The Tao of Politics – and the Ecology

by Gabriele Battaglia,

The » original article is in Italian.

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The Comeback of Taoism

A lot is being said about a renaissance of Confucianism in China, but the other classical teaching, Taoism, is alive and coming back.

In many cases, it is in fact Communist officials who support this revival.

Hu Jintao´s "harmonious society" may be a system of rules and rituals in the sauce of hyper-capitalism, or in reclaiming the harmony of Taoism.

It can really be said that a number of prominent members of China´s Communist Party, just like old imperial officials before, are "Confucian during the day, but Taoist at night".

Late in April, 300 delegates from 17 countries attended the International Taoist Forum in Xi´an. It was the first conference of this kind in China for 50 years.

Jia Qinglin, ranking fourth in the politbureau´s standing commission´s ranking, said in his message of congratulations: "Taoism is not only a precious gem of China´s cultural treasure, but a spiritual wealth of all of humanity".

Another high-ranking official, Liu Yandong, emphasised the Dao de Jing´s timeliness, which expressed the "aspirations of the Chinese nation for happiness and harmony".

After a repressive phase, the party went up to Taoism again, controlling it by the China Taoist Association. During the Deng era, the temples were re-opened - probably for completely earth-bound reasons: income, culture, and because of tourism.

But there is more today:

The elements that make Taoism so up to date are on the other side of the slogans. Martin Palmer, secretary general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation who translated the Dao De Jing into English, emphasises the ecological question: that humans are essential in maintaining the planet´s balance. If a governing politician behaves like if he "invented the world", that is no good behaviour.

In the Daoist Faith Statement of 1995, promoted by the China Taoist Association, explains that the wealth of a society depends on the number of species. If were no constant growth in this sense, a society was on the decline.

In July 2006, there was the Qinling Declaration, a real working programme of its own.

The contemporary Taoists promote, in substance, an ecological management of temples and monasteries, which sets an example for Chinese society as a whole. They live transformed in the center, teaching the traditional methods and sustainability in the arts and trades.

They limit waste of energy, cultivate the soil ecologically, and protect water resources. Even the traditional incense burners reduce harmful emissions to a minimum.

In their role as moral minders, Taoists also criticise traditional practices of Chinese medicine, which threaten animal species like tigers, bears, and rhinoceroses.
A medicine that seeks human balance can not interrupt the currents of the Tao, destroy forms of life, and carry in itself the risk of extinction.

The ecological temple of Taibaishan, created in 2006 by the China Taoist Association, in cooperation with Shaanxi Province, is the first centre fully dedicated to teaching the Tao of the Ecology.

The first workshop has trained 14 Chinese monks to become real and actual commissioners for the protection of the environment of their territories.

Currently, the authorities are defining new standards for energy-saving and the protection of the environment. Companies that do not respect these will have to close down. Hu Shaowei, economist at the State Information Center, said explicitly that China´s future will only be possible with increased sustainability.

Are Taoism, politics and the economy compatible with each other? Might Laozi and Zuangzi replace Sunzi and inspire a new generation of managers?

The courses at Taibaishan are supported by the Ecological Management Foundation in Amsterdam.

2007-05-18, translated and posted 2007-06-24

External links about this topic
Taibaishan Daoist Ecology Centre

The Influence of Taoism in Communist China – philosophy and religion
Febr 9, 2007

Lin Yutang about Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi): "Mystic and Humorist"
Taoism Information Page

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