nine least developed countries are going to double in size from around 900 million people in 2013 to 1.8 billion4. In light of these figures, it is not difficult to understand that humanity is going to face an increasingly acute energy trilemma - how to simultaneously achieve and balance energy security, energy equity (access and affordability) and environmental sustainability - in the coming decades5. "Conservatively, [...] more than a nine-fold increase in annual energy production needs to be made available by middle of the 21st Century"6 and, in the not so distant future "we have to replace oil, and in the next century we have to replace natural gas - and these two, taken together, represent sixty per cent of the total energy use of every country today."7 By factoring in that, as the Chinese government's white paper China's Energy Policy 2012 states, "energy is the material basis for the progress of human civilization and an indispensable basic condition for the development of modern society,"8 it is then easy to see that the trilemma poses a really formidable and frightening challenge.

As the world's second largest energy consumer, China is paying every effort to develop clean and unconventional energy in order to quench its thirst for energy.9 Beijing is profoundly aware of the imperative of addressing the trilemma.10 In fact, powering an economy the size of China's, especially the size it will be in three decades, only by burning massive quantities of finite fossil fuels and relying on conventional nuclear power is not an option.11 Besides making China unsustainably energy insecure and growingly politically unstable, this would eventually result into the country's environmental, socio-economic and political collapse, and destructively impact the rest of the world.12 Also, the rampaging competition for fossil fuels in the international arena would generate intense geopolitical frictions, fuel regional tensions and breed armed conflicts that would make the international system savagely Hobbesian and highly flammable.13 For all these reasons, apart from investing in conventional energy sources, China is also focusing on renewable and unconventional energy, and has made it a strategic priority.14 Beijing has even officially declared war on pollution,15 and is not going to leave any stone unturned in the search for a long-term, stable, and biosphere-friendly energy source.16

China's energy policies are in a state of rapid flux, but coal and other fossil fuels are still the source of the vast majority of China's energy consumption today. Currently, coal accounts for 67 percent of the energy consumed in the Asian giant, oil is the second largest source (17 percent).17 This situation cannot be changed overnight and, as a popular Chinese saying reminds us "water from afar cannot put out a fire close at hand" [遠水救不了近火], id est a slow remedy cannot meet an urgency. For this reason, the Chinese are pouring substantial resources into and placing their bet on the most futuristic and elusive of unconventional energies: nuclear fusion. In essence, developing nuclear fusion means to develop "what has been labelled 'unconventional nuclear technologies' in order to solve the world's impending energy crisis."18 Achieving fusion requires sparking and controlling a self-sustaining 'star in a bottle', "using temperatures of 200 million degrees Celsius to get atoms [...] to fuse together, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process."19 Beijing is also actively fostering conventional nuclear power as a source of electricity generation, although it makes up only a very small percentage of generating capacity at present - a fraction that is expected to grow to 6 percent by 2035.20 However, nuclear fission power plants produce vast quantities of radioactive waste to store, have catastrophic incidents on their record, and are limited by the fact the world's uranium stocks may run out in a couple of hundred years.21 "Fusion on the other hand," as Steven Cowley - director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority - points out, "gets its fuels, deuterium and lithium, from seawater - not only in plentiful supply but easily accessed, a definite bonus for an increasingly energy-insecure China. Moreover, fusion produces no significant waste. Against the background of a global struggle to dispose of toxic waste piles, this is a weighty advantage."22

Yet, while other scientific challenges have been overcome, a breakthrough in controlled thermonuclear energy (fusion power) seems to be always 'thirty years away'. Notably, The US National Academy of Engineering regards the construction of a commercial thermonuclear reactor, as one of the top engineering challenges of the twenty-first century.23 Most fusion research has focused on deuterium and/or tritium (heavy isotopes of hydrogen) as fuel for generating fusion. Deuterium is found in abundance in all water on earth while tritium is not found in nature but can be produced by the neutron bombardment of lithium.24 However, the nuclear fusion Gordian knot could be untied by shifting to another isotope on the periodic table of elements: helium-3.

2. Helium-3: Rare under Heaven

"But when the black gold's in doubt There's none left for you or for me Fusing helium-3 Our last hope." [Muse, Explorers, The 2nd Law, 2012]

Helium-3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. Even though this gas is found naturally as a trace component in reservoirs of natural gas and also as a decay product of tritium - one of the elements used in making the hydrogen bomb - there is extremely little helium-3 on our planet.25 In 2010, University of Wisconsin-Madison's nuclear chemist Layton J. Wittenberg calculated that the potential helium-3 availability from natural and man-made resources on Earth for scientific experimentation was a mere 161 Kgs.26 The stockpile of nuclear weapons, the best current terrestrial source of the gas, provides only a supply of 15 kg circa a year. Helium-3 has applications in many domains. On the one hand, it is used in complex low temperature physical measurements as well as in certain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in hospitals. On the other hand, the gas has such valuable military applications that the US army's security services use it for the detection of dirty bombs.27 Although helium-3 is already in high demand for many reasons, it could become a universally coveted commodity thanks to its extraordinary energy properties, namely for its future use in nuclear fusion to generate electric power with no dangerous and long-lasting radioactive by-products.28

Fission power plants use a nuclear reaction to generate heat which turns water into steam which then hits a turbine to produce power. Current nuclear power plants have nuclear fission reactors in which uranium nuclei are split apart. This releases energy, but also radioactivity and spent nuclear fuel that is reprocessed into uranium, plutonium and radioactive waste which has to be safely and time-proof stored.29 For decades scientists have been working to obtain nuclear power from nuclear fusion rather than nuclear fission. In current nuclear fusion reactors, the hydrogen isotopes tritium and deuterium release atomic energy when their nuclei fuse to create helium and a neutron. Nuclear fusion employs the same energy source that fuels the Sun and other stars, without yielding the radioactivity and nuclear waste that is the by-product of nuclear fission power generation.30 However, the 'fast' neutrons released by nuclear fusion reactors fuelled by tritium and deuterium lead to significant energy loss and are immensely difficult to contain.31 One potential solution may be to use helium-3 and deuterium - "substituting helium-3 for tritium significantly reduces neutron production, making it safe to locate fusion plants nearer to where power is needed the most, large cities"32 - or helium-3 alone as the fuel in 'aneutronic' (power without emission of neutrons) fusion reactors. "Perhaps the most promising idea is to fuel a third-generation reactor solely with helium-3, which can directly yield an electric current - no generator required. As much as seventy percent of the energy in the fuels could be captured and put directly to work,"33 out-pacing coal and natural gas electricity generation by twenty percent.34

Nuclear fusion reactors using helium-3 could therefore provide a highly efficient form of nuclear power with virtually no waste and negligible radiation.35 In the words of Matthew Genge, lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering at the Imperial College in London, "nuclear fusion using Helium-3 would be cleaner, as it doesn't produce any spare neutrons. It should produce vastly more energy than fission reactions without the problem of excessive amounts of radioactive waste."36 Moreover, eliminating the use of slightly radioactive tritium in the fusion process, by using deuterium and helium-3 for fuel, also has the benefit of simplifying the engineering to meet radiation standards. Also, tritium is not an abundant, naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen on Earth, because of its short half-life of 12.3 years. For Deuterium-Tritium fusion, the tritium would have to be bred from lithium, in a blanket surrounding the inside of the fusion reactor, which is a complication that would be eliminated with Deuterium-Helium-3 fusion.37

Actually, the Helium-3 fusion process is not simply theoretical.38 The University of Wisconsin-Madison Fusion Technology Institute successfully performed helium-3 fuelled fusion experiments. To date, scientists have only been able to sustain a fusion reaction for a few seconds, but with nothing near the scale or energy yield necessary to be released for commercial use.39 In fact, the development of commercial fusion reactors is dependent upon demonstrating 'break-even': producing as much energy as it is needed to start the reaction.40 So far, deuterium-Helium-3 or Helium3-Helium 3 fusion has not yet come close to break-even.41 However, with massive investments in nuclear fusion research, commercial fusion reactors might become a reality within the next three decades.42 At that point, the demand for Helium-3 would skyrocket. Presently, even though nuclear fusion does not even work properly yet, helium-3 is so scarce and in demand that in 2010 the US Department of Energy officially lamented a critical shortage in the global supply43 and is already worth US$16 million per kilo.44

Indeed, Helium-3 is really rare 'under Heaven'. How about 'above Heaven'? Actually, the Sun - like all stars - continuously emits helium-3 within its solar wind, which consists largely of ionized hydrogen and ionized helium. The reason why Helium 3 is so rare on the Earth is that the terrestrial atmosphere and magnetic field prevent any of the solar helium-3 from arriving on our planet. However, as the Moon does not have an atmosphere, there is nothing to stop helium-3 arriving on the surface of our satellite and being absorbed by the lunar soil.45 Given that The Moon has been bombarded for billions of years by solar wind, helium-3 is available in the dust of the lunar surface.46 It has been calculated that there are about 1,100,000 metric tonnes of helium-3 on the lunar surface down to a depth of a few metres (since the regolith - i.e. the lunar soil - has been stirred up by collisions with meteorites).47 More precisely, according to two Chinese scientists, the lunar inventory of Helium-3 is estimated as 6.50×1^8 kg, where 3.72×1^8 kg is for the lunar nearside and 2.78×1^8 kg is for the lunar far side.48 Helium-3 could potentially be extracted by heating the lunar dust to around 600 degrees C, before bringing it back to the Earth to fuel a new generation of nuclear fusion power plants.49 Professor Gerald Kulcinski, Director of the Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, maintains that about 40 tonnes of helium-3 - which equate to two fully-loaded Space Shuttle cargo bay's worth - could power the United States for a year at the current rate of energy consumption, without causing smog, acid rain and radioactive waste.50 This would require mining an area the size of Washington, D.C. Besides, several other valuable materials - such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide and dioxide - will be produced in the course of recovering the helium-3.51 It comes as no surprise, then, that the gas has a potential economic value in the order of US$ 1bn to 3bn a tonne, making it the only thing remotely economically viable to consider mining from the Moon given current and likely-near-future space travel technologies and capabilities.52

3. "Upwards the glorious moon I raise my head"

"Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful." [Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun, 1224]

A team of University of Wisconsin scientists has calculated that if the entire lunar surface were mined, and all of the helium-3 were used for fusion fuel on Earth, it could meet world energy demand for over 10,000 years. In addition, given the estimated potential energy of a ton of helium-3 (the equivalent of about 50 million barrels of crude oil),53 helium-3 fuelled fusion could free the world from fossil fuel dependency, and is likely to increase mankind's productivity by orders of magnitude.54 But to supply the planet with fusion power for centuries, humanity has first to return to the Moon. Although mining helium-3 on the cratered satellite to power the Earth has been in the minds of scientists and political deciders since the end of the Apollo program in the early 1970s, to date only China has embarked on a long-term endeavour to achieve such an ambitious goal, having established a satellite-based lunar exploration program called the Chang'e Project (Chang'e is a fairy living on the moon in a Chinese legend) in 2004.55 The question is: why China? The opinion of Michael C. Zarnstorff, deputy director of research for Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, can assist in the quest for the answer. "They [China] need a lot more energy due to their increasing population, and they really want to get rid of the pollution problems they have."56 If Beijing is able to mine the lunar helium-3 and effectively use it for fusion power, then it could avert China's environmental crisis. In addition, the People's Republic would become a major energy resource player and "offer a clean energy option to countries looking to wean themselves from oil dependency."57

Besides having "lots of cash and lots of educated people,"58 China is graced with a pervasively strategic culture, according to which thorough preparedness and long-term planning are the keys to success.59 Also, China's one-party political system, in which the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is the most important factor in determining the future of the country and the generational turnover at the top happens by co-optation once a decade,60 guarantees that strategic policies are consistently implemented over many years, rather than being reneged on or upturned at every budget or change of administration as it is often the case with Western democracies.61 Normally, in the 'State of the Center' long-term plans are ably enacted by highly selected practical visionaries undisturbed by democracy's glitches62 who are acutely aware that addressing the energy trilemma is vital for regime survival and that conversion to a sustainable world economy is the only way to go. Moreover, going to the Moon to harvest helium-3 is synergistically compatible with and reflective of the values and ambitions of President Xi Jinping's 'Chinese Dream'. The 'Chinese dream' slogan was launched soon after Xi's inauguration and has quickly become the new national mantra. The expression is used to describe the aspiration of individual and collective self-improvement in Chinese society and calls for patriotic unity under one-party rule. Interestingly, the 'Chinese Dream' vision also includes a space exploration élan,63 Mr. Xi having emphasized that "the space dream is an important part of the dream of a strong nation."64 Indeed, for a country like China, spacefaring and moonwalking are greatly instrumental to consolidating its legitimacy as a rising power. And many Chinese see their space program as the symbol of their once-impoverished nation's ascension to economic and technological primacy.65

As Joan Johnson-Freese, a United States Naval War College in Rhode Island professor who researches China's space activities, has pointed out: "China's getting a lot of prestige, which turns into geostrategic influence, from the fact that they are the third country to have manned spaceflight capabilities, [...] that they are going to the moon."66 Professor Ouyang Ziyuan (歐陽自遠), the chief scientist of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program appears to agree. "Lunar exploration is a reflection of a country's comprehensive national power. It is significant for raising our international prestige and increasing our people's cohesion," he told the media. But the Moon could also become an energy cornucopia. Professor Ouyang explained that solar panels would operate far more efficiently on the airless lunar surface and believes that a "belt" of them could "support the whole world" provided the generated electricity is sent back to Earth via lasers or microwaves.67 Plus, the Moon is "so rich" in helium-3, that this could "solve human beings' energy demand for around 10,000 years at least."68 In light of the statements above, it is clear that Beijing's lunar program represents a triple-win venture. Internationally, lunar expeditions "will increase China's political influence in the world."69

Domestically, 'conquering the Moon' would bolster the consensus for the political leadership and prop up Chinese national pride. Thirdly, on the energy security side, tapping into the Moon has the potential to make China not only energy self-sufficient and secure, but also turn the Chinese into the 'helium-3 Arabs' of the 21st century, especially in case they get to enjoy the position of monopolists. China would then become not only an energy superpower able to fix its social and environmental problems, but also the center of a global helium-3 hydraulic empire.70 The "spice must flow, and he who controls the spice, controls the universe!" Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, would say.71

Officially China's lunar program has three official main goals. The first is to gain technological skill. Secondly, the Chinese scientists seek to understand the moon's evolution and compare it with Earth.72 Thirdly, "in terms of talent, China needs its own intellectual team who can explore the whole lunar and solar system." Additionally, it is acknowledged that the rationale for a long-term program is that "there are many ways humans can use the Moon,"73 and that Beijing is planning a lunar base.74 As for the exploitation of the lunar resources, on the one hand the Chinese have repeatedly declared that they are going to utilize them "to benefit the whole of mankind,"75 on the other hand, Professor Ouyang has tellingly remarked that "Whoever first conquers the Moon will benefit first."76 In order to achieve such goals and eventually 'use the Moon,' the lunar exploration program consists of three stages: 1) flying around the Moon. Respectively in 2007 and 2010, Beijing launched the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 unmanned lunar probes to circle the Moon and map its surface to get three-dimensional images of the body from space. Scientists then analyzed the information sent back by the orbiters. 2) Landing on the moon. In December 2013 the Chang'e-3 mission, incorporating a robotic lander and China's first lunar rover, reached the Moon. The wheeled rover explored the vicinity of the landing area and radar-scanned the lunar subsurface structure. The second phase of the program will be completed by the Chang'e-4 mission, incorporating a robotic lander and rover, which is scheduled for launch in 2015. 3) Returning from the moon. The Chang'e-5 mission may be launched in 2017 or 2018 to further explore the Moon and collect lunar soil, and then would return soil and rock samples to China for first-hand examination. Only after the completion of these three phases China will be finally able to land human beings on the Moon.77 According to British space scientist Richard Holdaway, China could have astronauts treading on the regolith by 2025.78

4. To the Moon (and beyond)!

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." [John F. Kennedy, Moon Speech at Rice University, 1962]

As observed by former US astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt, Chinese scientists and experts have framed Beijing's space program partially in terms of their nation's constant quest for energy and raw materials, "talking about ­helium-3 and solar power as potential energy sources on the moon, as well as its reserves of titanium, rare earths, uranium and thorite."79 This 'pursuit of lunar resources' theme has then been combined with a 'geopolitical competition' discourse conveying a sense of urgency. "If China doesn't explore the moon, we will have no say in international lunar exploration and can't safeguard our proper rights and interests,"80 Professor Ouyang declared in 2010, hinting that progress in the lunar program would confer an edge to China if and when the extraction of the Moon's riches turns political. The 15 December 2013 edition of the Beijing Youth Daily argued that "China can obtain a certificate to sharing lunar interests only by carrying out exploration and gaining actual results." It also contended: "How to protect China's interest in outer space has become an inevitable question."81 Dean Cheng, an expert on China's space program at the Heritage Foundation, got the message clear. "Once you start mining, and even before, questions arise as to ownership, as to profit-sharing (if any), as to who has the ability to establish and enforce claims in space," he said. "A long-term presence in space will give China political capital."82 Thirdly, the lunar program has been presented to policy makers and the general public as a cost effective investment. For example, the chief scientist of the program has stressed that the total spending of Chang'e-1 mission was about RMB 1.4 billion, the same amount as the money used to construct two kilometers of subway in Beijing.83 Similarly, the Chinese political leaders can be reminded that, according to experts in the US , the total estimated cost for fusion development, rocket development and starting lunar operations would be about US$15-20 billion over two decades.84 By comparison, another big nuclear fusion project (on Earth), the International Thermonuclear Reactor Project (ITER) has an estimated total cost of now €15 billion (US$20.5 billion),85 and going to the Moon to mine helium-3 would cost "about the same as was required for the 1970s Trans Alaska Pipeline."86 Actually, US$ 15-20 billion does not appear to be an excessive financial commitment for a country which is to spend US$ 1.7 trillion between 2011-2015 - in the form of investment, assistance for state-owned enterprises, and bank loans - for a plan aiming at covering 11.4 percent of China's energy needs by 2015, and 15 percent by 2020, from non-fossil energy.87

Finally, the seductiveness of China's lunar vision has been enhanced with two additional charms: China's technological advancement and solar system exploration. As for the first, Ouyang Ziyuan's speeches often mention the achievements of the US Apollo program (1963-1972) in order to illustrate the transformational characteristics of any lunar project. The Chinese scientist reminds his audiences that Washington spent US$25.4 billion on the Moon's exploration at that time, which has thus far yielded an output worth fourteen times the original investment, leading to the birth of several new hi-tech industries and technologies such as the rocket, radar, radio guidance and so on, which were then put into civil use.88 The implication is that China's Moon exploration and colonization are going to be the catalyst for revolutionary technological progress that can transform the country's entire industrial landscape and bring a galaxy of economic and social benefits.89 However, helium-3 remains the biggest gem on the selenitic crown. If it is postulated that the commercial value of helium-3 will be US$3 billion/ton,90 and defensively estimated that there are 1 million tons of the precious gas trapped in the regolith,91 then the whole stock of lunar helium-3 would be worth an astonishing three quadrillion dollars. That is more than enough to cover the costs and risks of extracting and shipping it back to Earth. Finally, it should be kept in mind that while rocket fuel and consumables now cost an average of $20,000 per pound to lift off Earth, resources could instead be carried off the Moon much more economically. Given that the lunar gravitational pull is inferior to the Earth's, 83.3% (or 5/6) less to be exact,92 transporting material from the moon requires just 1/14th to 1/20th of the fuel needed to lift material up from the terrestrial surface.93

Financial considerations apart, helium-3 would be crucial for what perhaps is the most ambitious goal of China's lunar program: setting up a lunar base and using the Moon as a stepping-stone for space exploration.94 In order to turn the Moon into an operational headquarters for scientific experimentation and further exploration of the solar system, a lunar base should be established first.95 Helium-3 would be crucial for achieving that. In fact, the immediately available by-products of helium-3 production include hydrogen, water, and compounds of nitrogen and carbon. Oxygen can be easily produced by electrolysis of water. Thus, by mining Helium-3 Moon settlers would be able to obtain the air and water they would need to make lunar colonization sustainable.96 In essence, extracting helium-3 produces the resources we need to gather more of it.97 Lunar helium-3 could also become the premier rocket fuel of the future, turning the Moon into the launching pad or a refueling service station for space-bound missions. It appears that in the permanently darkened craters of the Moon's polar regions there are significant reserves of water (ice) that can be melted, purified and electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen.98 One by-product would be hydrogen peroxide for rocket fuel. Hydrogen can be obtained also as a by-product of helium-3 mining. Yet, helium-3 would offer ginormous advantages over hydrogen if it is used a nuclear rocket fuel. As John Slough, a University of Washington's professor of aeronautics and astronautics explains, "Using existing rocket fuels, it is nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth."99 NASA estimates a round-trip human expedition to Mars would take more than four years using current technology, but according to Slough the same voyage could be completed in maximum-three-month expeditions on a spaceship powered by fusion.100 Helium-3 would then be the best candidate as fuel for the fusion engines because it is abundant on the Moon and would provide far more power per unit of mass than chemical rocket fuels.101 Moreover, helium-3 as fusion fuel greatly reduces neutron production and therefore would be the safest option for the crews of ships.102

In the light of all these elements, it is clear that China is not just re-enacting and repeating the past US space program, but intends to shape the future. Beijing's grand plan to mine lunar helium-3 should be understood as "the first step toward creating a scientific and economic revolution which will power global economic growth and open the entire Solar System to mankind."103

5. Game of Moons

"A trader from Quarth told me that dragons come from the Moon." [Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 2, 2011]

Two years before the Apollo 11 mission, a treaty was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Inked even as the race to plant a flag on the lunar soil was well underway, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty stipulated that no nation-state could ever own the Moon.104 According to the Treaty - to which 102 countries, including the People's Republic of China (which joined in 1983), are currently parties105 - Activities on the Moon may be pursued freely without any discrimination of any kind, and countries can place vehicles, personnel, stations, and facilities anywhere on or below the surface. However, as said above, neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon can become the property of any country or its citizens. In fact, a 2009 Statement by the Board of Directors of the International Institute of Space Law clarifies that: "The current international legal regime is binding both on States and, through the precise wording of Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, [...] also on non-governmental entities, i.e. individuals, legal persons and private companies. [...]Since there is no territorial jurisdiction in outer space or on celestial bodies, there can be no private ownership of parts thereof, as this would presuppose the existence of a territorial sovereign competent to confer such titles of ownership."106 Also, as leading international law of space scholar Harold Bashor points out: "There are no rights of ownership for any natural resources in place. [...] This is generally interpreted to mean that a country may not claim ownership of any resources until they have been extracted. Yet, any extraction is required to be for the benefit of mankind according to the Common Heritage of Mankind principle."107 Moreover, since the Moon is to be explored and exploited for peaceful purposes, Bashor argues, states have an obligation not to interfere with the activities of any other state on the Moon, and any conflict has to be reported to the United Nations.108 Alas, the current system is predicated heavily on good faith, and whether future Moon-settling countries will behave fairly is yet to be seen. "A system lacking a clear legal framework has thus far worked for scientific ventures, such as the International Space Station. But history tells a different story when big businesses and competing nations turn their sights on a new frontier."109

This said, which states are actually going to play 'game of Moons'? As many as eleven robotic lunar missions including orbiters, rovers and sample return missions are to be launched between now and 2020.110 China (2015; 2017-18),111 Russia (2016;2019),112 India (2017),113 Japan (2018)114 and the US (2018)115 all have missions planned during this period, while new players eyeing post 2020 Moon missions may include South Korea (2020),116 while the European Space Agency's Lunar Lander project has been shelved due to budgetary constraints.117 Those states giving serious study to the launch of manned Moon missions by 2020-2030 are China,118 and Russia,119 Japan (in collaboration with the US),120 and perhaps India.121 Even though it appears that there are going to be several contenders playing the selenitic game, what is really needed in order to extract helium-3 and the other lunar resources is a lunar base. Hence, only two chess-pieces remain standing on the board: the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation. Officials from both Beijing and Moscow have declared that their countries are going to build a base on the Moon. On 8 January 2014, Zhang Yuhua - Deputy General Director and Deputy General Designer of the Chang'e-3 probe system revealed that: "In addition to manned lunar landing technology, we are also working on the construction of a lunar base, which will be used for new energy development and living space expansion."122 His words echo Oyuang Ziyuan's 2002 mantic statement: "China will establish a base on the moon as we did in the South Pole and the North Pole."123 In Russia's case, the announcement has come from the upper echelons. Deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin, who is in overall charge of Russia's space and defence industries, writing about the "colonisation of the moon and near-moon space" on the 10 April 2014 issue of the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta stated that Moscow plans to establish a lunar base for long-term missions to the Moon by 2040. Rogozin affirmed that that Earth's satellite is the only realistic source to obtain water, minerals and other resources for future space missions. A lunar laboratory complex will also be used for testing new space technologies. "This process has the beginning, but has no end. We are coming to the Moon forever," he promised.124 Despite Rogozin's rhetoric, it might be surmised that the Chinese are better positioned in the race for lunar helium-3. For a start, they have more money and resources, began "from a long way back but now they are catching up fast,"125 and "by the end of the decade [...] want to move from being what is classed as a major space power to being a strong space power." Tellingly, "within a little more than a decade, the only working space station in orbit could be Chinese."126 In sum, Beijing backs words with facts. For this reason, when asked if the idea of a Chinese lunar base extracting minerals was remotely plausible, the afore-mentioned Prof. Richard Holdaway: "It is perfectly plausible from the technical point of view, absolutely plausible from the finance point of view because they have great buying power."127 Buying power will be certainly needed, given that a 2009 analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated that a four-person research station on the lunar surface would cost US$35 billion to build and US$7.35 billion per year to operate.128

If China wins the 'race for the Moon' and establishes a manned outpost conducting helium-3 mining operations, it would create a scenario similar that of the 2009 movie Moon. In that motion picture, a private company called Lunar Industries has built a mining base on the Moon and enjoys a helium-3 extraction and shipping monopoly - the same kind of monopoly that in the past created the fortunes of ventures like the East India Companies.129 Unlike that fictional universe, in the case of a Chinese lunar base the monopoly would be held by a state. The ramifications and consequences of such a scenario would be 'cosmic'. First, "China is what international relations scholars call a 'revisionist power,' seeking opportunities to assert its enhanced relative position in international affairs."130 Thus, establishing an automated or manned helium-3 operation on the Moon would be a spectacular statement of grandeur.131 Secondly, due to the inevitable depletion of fossil fuels on Earth, Beijing would be in a position to gradually build a helium-3 hydraulic empire in which it would control the supply of the precious gas, and become the only energy superpower. The making of such an empire would be most likely met with resistance. Plausibly, the prospect of China's energy supremacy, which would undoubtedly transubstantiate into pervasive geopolitical influence, would cause geopolitical tension, agglutinate anti-Chinese alliances, and prompt the other space-faring nations - the US in primis - to rush to the Moon to break the Dragon's monopoly. Then, a scenario similar to that described in Limit, a science and political fiction novel by Frank Schatzing set in a 2025, seeing China and the US develop a new Cold War for lunar helium-3 taking the space race of yesteryear to new heights. Thirdly, China might decide to acquire or retain control over helium-3 deposits by annexing lunar regions. International law would be neither an impassable hurdle nor an effective deterrent. Although the 1967 Outer Space Treaty asserts common ownership over everything in the universe beyond the Earth and requires all countries to share in the benefits of space,132 its article 17 permits signatory states to withdraw from the treaty with only a year's notice.133 Unilateral withdrawal by one of the major space-faring powers would undermine the existing international legal regime in space, prompting the other players to secure a piece of the pie in the sky for themselves. This would start a period of colonialism reminiscent of that in 19th century. Having established a permanent manned lunar base, China would be able to substantiate its claim by satisfying an important criterion for sovereignty: the wishes of the inhabitants. Also, claims over lunar areas beyond China's 'red side of the Moon' by other powers would legitimize Beijing's acquisition of its new selenitic dominions (where Chinese sovereignty would provide regulations and protection for private investors to operate).134 Once in control of vast helium-3 fields, China could even astutely play the 'game of Moons' by favouring the settlement and encouraging the territorial claims of non-hostile or friendly powers - for example other BRICS countries - in order to contain Western expansion and access to helium-3 on the lunar surface. Finally, China could decide to use its lunar base as a military asset "to dominate access on and off our planet Earth and determine who will extract valuable resources from the moon in the years ahead."135 More piercingly put, "the Moon could hypothetically be used as a military battle station and ballistic missiles could be launched against any military target on Earth"136 or in space. Our planet's celestial sister could also become one of the battlefields of future 'helium-3 conflicts', which would be simultaneously fought or spill-over on lunar, space and Earth domains.137 If this will turn into 'tomorrow's truth', then helium-3 will not just fuel the future, but also future rivalries and wars. The price for global energy security would then be global geopolitical insecurity.


6. Conclusion: A Call to Cooperation

"There was a time when energy was a dirty world - when turning on your lights was a hard choice. Cities in brown out, food shortages, cars burning fuel to run. But that was the past, where are we now? How did we make the world so much better, make deserts bloom? Right now we're the largest producer of fusion energy in the world. The energy of the sun, trapped in rock, harvested by machine from the far side of the moon. Today we deliver enough clean burning Helium-3 to supply the energy needs of nearly 70% of the planet. Who'd have thought, all the energy we ever needed, right above our heads. The power of the moon. The power of our future." ['Lunar Industries Commercial' in Duncan Jones, Moon, 2009]

The 'game of Moons' scenarios evoked in the previous pages are not anticipations of an inescapable future. On the contrary, lunar exploration and resources development can be international cooperation synergizers and confidence building catalysts. Consistently, the Beijing Declaration, issued at the 2008 Global Space Development Summit in Beijing, calls for international cooperation "in all the applicative fields of space [...] as the world enters a challenging period characterized by globalization, dramatic population growth, serious environmental concerns and scarcity of resources."138 By 2050 there will be a dire paucity of all the economically recoverable fossil fuels (there would still be plenty of coal, but can humankind afford to put up with greenhouse gases?). "Also, all alternative sources of energy, like water power, solar power, tidal power, wind power, geothermal power, and wood will not be sufficient to supply more than 10 percent of the energy which will be needed by the 20 billion people that will be on earth at that time. We will be out of energy and forced to seek a new source,"139 predicted a venerable scholar at the turn of the millennium. And Sister Moon, "precious and beautiful,"140 can tend the Earth its energy salvation. The helium-3 trapped in the lunar soil offers humanity about ten times the energy that could be obtained from mining all the fossil fuels on Earth, without causing apocalyptic pollution. Also by tossing all the Earth's uranium into liquid metal fast breeder reactors, we could generate about half this much energy.141 But some men will have to cross the sky and conquer the Moon, and other people will have to tame particles, to open a new future up to humanity. Indeed, the quest for helium-3 is involved with the dynamics of succumbing to or reversing the process of global collapse. Common destiny and enlightened self-interest both dictate cooperation among all space-faring nations. Two countries in particular have greater responsibilities than the others: the US and China.

In almost every area of space activity, the US has a clear technological and operational advantage over other countries, including China. For example, in 2012 NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars, a much more difficult task than the Chang'e 3 mission by any measure.142 However, the US star does not shine as bright as in the past due to budget cuts, and a reluctance to maintain its space leadership143 as revealed by the cancellation of the American project designed to take humans back to the Moon (Constellation Program).144 On the other hand, even though Beijing's overall budget in space programmes is still rather moderate compared with that of the US, China appears to have what Confucius would describe as "the will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach its full potential" in lunar and space exploration. The Chinese are quickly developing their own space technology kung fu and are currently collaborating with other countries such as Russia, Brazil, France, Germany and, very fruitfully, with the European Space Agency145 - but not with the US. Actually, China has recently made several overtures to the US. For example, Xu Dazhe, the new chief of China's space industry, while attending the International Space Exploration Forum in Washington in January 2014 said: "We are willing to cooperate with all the countries in the world, including the United States and developing countries."146 "The US, however, is wary of entering in any type of collaborative interaction with the Chinese, primarily for national security reasons ranging from technology transfer concerns to a general mistrust of the People's Liberation Army's involvement in Beijing's space program. Consequently, in 2011 Washington "has enacted Public Law 112-10, Public Law 101-246 and Public Law 106-391 to suspend all bilateral activities between NASA and the Chinese in spaceflight projects."147 Furthermore, China was barred from participating in the current orbiting space station, largely because of US objections over political differences.148 By contrast, the Chinese said they will welcome foreign astronauts aboard their future space station, which is scheduled to become operational in 2020.149

While the US government's duty and prerogative to protect national security is not in question, the issue of collaborating with China in space activities should be considered in the light of the benefits of going back to the Moon and establishing a settlement for the production of the Helium-3 fusion fuel. Working with the Chinese as part of a global effort to solve the energy conundrum would then become "the next logical step."150 For sure, combining forces would make humanity's pursuit of helium-3 power, quicker, cheaper and more efficient. Starting a cooperative effort, inclusive of China and the US, for lunar exploration would, first of all, require each participant a change of mindset as well as adopting an approach based on the four principles indicated by the Beijing Declaration: mutual benefit, transparency, reciprocity, and cost sharing.151 Actually, the same document identifies the development of a lunar base as the ideal next project for international collaboration on space exploration.152 Creative politics and diplomacy will also play a crucial role in ensuring good governance and fair dividends to all parties. New legal regimes for exploiting helium-3 and other lunar resources could be designed and approved. A new international regime, organization or enterprise for the cooperative development and terrestrial fusion of lunar helium-3 may be needed.153 Many diverse solutions will be possible as long as a sense of common destiny will be shared by the moon-settling nations. The race for making available a safe, clean and revolutionary source of energy to all human beings should not have any loser, only winners. Thus, civilizational or national egoisms should be left back on Earth. Helium-3 power is not meant to be the flame casting deep shadows over a new Dark Age, but the glorious light of a global renaissance: an era in which people will look at the Moon through a clear unpolluted sky. In Washington as in Moscow, New Delhi or Beijing.

1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Population Estimates and Projection Section, "World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision." 27 February 2014 (last update),
2 World Bank, "Population Projection Tables by Country and Group." 2014,,,contentMDK:21737699~menuPK:3385623~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:3237118,00.html
3 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Population Estimates and Projection Section, "World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision."
4 Ibid.
5 Christoph Frei et al., World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures to 2050, World Energy Council, 2013, p. 218.
6 Harrison H. Schmitt et al., "Lunar Helium-3 Fusion Resource Distribution," University of Wisconsin - Madison, 2011, p. 2.
7 Guenter Janeschitz as quoted in Raffi Katchadourian, "A Star in a Bottle," New Yorker, 3 March 2014,
8 Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, China's Energy Policy 2012, October 2012, p. 2.
9 China Briefing, "China to Encourage Corporate Participation in Shale Gas Exploration", 10 October 2011,
10 Chang Chung Young and Fabrizio Bozzato, "The Dragon is Thirsty: China's Quest for Energy," International Conference on the Making of New Asia: Migration, Identity, Interaction and Security, Fo Guang University, Taiwan, 5-6 November 2011. See also: Jenny Lin, "China's Energy Security Dilemma," Projet 2049 Institute, 13 February 2012.
11 Joseph P. Giljum, "The Future of China's Energy Security," The 
 Solutions, No. 11, 2009, pp. 12-24.
12 See, for example, Scott Doney, "Oceans of Acid: How Fossil Fuels Could Destroy Marine Ecosystems," PBS, 12 Feb 2014,
13 Michael T. Klare, "Fueling the Dragon: China's Strategic Energy Dilemma," Current History, Issue 150, April 2006, p. 180.
14 Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, China's Energy Policy 2012, October 2012.
15 Reuters, "China to 'declare war' on pollution, premier says," 4 March 2014,
16 Maria Van Der Hoeven, "Strategizing for Energy Policy: China's Drive to Reduce Dependence," Harvard International Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, Summer 2013, pp. 14-25.
17 Joachim Betz, "The Reform of China's Energy Policies," German Institute of Global and Area Studies Working Papers, No. 216, February 2013, p. 6. Also, biomass and waste: 9 percent; hydro-power: 3 percent; Natural gas: 3 percent; nuclear power: 1 percent; and other renewable sources: 0.2 percent.
18 Mark Piesing, "Big nuke vs little nuke: how the nuclear establishment is stifling innovation," Wired, 21 February 2012,
19 Olivia Boyd, "Nuclear fusion: an answer to China's energy problems?," China Dialogue, 2 December 2013,
20 Ibid, p. 8.
21 Scientific American, "How long will the world's uranium supplies last?", 26 January 2009,
22 Steven Cowley as quoted in Olivia Boyd, "Nuclear fusion: an answer to China's energy problems?"
23 Raffi Katchadourian, "A Star in a Bottle."
24 Egbert Boeker and Rienk van Grondelle, Environmental Physics: Sustainable Energy and Climate Change, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 2011, p. 66.
25 Marsha R. D'Souza, Diana M. Otalvaro and Deep Arjun Singh, Harvesting Helium-3 from the Moon, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 2006, pp. 18-25.
26 Layton J. Wittenberg, "Helium-3 Resources and Acquisition for Use as Fusion Fuel in Aries III," in Farrokh Najmabadi, Robert W. Conn, et al., The ARIES-III Tokamak Fusion Reactor Study - The Final Report, University of California-San Diego, Advanced Energy Technology Group, Center for Energy Research, p. 15-5.
27 Dana A. Shea and Daniel Morgan, "The Helium-3 Shortage: Supply, Demand, and Options for Congress", Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, 22 December 2010, pp. 1-20.
28 Satish Kumar and Kopal Gupta, "Helium-3 As An Alternate Fuel Technology (for Producing Electricity)," Journal of Department of Applied Sciences & Humanities, Vol. IV, 2006, pp. 77-84
29 World Nuclear Association, "Nuclear Power Reactors," November 2013,
30 World Nuclear Association, "Nuclear Fusion Power," February 2014,
31 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, "Nuclear Fusion Power," 9 August 2000,
32 Stefano Coledan, "Mining The Moon," Popular Mechanics, 7 December 2004,
33 Singam Jayanthu, Bhishm Tripathi and Arjun Sandeep, "Scope of Mining on the Moon - A Critical Appraisal," Golden Jubilee celebration & MineTECH'11 of The Indian Mining & Engineering Journal, Raipur, 18-19 November 2011, p. 2.
34 Keith Veronese, "Could Helium-3 really solve Earth's energy problems?" io9, 5 November 2012,
35 Gary Pajer et al., "Modular Aneutronic Fusion Engine," Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, May 2012.
36 Matthew Genge as quoted in Henry Gass, "Plans to strip mine the moon may soon be more than just science-fiction," The Ecologist, 4 July 2011,
37 Marsha Freeman, "Mining the Moon To Power the Earth," Executive Intelligence Review, 24 January 2014,
38 Matt Treske, "Moon Power," Wisconsin Engineer, Vol. 116, No. 1, November 2011
39 National Academy of Engineering, "Provide energy from fusion," 2012,
40 Bruno Maffei, "The Physics of Energy sources Nuclear Fusion," University of Manchester, 2012, p.10
41 Mohammad Mahdavi and Behnaz Kaleji, "Deuterium/helium-3 fusion reactors with lithium seeding," Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, Vol. 51, No. 8, July 2009, pp. 85003-0
42 Sergei V. Ryzhkov, "Alternative Fusion Reactors as Future Commercial Power Plants," Journal of Plasma and Fusion Research, Vol. 8, April 2009, pp. 35-38.
43 David Kramer, "DOE begins rationing helium-3," Physics Today, June 2010,
44 Henry Gass, "Plans to Strip Mine the Moon May Soon be More Than Just Science-Fiction," Global Research, 7 July, 2011,
45 Christopher Barnatt, "Helium-3 Power Generation,", 13 September 2012,
46 Harrison Schmitt, Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space, Copernicus Books, New York, 2007, pp. 48-51.
47 Artemis Society International, "Lunar Helium-3 as an Energy Source, in a nutshell," 2007,
48 Wenzhe Fa and Ya-Qiu Jin, "Quantitative estimation of helium-3 spatial distribution in the lunar regolith layer," Icarus, No. 190, April 2007, pp. 15-23.
49 Alfred O. Nier and Dennis J. Schlutter, "Extraction of Helium from Individual IDPs and Lunar Grains by Pulse Heating," Meteoritics, Vol. 27, No. 3, July 1992,
50 Richard Bilder, "A Legal Regime for the Mining of Helium-3 on the Moon: U.S. Policy Options," Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 33, No. 2, January 2010, p. 246.
51 Marsha Freeman, "Mining the Moon to Power the Earth."
52 Christopher Barnatt, "Helium-3 Power Generation."
53 Joshua E. Keating, "Is There Money In the Moon? Maybe Someday," Foreign Policy, 18 June 2012,
54 Marsha Freeman, "Mining the Moon to Power the Earth."
55 Liu Yuanhui, "Reaching the Moon," China Radio International's English Service, 13 December 2013,
56 Michael C. Zarnstorff as quoted in Brandon Southward, "China's quest for a new energy source heads to space," CNN Money, 20 December 2013,
57 Brandon Southward, "China's quest for a new energy source heads to space."
58 Steven Cowley as quoted in Olivia Boyd, "Nuclear fusion: an answer to China's energy problems?"
59 Gilbert Rozman, Chinese Strategic Thought Toward Asia, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012, pp. 1-6.
60 Xiaowei Zang, Elite Dualism and Leadership Selection in China, Routledge, London and New York, 2004, pp. 147-162.
61 Walter Wang, "Long Term Planning Puts China on a Different Path," CleanTechies, 16 August 2011,
62 Robert Lawrence Kuhn, How China's Leaders Think: The Inside Story of China's Past, Current and Future Leaders, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 2011, pp. 580-590.
63 The Economist, "Reaching for the Moon," 21 December 2013,
64 Xi Jinping as quoted in The Economist, "Reaching for the Moon."
65 Cole Pfeiffer, "Asia's space race: China looks to dominate the final frontier," Foreign Policy Today, 11 December 2013,
66 Joan Johnson-Freese as quoted in Chris Buckley, "China blasts off to moon with rover mission," Seattle Times, 2 December 2013,
67 Lulu Zhang, "Chief scientist chides narrow view on lunar project,", 17 December 2013,
68 Ouyang Ziyuan as quoted in David Shukman, "Why China is fixated on the Moon," BBC, 29 November 2013,
69 Ouyang Ziyuan as quoted in Antoaneta Bezlova "China reaps a moon harvest," Asia Times Online, 30 October 2007,
70 Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, New York, Random House, 1957.
71 Brian Herbert, Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 2003, p. 172.
72 Julie Sullivan, "Why is China interested in the Moon? Lunar Program Secrets Revealed," Headlines and Global News, 30 November 2013,
73 Ouyang Ziyuan as quoted in David Shukman, "Why China is fixated on the Moon."
74 Marsha Freeman, "China Takes Next Step Toward Lunar Industrial Development," Beijing Review, No. 9, 27 February 2014,
75 Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, China's Space Activities in 2011 - I. Purposes and Principles of Development, 29 December 2011,
76 Ouyang Ziyuan as quoted in Ajey Lele, Asian Space Race: Rhetoric Or Reality?, Springer India, London, 2013, p. 170.
77 Ling Xin, "An Interview with Ouyang Ziyuan: Chang'e-3 and China's Lunar Missions," Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, vol. 27, no. 4, November 2013, pp. 26-31.
78 David Shukman, "Why China is fixated on the Moon."
79 Harrison Schmitt as quoted in Simon Denyer "China launches 'Jade Rabbit' rover to moon, precursor to manned mission," Washington Post, 2 December 2013,
80 Ouyang Ziyuan as quoted in Jonathan Adams, "Dragon watch: China pulls ahead in moon race," Global Post, 2 November 2010,,1
81 Beijing Youth Daily as reported in The Asahi Shimbun, "ANALYSIS: Lunar success marks China's rise as next space power," 16 December 2013,
82 Dean Cheng as quoted in Jonathan Adams, "Dragon watch: China pulls ahead in moon race."
83 Ling Xin, "An Interview with Ouyang Ziyuan: Chang'e-3 and China's Lunar Missions," p. 229.
84 Steve Almasy, "Could the moon provide clean energy for Earth?" CNN, 21 July 2011,
85 Dave Keating, "Oettinger aims to get ITER back on track," European Voice, 5 September 2013,
86 Harrison Smith as quoted in Cecilia Jamasmie, "Mining the Moon is Closer than Ever,", 1 January 2010,
87 Arthur Guschin, "China's Renewable Energy Opportunity," Diplomat, 3 April 2014,
88 Lulu Zhang, "Chief scientist chides narrow view on lunar project."
89 South Central University for Nationalities, "Chief Scientist of CLEP Ouyang Ziyuan was Named Honor Professor of SCUN," 14 November 2012,
90 Steve Taranovich, "Helium-3 and Lunar power for Earth reactors," EDN Network, 15 March 2013,
91 University of Wisconsin-Madison - Fusion Technology Institute, "Lunar Mining of Helium-3," 12 March 2014 (updated),
92 Fabrizio Tamburini et al., "No quantum gravity signature from the farthest quasars," Astronomy & Astrophysics, Vol. 533, A71, September 2011, p. 5.
, C. Cuofano2, M. Della Valle3,4 and R. Gilmozzi5
93 Ray Villard, "Strip Mine the Moon to Fuel Space Exploration," Discovery Communications, 13 July 2011,
94 Defang Kong and Qian Zhang, "Manned lunar landing under research," People's Daily Online, 8 January 2014,
95 Sarah Fecht, "Six Reasons NASA Should Build a Research Base on the Moon," National Geographic, 20 December 2013,
96 William A. Ambrose, James F. Reilly II and Douglas C. Peters (eds.), AAPG Memoir 101: Energy Resources for Human Settlement in the Solar System and Earth's Future in Space, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, 2013, p. 41.
97 At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Kulcinski and his colleagues have designed a ten ton regolith mining machine called the Mark 3. They predict that one of their Mark 3 robotic miners could process six million tons of regolith per year and produce 201 tons of hydrogen, 109 tons of water, 0.033 tons of helium 3 (that's 33 kg.), 102 tons of helium 4, 16.5 tons of nitrogen, 63 tons of carbon monoxide, 56 tons of CO2 and 53 tons of methane. The CO, CO2 and CH4 contain a total of 82 tons of carbon. These researchers have chosen to heat the regolith only up to 700 C. See: Gerald L. Kulcinski , A Resource Assessment and Extraction of Lunar 3He, Presented at the US-USSR Workshop on D-3He Reactor Studies, 25 September- 2 October 1991, Moscow.
98 National Space Agency, "Researchers Estimate Ice Content of Crater at Moon's South Pole," 20 June 2012,
99 John Slough as quoted in Michelle Ma, "Rocket powered by nuclear fusion could send humans to Mars," University of Washington News and Information, 4 April 2013,
100 Michelle Ma, "Rocket powered by nuclear fusion could send humans to Mars."
101 John F. Santarius, "Lunar 3He, Fusion Propulsion, and Space Development," Proceedings of the Second Conference on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century (Houston, Texas, 5-7 Apr 1988), NASA Conference Publication 3166, Vol. 1, p. 75 (1992).
102 John F. Santarius, Role of Advanced-Fuel and, Innovative Concept Fusion in the Nuclear Renaissance, APS Division of Plasma Physics Meeting, Philadelphia, 31 October 2006
103 Marsha Freeman, "Mining the Moon to Power the Earth."
104 K.R., "Lunar property rights - Hard cheese," Economist, 16 February 2014,
105 United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,, (retrieved) 11 April 2014.
106 International Institute of Space Law, Statement of the Board of Directors of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), 22 March 2009.
107 Harold Bashor as quoted in Leonard David, "Moon Water: A Trickle of Data and a Flood of Questions,", 06 March 2006,
108 Ibid.
109 Joshua Philipp, "Mining the Moon: Plans Taking Off, but Rules Lacking," Epoch Times, 29 January 2014,
110 Craig Covault, "The New Race for the Moon," SpaceRef, 4 October 2013,
111 Ningzhu Zhu, "China plans to launch Chang'e 5 in 2017," Xinhua,
112 Igor Mitrofanov et al., 'Luna-Glob' and 'Luna-Resurs': science goals, payload and status, European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2014, Vienna, 27 April-02 May 2014.
113 The Hindu, "India to launch Chandrayaan-II by 2017," 10 January 2014,
114 Kenichi Fujita, "An Overview of Japan's Planetary Probe Mission Planning," 9th International Planetary Probe Workshop, Toulouse, June 2012.
115 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, "ILN - International Lunar Network," 30 April 2013,; See also: Irene Klotz, "NASA Planning for Mission To Mine Water on the Moon," 28 January 2014
116 Soo Bin Park, "South Korea reveals Moon-lander plans," Nature, 13 November 2013,
117 Stephen Clark, "ESA lunar lander shelved ahead of budget conference," Astronomy Now, 8 November 2012,
118 Shaoting Ji and Wen Wang, "China's space exploration goals before 2020," China Daily,, 10 March 2014,
119 William Stewart, "Is Vlad keen on a trip? Putin eyes up cosmonaut uniform as his deputy premier sets out plans to colonise space and declares 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'," Daily Mail,
120 Srinivas Laxman, "Japan SELENE-2 Lunar Mission Planned For 2017," Asian Scientist, 16 July 2012,
121 Express News Service, "ISRO: No Manned Mission to Moon," 1 January 2014,
122 Zhang Yuhua as quoted in Defang Kong and Qian Zhang, "Manned lunar landing under research," People's Daily Online, 8 January 2014,
123 CNN, "2010 moon mission for China," 20 May 2002,
124 Dmitry Rogozin as quoted in The Voice of Russia, "Russia plans to get a foothold in the Moon - Dmitriy Rogozin," 11 April 2014,
125 Richard Holdaway as quoted in David Shukman, "Why China is fixated on the Moon."
126 Kevin Pollpeter as quoted in Sarah Cruddas, "Will China have an Apollo moment?", BBC, 11 December 2013,
127 Richard Holdaway as quoted in David Shukman, "Why China is fixated on the Moon."
128 Vincent G. Sabathier, Johannes Weppler and Ashley Bander, "Costs of an International Lunar Base," Center for Strategic and International Studies, 24 September 2009.
129 Duane Byrge, "Firm Review: Moon", Hollywood Reporter, 26 January 2009,
130 John Hickman, "Red Moon Rising: Could China's lunar ambitions scramble politics here on Earth?" Foreign Policy, 18 June 2012,
131 John M. Logdson, "Lost in Space," Politico Magazine, 19 December 2013,
132 Everett C. Dolman, Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age, Frank Cass Publishers, London and Portland, 2002, pp. 84-88.
133 John Hickman, "Still crazy after four decades: The case for withdrawing from the 1967 Outer Space Treaty," Space Review, 24 September 2007,
134 Henry Hertzfeld, "The Moon is a Land without Sovereignty: Will it be a Business Friendly Environment?," High Frontier Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring 2007, Page 43.
135 Richard C. Cook, "Militarization and the Moon-Mars Program: Another Wrong Turn in Space?," Global Research, 22 January 2007,
136 Want China Times, "PLA dreams of turning moon into Death Star, says expert," 12 December 2013,
137 Metro, "How the Moon could fuel World Wars," 26 May 2009,
138 Beijing Declaration, Global Space Development Summit, Beijing, 24 April 2008, p. 2.
139 Wilson Greatbatch "War is not the Answer, Nuclear Fusion Power with Helium 3 is the Answer," Prometheus, No. 87, Special Issue, 2003,
140 Francis of Assisi, "Canticle of the Sun," 1225,
141 Satish Kumar and Kopal Gupta, "Helium-3 As An Alternate Fuel Technology (for Producing Electricity)," p. 80.
142 Keith Cowing, "Is China Really Winning a Space Race with Us?," NASA Watch, 20 December 2013,
143 Lamont Colucci, "America Must Retake Lead in Space Exploration," US News, 11 December 2012,
144 Jonathan Amos, "Obama cancels Moon return project," BBC,
145 Jane Qiu, "Head of China's space science reaches out," Nature, 6 March 2014,
146 Xu Dazhe as quoted in PTI, "China wants space collaboration with US," Economic Times, 11 January 2014,
147 Sanford Healey, "The Future of United States-Chinese Space Relations," Proceedings of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 11-13 April 2013, p. 342.
148 Peter Rakobowchuk, "Hadfield: The future of Canadian space exploration lies with China," Canadian Press, 28 December 2013,
149 Leonard David, "China Invites Foreign Astronauts to Fly On Future Space Station,, 28 September 2013,
150 Chris Hadfield as quoted in Peter Rakobowchuk, "Hadfield: The future of Canadian space exploration lies with China."
151 Beijing Declaration, p. 2.
152 Vincent G. Sabathier, Johannes Weppler and Ashley Bander, "Costs of an International Lunar Base."
153 Richard Bilder, "A Legal Regime for the Mining of Helium-3 on the Moon: U.S. Policy Options," Fordham International Law Journal, pp. 289-299.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Book Review: Evan Osnos 'Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China'

This is a great, accessible read, that offers a map for those interested in picking their way through the minefield of press reports on China, ranging from the "China threat" myth perpetuated by some of the Western press and the "China is the best thing since sliced bread" line served up by China's state media.


On my first read I felt a little uncomfortable with the same old rhetoric trotted out about China at the start of this book, which set out the argument that China is traditionally a "collective" society in contrast to the "individualist" Western society. The logic seemed slightly confused for me, as the timeline jumped around a bit, citing Liang Qichao's invocation of Cromwell to illustrate China's collectivism, and contrasting this to the ideals of Greek society - despite the fact that Cromwell is also "Western". This became a lot clearer, however, when I heard a Sinica podcast on the subject, which makes the division between wheat growing cultures, herding cultures and rice-growing cultures, and explains that this division is not so necessarily East/West, but also divides different places in China. It also clarified what is actually meant by "individualist" and "collectivist" societies, which may sometimes be slightly counter-intuitive:


Listen to it here.


This also reminded me of an interview that I had subtitled on the differences between Western art and Chinese art that had sparked a long discussion between me and a Taiwanese friend, when she revealed that she thought there was inherent differences between Western and (ethnically or culturally) Chinese people, whereas I've always been in the "people are essentially the same" camp - it's just about relative conservatism. The interview was with Tim Yip, the art director for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, who was talking about differences between Western and Chinese art:



I thought that it was a little inappropriate to contrast Chinese traditional art or furniture to Andy Warhol and concept art, as if that's representative of Western tradition, but it sparked an interesting conversation with my friend and Yip raises some interesting points on the role of the artist and of religion in traditional Western art and how perceived individualism and collectivism impinges on artistic expression, although I felt his idea of Eastern tradition sounded a lot like Plato's plane of ideal forms, despite my friend's protestations that I just wasn't understanding spacial dimensions of the Chinese word "境界" - which I think I translated as "aura" but could easily have been "paradigm".


I've regularly engaged Taiwanese friends on the cultural exceptionalism they often use to define themselves, but am yet to find a difference that is greater than the cultural divide between me and my maternal grandmother, although in China I thought that the culture gap was a lot larger. I thought Osnos made an effort throughout the book to undermine this cultural relativism later in the book, however, by presenting a wide range of interesting and diverse individuals throughout the book, and I even suspected that this was a deliberate attempt by the author to undermine this kind of generalization. He actively debunks many of the prevalent ideas about Chinese cultural differences, particularly with the common stories featured in the news about accidents or attacks in China which include a heartless onlooker trope, like in the story about a woman attacked and killed in a McDonald's across the street from a police station by members of a pseudo-religious organization while other patrons just looked on, or this story about a man in Yunnan who was jeered at and told to get on with it, when he was threatening to jump to his death in Yunnan. This is often attributed to a difference in cultural norms, and I've even heard some ex-pats insist that China has too many people for individual life to be of any value. Osnos does a good job of undercutting this trope, with reference to the case of a young girl who was killed in a hit-and-run killing, and whose body was passed over by several people before a trash collector found her and tried to get her help. By fleshing out the story and letting us see that the "heartless onlookers" in the eye-grabbing headline are more human than we'd like them to be portrayed, when he visits them and asked them why they failed to help her:


They were conscripted into a parable, but the morality play did not do justice to the layers of their lives.


Indeed, it's in his descriptions of people, that Osnos gives us some of the most well-crafted lines in the book, like, when describing a dating site founder, he says of her:


... she was propelled by bursts of exuberance and impatience, as if she were channeling China's industrial id.


Osnos is very insightful and sensitive in his portrayal of all the people that he presents to us in his book, and they appear completely unvarnished, giving readers an insight into how high-profile figures in the West, like Ai Weiwei are viewed in China. He knows a lot of key figures in China's art and media scene, which allows him to pepper the book with comments from figures from China's literary and arts scene, like Wang Shuo and Jia Zhangke, while he still gives equal weight to the Chinese everyman and those whose ambitions were never realized.


There's an incredible range of facts in the book and lots of interesting detail, which give us the context to decisions announced dryly by the state press, and allow for a more rounded interpretation of the logic and aims of the Communist Party and what dilemmas they face as China continues to develop, along with the ideological impact of the choices they make, like the decision in 2002 to change references to the party from "revolutionary party" to "party in power," for example.


I was also fascinated to solve a question that I still remember from my third year course in Chinese at Leeds in the UK, when we translated a text with the term "bobozu" (波波族) and there had been a debate as to where the term came from, with one of my coursemates informing us that it was an acronym for "burnt out but opulent," which didn't seem very relevant to the China we had left the previous year. Osnos reveals that a satirical sociological book by David Brooks had been translated into Chinese a few years earlier called Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and had become a bestseller, "bourgeious bohemians" being the "bobo" or "bubo" in question, although I still like my classmate's explanation better.


Osnos' book is also very funny, with little tidbits of information that will have you chuckling, such as night schools teaching Chinese to spit liquor into their tea to avoid getting drunk when out with their bosses and the state-media accusing a Chinese nationalist blogger of being a fifty-center (paid by government to keep the public internet debate in line amongst other funny tales.


There's also a real insight into the power of nationalism in the book, captured by the author in the words of Lu Xun on foreigners:


We either look up to them as gods or down on them as animals.


The way tools, such as patriotism, xenophobia and nationalism, are deployed in China, by the state, the media and individuals is highlighted by the author throughout the book, as well as how the state censorship machine really functions on the ground.


A worthwhile read for anyone with even a passing interest in China who wants to understand what China is really all about, and the people that constitute its citizenry. The book is divided into the three sections that are the three things most discussed in references to China by outsiders - "fortune" referring to is now the cliched "meteoric rise" of China's economy, "truth" dealing with the media in China and censorship, and finally faith, dealing with what people often refer to as the spiritual poverty of China, and how this is rapidly changing as China opens up and people look for something beyond the physical.


5/5 Must read


This was originally published on Conor's blog, check it out here.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Making Your Time As A Volunteer Count

(Originally published on Volunteer in Asia)

Aid work, volunteering, development are very complex subjects. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal- to eradicate extreme poverty and to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. If you are thinking about donating or volunteering, you want to know that you are maximising your money and time.

I recently heard the term "voluntourist". When I first volunteered in Asia 5 years ago, I was on my way to Australia for a working holiday and wanted to travel SE Asia but was a little nervous to go alone. Volunteering was a great option for me at the time; I met fantastic people, saw things off the beaten track, did something worthwhile and had a great time doing it. I didn't do nearly as much research last time and from what I have seen, most people who volunteer have a similar story. However, as I have gained more experience and knowledge of the complexities of international development, my ideas about volunteering have changed. Of course, I want to see as much of Vietnam (my current location) as I can in my free time, and get a good understanding of their culture and people but what is much more important to me is that I would like my time in Saigon to have a lasting effect. I would like to start something, or contribute to something that can continue, and grow. The people of Vietnam deserve long term solutions to poverty and sustainable projects. That's not to say that short term volunteer work doesn't work, of course it does, but there are many important things to consider. I am here for three months; some people come for longer, some for less time. The amount of time you spend here really matters when you choose what kind of work you do. One of the most important things to consider if you are thinking about volunteering is you skills and expertise. What can you share?

I recently met two girls here in Saigon for six months, volunteering at an orphanage. I asked them what they do. They said their main role was to care for the children, to play with them and to help the younger kids with them with basic things like changing diapers and feeding time. My immediate thought was, when you leave it will be devastating for the kids who you leave behind. Six months is a pretty long time, especially for very young children and if you are their primary care-giver, they will bond with you very quickly. And then you leave. Then, most likely, someone else comes for one, or two, or six months and another bond is formed. Then another adult who loved and cared from them leaves. It is not fair to the children. As orphans or children who were abandoned by their parents, who may have even suffered abuse, they probably already have issues with trusting adults, and will eventually build up walls and stop trying to get close to people. This is something that devastates me. Children need stability, they need routine, and they need people in their lives who will not leave them after a short time. Now, I'm not suggesting, we all drop our lives and go live in Vietnam, but what I am saying, is that volunteers need to be utilized more effectively and in a way that will not be counterproductive. The permanent, Vietnamese staff should be the primary care givers, the ones who form bonds and trust with the children and the volunteers should have different roles. Maybe a volunteer can be teacher who comes an hour a day, or a couple of times a week, or even a little more often, but in such a way that when they leave, the kids still have their main caregiver and they don't have their routine upended. So, if an orphanage volunteer placement is something you would like to do, please ask the management about this so that you know you are going an institution who has the children s best interests and welfare at the heart of what they do. An amazing example of this is Allambie, a place where orphans have a real home, and a family. (see my previous post, and their website, )

Teaching English is just one way to help. As long as the children are getting Vietnamese lessons and a balanced schedule, then teaching is English is great. It will definitely help them to get better jobs. But, I really feel that NGO's and charities need to take on teachers with TEFL certs, or experience. Or lacking that, you should have to perform a demo, or be able to show your pre-planned lessons so that it is clear you can do the job well. The thing about teaching English is that it must be built up to and will only be effective when the basic needs of the children/adults have already been met. So, if you are planning to teach English, you must consider whether the organization you choose has already built that up. The people they are helping are healthy, they have food and shelter and stability. Then education is the next step. Of course, just chatting to them in English is also effective so they will likely learn some from you regardless of the type of work you are doing.

If you don't think teaching is suitable for you, think about your talents and interests as this can be a fantastic way to volunteer! Art projects, I have seen amazing projects set up by artists, photographers and dancers. The sense of pride that one feels when they finish a project and can show it off is such an amazing confidence builder. Art classes, dance class, small performances, these are also creating happy memories and wonderful ways to share your talents. This is a perfect option for short term volunteers and many NGO's will ask whether you have specific talents you would like to share.

This is an example of what I mean! It is a parody of Gangnam Style done by performed by 160 children from the slums of Phnom Pehn. I love it!!!

Also, along these lines is sport. Kids love to play sport and a short term sport camp would be an amazing experience for children. It's great exercise and a lot of fun.

IT and social media is another area where volunteers can make a big difference. Most office staff in NGO's are so busy they don't have the time or know-how to keep their websites updated. Teaching the staff how to use the internet effectively, how to update blogs and websites will help keep their organisation in the lime light.

Fundraising and event planning is another excellent way to make a real difference.. Fundraising and event planning can be done both from your home country, and wherever you volunteer. If you have experience in sales and marketing, PR, customer service or event planning at home, this is the perfect way for you to make a real difference! NGO's and projects will always need more money, and this way you can use the skills you already have to help them, you can also teach locals and staff the basics so they can continue after you leave. The aim of development is to enable the locals to help themselves.

Volunteers play an integral role in the survival of development projects and do amazing work. My aim is to just help potential volunteers to choose the right project, to maximize their efforts and to avoid any counterproductive activities.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Volunteering Experiences in Vietnam and Taiwan

Leanne McNulty is originally from Ireland and she is currently living in Taipei where she does volunteering work besides her job as an English teacher. Since she's been residing and travelling in Asia, she's been volunteering in various places and organizations in Australia and Cambodia. Last year she spent three months in Vietnam helping first at a shelter and also at an ecological and educative center. While preparing her trip, she realized the scarcity of information in English about volunteering in Vietnam and decided to start a blog to present the main issues she encountered: Volunteer in Asia.  In the following interview she raises the problem of orphanage tourism and suggests pragmatic ways to volunteer in South East Asia while avoiding the 'gap year' cliche.

Please, visit her blog for more detailed articles on trafficking, street kids and orphanage tourism.



In Taipei, Leanne McNulty has been involved with the Harmony Home Association, a non-profit organization that shelters and supports children and adults affected by HIV/AIDS and migrant workers. She tells us about her work there, the challenges and the way HIV is still stigmatized in Taiwan. 

For more info about the harmony Home Association, visit:

Read Making your Time Count as a Volunteer by Leanne McNulty


Saturday, 07 June 2014

Somaly Mam. If that is her real name

Clare Tan was a volunteer for AFESIP, the Cambodian organization which protects vulnerable women founded by Somaly. In this article, orginally published on her blog, she talks about feeling torn between the inspiration which this woman once was for her, and the revelations which have emerged over several years about who her hero really may have been.

There are many articles flying around, I have lost track of what I have read in recent days because they are all basically saying the same thing about Somaly Mam in different ways. They have attracted huge international media attention, since as most things, when something well known and American gives it attention, in this case Newsweek, the rest of the world then gives it attention. A quick Google News search shows articles from the last week or two about Somaly's 'lies' and resignation in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, German, Russian to name but a few. However, articles casting doubts on the credibility of Somaly Mam have been appearing in Cambodian local papers for the last couple of years or so, discussing false kidnapping claims and inaccuracies at a UN speech, girls trained to lie on camera and her reputation amongst the NGO world, and in general here in Cambodia, has not been of someone so saintly here for a while now.

I became a huge supporter of Somaly Mam a few years ago. If you'd have asked, I'd have said she was my hero. I was a huge supporter. I didn't know anything about, or to be honest, care too much about Cambodia before her book, yet now I live here and have made my family here. Somaly Mam opened my eyes to the world of sex trafficking, which led me to read more books, talk to more people and discover the whole world of modern day slavery I was completely oblivious too. I then did what I could in my limited power to try to make a tiny difference. Her book,the book that contains stories that are allegedly fabricated, started that. I learnt as much as I could about human trafficking worldwide, worked as an advocate against it, raising awareness in Singapore with Emancipasia, and I cycled 500kms across Cambodia to raise money for a certain foundation, of course, The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF). Had her book not caught my attention, which it may not have if it had read, 'I was well-known and popular in the small village, a happy, pretty girl with pigtails' as Newsweek's article claims she was, I may not have followed the path I did that brought me to my life now.

The bike ride across Cambodia changed my life, it was hellish, both physically and emotionally. I approached friends and family, filled my Facebook page with videos and stories and quotes, and I managed to raise over $5000 for the foundation, and the cause... or was it just for the foundation? Forgive me for feeling a little bit duped now, when I think back to the most emotional lunch of my life, where we met many of the girls from Voices for Change, the girls who have come to work as advocates for Somaly's work, themselves trafficked, and having come to AFESIP, the Cambodian, on the ground organization that Somaly founded initially, supported, (I later learned) in part only, by SMF. The girls stood in front of us, supporting each other, tearfully telling us their stories. All of us were in tears listening. Even though some of us doubted whether telling their stories was good for them, they all claimed it was part of their healing process. Many of their stories were true. But now, such a huge shadow of doubt has been cast over one of the girl's, Somana's stories, that of course, it makes you wonder? At the time and since then, I have wanted to know what happened to all the money that was raised, because the girls in the shelters, as lovely as they are, in my opinion, even if in keeping with local culture and standard of living, could be living in much nicer conditions.

After spending some time in Cambodia, I learnt that 'sister' and 'brother' is the way Cambodians refer to their elders, whether they know the person or not. The word 'bong', the same for male or female, is used to address not just your actual sister, but waiters and waitresses, tuk tuk drivers, anyone you speak to who appears to be older than you or in a position of seniority. Us, ignorant westerners, at the time, mistook this as the girls thinking of us 'as sisters.' We got all touched and gooey thinking we are so important to these girls that they think we are their sisters. In fact, they referred to us as such because it was out of respect, also, they didn't know our names. I also wondered why these girls from VFC, now 'free', did not have their own phones, were not allowed Facebook pages, and whilst they all hugged so hard and said they missed us and called us sisters, trying to spend time with them out of their working hours was virtually impossible. In the last few months they've slowly been appearing on Facebook. They refer to Somaly as 'mum'. If we as supporters feel disappointed in her, imagine how those who did not know about any of this, will be feeling right now.

I don't care to say that Somaly has lied. There is no proof of it and for many of the papers to slanderously start claiming so is a little premature, bearing in mind there is a law firm doing a full investigation, that I hope will get to the bottom of this once and for all so that us loyal supporters can get some clarity one way or the other. However, I cannot take the stance that many of her supporters are taking that is: it doesn't matter whether she lied or not, she has made such a huge difference, it is the cause that is relevant. In my opinion, that's neither here nor there. Of course it is about the cause, the problem I see is, it always should have been. It is about the cause, not Somaly Mam, not The Somaly Mam Foundation, but sex trafficking, human trafficking, slavery.

Can these potential lies or truth stretching be justified because of the greater impact she has had? In my humble opinion, not at all. That does not justify anything. Anyone who thinks that is more or less saying it's not how you got there, it's what you achieve. I might be thinking this because I'm a teacher and a new mother, but who wants to teach that to their children? It's also a little insulting in my opinion to suggest that had Somaly not had a dramatic story published into a book she could not have achieved what she had done? There are many women, like Somaly, with similar backgrounds and without who are fighting and making huge waves in the battle against sex trafficking, Rachel Lloyd, Sunitha Krishnan, Anuradha Koirala, to name a few of the more well known advocates, but then there are I'm sure plenty of others working tirelessly day in day out fighting or preventing the cause in their communities who may not get a hashtag with their name attached and their own foundation, but who are affecting hundreds of thousands of lives as well. If it is really about the cause, let's support and raise awareness of these other women and other foundations.

Unfortunately, the introduction of a lie, however big or small, belittles anything that has been done and casts doubt on Everything that has been said. It leads people to think, well, if she lied about this, who is to say she didn't lie about that. And that is only talking about within the foundation. But what about 'the cause?' A big concern is that these allegations could make a laughing stock of the whole cause that is sex trafficking. Does this not put at risk those many girls who really have suffered and have horrific stories to tell. How can people ever start to trust they are real if someone so well known was possibly lying to us all this time.

If the allegations turn out to be true then I see them realistically and most like just as very naïve and misguided choices at the time, when Somaly was much younger, more easily influenced, and also unaware of the greater implications which might lie ahead. These then caught more momentum than expected as they were told and retold, and then when the lie was heard by too many people, it was impossible to turn back. I don't think that makes her a bad person, but it makes what she did extremely bad, especially because of the way the sex trafficking, human trafficking, or any other cause could now be affected.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed by the lukewarm, if that, response from Nicholas Kristof in regards to the whole fiasco. He and I shared the same hero, and I guess I was hoping that he, as an accredited, well informed, well researched, well respected journalist would provide me with some educated view on the situation or something I hadn't already heard. Kristof sang Somaly Mam's praises, featured her in his documentary Half the Sky, even tweeted live as they raided a brothel; he brought attention to Somana's case, and in both cases probably brought a lot of attention to the cause and the Somaly Mam Foundation. Now that the truth is uncertain, it brings doubt to the credibility of his story, which as a renowned journalist, I'd say, is somewhat, well, embarrassing, to say the least, and detrimental to his credibility as a journalist and his career at the worst. I am glad to say the editor of the New York Times shares my opinion and I hope to see something read-worthy on the topic before long.

Supporters of Somaly Mam claim she doesn't deserve all this media attention, why don't the papers pick on someone else? In response to that I say; Somaly's celebrity status and lifestyle has been visibly sky rocketing over the last few years. Her travelling and work schedule has been insane. When I was working at AFESIP for 3 months, I saw her all of maybe 3 times, she was busy flying around the world- and don't ask me who pays for it, but a little bird told me she doesn't fly economy because flying hurts her ears. Each time I saw her, she was thinner and thinner, visibly exhausted and stressed, but I remember noting the beautiful and expensive clothing she was wearing, and as an unpaid volunteer I was certainly envious to say the least. But every time she came back from a trip, be it Australia, Korea, New York, or all three in a month, she would take the time to talk to me and lament how exhausted she was, and how she missed her girls in the shelters, and her son and daughters. Before working at AFESIP she would Facebook message me directly and made time to meet me when she traveled to Singapore. Perhaps she thought I had money or was more influential than I turned out to be. I didn't suck up to her while I was there, or hang on every word she said as many people did do there, and maybe it's because of that, or because I'm not a celebrity or high end donor, I haven't heard two words from her since and she's ignored any messages I've sent.

Many a photo has appeared on her Facebook page in glamorous situations: red carpets and events, but also a lot of partying, having fun and jetting around. I'm not saying she can't have fun, but most people know if you have a public online image, you should manage it carefully or people will get the wrong (or maybe right) idea and not everyone will be happy about it. One particular post, which finally led me to block her posts from my newsfeed because, to be honest with you, they made me feel uncomfortable; was her on a private jet, donated by a generous donor, who must have felt better about himself after hosting this hero, with her status, 'I miss my girls in Cambodia', or something along those lines. I believe that this statement was true, I'm sure she did miss them, but why didn't she not politely refuse saying that's really not necessary, or did she have no choice but to accept the donated flight? I have to question how a flight on my private jet would help 'the cause' or benefit anyone other than the person riding on the jet itself. Her birthday party was always held somewhere celeb filled and glamourous in New York. Why not at the shelters with her girls, or at home with her family? The foundation justified that her worldwide travel was necessary for the cause, but in my opinion, one or two appearances a month less would not have hurt the cause (but perhaps the foundation), then she could have spent time with the girls which I do believe is really where she'd rather be, and spend time with her young son, who I knew barely got to see her and missed her a lot.

What I'd like to know is, if she really wanted that, why did she not put her foot down? Did she have someone making the decisions for her? Did she have no choice? Or did she really, actually prefer the glamorous jet set lifestyle but felt the need to defend it by saying she'd rather be with her girls? Talk of being free and empowering women; it seemed she herself was not really free, or was this a sacrifice of her own personal choices for the greater good of the cause? Okay, I'll ride on the jet, even though I'd rather be at the shelter, because I know it will lead to a huge donation to the foundation.

Allegedly, Somaly went from earning nothing in 2008, to earning in excess of $100,000 a year in 2011. For $100,000 a year (which, correct me if I'm wrong, comes from donor money??) I too could sacrifice a few personal preferences for the greater good. I believe any director of any non profit organization deserves a decent, competitive salary that can provide them a good quality of life to ensure they can do their job well, which in turn often leads to much more monetary support, but in a country where garment workers are fighting and some have lost their lives in a bid to earn a meager US$160 a month as opposed to the $80 they earn now, and most of the girls coming out of her shelters are at that level of the food chain, I cannot see how you could sleep at night taking home that amount of money.

The fact is, she has brought on the media attention herself, or at least by her foundation. She has not shied away from the camera when it has meant she has been able to hob knob with stars such as Susan Sarandon, Hilary Clinton and a trail of other celebrities who have probably read her book and genuinely see the hero in her, as we all did, but I'm sure they are also not unaware that being chummy-chummy with a sex slave survivor will certainly not hurt their celebrity status either. How could you not get caught up in the lifestyle and the attention? Somaly herself has become a celebrity, whether it was her doing or not, and celebs take the rough media attention with the smooth, good press and bad press. Had she wanted to shy away from the media or slowed down the glamorous lifestyle, she could have done so, way before now. Truth or lies, resigning from your own foundation days after such allegations are publicly made against you, is going to do you no PR favours. I have no regard for the Somaly Mam Foundation, but I do have a lot of regard for everyone who thought of Somaly as their hero, who is now confused and disappointed; for the girls in the shelters who she has helped and depend on her and for the Voices for Change girls, who although 'independent', will be lost without their 'mom'. Somaly owes us an explanation and an apology. It shouldn't be written by someone else, edited for grammar mistakes and vetted to make sure it is politically correct and can't do her any more damage, it should be, as her many speeches around the world have been, unscripted, from the heart, with her bad English and all. Somaly Mam, as a hero to thousands, you owe us this.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

He eats, he sleeps: giving birth in Cambodia

This is an extract from Clare Tan's novel in progress 
Il mange, Il dort. For more of Clare's work visit her blog here, where this post was originally published.

I felt the door swing shut as the doctor who had just stitched me up, and I was sure all the other nurses and various people who had been present, had left the room. I glanced around, which wasn't easy as I was lying on a surgery bed with a cloth still hanging a few inches from my face preventing me from looking down at my stomach and my arms were outstretched and pinned down, but yes, looking around, there was no-one else in the room. Really?! Again!? You are kidding me. This had happened a few times over the past two days in hospital, but this time it made me so mad that bitter tears started pouring down my face, I couldn't help it. I was so utterly helpless (not a position I like to be in), pinned in place, unable to move my stomach, staring up at the huge surgery light directed at my middle still, but switched off as the surgery was now over. I stared at it, thinking back to one of my temporary summer jobs as a teenager, cleaning the operating rooms and cleaning lights like those in Milton Keynes general hospital (yep, I took what I could get). I was 16 then- that was half my lifetime ago. They were exactly the same in this operating room on the other side of the world in Phnom Penh Cambodia: big long robotic arms, with 3 big beady alien eyes looking down. This is the first time, I guess I can be grateful to say, I have been on the operating table staring up at them though. Who'd have thought it would be here of all places in the world.

The operating room was not significantly big, but it had high ceilings and the tall green walls stared down at me boxing me in. All the doctors and nurses were wearing green or blue, I'm not sure what the difference signified, and even though I'd seen one or two of them in the delivery room before, they were all scrubbed up and wearing masks now that I could barely tell who anyone was. There were sliding windows on two sides like the kind you might get between a kitchen and a dining room. Not really sure why, maybe to pass sterilized equipment through? To get the doctor a coffee during long stints?? One of those, I observed, had a pile of dirty linen lying in it seemingly waiting to be washed. I got the impression the whole room could do with a bit of a tidy up. I didn't care though. I was staring at the wall clock ahead of me, fuming mad that yet again, no-one had bothered to quietly say in my ear as they left, 'we'll be back for you in a couple of minutes, just sit tight,' every tick of the clock seeming like eternity. Was it a language barrier thing? Or do patients in this country just take an inferior place amongst doctors and are not worthy of the communication. I do get the impression the less educated masses here just say yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir to those in authority and those in authority expect little less. Perhaps they thought they knew they would be back so there was no need to tell me anything, but just a few hours earlier I had been told to go into the delivery room to prepare for my epidural only to be abandoned again, waiting for almost half an hour before we asked what was going on, so who knew how long I might be here this time, and I couldn't very well get myself up and ask.

When I think about it now, I must have been in shock. The old cliche 'it all happened so quickly' rings true, even though at the time it really wasn't quick at all; it was painstakingly slow, but somehow it was already over, and I had given birth. Can I even say I 'gave birth' when I didn't do anything? Really, the English teacher in me wants to say birth 'was given' to my son as it was the doctor who cut me open and pulled him out. I felt no sense of achievement, received no, 'well done you did it!' because effectively I didn't do anything, and the staff couldn't really care less. The birth was the exact opposite of anything I could have wanted and was my absolute nightmare scenario for having my baby. The futility of the whole situation made everything worse: there was nothing I could do about it, there was no other option as my baby's heart rate had started becoming erratic, and the only thing worse than the nightmare birth, would have been if there were anything wrong with my child. So when the doctor had told us two hours earlier after the epidural that baby's heart rate had started to drop and, 'Did we agree?' to a Caesarean section, we asked, 'Do we have much choice?' There was no second thought. Do it. Annoyingly I didn't even want the damn epidural in the first place either, and what makes things even worse is that epidurals can cause a drop in heart rate! (I later found out).

I had thought I would be able to handle it: I've had tattoos and my foot injury last year was agonizing, but this labour was worse than both. Contractions were worse than I could have ever imagined, and until the day I (if ever) have another child, I won't be able to compare to know if they really were worse than they were supposed to be, or if it is just that they went on for so long that they became no longer tolerable. Being told in the evening it would likely be in the morning, then suffering through them through the night to be told at 7am I was dilated only two centimetres, and to be then told seven hours later that I was still only dilated 2 centimetres, I could see no end in sight.

Of course, as with many situations that go wrong, I was starting to do the 'what ifs;' one of them being, should I have been in England for this? Would I have had support from a midwife during my day long labour that would have enabled me to cope physically and mentally with the pain so I would not have given in to an epidural? In Cambodia, or at least in the hospital I was in, I can't speak for everywhere, the only monitoring they did was wrapping a heart monitor around my waist and monitoring the baby's heart rate every few hours. This involved lying on my back for half an hour. By 2 pm, half an hour meant eight or ten agonizing contractions, for which I had to be on all fours, or at least be on my side in order to bare. The nurse didn't seem to care about this, and after the 2 pm heart check she deducted from the results after hooking me up, walking out the room and coming back 30 minutes later that the contractions were small. Having to deal with the pain one way or another I had maneuvered a little onto my side so she said the contractions didn't pick up properly on the machine and that I should do another half an hour. It was probably at this point that I decided to go for the epidural as I was incapable of lying on my back another half hour. I felt like screaming,

'Can you not just look at me?? Hang around a couple of minutes after the precious machine is on and look at the human in front of you? You can see these are not Small contractions!!'

I have felt on more than one occasion in this country, perhaps with it being a developing country, that when they do have new fangled machines, they rely on them solely and nothing else. Thinking back to what I'd be offered in the UK I wondered if gas and air would have been sufficient pain relief? Here I had nothing. There's also a small chance baby was in the wrong position, they told me after I'd complained the pain was so bad that it was more painful for me because although the head was down the body was on one side of me. I was aware it had been like that for weeks and it hadn't budged, but I wasn't aware that was an issue. Having said that, no nurse or doctor had so much has just felt around my belly to see where baby was. I can't help but wonder if the pain increasing in my back as the labour went on and me not dilating any further, meant baby was moving in the wrong direction. But how will I ever know?? Perhaps regardless of the epidural I may have required a C section anyway. Who knows.

So in place of Nico being at my side, holding my hand, encouraging me through the pain, and witnessing the birth of our child, he had been abruptly stopped at one of the swing doors on the way through and told he could not go any further. They didn't even give him a chance for us to say anything to each other, for either of us to reassure the other it would be alright. I was whisked off so fast there was again nothing we could do, we were absolutely helpless, our considerations of no importance whatsoever. Of course, dealing with the now distressed unborn baby was of utmost concern so we put aside our personal concerns and did what the doctors instructed. It broke my heart to leave Nico at the door, waiting in the hot and sticky corridor. The only thing worse than being in the operating room going through something horrible, is to be on the other side of the door with no information, wondering what the hell is going on the other side of that door.

Speaking of doors, where was everyone? Where the hell was my baby? And how long would I have to stay lying here crucified to this operating table. I was shaking. Throughout the whole procedure, I had been shaking, shivering uncontrollably. I felt the doctors holding me down to stop me shaking. On my head's side of the curtain some helpful staff wrapped sheets all around my head and arms to try to keep me warm. I discovered afterwards that shivering was also an effect of the epidural but I didn't know this at the time. On the other side of the curtain, I was degradingly stripped down and left lying there with everything showing, of course making me colder. I can understand this might have been necessary for the procedure but after being stripped I still heard all the nurses chatting and joking amongst themselves, playing their phone ringtones to each other, laughing away, and it felt like a good while before they actually started working on me. I said at the one doctor who gave me any solace through the whole procedure, the anesthetist who had given me the epidural, could he please ask them to have some respect and stop all the noise and turn their phones off. At least they did. For them it was just another, as my mum put it, 'slab of meat on the table,' just a day job, they didn't think twice about the torment and concern racing through my head at that point and that I might appreciate some peace and quiet!

It turned out I didn't have to really wait that long at all, and one nurse returned to the operating room a few minutes later so I hadn't had a chance to compose myself, nor did I even have a hand free to dry my eyes. Not the kind of mood I expected I'd be in just after giving birth. Even when the nurse was surprised to see me like that and was concerned and tried to console me, telling me how cute my baby was (me thinking, great, it'd be nice if I could see him and judge for myself), I couldn't stop crying, wondering where the hell was my baby, was Nico with him yet? I was also bitterly disappointed, not only that Nico did not get to witness the birth, he didn't cut the cord, and I didn't get immediate skin to skin contact, which every bit of baby advice you read tells you you need as soon as possible.

2014-05-27 23.10.19

I had seen a UK's National Health Service video, where the baby was taken out after a C section but still put straight on the mother's chest as would be done following a natural delivery. If the NHS video did that, it meant that was how it was done in the UK. I wanted that, and I asked the doctor before she walked out the operating room could I have my baby back and was so unsympathetic and rude to me about it being 'standard procedure' that the baby be taken away, that I was lying there scheming her demise: I was going to find out her name, shame her and the hospital on all forums online, in newspapers, I was that angry. But then later I found out it was in fact standard procedure, which comes down to communication, could she not have mentioned that before when she told us we need a C section, or at least had the tiniest amount of compassion when she was telling me? Horror stories were running through my mind, babies being switched at birth, being stolen at worse; at best some nurse might happily bottle feeding it or sticking a dummy in its mouth affecting my future breast feeding. I had stipulated in my useless birth plan that at no point did I want to be separated from the baby. Useless.

I was watching the minutes tick by afraid that the longer and longer I was away from my baby the harder it would be for him to latch on and successfully breastfeed. I somehow had it stuck in my head from some place I had read, that skin to skin was necessary within the first hour, or it would affect breastfeeding. It turns out that is not necessarily the case, but as the minutes ticked by, this was what was playing on my mind the most. If, because of this, I could not breastfeed, I would be mad beyond belief: formula buying, sterilizing bottles, the cost, the fact that it is not the best choice for baby's health... everything was racing through my head at a hundred miles an hour.

At least this nurse back in the room with me had a sympathetic ear and consoled me. I think she must have been the one who'd squeezed my hand, I wasn't sure why. During the surgery I was aware of them cutting me. I was aware that as soon as they had cut in, the baby must have been affected and was squirming around so vigorously that one of the doctors was literally laying on my stomach to hold him still. I didn't mind that, what I minded was when a minute later the squirming stopped. Why had it stopped? Was everything alright? I became aware I was probably tense, and my uncontrollable shaking probably wasn't helping matters, so I decided to focus on my yoga breathing and try to stop shaking: in through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Ironic that I was using the technique in a birth that had involved induction, epidural and finally C- section, rather than the pain reliever free, all kinds of odd yoga positions, natural birth I had been hoping for. Then a nurse squeezed my hand. I wasn't sure why until I heard baby cries. She could obviously see it was the moment baby was coming into the world. I couldn't see it though, I just heard the cries go off and move further from me towards the other end of the room.

'Boy!' The anesthetist told me. I was so happy to hear he was a boy, though I'm sure I'd have been equally happy the other way. I was just happy he was here finally that tears welled up in my eyes. I was happy, but definitely sad too. I couldn't really believe it, and not being able to see didn't exactly help. Probably five or so minutes later they wheeled him round next to me and I twisted my head around to see him. I swear he looked exactly like he did in his 32 week scan and he was on his own in the plastic hospital cot, kicking around, clearly as desperate for his skin to skin as his mummy was and I said,

'Baby, it's okay, it's gonna be okay,'

I'm sure, convincing myself as much as I was him,' and my clever baby reacted to my voice and looked in my direction.

I thought from then on it would be okay, maybe they'd somehow be able to put him on my chest and I could get a little bit of what I had hoped for. But no, after a few minutes, they whisked him off out of the room! What? Where is he going? Well can his dad at least go too? When can I see him? There was so much going on that affected me and no-one was communicating with me, and that drives me up the wall on a normal day when I can stand up, chase after people and politely (or otherwise) voice my opinion. Being effectively pinned to the table just made the whole episode unbearable. With the nurse by my side and the anesthetist now back in the room, I had the chance to find out that I would now have to go into the recovery room for a couple of hours, this seemed like a huge waste of time, and more time away from my baby. I think I really was not aware, or had not yet comprehended, that I had just had major surgery and need some level of recovery.

I had read so much on natural births, breathing techniques, labour positions and so on, but I hadn't read anything at all about epidurals or C-sections. The doctor following me for the past month had told me many times with my healthy pregnancy, 'you can do natural.' I had no reason to assume otherwise I would need a C section so I had done no research and had no idea about the procedure. Maybe that was my fault. They do also say in all the books to be prepared for all eventualities and I, ignorantly and naively assumed everything would go my way.

Finally I was lifted off the operating bed and onto a wheeled bed and taken into the recovery room, which turns out is the room that Nico had been left at the door of. He wasn't supposed to be allowed in there but with me still crying and, I'm told, still shaking at that point, I must have looked quite the state, so the doctors let him in, briefly. I'm sure it didn't make it any better for Nico after waiting anxiously all this time to then see me like that. I tried to ask him about the baby, had he seen him? Yes he had but they wouldn't let him in the neo-natal either! So all this time poor papa had just been helplessly pacing the corridors. In the midst of trying to talk I had probably worked myself up so much, and it turns out it's also a post C-section side effect, I had to suddenly vomit. Try vomiting when your stomach has just been cut open. Luckily I was still under some effect of the pain relief, but I was retching and couldn't really move so I just tipped my head to the side (not unlike baby does now when he spits up), and although they cottoned on I was about to puke, they didn't get to me with the dish in time, so I promptly threw up beside my head on the bed and all over the cables of the blood pressure machine. Oops. I mouthed an, 'I'm okay,' to Nico who, although always calm on the outside, was probably mildly freaking out on the inside. They soon shooed him out of the room and I, under the influence of the pain relief or just exhausted from a day that had started at 3am with regular contractions, soon passed out.

They'd told me I'd only have to stay there half an hour but when I woke up I'm sure it was more like an hour and a half that had passed, though I had lost track of which hour we were up to. Regardless, they told me I could now go back to my room so I was happy with that. You remember you're in a developing country when in order to move me they have four people lift me off the bed on to a stretcher of cloth and two wooden sticks on the floor. Then two guys, who lucked out by getting the giant 80 kilo foreigner heave as they pick me and shuffle to the wheeled stretcher outside. Unfortunately for them there wasn't far to push me before they had to take me off again and carry me up the stairs (no lifts in this hospital). They then placed me on the floor in my room and needed Nico's help to lift me back up onto my bed!

Finally, after what seemed like a life time of labour, around 10pm on Tuesday May 6th, 2014, Nico carried in the tiny little bundle, and I got to finally meet my baby Diego Luca Guang-Zhe Pollet.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

"Generation Z: ReNoise" and a Little Bit More

The CTM festival, a.k.a the Festival for Adventurous Music & Art in Berlin earlier this year placed a lot of emphasis on early electronic music from Eastern Europe, especially music from the USSR. One of the main attractions of CTM festival was "Generation Z: Renoise", an exhibition on "Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology in the Early 20th Century". For a whole month, the exhibition space down the hallway of the Bethanien was filled with a variety of noise instruments made from metal and wood. Guests were turning handles, banging gongs, drilling against large pieces of sheet metal to their heart's content, and the clickety clack, rumble, boom and twang never ceased. It was like a collective improv noise performance. These machines were replicas of the noise machines invented by Vladimir Aleksandrovich Popov (1889-1968) in the 1940s.

For many years, the imagination of Soviet art in the minds of the general public were dominated either by the dreadful description of a mechanically produced novel by George Orwell, or the forced cheerfulness of North Korean patriotic songs on youtube that are so often the subject of ridicule by bored netizens.

"Generation Z" is a reminder of a USSR that wasn't all kitsch. During the early 20's, there was a brief flash of creativity in Russian history, when artists and scientists strove to create a communist utopia where man and machine were one. Noise orchestras, post-human discourse, experiments in graphical sound and musique concrète appeared, way before anything similar appeared in the West. These projects were the brain child of the Russian avant-garde groups, heavily influenced by Russian futurism and further inspired by Lenin's 1920 dictum "Communism equals Soviet power plus the Electrification of the Entire Country". Unfortunately, these progressive ideas were seen as hostile to the authority of the Bolshevik government. They were gradually repressed by Lenin and brutally abolished by Stalin.

Julia-CMT-ThereminThe main star of the exhibit was Leon Theremin (1896-1993), who invented the famous theremin and who also worked for the KGB making machines for espionage. Works of lesser known artists who were nonetheless way ahead of their times also featured in the exhibition. There was Arseny Avraamov (1885-1944), who was already experimenting with the prepared piano, and Dziga Vertov (1896-1954), who was already toying with pre-recorded music and musique concrète.

However, the most interesting part of the exhibition for me was its introduction of the various organizations, or to use the curator's own words, the various "network cultures", which are "based on numerous cross-connected "creative units" comprised of artists and scholars" that sprouted in attempt to contribute their own version of Soviet utopia. For instance, Proletkult, founded by Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928), was a organization that aimed to re-examine traditional art, literature and science through cybernetics in order to create a new proletarian culture. It opened studios in worker's unions all over the country, using nonhierarchical methods to encourage workers to express their own voice.

"Generation Z" focused on the noise orchestras that sprouted accompanying the experimental theaters that performed under Proletkult. The display of instruments used in these orchestras were imbued with a heavy punk DIY spirit, as they were commonly made with household objects such as chairs, pig bladders, or abacuses. This was in accordance with the Constructivist slogan "art into life", which, according to scholar Konstantin Dudakov-Kashuro, made "no distinction between everyday life and art, production and culture, work and leisure, musical instruments and working tools." Of course, there was a more pragmatic reason underlying these high claims: Russia was facing a lack of materials to create traditional instruments due to the ongoing civil war.

Julia-CMT-Portrait-of-Alexei-Gastev-by-Z.-TolkachevWhile organizations like Proletkult were busy cultivating their utopia from a class-based approach, others did so through the attempt of fusing man and machine. A radical institute called The Central Institute of Labour (CIT) was founded in 1920 by Alexey Gastev (1882-1939) and supported by Lenin. Heavily influenced by Fordism and Taylorism, Gastev sought to realize the man/machine metaphor through biomechanics: Instruments for photography and film were found within the institute, monitoring the workers' movements in order to calculate the most efficient working method. The ideal was that by the completion of the training, "full automatism" would be attained and workers' mind would be freed to engage in new stimuli.

Unfortunately, most of these projects came to a nasty end. Bogdanov's insistence on Proletkult's autonomy from the central Communist was viewed as a threat by Lenin. As a consequence, Bogdanov was removed from the leadership role of Proletkult, while Proletkult itself was made into a subsection of the governmental cultural agency. It was closed down by the Communist party in April 1932. in 1938 Alexei Gastev was arrested for "counter-revolutionary terrorist activity" and executed the following year. The CIT was subsequently closed down. By the mid 40's, these projects had been erased from the "official" history of Soviet Russia. New ideas were stifled because under Stalin's regime, anything that was beyond immediate comprehension was branded as "formalism", idle contemplations of the petty bourgeois and should be immediately banned. What was left was Stalinist realism, a cookie cutter style that existed only to glorify Communist rule.

One wonders why Lunaacharsky's proposal to composer Sergei Prokofiev: "You are revolutionary in music as we are revolutionary in life – we should work together" faced such a sour end. Proletkult sought to spread culture among the proletarians, the CIT sought to realize Lenin's electrified communist moto. Clearly they couldn't be seen as immediate threats to the revolution. "Generation Z" blames the authoritarian nature of the Bolshevik government: "By their very nature, authoritarian states are not interested in supporting ideas that incite society to any activity that might undermine their authority." While this may be true, the exhibit's clear-cut distinction between the "artistic and scientific Utopia" of the 1910s and 20s and the "totalitarian, highly centralized anti-Utopia" of the 30s to 50s tantalizes the visitor, beckoning to them to fill in the gaps.

Julia-CMT-noise-machine01Noise Machine invented by Vladimir Popov and reconstructed by Music Laboratory.

Is there no contiguity at all between Utopia and Dystopia? Further studies show that this is not the case. For instance, while the exhibit portrays avant-garde artists striving together towards an electrified communist utopia, some may argue that the idea of the Russian avant-garde and the Communists working arm in arm is a misconception. According to Gassner Hubertus's article "The Constructivists Modernism on the Way to Modernization", many of the Russian Futurists were anarchists before the 1917 October Revolution. They differed from the Bolsheviks in that they distrusted any form of institution and insisted on the autonomy of art from the government. The insurgence of the Bolsheviks however, created a vacuum in the governmental art department, as right-winged conservative artists were mostly sympathizers of the previous social democratic government. The traditional preservationist approach to art on the Bolsheviks' part, on the other hand, was interpreted by the leftist anarchists that artistic freedom could once again fall back to institutional tutelage that haunted the 300 year czarist regime. Some avant-garde leftists thus decided to work with the government and gain at least some political leverage.

julia-CMT-CIT-posterWhile they enjoyed a honey moon period around 1918-19, in which various avant-garde museums and exhibitions were held, institutions became increasingly centralized after the end of the Civil War in the autumn of 1920. Publications ceased to exist and autonomous artistic organizations were dissolved. In a letter criticizing Proletkult, the communist party accused the futurists involved of exerting subversive influences in the organization. Facing this series of defeats, the avant-garde leftists had to rethink their position in society. They came up with constructivism, which attempted to identify the artist with the worker and their artwork as product, thus the slogan "art into life", as mentioned in Dudakov-Kashuro's commentary on Soviet noise orchestras. Though this concept claimed to renovate the relationship between art and everyday life, the price was the disavowal of the artist as subject, as the poet Mayakovski clearly revealed in his statement in 1920: "We declare: to hell with individualism, to hell with words and emotions... so that we can even renounce our own personality... the poet can't be forced but he can force himself"

The artists justified themselves by identifying with the workers in a worker's state, but art risked losing its critical stance to life. Indeed, some critics argued that constructivism wasn't a merging of art into life, but a liquidation of art into life. Marxist scholar Dave Walsh even went so far as to accuse the constructivists for paving the road to Stalin's later oppression of art:

"There is no question that the Futurist-Constructivists, as well as the early Proletkul'tists, provided certain slogans, issues and ideological weapons that were seized upon by the Stalinists and utilized against artistic production itself. The diatribes against inspiration, intuition, "soulfulness," "haziness," etc., were used to regiment and straitjacket the artists of a later period."

Of course, this is in no way to say that the artists got what they deserve, but rather it was an attempt to offer a contiguous transition of the gap left by "Generation Z" in their Utopia/Dystopia dichotomy. It would be insensitive and irresponsible to say that things would be different if those in the avant-garde had done things differently. Art and culture is the most fragile organ of a civilization. In such turbulent times they didn't really stand a chance.

Images Captions:

1. The theremin
2. Noise Machine invented by Vladimir Popov and reconstructed by Music Laboratory  
3. Portrait of Alexei Gastev by Z. Tolkachev
4. CIT poster: “Let’s take the snow-storm of the revolution in the USSR, let’s put the rhythm of american life and perform well-adjusted work like chronometer.”

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