The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer President Tom Schlafly
One of the highlights of Richard Nixon’s presidency was his trip to China in February of 1972. While there he met with Prime Minister Chou En Lai in the walled garden of the Forbidden City. In the course of their conversation he asked Chou, “What do you think was the impact of the French Revolution?” After reflecting for a moment the prime minister replied, “It’s too soon to tell.” He made this comment shortly after New Year’s Day in the year 4670 of the Chinese calendar. Considering that the French Revolution had occurred within the past 183 years, it really was comparatively recent.
Most Chinese, it should be noted, do not identify years according to how much time has elapsed since the beginning of their calendar, but instead with the names of animals. For example, Nixon’s famous visit was very early in the Year of the Rat, which was also the year of the Watergate burglary a few months later. The year that begins on February 3, 2011 will be more commonly known as the Year of the Rabbit (or Hare) and not as 4709.
In western culture one of the most famous tales about a hare was written by the Greek fabulist Aesop around the year 2100 of the Chinese calendar. As we all know, the slow and steady tortoise prevailed over the flashy, smack-talking hare. Considering who actually won the race, especially in the context of Chou’s long term approach to history, one has to wonder why the tortoise doesn’t have a year in the Chinese calendar.
My first exposure to this story did not come from reading Aesop’s fable or from having it read to me. Rather, I heard it first on a Bugs Bunny record (probably 78 rpm) that belonged to my older sister. This was also my first exposure to Latin, which was part of the rabbit’s memorable taunt, “What’s the matter, tortoise? Rigor mortis?”
By the time I reached adolescence, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy rabbit was more prominent in American culture than Bugs Bunny. His empire included both a racy magazine and a series of clubs, with waitresses known as bunnies. In 1963 Gloria Steinem worked undercover (and undercovered) as a bunny in the New York Playboy Club in order to write an article for Huntington Hartford’s Show magazine. This led to a job with New York magazine and later to founding her own feminist publication Ms. magazine.
In 1967 Jefferson Airplane released the song “White Rabbit,” which was inspired by Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The song got renewed attention a few years later when Vice President Spiro Agnew denounced it for allegedly glamorizing the use of illegal drugs. Agnew soon experienced legal problems of his own and in October of 1973 became the only vice president in American history to resign because of criminal charges.
More than 800 years ago an important mathematical treatise addressed the concept of a “year of rabbits.” In 1202 Leonardo of Pisa, more popularly known as Fibonacci (son of Bonacci), wrote Liber Abaci, the first European publication using Hindu-Arabic numerals that are the basis for the base 10 system still used today. In Chapter 12 of this opus Fibonacci posed the question: “How many pairs of rabbits will be produced in a year, beginning with a single pair, if in every month each pair bears a new pair, which becomes productive from the second month on?” It is this problem, to which the solution is 377, that led to the famous Fibonacci sequence.
Shortly after Fibonacci’s death, Marco Polo was born in Venice, not too far away. Polo is thought by some to have done more than any other European to promote cultural exchanges between China and the West when he called on Kublai Khan in Dadu (now Beijing), China in 1266. At Khan’s request he delivered a letter to the Pope asking him to send 100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy) back to China.
Nearly seven centuries after Marco Polo’s death, cultural and commercial exchanges with China are still taking place, a prime example being Washington University’s Olin School of Business program in Shanghai. Towards the end of the Year of the Tiger (i.e. in December of 2010), a group of MBA students from China came to St. Louis in order to graduate. Among them was Michael Sun, the President of Tsingtao Brewery, whose annual production is approximately 1,500 times that of Schlafly.
I was pleased to host Michael and his classmates for dinner and a tour of Schlafly Bottleworks. Most of them were not aware that their St. Louis alma mater had been the venue for some events in the 1904 Olympic Games (104 years before the summer games in Beijing) and the site of some exhibits in the World’s Fair that year (106 years before the Shanghai Exposition). Some of them asked me about the impact of the craft beer revolution in America. I responded by quoting Chou En Lai: “It’s too soon to tell.”