Ancient teachings help fill vacuum

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


China's astonishing progress in recent decades has largely been due to a shift away from ideology to policies focused on economic development. Millions have been lifted out of poverty and many have become wealthy. But this achievement has come at a cost. The environment has suffered, prompting efforts to make the country's growth more sustainable. And an ideological vacuum has seen an apparent decline in morality as more people focus on making money. The death of a two-year-old girl in a recent hit-and-run in Guangdong, in which as many as 18 people walked by without offering help, has raised concerns about a lack of compassion and public spirit.

Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy and religion, has been seen by some as the answer to the problem. For the first time, China has played host to 500 participants from more than 20 countries in a three-day international Taoism forum in Hunan province. The event, it is said, can go beyond fostering cultural exchanges and spreading Taoist teachings around the world. The leader of the China Taoist Association argues it can help society solve some of its problems through Taoist wisdom.

The central government has only recently turned to traditional Chinese philosophies to provide people with an alternative to the all-consuming pursuit of money. The intellectual renaissance has seen greater emphasis placed on the wisdom of Confucius, the philosopher once denounced by Communists as synonymous with feudalism and backwardness. There has been a revival in interest in ancient teachings, which stress compassion, self-restraint and respect. Other religions also have a role to play and should be given greater freedom.

It remains to be seen how relevant these teachings will prove to be in the modern world. But the Taoist belief in non-action and minimalism certainly provide some food for thought for a nation with a seemingly insatiable drive for progress and development in all areas. While economic growth must continue, the move towards a more sustainable approach - especially one focused on making people happier - is welcome. And traditional teachings can help people understand that contentment can be found without riches or the pursuit of ever more material possessions.

The teachings of Confucius and Taoism have been an integral part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Sadly the ancient wisdom has been overtaken by materialism fuelled by the rapid pace of development. It will take more than a few conferences to make a significant impact on the national psyche. But encouraging the development of different philosophies and religions can help fill the vacuum.