Beijing looks to ancient sages
Victoria Finlay in Hengshan, Hunan province
Beijing is seeking inspiration from religious teachings to help the nation through a 'crisis of social morality'.
The central government sponsored a three-day International Taoism Forum on Hengshan mountain, a sacred Taoist site. The event, set to end today, received heavy coverage from state media, in a sign Beijing might be tapping ancient Chinese philosophy to bolster its campaign for more a more stable and compassionate society.
The death of a two-year-old in a grisly hit-and-run in Guangdong that saw several pedestrians neglect to help the bleeding girl prompted much national anguish.
'We can get some inspiration from Taoism in the period of globalisation,' Wang Zuoan, deputy director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said yesterday. 'We are concerned not just for environmental protection, but also for heart and soul protection.'
Such problems are the focus of the forum, which aims to 'help Chinese society solve existing problems [through] Taoist wisdom', according to Zhang Jiyu, vice-president of the China Taoist Association (CTA).
Last night state broadcaster CCTV aired an hour-long talk between Xu Jialu, former vice-president of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, and Martin Palmer, who translates Taoist books into English and runs an religious foundation in Britain.
More than 500 delegates attended the forum, around 80 of whom came from Hong Kong as representatives of major Taoist temples in the city, along with Chinese University academics and business leaders. There were also scholars and state delegates from 21 countries worldwide.
Xu, the former legislator, said the meeting dealt with how Taoist concepts of contentment, minimising material needs and learning to slow down in a frenetic world could be applied in China.
'Humanity needs to urgently return to the wisdom of ancient sages,' Xu said yesterday. 'Their words and philosophical thinking are more closely related to the real truth and rules of our world.'
Palmer said the big problem facing the mainland was how to make its breakneck growth sustainable.
'No one disputes the astonishing growth of consumerism and wealth in China today. And increasingly, China is trying to address whether this is sustainable,' he said.
'But maybe deeper than this is the question of whether China can also be compassionate, wise and community-focused once again,' said Palmer, who was an adviser for CTA for 15 years.
'This is why the [Communist Party], for the first time ever, is meeting with the Taoists to see how this ancient wisdom and spirituality might put a heart back into the ever-expanding body of modern China.'
The international forum opened on Sunday evening with a spectacular opening ceremony directed by one of Hunan's most famous sons, Oscar-winning composer Tan Dun.
Much of yesterday's discussion tackled key issues confronting Chinese society - including declining moral standards, rampant corruption and unbridled consumerism - from the perspective of Taoism, China's oldest religion. Speakers included Taoist monks and nuns, academics, businessmen, media leaders and government representatives.
Liu Changle, chairman and CEO of Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, discussed at length how the controversial case of 18 people walking past the bloodied body of two-year-old Wang Yue 10 days ago in Foshan showed the Taoist concept of De - often translated as virtue - was lacking in society.
'The cost of doing good should be accepted by all,' he said.
CTA vice-president Huang Zhian said: 'Busy and tired seems to be the normal life of many Chinese people. Behind busy and tired, we see the crazy pursuit of money and gain. But quietness and purity are the fundamental rules of the world.
'If you have a lot of possessions you cannot carry them forever. A wise person will not carry them for very long at all.'