Before we traveled, in a few reflective moments I consulted the Yijing. "What am I to learn during the China trip?" I wondered. The Sage returned hexagrams 38 "Diversity," and 55 "Abundance." Those two ideas nicely sum up my impressions of the trip. China is a country of extraordinary diversity and abundance. Those social commentators are likely correct who predict that China will soon be (if not already) the lead country in the world, outstripping any western nation in its optimism, opportunity, and dynamism. That's not to deny that the contrast between rich and poor is stark. A Maserati drives next to a tuk-tuk—the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw—with both not exceeding a fast walking pace. The strange confluence of communism and consumerism is a dizzying mix of mutually excluding opposites. In the countryside we were woken at 7:00 am each day by a Communist Party speech, broadcast from loudspeakers mounted on lamp posts. Broadcasts continue during the day, apparently to keep the countryside connected to the center. Despite the 24/7 surveillance, my overall impression of China is of a dynamic country whose time has self-consciously arrived.
Yet, China is not a new country, and has a rich history of thousands of years. Readers of my blog will know that I have been drawn toward ancient philosophical daoism, and my own life is shaped in part by its naturalistic beauty and commitment to the balance of yin and yang, as well as by Confucian "as-if" habits, and Chan buddhism's simple breath meditation. Going to the source, I did not know what to expect, but was excited to visit the land of the ancient sages. To be honest, the heritage of the ancients seems buried deeply by the effects of the Communist Revolution of 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, with their effective eradication of traditional Chinese ideas and practices. Consumerism has added layers of silt, and it is hard to find much in common between modern China and the ancient wisdom. We visited the Confusion Temple, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Lama Temple—the latter a living representation of Tibetan Buddhism. I gladly burnt incense with the Buddhist faithful, but its meaning and mystery was largely lost to me. The faithful were the few. It is difficult to generalize, but it seemed that most of the folk wandering around the ancient sites—large crowds gathering, even on a cold work day in late December—were as befuddled as I was, the meaning of the ancient sites lost to history. Artifacts were displayed in the temples without context, and hence without deep significance. I came to the realization that my own "Buddhism" is largely a westernized, philosophized adaptation and not the culturally deep Buddhism of the Chinese faithful. Still, I was glad to be there. Given the opportunity I will go again, and will reverently burn incense once more.
It hardly needs saying that I was more at home with the ex-pat community (mostly diplomats) who celebrated a candlelit service of nine lessons and carols, with Christmas Eve Eucharist, in the ballroom of a Beijing hotel.
As the Yijing suggested, diversity and abundance characterized our China trip. This brief blog doesn't tell the half, and I feel greatly enriched by the experience.
Then there was the Beijing smog ...
Be well and enjoy abundance in 2018,