Between the lines: the Confucian way
Happy birthday, Siddhartha Gautama. In Hong Kong, Buddha's birthday has been a public holiday since the 1997 handover. I suspect that it was accorded such status to allow workers an extra day of rest rather than for religious observation, because a number of Hong Kong Buddhists adopt Buddhism as a cultural philosophy without strictly adhering to its religious framework. In fact, there is often no clear boundary between Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The Cheung Chau Bun Festival is a Taoist sacrificial ceremony that is celebrated on the same day as Buddha's birthday. And Hong Kong people don't mind practising or believing in several religions at the same time. They will practice and promote any religious or cultural tradition that is family-oriented. Veneration of ancestors is so valued in Hong Kong that there are two public holidays - Ching Ming and Chung Yeung - to give families time to pay respects at ancestral graves.
Confucianism developed from the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius, and it is considered more of an ethical system than a religion. With an emphasis on the importance of the family, Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and moral righteousness.
Spencer Johnson, best known for penning Who Moved My Cheese?, wrote a series titled "Value Tales Treasury: Stories for Growing Good People". Each instalment in the series uses a historical figure to personify a valuable character trait. In The Value of Honesty: The Story of Confucius, Johnson examines the life of Confucius who learned about honesty and integrity through his father.
For pre-teens and teenagers who are prepared for a hands-on experience in Confucian values, Tian Zhen Garden offers an unforgettable summer camp in addition to its year-long programme. The campus covers 5,000 hectares in Tianjin. The founders, believing that good habits are the foundation of contentment, created a unique curriculum to educate students. A typical day at Tian Zhen Garden includes tai chi, meditation and farming. The children's meals include organic fruits and vegetables harvested from the farm.
The founders were in Hong Kong recently to talk about their school. I appreciated the fact that they focused on the parent as much as the child. They reminded parents not to look down on a child; instead, parents must get under their children and lift them up. When it comes to children behaving badly, many parents tend to react equally badly. Rather than reacting to the child's behaviour, Tian Zhen Garden's philosophy is for parents to look inwards at themselves and consider the question: What have I done as a parent to raise a child who acts like this? The goal is to create good habits from an early age to get to the root of the problem and not to simply rely on quick fixes.
I like this idea of cultivating the body and mind so that children can spend the summer developing spiritual awareness. What an interesting alternative to the usual panoply of summer camps that help children gain a competitive advantage in athletic skills or academic knowledge.
I cannot help but fantasise about the possibility of sending my children to Tian Zhen Garden, having them immersed in filial piety and respect for propriety, and being greeted at the end of summer by well-mannered children who do not talk back.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them. Visit bringmeabook.org.hk