Sunday, August 22, 2010

Insight from Chinese "Robbers"

In reading about Chinese history from the 1st Century A.D. I came across an interesting passage:[1]

Almost from the beginning everything seemed to conspire against [the ruler] Wang Mang, even nature. Aberrations in the weather produced a series of poor harvests; perennial dough settled on the Shensi basin, in which the capital was located; and what was worse, a series of breaks in the Yellow River dikes culminated in A.D. 11 in a vast inundation of the eastern part of the northern plain, with the result that the Yellow River changed its course...Uncounted thousands of people were drowned or made homeless refugees. Famine became endemic, state welfare schemes proved inadequate, and food prices skyrocketed. Vagrants swarmed over China and in desperation formed robber bands. By A.D. 18 a great rebellious group called the Red Eyebrows had formed, and by A.D. 22 several Liu-family claimants [to the throne] were in the field. In A.D. 23 rebels broke into the imperial palace and murdered Wang Mang.

This highlights several important points:

It adds insights into the choices facing the Nephite people. Due to their wickedness the Nephites were cursed with famine (Helaman 11:4). The Nephites could repent of their sins and turn to God, or turn to a worldly solution such as forming robber bands. Even though many Nephites did repent, the Gadianton robbers swelled in size (Helaman 11:25).

This not only has historical precedent from Chinese history cited above, but it has spiritual importance as well. Many addicts seeking recover face a critical choice. They can cope with their fears and negative emotions through worldly measures such as drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Or they can turn to God for their answers through the Atonement and His Power accessed through activities such as the 12 Step program.

The passage from Chinese history also recalls the eventual cataclysmic battle recorded in 3 Nephi 4. The end of Helaman 11 to 3 Nephi 4 is 9 chapters of spiritual material that barely mentions societal developments. Yet these 20 years follow the same course of the rebellions against Wang Mang. In both cases famine and natural disaster prompted a rise of robbers. Robbers from both cases retreated to wild and uninhabited areas.[2] The disasters prompted a question in the legitimacy of the governments (3 Nephi 3:10). And resulted in an existential threat to the government. In Wang Mangs case the "robbers" were successful. But the Nephites were inspired to repent and were saved.

This again reinforces the spiritual purpose of the text. Turning to worldly solutions, like a powerful band of robbers proves futile.[3] But turning to God saves you. This reinforces the nature of The Book of Mormon ss a text that describes historical events that are intended to convey specific moral messages. It also represents the added insights we receive from comparing the text of The Book of Mormon to other episodes in history. Thanks for reading.

1. Charles O. Hucker. China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture (Standford: Standford University Press, 1975) 128-129.
2. Compare David Graff. Medieval Chinese Warfare: 300-900 (New York: Routledge Press, 2002) 161. And 3 Nephi 4:1.
3. This is in reference to the account in The Book of Mormon, not the successfull removal of Wang Mang.

No comments: