1908 and 2008: Earth Monkey, Earth Rat


© Terry Boardman     This article first appeared in New View magazine 1st Quarter Winter 2008/09



There are particularly momentous years in the biographies of individuals and in the histories of nations. For example, 2008 has clearly turned out to be one such year in the modern history of China . Against a background of increasing concern in the western media about the consequences of China’s growth, its use of natural resources to support its massive economic appetite, its successful economic diplomacy outflanking western competitors around the world, especially in Africa, its friendly relations with regimes which many in the West regard with varying degrees of antipathy (Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran, N.Korea) and its ever expanding military might – symbolised by its new submarines, aircraft carriers and capacity to shoot down satellites in space – further tensions have arisen in 2008 due to western reactions to the disturbances in Tibet during March. Then following the catastrophic cyclone in Burma, some westerners, frustrated by the Burmese government’s refusal to allow in western aid, blame China for the anti-western attitude of the Burmese authorities, as China’s usual policy of respecting for national sovereignty, has always led to a refusal to agree to any western proposals for intervention in the internal affairs of other states, especially those with which China has a close interest, such as those on China’s borders. Yet recently,  there have been hopeful signs for a lessening of international tensions in the March victory of Ma Yingjou of the pro-Beijing Guomindang Party in the presidential elections in Taiwan – a potential flashpoint – and in the improvement in Sino-Japanese relations highlighted by the visit to Japan of Chinese President Hu Jintao in May. So, let us look a little deeper into the nature and background of 2008.

2008 The Year of the Earth Rat

In the Chinese scheme of things, 2008 is the Year of the Rat, which is always the first of every 12-year cycle in the traditional Chinese calendar. The Chinese calendar is a lunar one and recognises 12 zodiac animals (rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, donkey, rooster, dog and pig) ascribed in turn to each year of the 12 year cycle. This 12 year cycle also interacts with another cycle based on the 5 elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth, in that order. Each element is also ascribed to a whole year, but repeats the following year (Metal, Metal, Water, Water and so on) so that one year has the quality of Yang (positive) the other year of Yin (negative). The five elements in their Yin and Yang forms make up the so-called ‘Ten Heavenly Stems’. Therefore in any two consecutive years Yin and Yang are side by side and together bring a balance. It takes 60 years for the beginning of both cycles to co-incide: the 12 year animal cycle and the 5 element cylce in their Yin and Yang forms. During this time each animal is by turn connected with the elements of metal, water, wood, fire and earth. A 60 year cycle holds meaning for the Chinese.

Next year, 2009, on the 1st October will see the 60th anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Republic of China in 1949; that year began in the Year of the Rat. By 1949, the bipolar dualist world order of capitalism versus communism – the Cold War – was well under way; it was to last another 42 years, until 1991 and the end of the USSR . Traditional western astrology also recognises a reality in cycles of 60 years, as Jupiter and Saturn complete a triad of so-called Great Conjunctions of these two giants (or meetings, as seen from the Earth) every 20 years. Jupiter is traditionally regarded as the planet associated with the future and Saturn with the past. The three conjunctions they trace out around the Zodiac form a near equilateral triangle or trigon which, as the third conjunction does not occur in the same place as the first but about nine degrees beyond it, rotates through the entire Zodiac over 2400 years.

…the 60 years is made up of 5 x cycles of Jupiter [12 years] and 2 x cycles of Saturn [30 years] in terms of orbital periods. This is very much as a clock face with each hour split into 12 x 5 segments to give the 60 minutes, or two half hour periods of 30 minutes, even the number of hours in a day is reflected in the 2,400 year periodic of the Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions cycle, the hour also essentially finding itself in the dodecahedra of 12 facets each a 5 sided pentagon and the 30 edges….The orbital period of Jupiter, 12, times the 30 of Saturn giving the 360 degree circle of the zodiac divided into 12 segments of 30 degrees, each [zodiacal segment] of 2,160 years duration as regards the rounded periodic of 25,920 years for the factor of ecliptic precession.(1)

The three conjunctions over 60 years occur in zodiac signs associated with the same element, be it earth, air, fire, or water [only these 4 elements are recognised in western astrology] and continue to do so for between 150 and 200 years.(2) The moment of shifting to another zodiac sign associated with a different  element has traditionally been regarded as the harbinger of great social and cultural changes. According to this idea we have been living in a period that stretches from the 1840s to 2020, the year when the conjunctions occur in the air  element. Interestingly, Rudolf Steiner indicated that the 1840s saw the peak of a massive wave of philosophical materialism that had been steadily rising since the mid-16th century, the time of Copernicus (d.1543) and Francis Bacon (d.1626) and indeed it could be said that the period 1840-2020 will have been one of gross materialism throughout the world. Bacon drew attention to three great discoveries that had transformed culture up to his time: those of paper, gunpowder, and printing. All of these originated in China . A potent symptom of that ‘peaking’ of materialism to which Steiner referred was the Opium Wars between Britain and China (1839-42, 1858-60) that the British fought in the name of ‘free trade and civilisation’. The war began in 1839 when the Chinese government, opposed to the trade which they saw was ruining their people, appropriated and destroyed ‘British property’ – the chests of opium illegally shipped in from British India . Britain sent gunboats and an expeditionary force to protect, maintain and expand the trade because by this time the British economy was as hooked on the Chinese silver that paid for the opium as the Chinese were on the opium itself. In 1773 Britain had sold 75 tons of opium a year to China ; by 1838 that had risen to 1400 tons. The war certainly brought the Celestial Empire [as China has sometimes been known] down to earth and with it began 110 years of humiliation for China at the hands of foreign powers until 1949, when the People’s Republic was founded – a period the Chinese have by no means forgotten, even if most Britons may have. China’s current actions and behaviour – for example, its concern for national sovereignty, its anxiety to avoid anything that smacks of ‘splittism’ [anything that would separate groups of people away from Government policies…] and its fierce aversion to religious sects such as Falun Gong – ought to be seen in this context. An historical example of the background for such concerns can be understood from the period immediately following the First Opium War, when the country was riven by a terrible civil war sparked by a sect of pseudo-Christian fanatics, the Taiping, whose leader Hong Xiuquan, was inspired by western Protestant missionaries and believed he was the brother of Jesus Christ . Some 20-30 million Chinese died in the Taiping (‘Heavenly Peace’) Rebellion of 1850-1864 which came close to overthrowing the Qing dynasty; at their height the Taiping rebels ruled over 30 million Chinese. Western governments were at first ambivalent about the rebellion but eventually declared against it and even supported the Imperial forces with troops in putting down the rebellion. 99 years after the Taiping Rebellion broke out, the Communist People’s Republic was founded, and there were in fact a number of similarities between the movement led by Mao Zedong and that of the Taiping; Mao even admired certain aspects of the Taiping.

A New Rhythm in Time

Steiner indicated in 1917 that considerable light can be thrown on history by the 331/3 year cycle whereby all new impulses in social life occur as seeds which ‘blossom’ – for good or ill – 331/3 years later. Steiner based this on the 331/3 year life of Jesus Christ whose experience since His resurrection has been ‘written into’ the formative forces of human history. It is a new rhythm in history since the birth of Jesus , independent of the older astrologically and astronomically-based rhythms, such as the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions. Obviously, one can convince oneself of the veracity of this new rhythm only by studying historical events as they unfold over a century. Events in the first 331/3 years of a century go though a development in the following 331/3 years and then reach a kind of culmination in the final 331/3 years. This means that not only do the centuries of the Christian era have their own ‘time body’ of 3 x 33 years, – the first being the first century AD, and the latest this 21st century –but also that at whatever point in any century the starting point is taken, a century has an organic historical reality to it. Therfore,  events that occurred in 1908 are germinating seeds, which come, in a sense,  to fruition in 2008.

1908 – The Year of the Earth Monkey

1908 was a momentous year for four ancient empires faced with the challenges of the modern world: China , Russia , Austria-Hungary and Turkey . Some of the background to this occurred three years earlier, when British plans to encourage their new Japanese ally to forestall Russia’s forward policy in China and its dreaded moves in the direction of India via Tibet had resulted in Russia’s disastrous defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in which Japan had been backed by British and American money. Russia’s Foreign Ministry, looking elsewhere for glory, turned its attention back to Europe, to the Balkans and began encouraging their client state Serbia in its perennial disputes with the Austro-Hungarian empire, which had itself chosen to confront Russian plans in the region by annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire.(3) This provocative act sparked a European crisis which lasted a year. But, coming so soon after its painful defeat by Japan, Russia was in no state to face down the Central Powers, Austria-Hungary and her allies Germany and Italy , so Austria got her way. Both the Serb and Russian governments felt humiliated and sought revenge, which came in 1914.  3 x 331/3 years on from 1908, the people of Serbia , whose painful fate since the early 1980s had been the direct result of the events of 1914-18, opted to forgo a more nationalist course in favour of getting closer to the EU.

In the Middle Ages the Serbs had fought hard against the ever encroaching Ottoman Turks, a people who had migrated west a thousand years earlier from the lands we now know as western China . In 1908 a radical coup succeeded in Turkey where the nationalist and secularist Young Turk movement took power and sought to modernise the State; many of the Young Turks, as reported in Le Temps (20.8.08) The New York Times (6. 9.08), were Freemasons, and their radical organisation was rooted in Freemasonry.(4) 100 years on, the Turkish State founded by Mustafa Kemal, who abolished the Muslim Caliphate, and whose secularist philosophy is still firmly upheld by the military, is being challenged by another, less clandestine, ‘Young Turk’ movement, one that wants a moderate Islam to be allowed a place within Turkish social life. Turkey now stands at another historical crossroads. The Queen is the Grand Patron of British Freemasonry, so it is of note that in 2008, 100 years after the Masonically-inspired successful coup in Turkey , she visits the country for the first time since 1971. Turkey in fact occupies a key place in current developments. Not only has it been a firm member of NATO since the 1950s, it is increasingly seen in the West as a test case for a democratic Muslim state. Also, it has become very friendly in recent years with the US ally Israel and, above all perhaps, it sits astride the various oil pipelines carrying oil from Central Asia to the West. One of these pipeline routes passes through Kosovo, where the US has established a giant military base, Camp Bondsteel , to keep an eye on it. This is part of the background, if not the foreground, to the independence of Kosovo, which NATO pushed through in the spring of 2008 and which was directly connected to the conflict in Georgia, Turkey’s direct neighbour, in the summer;(5) another pipeline route (the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan Line) passes from Azerbaijian through Georgia into Turkey.

Let us return for a moment  to the decade before 1914, to the time when the war between Russia and Britain ‘s ally, Japan . This war had  been raging for two months, when the imperialistically-minded geographer, Halford J. Mackinder (picture) wrote a hugely influential essay in The Geographical Journal (Vol. 23, No. 4. (April 1904) titled “The Geographical Pivot of History”. It described how modern transport technology was inexorably transferring the balance of world power from sea-powers, such as Britain , to land-powers, such as Russia , which would be able to access the boundless resources of what he called the Eurasian “Heartland”, unchallenged by any navy. By “Heartland” he meant the region from European Russia through Central Asia and Northern Tibet to eastern Siberia . His slogan was:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island (the Eurasian continent) Who rules the World-Island commands the World (6)

Mackinder can surely be excused for not realising that his freshly cooked thesis was already rendered somewhat stale by the Wright Brothers’ first successful airplane flight at Kittyhawk , USA , just the year before. But his ideas about the central importance of the Heartland and the World Island would go on to influence German geopolitics expert Karl Haushofer , who introduced them to Hitler . They were also noted by Zbigniew Brzezinski , the most significant of the foreign policy experts advising Barack Obama .

On 30th June 1908 , at 7.14 am , Mackinder ‘s “Heartland” (near the Podkamennaya [i.e. Lower Stony] Tunguska River in the Krasnoyarsk region of northern central Siberia , to be exact) suffered a massive blow – a gigantic airborne explosion about 1000 times more powerful than the A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima . It flattened about 80 million trees over 2,150 square kilometres, and the accompanying earth tremor registered the equivalent of 5.0 on the Richter scale, but, amazingly, despite all this incredible destruction, there was no loss of human life. The event is thought to be the largest impact event on land in recent history yet it left no crater and no obvious signs of meteor debris, although scientists today believe it was the airborne explosion of an asteroid or comet. A few years later, in 1915, a certain well-known inventor, whose family stemmed from Bosnia-Herzegovina – the region of the ‘diplomatic earthquake’ of 1908 – stated:

It is perfectly practical to transmit electrical energy without wires and produce destructive effects at a distance. I have already constructed a wireless transmitter which makes this possible. … But when unavoidable [it] may be used to destroy property and life. The art is already so far developed that the great destructive effects can be produced at any point on the globe, defined beforehand with great accuracy (emphasis added).

This statement was made by the enigmatic and brilliant Nicola Tesla, (picture) the man who would later, in the 1930s, publicly offer to the Great Powers his ideas for a so-called “peace ray” or “death ray” – a directed energy particle beam weapon, a kind of defence shield which he claimed would make war impossible by being able to destroy aircraft and armies at a great distance. The Powers, already intent on having another war, declined to accept his offer at that time. It is interesting to note that later, particle beam weapons developed by the USA and USSR would show great similarity to Tesla’s ideas. Tesla was an extraordinary technological genius. The fact that in those days he was conceiving of machines capable of causing earthquakes and sending massive amounts of targeted wireless energy round the globe is further evidence, if such is needed, of what a remarkable decade that was before the Great War came; titanic changes on a global scale were taking place. Humanity was crossing a threshold into a new era; some would say that something similar thing is again occurring in our time, especially in biology and nanotechnology.

In the last December days of 1908, a gigantic earthquake hit southern Italy , and destroyed the city of Messina in Sicily . The places of the events of 1908 already referred to, except for Sicily , are all contained in Mackinder ‘s “Heartland” – from the Balkans to Siberia . Something momentous was afoot in 1908, something on a truly gigantic scale.

1908 was also a dramatic year in the history of China . The 38 year-old Guangxu Emperor (r.1871-1908) died on 14th November in suspicious circumstances, and his nephew, 2½ year-old Puyi, was installed as the Xuantong Emperor the same day by the Empress Dowager Cixi,(7)  who then herself died the following day, the 15th November. Cixi had held real power since the coup she had orchestrated against the Guangxu Emperor, her adopted son, 10 years earlier. China had been humiliated by defeat in war against Japan in 1894-5, and in response, the 28 year-old Guangxu Emperor had attempted in 1898 to push through radical changes, in what was known as ‘the 100 Days’ Reform’. However, he was outflanked by Cixi, who did not want so much compromise with modernisation, and he was effectively put under house arrest for the remainder of his reign. The Guangxu Emperor was likely murdered by Cixi or by the general Yuan Shikai, who had betrayed him in 1898. China’s last emperor was now the two year old Puyi (r.1908-1912) who was forced to abdicate on 12. February 1912 following the Republican revolution, which had broken out in October 1911, and was led by Sun Yat-sen, a member of the Chinese ‘Freemasonic’ network, the Chee Kong Tong.

In September 1908, “on a cloudless sun-spangled day”, the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, arrived in Beijing for important negotiations with the Chinese. He had come, not from Lhasa , his Tibetan capital, but from Mongolia where he had been in exile since he had escaped from the British invasion of Copy of a photograph of 13th Dalai LamaTibet four years earlier. There was a significant background to his arrival in Beijing . In 1904, the year Mackinder made public his geopolitical ideas about the importance of Eurasia , Britain had taken advantage of the fact that Russia was at war with Japan and had invaded Tibet . Ostensibly, this move was part of the ‘Great Game’ played out between the British and Russian Empires for control of Central Asia and ultimately, India . A Japanese Buddhist priest Ekai Kawaguchi had travelled in Tibet (1900-1902) where he had been received by the 13th Dalai Lama, had met a Japanese spy in Lhasa , and also passed on information to an Indian friend Sarat Chandra Das , who worked for British Intelligence. Kawaguchi had learned that Agvan Dorjiev, a Buryat monk [buryats being the largest ethnic group in Siberia] and the Dalai Lama’s most trusted advisor, had long been urging the Dalai Lama to ally Tibet with Russia, the enemy of both Britain and Japan who had became formal allies in 1902. The monk Dorjiev had convinced himself that Czar Nicholas II was the reincarnation of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) Order of the Dalai Lamas. Partly due to the influence of Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society in upper class circles, Tibet was very much in vogue in St. Petersburg at the time; the Czar himself was especially drawn to all things Asian and mystical., Kawaguchi (who was later befriended by the British Theosophical leader and esoterisist Annie Besant) recorded in his book, Three Years in Tibet, (published in Benaras by the Theosophical Society in 1909), that he had heard of Dorjiev’s pamphlet claiming that Russian Siberia represented the spiritual paradise of Shambhala and that the Czar was the reincarnated Tsongkhapa. He had already passed on to the British, via Chandra Das , the false information that a Russian military force was already in Tibet . Most likely, the Japanese hoped to stir up trouble between the British and the Russians that might help them in their coming struggle with Russia . The news of Russian troops in Tibet alarmed the Viceroy, arch-imperialist Lord Curzon , who was only too aware of the esoteric significance of the Shambhala legend and of talk of the reincarnation of Tsongkhapa. Curzon ordered Col. Francis Younghusband , a frontiersman in the Kipling mode, to lead his armed expedition in what became the bloody invasion of Tibet in 1904; thousands of poorly-armed Tibetans were mown down by Younghusband’s Maxim machine guns. Following Russia ‘s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the British had now achieved their aims, namely, to use the Japanese to push back the expansionist Russians; this is why Britain had allied itself with Japan in 1902. Satisfied they had rebuffed the Russian threat to India , in 1906 the British signed a Convention with China that recognised Chinese rule in Tibet .

Before arriving in Beijing in September 1908, the Dalai Lama had passed through Shanxi , a province just west of Beijing . There he had had his first ever meeting with a western ambassador, the intrepid American Envoy to China , William Rockhill , in June , the month of the gigantic explosion over Tunguska in northern Siberia . The two men had got on well and, amongst other things, Rockhill had urged an autumn peace meeting in Beijing on the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan leader was keen for maximum autonomy from the Chinese, though still prepared to accept their suzerainty, a position which Rockhill himself thought best for Tibet, fearing that European schemes to break up China would shut out US interests.

…his welcome seemed auspicious. An Imperial guard of honour met him at the flower-bedecked railway station. Trumpeters preceded his processional column, with its six drummers beating in slow time. A throng of sunburnt monks garbed in flowing capes of yellow and red followed. Mounted infantry with drawn swords and four buglers trotted before the great yellow chair in which the Lama sat curtained from view, borne by twenty porters.(8)

But while Thubten Gyatso was in Beijing , three great imperial events occurred (the deaths of the Emperor and Empress and the succession to the throne by the two-year old Child Emperor already mentioned), and he found himself attending two funerals. In the negotiations that had preceded them, the Chinese were unyielding. The Dalai Lama’s title was downgraded from “The Most Excellent, Self-Existent Buddha of the West” to “The Sincerely Obedient, Reincarnation-helping, Most Excellent Buddha of the West”. He was commanded to return to Lhasa and obey the Chinese Governor. Rockhill regrettably recommended compliance. “I have probably been a witness to the overthrow of the Yellow Church ” [the Dalai Lama's Gelugpa Order], he reported to President Theodore Roosevelt . The Dalai Lama did return to Lhasa after the fruitless talks and his five year exile, but in February 1910, with the baleful Halley’s Comet high in the sky, he fled once again, this time south to India to escape Chinese troops sent to arrest him; 49 years later, his successor the 14th Dalai Lama, would do the same.                  .

Not too happy about their lot between the condescending, bullying Chinese and the even more violent and unhelpful British, the Tibetans had turned to Russia again in 1908, but all they had got out of the Russians, who in the meantime had signed their own Entente with Britain the year before, was permission in 1909 to build a Tibetan temple in St. Petersburg dedicated to the highly esoteric Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) rituals. Another short-lived military incursion by the Chinese followed in 1912-13, which the Tibetans were able to see off, due mainly to the chaotic conditions obtaining in China at that time following the collapse of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty. The Tibetans then signed a Convention with Britain at Simla in 1914, which guaranteed Tibetan autonomy but only under nominal Chinese control. China did not sign and continued to put pressure on the Tibetans; Britain provided no aid. Tibet now looked to Japan for military support,(9) but after the Great War, Britain once more applied  pressure, determined to ensure that Tibet would remain an effective buffer state, closed to all comers and would continue under Chinese suzerainty. This year, 2008, as in 1908, the Tibetians once again experienced a sharp rebuff from Beijing as the Chinese clamped down on the Tibetan riots and demonstrations that sprang up throughout Tibet proper and in surrounding provinces with large Tibetan populations. Just as the Dalai Lama in 1908 had attempted in vain to secure greater autonomy for his people (in his case by actually travelling to Beijing at the urging of the American, Rockhill), so in 2008 the Dalai Lama also had to look on from abroad while Tibetans around the world, and their foreign sympathisers, sought to pressurise the Chinese into giving ground – again with no success. These recent demonstrations were also partly supported by American sources. (10)

China in 2008 and the USA in 1908

In one of history’s innumerable ironies, the Chinese Communists are being forced by events, step by step, to metamorphose into their former adversaries, the Nationalists: the spirit of Taiwan takes over the mainland rather than the other way round. Until as recently as 1988, Taiwan was a capitalist autocracy ruled by one party, the Nationalist Guomindang, the party of Chiang Kai-shek . But the philosophy underlying nationalist capitalism, internationalist communism, and the more recent globalist capitalism is at root the same philosophy – materialism. Outwardly, China seems obsessed with materialistic goals yet it is almost a fundamental principle of both personal and historical development that the more one expands outwardly in a materialistic sense, the more one becomes hollowed out inwardly. An empty space results, an inner hunger that yearns to be filled by something, almost anything. This is as true in the West as in China , where the government has sought to replace the declining prestige of the Communist Party by a nationalist credo. Until this year’s devastating earthquake at Szechuan in China, apart from a few voices, the western media were generally encouraging their populations to see modern China in terms of an energetic but selfish, corrupt, arrogant, authoritarian, polluting, even dangerous country that supported venal states around the world (N.Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran, Sudan) and pillaged the Third World for natural resources such as oil, timber, minerals and animals. The disturbances in Tibet in March and the Chinese authorities’ response to them, which occurred as the Olympic torch was progressing around the globe, seemed to most western media, whose coverage of the events was often extremely biased, merely to add to this (one-sided) picture.

Then came the Burma cyclone in April and the Burmese regime’s reaction, which was blamed by many in the West on China : ” China supports the Burmese junta and protects it from western criticism ergo….” Western aid was not allowed in at first, especially aid carried by western military forces. The western media writhed in frustration, and this was taken as another opportunity for some to knock China . Then, 10 days after the cyclone, came the earthquake in Szechuan on 12 May (picture). At first, the Chinese people were stunned, but almost instantaneously, “the whole country suddenly united. It was really miraculous. For the nation historically, when you come back later, it will be [considered] a good thing. I’m not talking about the party. I’m talking about this land.” “We Chinese people are drawing closer and closer together. And because of that, the country’s morality is rising too.” The national tragedy has been “a shock of consciousness”, “a major leap forward in the formation of China ‘s civil society” (TIME magazine, 2 June). The rest of the world was amazed at the sheer integrity of the Chinese people’s response to the catastrophe, and not least at that of the government, a response which contrasts so markedly with that of the Bush administration to the 2004 hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans . A terrible disaster may turn out to have achieved in China what years of hectoring by outsiders failed to do. Before the earthquake there were already signs that, increasingly, the Chinese were beginning to stress quality of life as well as quantity of production in the rush to modernise, but now the shock of the earthquake disaster seemed to focus people’s minds on the question of “what lies within?” “What are we really about?” Sections of the western media were soon speculating that this new mood would lead to the ultimate demise of the Communist Party and the glories of democratic elections, two party systems and all the rest, but that is hardly the point. Of course, it is also possible that this new-found spirit of community may, via the Olympics, lead to, or be guided towards, an even greater, and more exalted sense of nationalism. But rather than this, it is to be hoped that through this awful disaster, the Chinese nation may turn away from the materialistic drives of the past 20 years and find “its better self”, as TIME magazine may have unwittingly expressed it. Certainly, the Beijing Olympics this year appeared as a very successful and harmonious event in stark contrast to the simultaneous violence that flared up in the Caucasus between Georgians, Ossetians and Russians. We can see a subtle contrast a hundred years before, in 1908, when, during the tense diplomatic stand off between Russia and Austria-Hungary that threatened to escalate into a world war, other great spectacles took place in Beijing in the two imperial funerals of the Emperor and Dowager Empress and the imperial enthronement of the boy who would become the last Emperor. 1908 was also the year the airplane really went public as the Americans Orville and Wilbur Wright , who had pioneered powered airflight five years earlier, showed the world in repeated air shows, trials and demonstrations, what they were now capable of. A century later, the theme of public aerial display was repeated when, after the mass pageants of the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese offered mankind the added spectacle of the first Chinese space walk, while in the autumn of 2008 India launched its first rocket to the Moon.

China, which suffered such a devastating earthquake this year, has in recent years been regarded as the main economic challenger to the West and specifically the challenger to the dominant economic position of the USA, but 2008 has of course seen another mighty earthquake besides the one in China – the financial earthquake that struck New York seven years to the week after September 2001, the enormous aftershocks of which are still rolling round the world and may yet stimulate further catastrophes. The financial crash of September 2008 has its roots in the credit crunch that began in August 2007. Once again, looking back 100 years, we see a parallel event in the same place and in the same area – that of finance and the economy, for autumn 1907 saw the outbreak, development and termination of ‘the Panic of 1907′, also known as the 1907 Bankers’ Panic’ (picture). The crisis began on 14th October with the financial manouevres of Otto Heinze to corner the copper market, which backfired spectacularly, leading to a bank run and eventually the collapse of Knickerbocker Trust Company, New York’s third largest, on 22 October. Banks stopped lending, stocks plummeted. The system faced collapse; it was saved by the strong and bullying leadership of J. P. Image:1907 Panic.png Morgan assisted by timely infusions of money by John D. Rockefeller and of public statements by President Roosevelt and Lord Rothschild from London . This panic, the latest and most severe in a series of bank panics since 1873, took place within the context of a severe economic contraction that had begun in May 1907. By early November the worst was over, but the Panic led in 1908 to the establishment of a National Monetary Commission which, following a secret bankers’ meeting at Jekyll Island , Georgia USA in 1910, eventually came up with the plan for – the Federal Reserve. This institution, still controversial even today came into being in a shady process in December 1913. Many claimed that the Panic of 1907 had been engineered by the bankers to bring about what some of them had wanted since the days of Alexander Hamilton – an American Central Bank on the European model, control of which would essentially be in private hands rather than democratically accountable. US politicians had fought the bankers over this for 100 years. In December 1913 the politicians lost the battle. Today, the bank bailout crisis of September-October 2008, following on from the so-called credit crunch of 2007, has also resulted in a bid to extend centralised regulation – this time the goal is surveillance and control of the ‘financial architecture’ of the entire world. The representatives of the self-styled ‘international community’ (Bush, Brown, Sarkozy of USA, Britain and France)) have declared their desire to create a new system of global financial regulations, perhaps based on a revamped International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organisation described by Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President at the World Bank as reflecting – since its founding in 1944 – “the interests and ideology of the Western financial community”. Time will tell if this turns out to be as significant as the creation of the Federal Reserve.

At the close of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in the new, much-acclaimed ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium, after an Olympiad widely recognised as having been a great success for China, the Olympic banner was handed to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, the host city of the next Games in 2012. A hundred years ago in 1908, London had also hosted the Games in its new White City stadium, also considered a marvel at the time. China had not then been present. The idea that it was more important to participate than to win was first proclaimed during those 1908 Games, but in those days British chauvinists had something to beat their breasts about: at the 1908 Olympics Britain won 146 medals (56 gold medals); the USA came second with 47 medals (23 gold). The Games followed just 11 years after what was arguably the apogee of British imperial bombast – Queen Victoria ‘s Diamond Jubilee of 1897. Exactly 100 years after that Jubilee, Victoria’s Empire finally came to an end with the return in 1997of Hong Kong to China; seized by Britain after the First Opium War and used for decades as a major entrepot for the drugs trade, which remains such a blight, increasingly, on the world today. It is interesting to observe that today many people are looking with feelings ranging from wonder and expectation to anxiety and dread, to the year 2012, when, besides the event of the London Olympics, they expect the current world order to experience some significant change. A hundred years earlier, the year 1912 certainly experienced such change: it saw the sinking of two great enterprises – first, in the Chinese Revolution, the sinking of the ‘ship of State’ that was the Chinese Empire, the world’s oldest continuous political entity, and second, the sinking of the ocean liner Titanic, that potent symbol of Britain’s material achievements since the Industrial Revolution, its naval prowess and social structure; on her maiden voyage from Britain to America, she hit an iceberg and sank with terrible loss of life; the company had failed to provide enough lifeboats for passengers below first class.

Clearly, 2008, the Year of the Earth Rat, has been a particularly significant year for China and the USA,(11) the two giants that face each other in this early part of the new century, and this article has indicated a number of powerful resonances between 2008, the Year of the Earth Rat and 1908, the Year of the Earth Monkey. Next year 2009 will see the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China . It will be the Year of the Earth Ox (as was 1949) and also the 233rd year since the independence of the USA in 1776. 2009 is likely to prove a momentous year for both countries. As we move further away in historical time from the Newtonian view of absolute time and space that was new in the 17th century, we shall rediscover – but in our own modern way – the special qualities, known to the ancients, of particular times and spaces. Rudolf Steiner ‘s contribution to this rediscovery, his presentation of the new 33 year rhythm based on the life of Jesus Christ, is available as a key instrument in orchestrating our understanding both of history and current events.


(1)   http://www.angelfire.com/falcon/codex_morpheu/dodec.html

(2)   For example, the cycle in fire signs (Aries, Leo , Sagittarius) began in 1663 and ended in 1821. The most recent cycle, in earth signs (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn) began in 1842 and ended in May 2000. The next cycle (air element: Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) begins in 2020 ends in 2199.

(3)   This it was formally entitled to do under the terms agreed at the Congress of Berlin 1878, but since then, Bosnia-Herzegovina, while run by the Habsburg empire, had still been formally under Turkish suzerainty and was expected by the Powers to remain that way. Austria ‘s move in 1908 was therefore a shock.

(4)  Ioasif Kassesian, Nemesis (Sept. 2001) p. 64-66 Young Turk leader Refik Bey, later Prime Minister of Turkey (1939), interviewed by Paris newspaper Le Temps 20 Aug 1908: “It’s true that we receive support from Freemasonry and especially from Italian Freemasonry. The two Italian lodges – Macedonia Risorta and Labor et Lux – have provided invaluable services and have been a refuge for us. We meet there as fellow Masons , because it is a fact that many of us are Masons , but more importantly, we meet so that we can better organise ourselves.

“Masonry, especially Italian Masonry, supported us. Many lodges in Thessalonica were active. In practice, the Italian lodges helped the Committee of Union and Progress and protected us. Because most of us were Masons , we met in the lodges, and this was where we were trying to recruit. Istanbul became suspicious and managed to introduce a few agents into the lodges.”

 (5) Russia felt that since the NATO countries had seen fit to redraw the national  boundaries of Serbia to suit themselves, it was justified in doing the same in Georgia.

 (6) Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard – American Primacy and Its Geostrategic  Imperatives (Basic Books, 1997) p.38

(7) ‘x’ in Mandarin is pronounced like a thin ‘sh’, between ‘s’ and ‘sh’ Cixi is pronounced  Tsersee.

 (8) Kari Meyer & Shareen Brysac , Tournament of Shadows – The Great Game and the  Race for Empire in Asia (Abacus, 1999), p.419

 (9) It is not well-known, for example, that the modern Tibetan national flag was  designed by a Japanese Buddhist priest Aoki Bunkyo and based on the contemporary  cavalry and infantry flags of the Japanese military. See Alexander Berzin , Russian and  Japanese Involvement with Pre-Communist Tibet: The Role of the Shambhala Legend at  http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/advanced/kalachakra/shambhala /russian_japanese_shambhala.html

 (10) See my article on China and Tibet in the previous issue of New View 4th Quarter  Autumn 2008

 (11) For my two articles on relations between these two countries, see New View No. 42 Jan -Mar 2007 and No 43 Apr-June 2007

© Terry Boardman

This page was first uploaded on 18.2.2009.  Last updated 2.7.2012