Looking at China through a Cultural Lens – Part 2 of 2

January 15, 2020

What do Confucianism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism have in common?

Buddhism and Taoism are peaceful religions that use meditation for peace of mind and enlightenment. Taoism originated in China in the sixth century B.C. It is also believed that Buddhism originated in the sixth century B.C. but in India. Both Taoism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, life after death, and both have similar end goals. The goal of Taoism is to have a balanced life while Confucianism focuses on creating and maintaining harmony in society and avoiding conflict.

For instance, if an individual or group threatens harmony for everyone else, China’s leaders throughout history have often imprisoned or executed those individuals or groups threatening the tranquility of the majority of people.

A Cup of Tea (Zen poem)
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
101 Zen Stories

Zen-like Taoism focuses on staying in the present without judging anything or anyone.

However, it isn’t easy for Christians, Jews, or Muslims to do the same thing. Instead, the members of these religions often judge just about everything and everyone leading to many wars and lost lives.

Wars in China have seldom if ever been started by people that practice the philosophies of Zen Buddhism, Taoism, or Confucianism.

Return to or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Looking at China through a Cultural Lens – Part 1 of 2

January 8, 2020

“Taoism (also known as Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy attributed to Lao Tzu (c. 500 BCE) that contributed to the folk religion of the people primarily in the rural areas of China and became the official religion of the country under the Tang Dynasty. Taoism is therefore both a philosophy and a religion.”  ꟷ Ancient History Encyclopedia

“Unlike Buddhism (that originated in India and reached China to become popular), Taoism arose from the observations and beliefs of the Chinese people. The principles of Taoism impacted Chinese culture greatly because it came from the people and was a natural expression of the way the Chinese (working class) understood the universe.”


Buddhist Parable on the True Nature of Human Existence

Buddha Weekly says, “The Daoist tradition was already present in China when Buddhism first entered the country over the border from neighboring India around the 3rd Century BCE. The two religions (Taoism and Buddhism) came to heavily influence each other in China, and this Daoist influence on Buddhism — after the two started to interact with one another — helped shape history and philosophical belief in the region for centuries.”

“Taoism has been one of the most influential philosophies and religions during the past 2,500 years in China, and it affects every aspect of Chinese life, including leisure.” ꟷ World Leisure Journal

The BBC reports, “Zen Buddhism is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. It began in China, spread to Korea and Japan, and became very popular in the West from the mid 20th century. The essence of Zen is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought or language. … If you’re a westerner you may find it hard to shake off the intellectual and dualist ways of thinking that dominate western culture: this can make it difficult for westerners to come to Zen.”

Part 2 will be posted on January 15, 2020

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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What Makes China Different

December 4, 2019

One major difference is that most Chinese have NOT been seriously influenced by the politics and religious beliefs of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The major influences of Chinese Culture come from Confucian and Taoist thought.

In fact, the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew thought that Western-style democracy is incompatible with Confucianism and that the latter constitutes a much more coherent ideological basis for a well-ordered Asian society than Western notions of individual liberty.

Confucianism and Taoism appeared in China almost nine hundred years before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It would take another three centuries before Christianity and Islam reached China, more than twelve hundred years after the 5th century BC when Confucian and Taoist thought was introduced to China.

The Jews arrived much later. Most scholars agree that a Jewish community existed in Kaifeng, China since the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD), though some date their arrival to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), or earlier.

Buddhism arrived during the Han Dynasty, but by then China was already deeply Confucian and Taoist. Both have philosophies that focus on harmony and social order in society. Although Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism all mention harmony, too, the violence and wars caused by these religions have painted a wide bloody scar through history that continues today. You might be shocked to discover that Buddhists can be violent, too. If you are interested, I suggest you read A Short History of Violent Buddhism to learn more.

Confucius and many of his contemporaries were concerned about the state of turmoil, competition, and warfare between the feudal states. They sought philosophical and practical solutions to the problems of government — solutions that, they hoped, would lead to a restoration of unity and stability. – Columbia.edu

Taoism (also known as Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy attributed to Lao Tzu (c. 500 BCE) which contributed to the folk religion of the people primarily in the rural areas of China. Taoism focuses on the present – heaven and hell exist in how you connect to the present moment. On the other hand, Christianity teaches that heaven or hell happens after death.

Classroom.com says, “Taoism and Islam are very different in many ways. Religious Taoism is polytheistic, worshiping no single, omnipotent god, and instead venerating a pantheon of gods, many of whom have functional titles and roles. The Taoist classic text is the ‘Tao Te Ching.’ ‘Tao’ means, roughly, ‘the Way,’ and refers to both the ordering principle of the universe and to the gentle seeking of accommodation with it. … Islam says there is only one God, Allah.”

China like Singapore legally allows five religions, but only 200 million Chinese (14 percent of China’s population of 1.4 billion) practice Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

According to Religion in China – By the Numbers, there are 44 million Christians and 20 million Muslims in China today. Combined, Islam and Christianity represent less than five percent of China’s population compared to the United States with the largest Christian population in the world, about 75 percent of its 320 million people.

The most widespread religion in China is a combination of Buddhism, Chinese folklore, Taoism and Confucianism. It is estimated that 800,000,000 Chinese follow this tradition that retains traces of its ancestral Neolithic belief system including the veneration of the Sun, Moon, Earth, Heaven and various stars, as well as communication with animals. Folk religion in China has been practiced alongside Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism by Chinese people for thousands of years.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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According to the Ancient Chinese, I was born as a Rooster

August 14, 2019

I was born in 1945 on August 14. Each Chinese zodiac animal has personality traits assigned to it by the ancient Chinese. Chinese people believe these traits will be embodied in people, according to their zodiac sign.

The Chinese Zodiac says as a Rooster, I am observant, hardworking, and courageous.

China’s ancient calendar is based on a twelve-year lunar cycle. At one time, the Chinese calendar was confusing and complex. Buddhists have been given credit for simplifying it by replacing a complex system of numerical symbols with the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

There are several Chinese calendars, which are still in use today. Each has its own purpose. Farmers in rural China use one. There’s even a Chinese gender calendar to help conceive a boy or girl.

In addition to the lunar, numerical, astronomical, gender and agricultural calendars, each day also has a name from one of twenty-eight constellations, with a ruling spirit for the day.

In charting the sky, the Chinese divided the heavens into 28 constellations located along the Equator and the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere), each named after a star in the vicinity.

Explorable.com says (see previous link), “Unlike other cultures charting the stars at this period, astrologers were separate from astronomers and their job was to interpret occurrences and omens portended in the sky. As the astronomers began to chart regular events, such as lunar eclipses, these were removed from the realm of astrologers, who Emperors consulted before every major decision.

“As a result, the Chinese developed an extensive system of the zodiac designed to help guide the life of people on Earth. Their version of the zodiac was called the ‘yellow path’, a reference to the sun traveling along the ecliptic. As is the case with Western astrology, the Chinese had twelve houses along the yellow path, although the names they gave were different.”

2019 is the Year of the Pig according to the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese years are counted in a repeating twelve-year sequence, each year symbolized by an animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China is the Misunderstood Dragon

January 30, 2019

If you want to make an attempt to understand China, I suggest starting with the differences between Chinese dragons vs. Western ones.

Kid World Citizen.org tells us, “(Chinese) Dragons symbolize importance, power and strength, represent all things male, and were the symbol of the Emperor of China (who was said to sit on the dragon throne). The imperial dragon is shown with 5 claws instead of the usual 4, to distinguish him from lesser beasts.”

Chinese “Dragons are essential in agricultural life, since they are seen to control the seasons and the weather.  Although they (Chinese dragons) have no wings, the fiery pearl sometimes displayed in their mouths gives them the power to fly to heaven.  The male air and weather dragons would bring rains and winds to help the harvest, while the female earth dragons would preserve the waters in rivers and underground wells.” …

If you are interested, there’s more about Chinese dragons at Kid World Citizens dot org (find the link above).

Compare what you have learned about China’s dragons to the West’s. The Vintage News.com says, “From ancient Greek myths to Game of Thrones, the legend of the dragon is one of the most enduring and romanticized throughout history. It has been traced back as far as 4000 BC and exists in all parts of the world.” …

In the West, dragons were generally treated as violent monsters that must be slain by heroes and saints. European dragons could have four legs, two legs, or none, and often had wings.

“In Asia, and especially China,” The Vintage News continues, “the view of these creatures was very different. … They breathed clouds and moved the seasons. The dragon was the symbol of the Chinese Emperor, and the Imperial throne was called the Dragon Throne. Known as the Dragon, the emperor ruled in harmony, and brought peace and prosperity to all. … Chinese dragons are depicted as being more serpent-like, with long, snaking bodies and usually had four legs. They are generally seen as wingless.”

There are also a few other differences to compare.

China is a collective culture vs Europe and North America that are individualistic cultures. It is possible that the reason China’s dragons are different is because of the influence of a collective culture.

Does that mean we can explain the evil and danger of Western dragons to the influence of individualistic thinking?

European and North American cultures are influenced mostly by Christianity, Judaism, and philosophers from ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe. Ancient Athens in Greece is among the first recorded and one of the most important democracies in ancient times; the word “democracy” ( Greek: δημοκρατία – “rule by the people”) was invented by Athenians in order to define their system of government, around 508 BC.

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have never been a major political or religious influence in China.

Religious and/or philosophical influences in China come from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have never been a major political or religious influence in Europe or North America.

Because of these differences, mainland China has never had a republic or democracy similar to Europe or North America.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The ancient Chinese concept of Hell after death

January 23, 2019

The Chinese have Dante beat. Dante only wrote about 9 circles of hell. The Chinese have eighteen levels. It makes sense in a gruesome way when you realize the Chinese also came up with a very slow and painful death by a thousand cuts, and then there’s the Chinese water torture. Where do you think the West came up for  waterboarding?

China Underground.com says, “Diyu, the Traditional Chinese Hell, based on Buddhism concept of Naraka, is an underground maze with various levels and chambers, where souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed when they were alive.”

Buddhism originated in India and when it arrived in China, it brought eighteen levels of hell with it. Over time, this belief spread across China.

Taoism, Buddhism, and traditional Chinese folk religions think that the souls of the dead must experience several tests before reaching the gates of hell, where demons demand money to enter, which might explain why many Chinese burn paper money at funerals to make sure beloved family members have enough for the journey through hell.

There are eighteen levels on this journey, and each level comes with a method to test for evil.

For criminals, the souls are heavy and the trip is long and painful. Chinese almanacs graphically illustrated the punishments while good souls were light and made the journey quickly.

Today, these beliefs are probably more alive in remote areas of rural China than urban areas where Mao’s Cultural Revolution had more of an impact getting rid of ancient beliefs.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Competition vs Harmony

October 3, 2018

China is a collective culture vs. Europe and North America with cultures based on individualism, and understanding Confucianism helps explain how China’s collective culture works.

Religion

China has never been dominated by one religion like Christianity dominates Europe and all of the Americas or Islam dominates the Middle East and most of North Africa.

Philosophy

In China, Confucianism developed during the Spring and Autumn period from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE). His philosophy concerns the fields of ethics and politics, emphasizing personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, traditionalism, and sincerity. Over time, Confucianism replaced Chinese Legalism.

Chinese Buddhism entered China from India during the Late Han Dynasties. By the time of the Tang dynasty five-hundred years after Buddhism’s arrival into China, it had transformed into a thoroughly Chinese religious philosophy dominated by the school of Zen Buddhism. Neo-Confucianism became highly popular during the Song dynasty and Ming Dynasty due in large part to the eventual combination of Confucian and Zen Philosophy.

In Europe and the Americas, there is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, John Lock, et al.  In the West, instead of one major philosopher, there are many. Western Philosophy refers to philosophical thinking beginning with Ancient Greece and Rome, extending through central and Western Europe and, since Columbus, the Americas.

The Basics of Philosophy says, “Very broadly speaking, according to some commentators, Western society strives to find and prove ‘the truth’, while Eastern society accepts the truth as given and is more interested in finding the balance.”

Westerners put more emphasis on individual rights while Easterners focus on social responsibility.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

China is a collective culture vs the west that is based on individualism, and this difference might explain why China was the wealthiest, most technologically advanced civilization on the planet for about 1,500 years up until the 16th century.

Objectivism 101 explains, “Collectivism … sees the group as the important element, and individuals are just members of the group. The group has its own values somehow different from those of the individual members. The group thinks its own thoughts. Instead of judging the group as a bunch of individuals interacting, it judges the group as a whole, and views the individuals as just members of the group.”

In individualism each individual is acting on his or her own, making their own choices and are not guided by the collective, and to the extent they interact with the rest of the group, it’s as individuals.

Collectivism views the group as the primary entity and most if not all individuals are expected to conform. Harmony is considered the foundation of a collective culture while divisiveness is the foundation of individuality.

But first, China Mike says, “To understand the Chinese mind, you need to start with Confucius (552-479BC). Arguably the most influential person in Chinese history, Confucius and his teachings continue to exert a deep influence on society even in modern China today. … Confucianism is a complex system of social and political ethics based on filial piety, kinship, loyalty and righteousness. His teachings cover a wide range—from how a ‘true gentleman’ should behave in his daily life (down to how he eats with proper decorum) to how a ruler should govern (with a benevolent concern for the well-being of his subjects).”

Note: When I started iLookChina in January 2010, I set a goal to write and publish three blog posts a day until I reached 1,000 posts, and then I slowed down. More than seven years later, iLookChina has now published 2,355 posts with more than one-million words. That’s why I have decided to slow down some more. Starting today, I will be posting once a week on Wednesdays. To the more than twenty-thousand amazing people that follow iLookChina, thank you.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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