Leonidas: Minister of Life

Leonidas, in addition to his Chinese and ancient Greek names, has a new title: Minister of Life. He has held this most responsible of positions since the beginning of the new term at Beida last week. His colleagues include the Minister of Propaganda, the Minister of Academia, and, not to forget, their grand leader the Minister of the Ministers.

Leonidas claims that this clandestine organisation is merely a free society for students of the college of teaching Chinese as a foreign language at Beida, like him and Matilda. As Minister of Life, his duties are to help students buy their train tickets, organise daytrips to the summer palace and so forth. The Minister of Academia invites professors to give speeches. The Minister of Propaganda, allegedly, glues posters to walls. Every subject has its own society (xueshenghui) like this, with new Ministers chosen after interviews at the beginning of the school year.

But I don’t believe a word of it. Leonidas invited me to sit in on one of these interviews last Friday, after we had dinner together. But no sooner had we got inside were we met by the dreaded Minister of Ministers, who turned out to be a rather fierce girl in knee-high leather boots. “The interview is a formal interview”, she told me, “I’m sorry I’m sorry you cannot attend.” I didn’t want to wait until the burly security guards came for me, so I left.

Why such secrecy? What possible answer could there be other than that this supposedly innocuous organisation is a secret society, dedicated to such evil ends that I can’t even imagine? And what other Ministers are there? Their leader wouldn’t even tell me what position was being interviewed for – Leonidas didn’t know himself. Minister of Subversion? Minister of Secrecy? Minister of … Torture?

I took this photo through the window: