First Impressions: The Human Hive


“Learn to overcome the crass demands of flesh and bone, for they warp the matrix through which we perceive the world. Extend your awareness outwards, beyond the self of body, to embrace the self of group and the self of humanity. The goals of the group and the greater race are transcendent, and to embrace them is to achieve enlightenment.”

— Sheng-ji Yang, “Essays on Mind and Matter”

Ah, Chairman Yang!  The imagination and verve that Reynolds showed to not only come up with this character and his preferred society, but to then take him seriously … I am still in awe over a decade later.  See, as one rapidly gathers from the quote, the name, and the picture, Chairman Yang is Chinese.  Unlike the rest of the faction leaders, Chairman Yang’s philosophy for an ideal society is rooted firmly in Eastern thought.  In particular, he draws his inspiration from a mix of Chinese Legalism, Taoism, and Maoist Communism.  Though he takes those elements and pushes them to a new extreme.

The game labels Yang as “The Despot” as his one-phrase description.  This is perhaps unfortunate from the perspective of an even-handed ideological description, but its something of a fair cop.  At the very least, modern Westerners have been trained to see his radical collectivism as tyranny.  Accordingly, in the game, Yang spends much of his time defending his model to the player.

As the name “The Human Hive” suggests, Yang’s preferred form of social organization is eusocial, rather than merely social.  He sees the more natural human modes of organization that the other leaders represent as being completely dominated by the efficient and selfless cooperation individuals in an ant or bee colony are able to manage.  Just like a literal meaning of the name of his faction suggests, he wants to build a hive out of humans.

He grants that the nature of man makes this a fraught prospect.  Enlightenment, in any tradition, is always regarded as difficult to achieve.  And Yang is no exception to the rule.

Hence the quote above.  We first meet Yang exhorting his followers to not merely raise their consciousness upward temporarily, or in some vague mystical sense, but to quite literally “embrace the self of group” over the “self of body”.  In the bee hive, the workers perform their assigned function to their utmost, with absolutely no regard for their own existence.  Similarly, a member of the Human Hive is expected to obey unquestioningly and work unfailingly for the collective.

From this perspective, it is clear why he believes that humanity failed on Earth.  History was, necessarily, a cycle of chaos and upheaval.  Functional human organizations were built upon selfless labor at the direction of leaders who had achieved some degree of enlightenment.  But these then eventually fell to pieces as key pieces of the system, both high and low, foolishly pursued the goals of the self.  The negative consequences from these small defections from order begat larger and larger ones, until eventually the feedback led to rebellion and collapse.

The only way to break this cycle, Yang believes, is for the enlightened few to continually enforce their will upon the many.  In order to accomplish this, everything about life in the Hive has to be structured to support this control.

In the game, this is mechanically supported by their faction advantages.  For example, each Hive base is built as a complicated underground nest of tunnels, granting them all the effect of the Perimeter Defense building for free.  And, to reflect Yang’s particular ideology, the Hive begins with the “Doctrine: Loyalty” technology, which allows the Chairman to institute a futuristic Police State as soon as he can come up with the spare energy to switch.

It would have been very easy for the creators of the game to just settle on the Chairman as the bad guy with his legions of faceless minions.  But, to Reynolds’s eternal credit, Yang never falls apart.  He never starts ranting and raving like a B-movie villain, nor does he turn out to be a corrupt autocrat who’s living it up at the expense of his duped minions.

Instead, he’s a true believer.  His society mostly works, in its alien way.  He’s not even obviously wrong in his philosophical musings.

And he’s coming to get you.


One thought on “First Impressions: The Human Hive

  1. Alan Lee

    Hey first off I think this whole site is amazing and it was awesome to find someone else also thinking about SMAC seriously almost 2 decades later and I hope you will still check in.

    It’s interesting that while there is an eastern flavor to Yang, his ideology is also something similar to Plato, a cornerstone of Western thought.

    For example, his disdain for the common man being able to lead his own life fits perfectly into Plato’s contempt for democracy and their mutual belief that this strict political system lead by Yang or Plato’s Philosopher King is actually a road to enlightenment as it set’s one free from destructive appetites or in yang’s words “the crass demands of flesh and bone.” Finally the Hive name also fits into ancient Western thought about specialization and maintaining a division of responsibilities so for the better of the society.

    Anyway, i thought it was interesting that this way of life existed in older Western thought at one point and it almost seems like in a multicultural U.N. expedition, both members of East and West have been and could be steered to believe in something like the Hive.



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