*partly inspired by an anecdote mentioned in the memoir of the former Governor-General of French Indochina Paul Doumer, who probably did not like tigers.
A long time, near the end of the nineteenth century, at the dawn of the French colonial venture in what is now Vietnam, in the Northern region of Tonkin, the Red River Delta in particular, there lived a village.
Much like any other Vietnamese village at the time, it was a village full of village people doing village things like cultivating rice and playing human chess. Despite centuries of socio-political upheavals and occasional shortages of manpower for human chess, this village managed to stand the test of time. Even when the French arrived, it did not bother them that much as long as they were able to continue to cultivate rice and play human chess. However, one day, the long-lasting serenity of this village came to a halt when a new threat emerged. The threat was in the form of a tiger.
The Tiger was very menacing. This one Tiger committed many horrendous atrocities like eating the chickens and committing adultery. These heinous acts took such a heavy toll upon the rice-cultivating villagers, they were too traumatised to play human chess. Having witnessed such fiendish crimes by the Tiger, the local court-appointed mandarin of the village resolved to come up with a brilliant solution. A brilliant man, this local court-appointed mandarin was.
In his youth, he passed the notoriously difficult imperial exams with flying colours. He was part of a quintet of contestants who passed the exams with flying colours. Together, they were known as the ‘Five Phoenixes Who Passed With Flying Colours.’ However, he did not join the other four to become high-ranking civil servants in the imperial court because he thought it was above his pay-grade. So instead, he settled for being the local court-appointed mandarin in this one rice-cultivating and human chess-playing village in the Red River Delta. He seemed content with the choice he made.
Back to the Tiger. Whilst the Tiger continued to wreak havoc upon the once peaceful rice-cultivating and human-chess-playing village, the local court-appointed mandarin spent countless sleepless nights to come up with a solution. Eventually, he lost count of sleeps he lost. Initially, he opted for a military solution- declaring war on the Tiger. But he realised that would escalate and draw more tigers, which meant more chickens eaten and more adulteries committed. Thus, he decided on a less costly and more innovative alternative- Wildlife diplomacy.
This solution involved an elaborate ceremony with all of the village in attendance like how they would attend a game of human chess. And in this ceremony, the Tiger would be referred as the ‘Great Gentlemen Tiger’ and be given honorary membership to the village. On the conditions it ceases the eating of chickens and the committing of adultery. So the local court-appointed mandarin drafted a document. A decree, if you will, that would confirm the tiger’s village membership and access to all upcoming human chess games. This was to be the only available draft of the infamous ‘Tiger Decree’. The local court-appointed mandarin did not consider the possibility of making a copy of the document, in case of an emergency. Dropbox simply did not exist at the time.
So the big day finally arrived. It was a glorious day, a very nice day. The elaborate ceremony drew a large crowd. That kind you would see at a human chess game. At the elaborate ceremony, the local court-appointed mandarin wore an elaborate robe and read out-loud the ‘Tiger Decree’. Word by word. Because the Tiger might have had a hearing problem. After the local court-appointed mandarin finished reading the Decree, he and the villagers waited in anticipation for the emergence of the Tiger in the open field where the elaborate ceremony was being held.
After a while, suddenly, the Tiger emerged. It stared at the local court-appointed mandarin with the Eyes of The Tiger. Oh the the thrill of the fight. The local court-appointed mandarin stayed calm while rising up to the challenge of his rival. And then, the tiger roared. In Tiger-speak, the Tiger was probably trying to say, ‘hello, members of the rice-cultivating and human-chess-playing village and local court-appointed mandarin.’ After the roar, the local court-appointed mandarin carefully laid the decree on the ground of the open field.
Seeing the decree, the Tiger quickly bit into the decree with its sharp tiger teeth and devoured it. It was probably the tiger’s way of agreeing to the terms of the decree and maybe signing it. Then it ran back into the forest. It was not clear if the Tiger could write or not. The elaborate ceremony ended, which was pretty anti-climatic according to many villagers in attendance. These were the same villagers who enjoyed human chess. After that fateful day, times passed and the Tiger was never seen again. No chickens were eaten and adultery committed since.
The local court-appointed mandarin was pleased with the result of his efforts and many villagers seemed to agree with him. They were simply happy going back to their tranquil rice-cultivating and human-chess-playing days. Peace has returned to the Land. One day, news of the local court-appointed mandarin of the village who tamed a tiger with a decree reached the highest seat of colonial power in Tonkin. The French colonial administrators in the capital of Hanoi were intrigued with this peculiar case of wildlife diplomacy.
Bear in mind, these white men believed shooting the tiger would have been much easier. One day, they organised a fact-finding mission to the rice-cultivating and human-chess-playing village in the Red River Delta. Upon their arrival, the colonial administrators were received by the local court-appointed mandarin with an equal amount of courtesy and contempt. At the reception, the visiting colonial dignitaries immediately asked the local court-appointed mandarin in typical French colonial ways,
‘Monsieur Mandarin, where is le Tiger Decree?’
The local court-appointed mandarin, realising he forgot to make a spare copy of the Tiger Decree. Through an interpreter, he quickly responded with much bravado and gravitas,
‘The Tiger ate it.’