The Three Empires

‘It takes but one word, it takes but one man
to settle the fate of an empire’
Kong Fuzi (Confucius), 500 BC

Beijing
Morning of August 26

It was raining.
Tang Jinghua turned his bicycle into a hutong, one of those famous narrow streets of old Beijing which the property boom threatened to sweep away like a tropical storm, taking with it the last vestiges of a traditional way of life. The hutong led further down, not far from Xichang’anjie Avenue where his ministry stood, the Ministry of Information Industries.

This busy short cut bristled with traditional small trades – a barber’s, a poorly stocked fruit stall, an ironmonger’s, a watch and clock repairer – interspersed with countless little restaurants where customers seated on simple wooden stools savoured hot buns, bowls of noodles and duck soup.
It was no day for a cyclist to linger around. Tang pulled down the hood of his raincoat to protect his glasses from the rain, a driving rain, sharp as the halberds of the ancient imperial guard.
Usually, whenever time allowed, he liked to take a route through
Tien An Men. Now, the square was still immersed in its morning’s lethargy. Soon, it would be bustling with tourists. Whenever he could, he enjoyed passing through those groups of foreigners gathered for a guided tour of the Imperial Palace, trying to identify those distant languages from the snatches of conversation caught in passing. Often, it would be English, which he spoke sufficiently well to understand the technical specifications of international telecommunications standards, his field in the powerful Ministry of Information Industries. But Tang could now also discern Italian, French or German without too much difficulty ever since he became involved in European seminars. Or at least he liked to think he could. But now things had got complicated since the arrival of those new tourists from Eastern Europe and Latin America. The catalogue of sundry preconceptions he had patiently compiled to recognise visitors’ nationalities now no longer offered the slightest guarantee. Of course, he could always spot visitors from around China and Asia by their demeanour, the way they dressed and spoke: the Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan with their southern dialects and such characteristic accents, the Japanese who bowed low as soon as they were greeted, the Koreans, coarser and brasher ….
In the summer, as in this month of August, he was happy to hand over his car to his wife, who used it to drop off their two daughters to school. Like his wife, he was an only child. That was why, when their first daughter was born, they were granted the right – a real privilege in China under the single child policy – to give birth to a second child. By misfortune, it was a daughter. He had dearly hoped to father a boy, even though he knew that his offspring, like all those overly desired sons, would probably become one those ‘little emperors’: a spoilt, aggressive and selfish brat. And he was more than compensated by having won over the hearts of his two daughters, his two princesses, who competed fiercely for the undivided attention of their daddy.
Tang managed quite well without the car, in fact. He preferred to use his good old bicycle, like millions of fellow Chinese, to go to work. He enjoyed that little morning exercise which shook off the morning numbness of his body and plunged him back into the stream of life.
But today, the inclement weather forced him to step up his pace. He rode on, his head tucked into his shoulders, careful not to let his narrow tyres slip on the wet slabs or round paving stones alongside the pavement. He arrived at the front door of the Ministry of Information Industries at around seven forty five, protected by his grey waterproof dripping under the heavy drops. He stepped off his bike and displayed his badge to the security officer.
After receiving the mechanical nod of approval, he entered the forecourt and headed for the bicycle shed.

Was this to be the most important day of his existence?
Despite the pertinence of that question, he noticed that he was not trembling. In fact, he felt no particular emotion. He was incredibly detached. He took off his waterproof, shook off the drops from it, and inspected the bottom of his trousers, jacket sleeves and shirt collar: the rain hadn’t spared him. Still remaining calm, he pulled out a few handkerchiefs from his pocket and methodically wiped away the mud that soiled his shoes. While he was rubbing the waterlogged leather of his footwear, he suddenly realised how futile those efforts were to take his mind away from the gravity of the day in front of him. He was immediately seized by a pang of anxiety, settling deep in his gut.
In a few hours, no doubt in the early afternoon, he was going to place his signature on an official Order that stated the policy of the People’s Republic of China in matters of computing regulations: .’.. the policy of the People’s Republic of China in matters of computing regulations …’!, he repeated to himself several times. Presented in this light, his text had nothing menacing about it. He tried for a moment to hide behind that technical expression, as if it were a mundane administrative memo. The world would not immediately grasp the far-reaching effect of that Order. As for himself, he would have the time to flea, to take shelter. Like an artificer who places an explosive charge and delays its detonation. With a bit of luck, no one would even notice his name. But no! There was no point in cheating. The text was sufficiently clear. Tang was about to set off a cataclysm that would sweep over the entire planet.
Tang Jinghua greeted a few colleagues perfunctorily while going up in the lift that led him to the twelfth floor where the General Regulations Department was located. The doors closed behind him. The cabin whisked away a dozen employees to the upper floors. Had they noticed his slight paleness, his vacant look, as if lost in distant thoughts? Did they know that they were sending him to the slaughter, placing him on the front line? Tang tried to read into the closed and inscrutable faces of those civil servants. They must have known, but carefully avoided his look. A middle-aged woman nevertheless greeted him discreetly with a nod of the head. Was it a show of solidarity, a sign to comfort him, or a mark of compassion? Tang scrutinized her at length with a haggard expression before eventually recognising her. She worked in one of the General Regulations offices. After a few seconds, he managed to contract his jaw muscles to produce a pathetic smile, a sort of tense grin which he accompanied with a movement of his head. The lift had steadily been emptying and the woman came up close to him.
‘Are you OK Mr. Tang?’ she asked with concern. ‘You should drink a good piping hot cup of tea. Believe me, it looks like you’re developing a bad flu. You want to be careful with these summer rains. They’re treacherous and can be nasty! I take my own precautions. Each morning, I sip a herbal tea prepared by my physician…’
The cabin doors opened once more. A panel display indicated the twelfth floor. He was saved. He mumbled a few words of thanks and moved away under the concerned look of his colleague.
‘Why me?’ he asked himself, as if his life had slipped out of his grip, seized by a destiny too great for it. But it was unlikely that his life would be directly affected. He was a low-ranking servant, the assistant manager of the ‘software’ section Ministry of Information Industry’s Politics, Law and Regulations Department. He would still be so tomorrow evening, once the text was made public. So why him?
Tang was born thirty seven years earlier in a town near the city of Shaoxing, in the Zhejiang province south of Shanghai. He had chosen to study history, causing him to leave for Hangzhou, against the advice of his parents who ambitioned for him a career in the civil service, following the family tradition. The Chinese had a passion for history. They could all tell at the drop of a hat the dynasties that succeeded over some 5000 years, with their chequered histories and their periods of glory, the painful moments of the foreign occupation and those happier times of unity regained. He had taught that subject for a few years before marrying a computer science student. She was ambitious. More than he. She pushed him into applying for one of the many administrative exams to become a civil servant. He gave in, dispirited, only half abandoning his true passion. They left the province of Zhejiang to join the capital, Beijing, where he had just been given a post.
He had now been working for three years on the operating systems case, attended hundreds of meetings, drafted countless minutes. So much so that he could no longer put away the reports which were piling up on the floor in a corner of his office. And even though he had no decision power, even though he was content with just giving advice to his department heads, he had nevertheless formulated some recommendations in matters of national independence and software security. But he kept well away from fixing objectives. He simply obeyed.
In all this matter, he was just the instrument, the one who drops the bomb from the height of his plane and disappears into the clouds once the mission accomplished, his conscience at peace, the humble link in the long chain of command. And yet it was he, Tang Jinghua, who was to sign that Order, an Order which, he feared – he was certain – was to change the face of the Earth. How had he got into this? By what mysterious succession of events does one come to take such a decision? He didn’t know. He only took part in low-level meetings between pawns, ones where they assign tasks, implement strategies decided elsewhere, in other spheres, by other powers …

Tang sat behind his office, trying to distance himself from the events in which he had unwillingly taken a role. A way like another of not getting involved, of standing aloof as an observer. After all, it was perhaps his destiny as a historian to be at the heart of the action. A chance, a privilege in a certain sense. Will tomorrow, this Friday 27th of August, to which he shall be forever associated, remain a major date in History, the history of the clash of the empires?
The clash of the empires indeed! The task of the historian wasn’t so simple. He stretched out his legs under his desk. He knew how difficult it was to pinpoint the single starting event when the tangle of direct and indirect causes was so complex to unravel, for the really significant schisms only become apparent in retrospect. Today, the events were too close to offer the perspective historians needed. But he could not help thinking that a major milestone would be set tomorrow. Was it going to be a moment of stark transition, one of those symbolic dates we are keen to cite, like the 28th of June 1914 when the assassination of Archduke Francois-Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was first to plunge the old Europe, then the world, into war? Or like the 9th of November 1989 when the Berlin Wall collapsed, burying beneath its soil the Cold War and the vision of the world after it was divided at Yalta?
The world changes all the time, he thought. Often with clamour. Empires follow one another. They are not eternal; all experience a decline. And what if the death knell of the American Empire were to ring tomorrow, after a century of outrageous domination? He propped himself up in his chair, all full of hope, as if suddenly filled with pride. China is not dead. It has been resisting since always. All empires, Roman, Soviet, European, have known just one decline, like a human being knows just one spring and one winter of life. But not China! In three millennia, it has gone through a succession of golden eras and eras of decadence, the so-called ‘dynastic cycles.’ It has even become a past master of repeated downfalls, each followed by wondrous renaissances. As if it had several lives while other civilisations had but one! The Celestial Empire had survived at the end of the Han dynasty in 220 AD and at the so-called period of the ‘Three Empires’ to regain its unity three and half centuries later with the Sui and Tang dynasties. In 908 AD, the shining Tang Dynasty in turn collapsed, giving way to five dynasties to the north and ten kingdoms to the south. This fragmentation could not last. Before the end of the 10th century, the Song dynasty had gathered those scattered pieces together and reigned until 1279 AD. China then survived almost one century of Mongolian domination before connecting again to its history with the Ming imperial dynasty, from 1368 to 1644 AD. After a long phase of decadence, it once more fell into the hands of the invaders, this time the Manchu, coming from the North East. The death throes of the Manchu regime and its dynasty, the Qing, were to last over 70 years, with the opium War in 1839, the ‘Unfair Treaties’ and the revolt of the Taiping. But, by contrast with other empires, never in its 24 centuries of imperial history did China ever disappear. China changed, opened up and became enriched by its contacts with the West. It had suffered many foreign occupations, but always managed to integrate and absorb them without losing anything of its national identity. As if, while all the great civilisations were doomed to die in order to give birth to their successors, from Egypt to Greece, from Rome to Europe …., China has always regenerated itself through vast waves of construction and dismemberment. And each cycle of China’s history seemed to follow the same invariable sequence, passing from conquest to greatness, from decline to chaos, in the end to return to exactly the same unchanging order. A static history, in a sense. But only in appearance.
And now? With the old Europe falling into the background and the collapse of the Soviet Union, China and the United States stand alone face to face, the planetary empires ready to confront each other for world domination. But what can the United States do to oppose the irresistible thrust of the Chinese economy and its demographic weight, if not to mobilise its military and financial powers? It had to lie! By setting up around the globe military installations targeted exclusively against Beijing under the cover of the war against terror, that nebulous enemy with mysterious intentions. Using the pretext of bringing ‘rogue nations’ into line, the United States is pulling down China’s forward bases and strategic zones … the enemy of the States is China! Not Islamic fundamentalism. Tang was now convinced of this. But China and the world were looking on powerless as the States prepared the fourth world War … the War of the empires. The Western Empire against the Middle Empire …
Tang Jinghua would have given anything for his name to appear at the bottom of a history treatise. He dreamt of being the one who would put into perspective and decipher the world upheavals, present and to come. But, to his greatest anguish, now that he had his mark in history, his place was the most insignificant, the most ridiculously low, the worst. He who pictured himself as a reporter observing from the banks the flow of History was now that little trooper who pulls down the lever to trigger off the explosion that blows up the bridge. Would his name even appear in articles that were to relate the dramatic events of the next few momentous months? ‘As a point of detail, the name of the official who signed the Order that was to change the world for ever was ….’ Of no interest whatsoever. He didn’t even have his place in the cluttered sidelines of ‘minor history.’ ‘Incidentally, it was a low-ranking civil servant whose name was …’ No, all this was just vanity tinged with bitterness. His personal presence in this matter was not even anecdotal.

Yaping, the Software Department’s secretary, interrupted Tang Jinghua in his thoughts as she brought him the customary morning refreshments. She was short and wore her long black hair pulled back in a pony tail. A Chinese girl like there are thousands, or rather millions, in the Celestial Empire of secretaries. She always beamed with a broad smile, showing her dazzling white teeth. Much to her chagrin, Yaping wore glasses. She had tried contact lenses, but her eyes had problems getting used to them. They got irritated and reddened, which made her look like a frightened rabbit. She was thinking more and more about having surgery for her short sightedness. If only she could pluck up the courage to go to the clinic. But she simply could not bear the idea of having her cornea incised or her crystalline lens reshaped. So Yaping made do with a boring pair of glasses, which she wore mainly at the office. For she liked to be pretty and her glasses, despite being light, tended to slip down her little Chinese nose.
Although not exactly a beauty, she was attractive, sexy even, and delightfully feminine. She often wore high-heeled shoes, making her legs seem longer, the shortest of miniskirts revealing her somewhat strong thighs, and a tight tunic displaying her high taught breasts. Yaping knew how to draw men’s looks. In fact, she enjoyed observing them. She had so much vitality, gaiety and breeziness which contrasted with Tang’s often dark and sullen temperament. However much he could appear anxious and pessimistic, she knew how to put him into a happy frame of mind. They formed a perfect pair, a professional couple, with complementary personalities. So much so that little by little, without being aware of it, Yaping had become important, even vital, to Tang’s personal well being.
At twenty four, the young woman was still single. It wasn’t for want of actively seeking a husband. But it was more difficult to find the ideal partner in modern China than to accept an arranged marriage as the ancient tradition would have it. Moreover, who could impose anybody to Yaping? She had drawn up a true identikit portrait of the man of her life, bringing in Chinese astrology and kitchen psychology. This persuaded her of being able to identify and recognise the man of her life, if not at first sight, at least after a highly reliable selection test.
Under these criteria, Cheng had passed Yaping’s tests with flying colours. He specialised in company management. He did not really belong to the Ministry, but was there under a longer-term contract to set up new accountancy practices. He was an elegant, tidy and well-behaved young man, perhaps a little too polite. But Yaping was so happy that her needs were fulfilled.
‘There you are Mr Tang, some buns as you like them and your tea.’
Tang dipped his hand mechanically into the small basket placed before him and picked up one of the buns. He wasn’t hungry. To take his mind off things, he began by peeling it, getting rid of the excess rice paste from the sides. Without conviction, he took it to his mouth and bit into its sweetened soy core, putting it down on the plate a few moments and crumbs later. As for the tea, it was still scalding hot. He slurped it noisily in little sips in an attempt to cool it down.

His mind kept reminding him of the Order that he was to sign today. Was it on purpose that they chose a ‘Deputy Department Manager’ to place his initials on that text? Shouldn’t that role have gone rather to Bao Yutai, the director of the Regulations and Standards Department, or even to Shan Yunli, the Minister of Industry and Information himself? They obviously wanted to downplay the decision, to pass it off as something inoffensive, mundane, insignificant! It was for that reason that an obscure ‘Deputy Manager’ had been designated.
His title suddenly appeared derisory, ridiculous; worse still, contemptible. This term ‘Deputy Manager’ rang like an insult. They chose him, Tang Jinghua, because he was only a small fish within the Ministry, an obscure civil servant without stature, someone unheard of. Settling the future of computing in the People’s Republic of China deserved better than that! There should have been a high-ranking official implicated, there to carry the full weight of that measure. Tang had the unpleasant impression of losing face.
‘Mr Tang, the mail is on the table,’ announced Yaping in her singing voice.
It was 8:45; he had to get down to work and prepare tomorrow’s meeting …
His gaze turned across the window and settled on the pedestrians holding their umbrellas, waiting for the traffic lights to change, on the cars advancing slowly along the main avenue, casting sprays of water. He watched water droplets on the window falling slowly, crossing other drops in their path to fuse into one, swell and form rivulets running down to the bottom of the window.

The exact agenda for the meeting had been kept secret. The top directors of the ministries, institutes and public organisations who had been invited to participate knew nothing of the true reason for their presence. And even Tang himself had only been informed three days earlier by his director, Bao Yutai. Few people were in the know. The authorities had been successful in masking their intentions until the very last moment, following the precepts of Sun Zi, as revealed in his book on ‘The Art of War’. This was indeed the lightning about to strike the enemy. Tang shuddered.
The matter had been taken from him at the beginning of summer and passed through to other hands. It had obviously become a major issue that rose above Tang. He turned his attention to the docket, seeking to recollect the main stages of this affair. He would no doubt need all this information for tomorrow’s meeting. He went through the summarising notes he had drafted for his department head. He stopped at one of them. It concerned ‘The History of Microsoft’s presence in China’, as its title showed in large a black characters. Tang read it, sitting up in his chair, hardly interrupted by the thoughts scurrying in the recesses of his mind.

‘Microsoft’s implantation: a bad start.

Microsoft began by opening an office in Beijing in 1992. Right from that time, the Middle Empire was regarded as a potential goldmine. But the American giant was so confident of its power that it did not care about respecting local culture and customs. In its drive, it makes a succession of errors. Almost all the managers of its Beijing office initially came from the province of Taiwan, as did the ‘localised’ version of Windows, designated P-Win. While China had simplified and reformed its alphabet back in the 1950s, Microsoft proposed software that used ancient characters no longer employed outside Taiwan and Hong Kong!’
This diplomatic faux pas, not to call it a gaffe, was a dismal way to start. ‘Let’s move on,’ said Tang to himself.

Offended, the Chinese government consequently refused the sale of Windows, and declared that it did not want to fall into a situation of monopoly identical to what was going on in Western countries. From then on, the Ministry of Electronics Industry indicated would decide by Order what was to become the standard for computer operating systems. The country already had its own software, ‘Chinese Star,’ and the major Chinese computer companies privileged the development of the local industry to fight against the American domination.

‘They certainly got the title right for this section…,’ thought Tang

‘But the Redmond company immediately recognised its blunder and adjusted its policy, sensing its position of strength there was at stake. The next version of Windows was adapted to the Chinese market in partnership with local agencies. The Taiwanese employees of the Beijing office were all sent back to their island. And Microsoft managed to play into the hands of the local computer firms and become accepted by them.
And that was how Windows 95 became the standard operating system in China right from its launch.’

End of the first episode.

‘Project Venus

But Microsoft made a second error three years later. In 1997, it bought up a company that manufactured set-top boxes that connect to the telephone socket for displaying web pages on TV sets. Unfortunately, those ‘WebTV’ devices were a flop in the Western markets owing to the low resolution of the TV screens. And yet that did not deter Microsoft from peddling this product nobody wanted to the Chinese! That marketing drive was called ‘Project Venus’ and the Microsoft China Research Academy was set up for it at the end of 1998. Project Venus was presented to the public amid huge media hype.

Microsoft wanted to flood China with bottom range technologies. At least that was the conclusion drawn by many Chinese over eager to take offence.

Security Breaches

Security flaws inherent to the Windows operating system and Microsoft’s Internet software had long preoccupied authorities, not only in China, but the world over. The problem redoubled in intensity when new flaws appeared. All began on July 16, 2003, in the town of Poznan in Poland. The ‘Last Stage of Delirium Research Group’, a society founded by four students who were computer nerds, discovered a critical security flaw in the most recent versions of Windows. The group immediately alerted Microsoft, which issued security bulletins on the network and a patch to correct this error. The flaw revealed by these Polish students made computers and systems operating under Windows vulnerable. A pirate could remotely access a computer, take over its control and carry out operations on files, destroy data … China’s computer systems were thus at the mercy of looters! Defence, industry and major administrations were no longer protected against hostile attacks. National security was no longer assured. The viruses ‘Blaster’ or ‘SoBig-F’ which exploited Microsoft’s flaw, had cost the international community some 13 billion dollars!
And virus attacks were still continuing. Six months later, Microsoft issued new alerts, warning users of freshly-discovered flaws in Windows and its Internet connection tools.
For China’s analysts and deciders, one thing was now certain: it is impossible to entrust the security of the country’s information systems to a foreign private company, let alone one that is American and, to cap it all, so unreliable.’

‘And yet, nothing moved,’ Tang muttered to himself.

‘The ‘back door’: a matter of national security

And if it were just a question of security flaws! A much more insidious suspicion crept in the minds of governments worldwide: what if Microsoft, bowing under the pressure from American governmental agencies, had introduced some secret modules into its operating system, providing a back door into computers? These intelligence agencies would then be able to penetrate China’s computer systems and take over their control at a distance. Horror beyond imagination!
The possible existence of a back door in Windows was at the centre of preoccupations of the governments throughout the world.’

The same question kept coming back endlessly: could we possibly entrust the security of our information systems to a foreign private company? The answer could only be no.

‘GSP: the ‘Government Security Program’

To put an end to the climate of suspicion surrounding its Windows operating system, Microsoft took the initiative and offered to hand over its program source code to governments. That was the launch of the GSP, the Government Security Program. It testified to Microsoft’s good will but – above all – it betrayed the position of weakness the software publisher was now in. Put on the defensive, Microsoft had no choice but to open its black box and let governments rummage through the source code of the different versions of Windows.
In China, it was the CNITCEC, the China Information Technology Security Certification Center, that signed the agreement with Microsoft to participate in the governments’ security programs. But it was only after several months’ wait that the Source Code Review Lab – CNITCEC’s test laboratory specialising in source code analysis – finally opened its doors. ‘China’ added Microsoft, ’shall receive every attention; it shall be authorised to carry out any test, it shall have access to the entire code …’ But the GSP’s initiatives quickly reached their limits. Indeed, how was it possible to monitor in real time the incessant dialogue between a PC and Microsoft, as required for updating software and correcting the notorious security flaws? These regular updates went against the very objective sought by the GSP!

Microsoft was behaving like a cheap conjurer asking his audience to check that he was not hiding anything up his jacket sleeve! It was easier to find arms of mass destruction in Sadam Hussein’s Irak than those malicious routines in Microsoft Windows …

The rise of Linux

Microsoft’s charm offensive with its GSP came too late. At the end of 2001, the Chinese government excluded Microsoft from a call to tender of several billion dollars to supply operating systems and office software to country’s administration. Applying the principle of precaution, many governments adopted a procurement policy based on open-source software. By implementing Linux, these governments had control over the operating system and the security and encryption procedures. One month before the GSP came into being, the Chinese government announced that, in the long run, its administration shall have to be equipped with domestic software, in other words a home-grown version of Linux. Hundreds of thousands of computers thus slipped out of Microsoft’s grasp.
As for the Chinese government, it had to stimulate the local software industry and free itself from foreign technologies, especially from the West. The future of the country depended on it. China’s greatness and the strength of its economy were at stake.’

China had to be freed from its shackles, from that technological dependence, from that organised racket. As Tang continued to read, he became animated, as if seized by rage and vertigo.
Tang Jinghua closed his eyes a few moments. Just a short respite.
Yaping, the secretary, entered the office.
‘Mr. Tang, I’ve got Mr. Bao on the line. He insists on knowing whether you have signed the Order for tomorrow’s meeting.’
The hour had come. The Order was there in front of him on his desk.
He got hold of a large gold-nibbed fountain pen that he hardly ever used outside great occasions. The moment was solemn. He could almost have requested a brush and inkwell to write his name in calligraphy on this historical document. As his nib touched upon the page, he thought better of it. He opened his drawer. His eyes fell upon a simple pen, the one his eldest daughter once used at school. She gave it to him as present, ‘so that daddy can write and do his work’. He took the pen whose plastic casing bore his daughter’s tooth marks. The ink had dried in its conduit. He unscrewed the body and changed the cartridge. After several attempts, he was satisfied with the result.
It was with this modest object that he was going to topple the world. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’, as they used to say in London’s Fleet Street! He pretended to read the Order one last time. It wasn’t necessary. He knew it by heart.
Seeing Yaping waiting, he took hold of the pen again. He feigned to hesitate one more second, the time to savour that brief moment when History reaches a watershed. He cast up his eyes to the young woman waiting for him. Could she even suspect the measure of the event? Could she only understand? The world will never be the same. That secretary in a mini skirt couldn’t care less. What was she thinking of right now? Of Cheng, her sweetheart, that well-groomed accountant. And during that time, the world would be swept by an enormous wave!
He realised the ridiculous and sexist nature of his thoughts the very instant they came to his mind. Who was he to judge her? Had he lost all sense of humility? Yaping was life itself, life that needs no justification. He was just a bitter, grumpy and pessimistic civil servant. She was graciousness, joy and sunshine.
He got ready to prime the bomb. Tomorrow, in a few hours, it would explode.
‘Mr. Tang, the Order must be signed …’
Yaping began to get impatient. The man had once again drifted into sombre thoughts, faithful to his typical self. ‘No doubt he’s dreaming of some distant dynasty with a brutal and tragic destiny, or of the dazzling renaissance of a dying empire … He lives only for history, that dear Mr. Tang’ thought Yaping.
She had never seen him hesitate like this, frozen in his seat, incapable of moving. Yaping began again:
‘Mr. Tang, you’ve got to sign. Mr. Tang?’

 

A book by JF SUSBIELLE   – Translation by Dominic KING

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