The Yuzui

While the Pyramid is founded upon an attitude of “will will suffer no one,” the Yuzui starts from an attitude of compromise. Instead of a single institution, or one institution controlling all others, the Yuzui leads to the creation of cooperating and competing institutions.

The meaning of the word Yuzui

The Yuzui, literally “fish mouth,” is the spearhead of a famous Chinese water supply and flood control project, the Dujiangyan. When you stand at the Yuzui, you see the water, and can hear the sound of 10 million thirsts quenched as the water roars into the entrance and main channel, beginning its journey into the city of Chengdu. Unlike many other ancient structures, has been in active use for the entirety of its nearly 2300 year history. It has survived the centuries, more than a dozen dynasties, wars, and also communism. It also requires virtually no power to operate, though in modern times the ancient gates have been electrified. While low like the river, the Yuzui has a permanence and meaning that cannot be achieved by the pyramids. The Yuzui’s unique feature is that it is not a monument, but a living institution, one of the few institutions outside of a religion to survive for so long. While the Yuzui and the entire Dujiangyan are large, they are not showy – the system is a deceptively simple set of ramps, gates, and waterways. But it has lasted so long because it embodies the principles of an institution that exists to serve others. Even when the communists went on a rampage to destroy history, the Dujiangyan survived because it was so incredibly necessary that removing it would be like cutting off one’s own hand. The Yuzui’s secret lies in an incredibly sophisticated understanding of nature. A structure like it cannot be built just anywhere – it sits at just the right bend in the river, located at just the right distance from the mountains, to allow a city to flourish. If one had tried to build a dam, it would have had to be too high, or too wide, to maintain and work effectively. But by taking the time to fully understand the water, and the land, the Yuzui’s founders were able to build a system with few moving parts, which was simple to maintain, and yet did its job beautifully. While the Pyramid is built on the principle of bringing down everything other than itself, the Yuzui so naturally fits into nature that it almost appears to be a part of nature. The Pyramid dominates nature, the Yuzui understands and subordinates itself to nature. The Pyramid cannot stand to have any other institution, but the Yuzui is just one part of many institutions. The Pyramid returns nothing from what it takes, but the Yuzui is maintained because it provides something so basic, so necessary, that maintaining it is like maintaining one’s own body.

Class in the Yuzui

The Yuzui Society, there are great and small people, and great and small institutions, but all are voluntary, all exist to serve each other, and all stand or fall based on the degree to which they serve the real needs of others. Some come and go, but some are ancient, and ancient institutions are respected for the necessary provisions they make. In this way some classes and hierarchies exist, but these are predicated on a value they provide, and the office, without its provision, becomes invalid. One theological example comes from the oft-quoted John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Here, we see that the One who would sit at the top of any hierarchy, who in terms of position has more power to impose suffering upon others than anyone, is in fact the One who suffered more than all by paying the highest price of the Crucifixion. You also see in Christ’s teachings regularly the notion that “he who seeks to be the greatest must become the least,” with symbolic examples such as washing the feet of the disciples. In this way, the greatest honor is reserved for those who first provide.

Institutional cooperation

Institutions exist first in a state of cooperation, and are linked together by common institutions to aid in that cooperation. This is also why we used the analogy of the Yuzui – the water is the common context and character of the city, and while particular eras come and go, this common context remains. In this way also, religion and culture also form the common context upon which business, charity, courts, and associations can flourish. This common context, also, does not dominate the landscape. If you walk through a part of Chengdu where the Dujiangyan’s water is flowing, the full beauty is not in the water alone, but how the built environment and the water come together. In this case, different institutions serve different purposes, and society doe not rest entirely upon one institution. There is a popular argument for “small government,” but small government on its own is incomplete. As government is made small, other institutions must become larger. Instead of sterile individualism, we see individuals cooperating in institutions built on a common cultural context. This cooperation can also extend beyond a single community. In the Chinese city of Xi’an, one famous feature are the many pomegranate groves around the city. What makes this interesting, is that the pomegranates were in fact imported nearly 2,000 years ago when the Han dynasty was trading with the West. Even at a global scale, there can still be enough of a common context to permit trade and cooperation that can be history-altering.

Institutional competition

Along with cooperation, institutions in a Yuzui society may also be in competition. Under the Pyramid, change is dictated. But in the Yuzui, change comes from a new institution forming, and either becoming a sub-culture that exists alongside other institutions, or if it is truly great, it may replace specific institutions. This process also guards against corruption by letting failing institutions die out, and be replaced by new ones. This competition also creates competing loyalties within an individual. One may have a religious affiliation, a family, a tribe, a membership. No one institution has a total hold on an individual, and this is the freedom given by the Yuzui.

The Yuzui’s challenge

The main challenge that the Yuzui faces is its basis in cooperation and competition. This may not seem a challenge, but remember that cooperation, or compromise, means that two people of different wills must both agree to suffer some amount for an overall benefit. It also means, in the case of competition, that the one who loses must be willing to accept the loss, without resorting to force to maintain their status. Imagine, for example, an older but corrupt association in competition with a newer, honest one. Imagine all of the leaders holding their office, about to learn that their positions will become meaningless. There is a temptation to hold on to whatever power they had, which is a beginning of the Pyramid. What also comes out of this challenge, is the fact that multiple institutions and multiple loyalties can be perceived by some as a reduction in freedom. Membership in an institution, even one as simple as “hello, how are you?” involves abiding by the rules of that institution. This is one promise made by certain version of the Pyramid, particularly the leftist versions, that submitting to the Pyramid is “liberation” from the many institutions of a Yuzui society.

The stability of the Yuzui

While the Pyramid must be ultimately unstable, the Yuzui is not necessarily unstable. This Is because its basis in compromise, instead of coercion, leads to an ethic of value for value, and therefore it is possible to succeed and find happiness in a Yuzui society without imposing on others. Further, the combination of cooperation and competition allows different institutions to limit each other, while at the same time creating synergies that would not exist otherwise. The Yuzui could, therefore, be a truly lasting society, but if and only if there is indeed a common context, and a commonly held agreement that success and change both come from creating value, or suffering in order to make others happy, both in the present and future. This is a moral condition that is required, and the Yuzui stands only through the continued adoption of that moral framework.