Category Archives: Chinese

The Monkey King: a fighting Buddha

The Monkey King(or Journey to the West) is a great novel of the ancient China. It is probably the most imaginary novel of China. It is still of question that who wrote the Monkey King. For me, it is actually a great Buddhism novel. The major character of this novel should be the Monkey King instead of the Tang Monk(the monk of the Tang Dynasty who went to India for Buddha’s sutras.). It is about how the Monkey King became a Buddha and finally went beyond life and death. Let me tell you why.

The stone absorbed the spirits of the sun and the moon for thousands of years and finally a monkey was born out of it. The same as the stone monkey, each of us is also a spirit in this world.

This stone monkey has great courage. He later became the Monkey King. He had a lot of fun with his fellow monkeys in the Mt. Flowers and Fruit. But one day in a party he saw the death of an old monkey and was greatly touched. He wanted to look for a way to stay away from death. That is the same thing that each of us is very much concerned with. As spirits in the universe, we first of all want to survive in this universe. We need to learn how to stay alive. And death is always what we are afraid of. We should never ignore this fact that we are going to die one day. Buddha himself went for practice out of the sight of death.

The Monkey King tried very hard to go over all the world to find a master to teach him how to escape death. He went through a lot. He saw the human world. He was laughed at by people. He made friends. As us, the Monkey King had some experience of the human world. Finally he found a Taoist master. This Taoist master is a very great master. After the Monkey King refused to learn many of his techniques(as the Monkey King was only interested in learning how to escape from death), he gave the Monkey King a koan. He pretended to be angry, tapped on the head of the Monkey King for three times and went out of the door with his hands behind his back. The Monkey King understood immediately that the master wanted him to come to see the master at three o’clock at night through the back door. The master taught the Monkey King flying 54,000 km with a single leap and 72 Transformations. The world became much smaller for the monkey. And with 72 Transformations, he can transform into tigers, birds and so on so he can survive in various conditions. But this monkey king has a very strong self. He couldn’t hide what he had learned in front of his classmates. He liked to show off a little bit. He didn’t know when to hide and when to show. So the master knew that the Monkey King would make a big trouble in the future. What the master did is not to teach the Monkey King anymore. He kicked him out of school and told him never to reveal the Taoist master’s name. That is what the Taoist master will do. They teach you the skills of transformation. But they don’t save people completely.

So the monkey went back to Mt. Flowers and Fruit. He was so powerful now. He was challenging all the authorities of the old corrupt system, which was based on the Confucius hierarchy. He fought with the authorities of the hell, the sea, and finally the almighty sky. He even claimed that the position of Jade Emperor should be taken in turn and it was then his turn. (What a democratic idea! From a monkey!) Finally, the Jade Emperor of the sky had to ask for help from Buddha.

Although very powerful, the monkey couldn’t escape the palm of Buddha. Buddha locked him under Mt. Five Fingers. He had to wait for 500 years until the Tang Monk came along to release him.

Critics criticize Buddha for protecting the corrupt Confucian system. But as we know, at that time there was not much Buddha could do to change the system. The context/society was just not mature enough. The mankind was not ready yet. It would take thousands of years of development to make the society ready. The system has to progress slowly step by step.

The Tang Monk, who was going to the west for the sutras of Buddha, released the Monkey King from the mountain. So the Monkey King became a disciple of the Tang Monk and protected the Tang Monk along the way.

The Tang Monk is a very nice and selfless person. Even though he knew that all the demons wanted to eat him because they can obtain longevity if they consume his flesh, he was still very kind to those demons. But he was too talkative. He didn’t know what was more important. He couldn’t tell whose intention was good and whose was bad. He doesn’t have the analytic mind to tell the differences in the world. He couldn’t recognize the disguise of the demons, so he couldn’t even save himself from them. On the contrary, the monkey can tell the bad ones and the good ones. He has very sharp eyes, which were trained in the stove of the Lao Tzu god when Lao Tzu god was trying to burn him into an elixira. The monkey king is able to recognize the demons whatever their transformation.

At the beginning, the Monkey King doesn’t like the Tang Monk very much. So when the Tang Monk scolded him for killing a few robbers, the monkey king just flew back to his mountain to play with his fellow monkeys. But this monkey king has a very touching heart. The Monkey King, originally just a wild beast and just wanting his fun and freedom, got gradually moved by the human being’s feelings. He witnessed the Tang Monk’s great care for him and everyone else. He was deeply touched by it. He was going through a deeper transformation. Even though the Tang Monk laid harsh blame on him for killing the demons, he kept caring and protecting the Tang Monk.

After going through 81 tribulations together with the Tang Monk, the Monkey King finally became the fighting Buddha. He finally went beyond his strong self. He finally went beyond life and death.

The Tang Monk, after so many sufferings, also realized he needed the Monkey King to function better and more correctly to save all people. He understood how to tell the difference. He also learned to speak only when necessary. He understood the need to rely on the external resource and when to use it.

From all these, I would say that the Monkey King is actually a great Buddhism novel.

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A list of modern Chinese writers

Now here is a list of modern Chinese writers that I have learned quite tremendously from:

Wang Xiaobo: ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Xiaobo ) He died in 1997, only about 45 years old. In my opinion, he is the greatest writer of modern Chinese. He has found the way to write beautifully with the plain Chinese. His novels read like poetry, and full of imagination. At the same time, because of his training in science (he is very fond of mathematics), his novel has a power that is rarely seen in other writers. I learned tremendously from him.

Li Ao: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Ao ) a writer in Taiwan. He was born and raised in mainland China and went to Taiwan with his father at the end of civil war in 1949. His writing has a strong flavor of traditional written Chinese, but still concise and beautiful. I like his personality very much. He is always very optimistic. And he is a very good practitioner in life and had been through many things in life. He devoted his whole life fighting for individual freedom of Chinese. He had sacrificed personally fighting for freedom of speech in Taiwan. (He was jailed for 10 years). He is a very good speaker. I am glad someone translated his speech in Beijing University: http://zonaeuropa.com/20050924_1.htm
In that speech, Li Ao tried very hard to convey to Chinese people the way to obtain their freedom. I highly recommend this speech.  Personally I believe he is the best example of living Buddhism in real world (although he never claimed himself as a Buddhist).

Lung Yingtai: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lung_Yingtai ). She is very honest with life and a ardent practitioners. Her way of looking at cultures (and how culture interacts with people) have a huge impact on me.

Steven N. S. Cheung: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_N.S._Cheung ) I learned a lot from him about  economics, especially classic economics. However, I think he has a too economic-centered view, and I don’t think you can explain human society with pure economics.

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Two ways to help China

So for people in the west who do care about people in China, here are two ways to help.

One is as mentioned in Chinese Renaissance, the bottom level cultural communication and engagement.

The other way is to stop the empire (quoting Blessed Unrest) right here in America. See the post On American Foreign Policy. Also see this one.

With the presence of a strong external pressure, the inner peaceful force cannot be fully functioning. The sole purpose of the entity becomes just fighting the external force and forget finding its own inner voices. This is why America is the biggest thread to democracy around the world. The same principle applies to the feminism movement. At the beginning, the feminism movement is just about fighting the external pressure (imposed by male values), so its sole purpose is to get out of the grip of the male values and prove them wrong. Only after that stage (gaining equal access to opportunities a society offered to individuals), can women really calm down and find there inner voices and be whoever they choose to be individually.

I hate to say this. But the American imperialism does give repressive countries around the world a legitimate reason to strengthen their repressive regimes. I always hated the government using threats from outside as their excuse of state power. But however, from another standpoint, it is justified.

So if you want to help China, the other way is to stop the empire right here.

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The Chinese Renaissance

This article is written for people in America who really care about situations in China. With this article, I hope it can give a basic stretch of the cultural thread that China is coming from, e.g. China’s growth path, and thus might help Americans understand the real needs of China.

Every culture has its own growth path, and its own thread of stories. The one of China is very different from the one of the west. For a lot of things that the west takes for granted, China has to take a long time to cultivate them in the deep consciousness of the nation.

Individual consciousness is a strong tradition of the Greek culture from which the west inherited from. In China, however, individual consciousness is always an undercurrent, never became the explicit culture. As China was torn apart by the west, the pains caused Chinese intellect to reflect on our culture. When put our culture in the contrast with the western culture, it is much easier to find out our limitation and how to make it better. Gradually the efforts merged into a movement of Chinese Renaissance in the early part of the 20 century.

People at that time (including many early leaders of CP) were involved in some educational movement that they hope can have similar effect of European Renaissance. To be specific, they wanted to invoke the awareness of the people of their own individuality, pursuing their own happiness instead of always sacrificing for the country. For example, there were literature about the suppression of individuals by the family (typical big Chinese traditional family hierarchy), young men and women pursuing free love instead of marriage set up by their parents, women pursuing their independence (influenced by the same movement in the west. The work of Ibsen like The Doll’s House was very popular and widely discussed). There were writers experimenting writing novels like the western ones, such as deeply self-confessional. They deeply analyzed human nature, explored humanities under various circumstances. They advocated the potential of individuals. They practiced themselves developing their diverse personalities. They emphasized the potential of individuals to free themselves through learning, and the responsibilities to do so. They wrote essays to tell their countrymen to develop their body and mind so there can be a new young China.

They felt Chinese traditional written language is too obscure and difficult for the mass to learn. So they advocated writing the same way as the oral language and they explored how to write in that kind of language. This is a long time of practice. It took almost a century for some great Chinese writers to figure out how to write beautifully in the plain spoken Chinese.

They translated the Wealth of Nation and many such great works into Chinese to introduce western ideas. They criticized deeply the traditional Chinese culture, especially the Confucianism. Some even advocated young people not reading any traditional Chinese text, saying it is full of words that eat people.

They tried to adopt the three branch government structure of the west, even willingly to be killed for that cause.

Deeply, they wanted to wake people up of their individual consciousness, and develop their individual consciousness. They felt that was the future of China. That was the only way to fight the old deeply drenched habits of culture. This is indeed a trust in common individuals to find their own happiness instead of being bound by many traditional artificial values.

Above is just a glimpse of that movement of Chinese Renaissance. The task wasn’t accomplished. And we don’t know when it can be finally accomplished. But it did transform China in a great degree. I highly recommend the speech below by Hu Shih on Chinese Renaissance.

The speech was about the language movement. (I think it was originally in English. If so, he put me totally in shame. The intellects of that generation were well-trained in the traditional classic Chinese text. And their command of English is also so splendid, –I had always wondered how good their English were and how much they understood the western culture–, but I think I am better in science and engineering training, and about 80 years younger than Hu, I know many things that he didn’t know. 🙂 )

You can notice in this speech Hu mentioned Ch’en Tu-shiu, the founder of CP, and his early role in Chinese Renaissance. This is just an example of many of the early members of CP actually came from the same people who advocated westernization and democracy.

Another great speech is by Li Ao in Beijing University.

In that speech, Li Ao tried very hard to convey to Chinese people the way to obtain their freedom. I highly recommend this speech.

I think if you read these two speeches, you will feel they follow the same tradition. Actually Li Ao is Hu Shih’s little friend across generation. I don’t think they formally claimed a teacher-student relation. But the outsiders always treat Li Ao as Hu Shih’s student. Personally I feel that Li Ao has gone way beyond Hu Shih in knowledge and practice.

I think these two great speeches should give you an idea what kind of change that China needs. In the spirit of these two speeches, more peaceful bottom level cultural communication and engagement are the most effective way to bring about the fundamental changes.

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Watching the Olympics opening

As I said, I didn’t pay much attention to Olympics. So until I started watching it, did some questions come up to me. Now China is before the eyes of the world. This is the chance for China to express herself. How will China express it? For me, I am always looking for individual expression. I am looking for powerful individuals who are able to achieve the height of their arts (arts in the generalized sense) in a culture. I think that is the real thing that can indicate whether a culture is prospering. I heard of the great economic development in China. But I haven’t heard many great individuals making great cultural contribution to the world. I feel if China wants to take this chance to show off, I would like to see if China is currently culturally rich and beautiful. That is my standard: looking at the percentage of the population who are able to make themselves in term of art of life, or on average how much percentage of potential can individuals develop in a certain culture. If we say in America, individuals on average can develop 3 percent of their potentials, in China it is probably only 0.03 percent. I wasn’t really in touch with China these years. So I hope maybe Olympics can be a good window for me to look into that. (Or maybe Olympics is not such a window.)

I was stunned by the opening from the very beginning. It is really beautiful, artistic, and very poetic. I always feel Hong Kong and Taiwan are places that really understand the essential beauty of traditional Chinese culture, and also able to express it in the modern forms. I am very glad to see that mainland China is able to do that as well. (In the past, I had refused to go to all kinds of festivals showing off so-called beautiful traditional Chinese culture, knowing people there don’t really understand the essence of Chinese culture and they just want to show off their national pride. There are a lot of that kind of galas here in New York, like those in Radio City. ) Surely China had a very rich tradition, and its vast diverse geographic area and culture have the great power of original invention, as evidenced by our past history during which we independently invented a whole different system of culture outside the western system (language, painting, martial arts, literature, music…). This is something I am always very proud of. I always believe that this power of original imagination is still within China. China still has that potential. This potential just needs to be released. And in this modern world, as human history has advanced to our current time, for Chinese culture to grow historically, to reinvent itself, the key to release that potential is to empower the individuals. Never underestimate the potential of individual human beings and the power when those individuals work together. If China is able to handle this successfully, I am quite confident that the level of China’s contribution to the world in term of arts and ways of life for mankind will be again at the same level we had in the past.

I was looking for the high art that can be on the same level as the poetry of the Tang and Song Dynasties. I always hope China can again have so many great poets springing up as we had in the Tang and Song Dynasties. I am afraid we are far from that yet, probably not even able to match our current economic status (which I also think is far from satifactory). If the Olympics opening is treated as an art, we probably can see it as a great individual achievement of the director Zhang Yimou. He is always very good at making very beautiful images (although I have a friend saying Zhang is not a good story teller).

As the opening showed off the greatness of Chinese traditional culture, however, the current China is in no way to match her past glory. I certainly take that as a shame. It is a shame of the modern Chinese. We should be ashamed of not being able to match our ancestors’ achievement. If you keep saying our ancestors had the four great inventions and they were a great contribution to the mankind, then this question needs to be asked: what did we, the modern Chinese, invent and contribute to the world? (As far as I know, in the software world, most contribution is from US. Some from Europe and Japan. Even Korea has some contribution in the web2.0 field. Chinese contribution is very miserably almost nothing. This is my personal impression. Correct me if I am wrong.) If Olympics is a show off, I guess it is a show off of shame. That is why I always feel it is not the time to show off. I wonder whether the eagerness to show off so early reflects that the task of releasing individuality is far from accomplishment. Where are the individual voices? Where are the great individuals we once had in the Tang and Song Dynasties? (Not to mislead the reader, I have to point out that even those great individuals in the Tang and Song Dynasties were still suppressed individuals.) However, this show off seem to be useful in one way: at least it made the westerners know of China’s past, as it certainly surprised many people as they found out about the ancient China.

I watched the opening with many Americans. I tried to avoid watching it with Americans because I could expect all those ignorant and arrogant comments regarding China coming up. I just didn’t want to be in that cloud of ugliness. But they have a very huge flat screen. And they are an atheist group and claim to have a great emphasis on humanism. So I guessed there would not be many of that kind of comments. But still they came up very often during the watching. I already knew exactly what they were going to say. They were just exactly the same things that you can read on news these days and what you can hear people talking when they talk about China. Yes, it is exactly the same kind of comments. You know how stupid it is. This tells me something of the current average consciousness of US as a whole. This is the kind of consciousness that make wars, not peace. (How I wish there are more people who are able to experience their own deeper inner peace and love through their individual pursuit of their arts of life!) I cannot help but wonder if this is the same kind of aggressive mindset that savaged the world for the past few hundred of years (what Noam Chomsky called “European … running the world by savagery and barbarism” http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20080718.htm ). I might be making too much connection here. When Chinese talk about Americans, the same kind of ignorance and arrogance come up as well. (I am not making comparative study here. I just want America to be better, recognizing obstacles in its own path of growth.) Again, as I have said many times before, culture communication at the bottom level between people (instead of between states) is very important to our future. It is a lot more fun that way, and a lot more beautiful. Can you imagine that future? People are always beautiful.

Later a friend said that the opening is dazzling, fantastic, but at the same terrifying. I asked him why? He said that thinking China is going to be our enemy is terrifying. This kind of mood is later echoed on Meet the Press by Tom Brokaw. (To his credit, Paulson who Brokaw interviewed answered the question very well: “those that think that we need to contain or counter China’s economic growth, or that we should be concerned that they’re going to overtake us are worried about the wrong thing, that the best thing that could happen to the United States would have China continue to grow and continue to progress and continue to reform. And the worst thing that could happen would be for China to seriously stumble. And so, again, I looked at what I saw there at the stadium as a symbol of all of the progress China has made as they’re attempting to do something that is really breathtakingly difficult, to move a billion people from a developing country to a developed country. And, you know, we push them all the time to move quicker, to open up quicker, to expand, you know, human liberties quicker and, and, and so on. But I think it’s easier for us to, to, to have impact with them if we recognize how far they’ve come and we engage with them on that basis …. Not just in terms of the economic situation of the people in China, but some of the freedoms now that they enjoy, and their access to information and their access–ability to move around. And so they’re on the right path. And so the question is, how do we get them to move quicker to open up? And I think the answer there is, is engagement.” The original script is at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26123239/page/3/ ) (You can see the interesting syndication between the press and the mass in US. The press seems to be picking up voice from the people. But people’s voices were already framed by the press and became sort of reality. It is cycle of illusion and ignorance.) What puzzled me really is why America has to make enemy, always looking for enemy. Where is that mindset coming from? Why not make friends? If America, the most powerful country on earth that has the most leisure to do so, doesn’t have the vision and determination to make friends, who else can (afford to) have? Unfortunately, in my judgment, neither of the nominees of the two major political parties has the vision and determination to make friends instead of enemy in the world. Smart as they might be, they compromise.

My criticism of America and the west (and China) might be harsh. (However, I wish it is harsh enough to break the thick ignorance.) But every culture has its starting point, and thus limitation. They can only complete themselves by learning from each other. This is true for us as individuals. It is the same for countries. In our time, the whole world is increasingly becoming one country. However, people’s consciousness hasn’t given to this concept of one country. We are already one country! One world, one dream! I like what China has picked as the theme of this Olympics game. As we become one country, we have to work together to solve common problems facing mankind and build our prosperity together. And finally, let the cultural communication and learning happen in a peaceful way instead of violent way as we had done in the past.

I feel that if people want to discuss China they need to at least know a little of China’s thread of stories, know where China came from, and have that as the basis of discussion.

In case you missed, another sentence they picked is a quote from Confucius: isn’t it pleasant that there are friends coming from far away. I like this pick very much.

On a side note, now the number 8 becomes the mainstream lucky number for Chinese is a little surprise for me. And they can be so obsessed with it. (Olympic opening is 08:08pm 08/08/2008). If I remember correctly, 8 is a lucky number only in Cantonese culture because in Cantonese it sounds very similar to the character of making a fortune. In the 80s, because Canton (Guangdong province) lead the country in economic reform and foreign trade, many people imitate Cantonese way of speaking. At that time, the orthodox mainstream culture felt it as a pollution of the standard mainstream language, the mandarin. It is interesting that 20 years later, the whole country is Cantonesized. Now number 8 becomes officially the lucky number of China!

To me, however, it stands as a symbol, that China is currently all about Development and accumulating experiences of development, as I said in the post Development and Environment. It is the triumph of commerce and trade culture over traditional agriculture culture.

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The myth of Chinese population

This came up a lot at last night Olympics watching party. I feel there is some misconception here. People wonder why China and India have so many people.

Actually if you combine all the people in Europe, North America, South America and Australia together, you count all the European descents, the number might be about the same or even more than China or India.

Europe is about the same size as China or India (if you include Pakistan, Bangladesh, and maybe some other traditional India territory), and they have about the same long history. So it makes sense that after a few thousands of years they have about the same number of people. What is different is that European descents are very spread out across the globe and thus don’t appear to be that many people while Chinese and Indian are mostly concentrated in one country. I guess this is why we have this myth.

Actually there were many people died in China in the last two hundred years under the invasion and occupation by the west, while the west enjoyed the prosperity and the luxury to build their democracy. Luckily we survived. But how about the native Americans? How about Africa?

I don’t have all the numbers here. Someone interested might provide numbers for this. But I guess this should be enough to clear the so called “Why China has so many people?” myth.

Out of curiosity, I found this from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population
As you can see from 1750 to 1950 the percentage of Asia population is continuously decreasing and and that of European and Americas combined are continuously increasing. The percentage of Africa population is also decreasing a lot, and I don’t assume that is solely because they “moved” to Americas and Europe. It is only after 1950 (the time the western powers start withdrawing from the Asia) did the percentage of Asia population start increasing. See this chart, and you get what I mean.

Ok, myth solved. I guess.

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Development and Environment

This is the third installment based on a conversation with a friend today regarding China.

As in the previous post, I said the stories in China are following a different thread than the ones in the west. The same is the issue of environment protection.

If we treat a country or a culture as one person. For a person, as a learning person, when s/he first discover something, s/he needs sufficient time to experiment, explore and accumulate experiences with that new discovery. So when the west found how to use oil as the energy, they were just excited to push it to every part of life and production. With technology breakthrough, it is not just a new way of production. It also promotes changes in social structure and how people organize together. All these would take a long time to explore. So in the west, it took several hundred of years to finish that process. After having accumulated enough experience, it is time to reflect on how to better take all the experiences we already have and actually make our lives better. So now the west started to reflect on the environmental impact of the development.

For China, however, it is a different thread. For China, its traditional culture emphasized on harmony with the nature. But our recent humiliating history and crisis taught us that we had to develop and learn from the west. So we started our path of development. So far, we haven’t accumulated enough experiences with the development. So westerners imposing their own reflection of their own culture upon China and criticize China for its pollution of environment in a sense reflected the ignorance of the west of the thread of the stories of other cultures and still applying the same mindset of the old colonial time when they were invading, occupying and massacring people of other cultures.

However, the planet earth cannot afford another big country to live the same kind of life style that US is enjoying, especially considering the population of India and China combined together reaches about half of the world population. China doesn’t have to accumulate all the experiences of development by herself if China can learn those experiences from the west since the west already accumulated those experiences. However, the stupidity of the national borders and the mindset of people shouting boycotting Olympics makes the learning and sharing of experiences difficult.

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