This is obviously a maneuver that anticipates the death of the current Dalai Lama; the old men in charge want to be the sole authorities on who the new incarnation is.
So I can understand the goal, even if I don't sympathize with it. My questions concern the mechanics of enforcement.
We know that the Chinese authorities keep a close eye on people, but I've always assumed that surveillance essentially ended at the moment of death. Once you slipped free of the bounds of your body, I figured you could go nya nya nya at Beijing, or speculate aloud about Chairman Mao and his Girl Guides. Or even visit Taiwan. But apparently not.
So, how does it work?
I mean, for example, who are the cops? Have the Chinese really found a way to station some officious twit in a uniform at the soul's first rest stop, wherever that may be? And what does he do? I mean, how does one detain a soul, anyway? Does he handcuff it? If so, with what? Do souls have hands? Is there a holding pen? What are the walls made of? Is there a lavatory? One, or two? Does it flush?
Once reincarnation is approved, is a license issued? Printed on what? In what language? Does it need a thumbprint? (See question above, re: hands.) Does it spell out the soul's next destination? If, let's say, it reads HAMSTER, is there an appeals process? What about a black market? The Chinese have reinvented capitalism on this plane, so why not the next?
Why wouldn't there be a black market in reincarnation permits? A spiritual swap meet? You don't want to be a hamster? Would you prefer President of the United States (my guess is that lots of people would like to duck that one) or intestinal parasite? Or maybe there's a sort of blind lottery? If you don't want to be a typhoid carrier, would you be willing to accept, sight unseen, the next incarnation for Bob Barker? Casey Kasem? Simon Cowell? Rush Limbaugh? The widely unmourned Leona Helmsley?
1967 reincarnation of one of the Smith Brothers
Does China get to determine the reincarnation mix? What China needs most right now are reasonably adaptable grunts -- people who aren't ambitious enough to seize power but are sufficiently nimble to supply whatever the hell will be needed in, say, 20 years. Are most people getting licenses that say ADAPTABLE GRUNT? If there's a war in the future, are there a lot of licenses that read CANNON FODDER? Or, if the one-family-one-child rule stays in effect and parents keep disposing of girls, are there licences that read ABORTED FEMALE? If so, my guess is that the swap meet is booming.
So many questions, so little space.
Here are the two big ones.
First, if a soul is refused a permit to be reincarnated, then what? Does it do time? What's "time" in this context? Are we talking about eternity? Seems kind of harsh. Do they supply the soul with books? Board games? The Learning Channel? A perpetual replay of "Heaven Can Wait"? Are there vocational classes? (I personally can think of nothing more depressing than a whole bunch of souls training for eternity to be beauticians or dental technicians.) Is there exercise equipment, and if so, what does it exercise? Moral judgment? Ectoplasmic muscle tone? And to what end, since that soul is essentially permanently on file? It's not like it's ever going to be running around as little Joey again.
And second, China is called the world's biggest a-lot-of-things, but it's unquestionably the world's biggest bureaucracy. How do the members of the Soul Patrol file their reports? Is there an office full of mediums somewhere in the Forbidden City? Do the bulletins come in via one of those mysterious eight-balls? If you're put in charge of receiving and filing these reports, to they at least issue you a corner office and a tinfoil hat?
Actually, I have to admit that I have a certain amount of enthusiasm for the idea of refused reincarnation. I'd like to see it implemented here in America, but applied to midlife reincarnations. Just imagine: no Suzanne Somers, going from TV sitcom ditz to Godlike authority on inner happiness and great thighs. David Hasselhoff wouldn't be singing in German. Madonna wouldn't be writing children's books. There would be no "X-Factor." There would be no "Dancing With the Stars" or--shudder-- "Celebrity Rehab." George W. Bush wouldn't be an elder statesman. Simon Cowell would be a memory, if even that.
Probably not even that.
Tim -- Sundays