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China has lost its Way [Tao, “the Way”] and “The coronavirus is nature’s wake-up call to humans who have lost their Way.”: South China Morning Post (updated 1:30 PM)


photo by PatrikPhotos courtesy of A Taoist guardian god

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) has published an opinion piece, “The coronavirus pandemic is nature’s wake-up call to humans who have lost their Way“, that takes the Chinese government to task for losing its Way (from the Chinese Tao, meaning “Way” or “principle”).  Its subhead reads, “The prevention of future pandemics must be a collective effort by the world, but China has a crucial role to play.  The country must adopt a more environmentally sustainable development model, and it can start by relearning Taoist teachings.”  It was written by Lijia Zhang and Xia Chen, and dropped on April 18 at 9 AM (Hong Kong time).  Lijia Zhang is described in the footer as a “rocket-factory worker turned social commentator”; Xia Chen is “a research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing.”

The SCMP is considered to be editorially independent of the Chinese Communist Party and is based in Hong Kong.  The city of Hong Kong was turned back to China by the British government in 1997, and is governed under the philosophy, “One country, two systems.”  The city has been more and more controlled by the mainland Chinese government over the past 23 years, and has been the location of massive citizen protests against its leadership, especially since last summer.  The SCMP has encouraged the protests, while still decrying the few episodes of violence and disruption that have brought tear gas and even occasional gunfire from Hong Kong police.  For the scale of the protests (more than a million people regularly turn out), there have been remarkably few outbreaks of violence or vandalism.  Public protests died out with the pandemic.

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy and religion that traces its origin to a book that has been discovered in graves dating to the second fourth century BC (before Christ, or, to historians, BCE or “Before the Common Era”).  The book, “The Classic [Ching, silk scrolls that early books were written upon] of the Way [ Tao ] and its Power [Te, power or virtue]” or Tao Te Ching, has been generally dated to the sixth century BCE.  This book is said to have been written by Lao Tse (Zi), a shadowy figure whose name is sometimes translated as “the old boy” (in the British sense) or “the old Master”.  The surname Li, derived from Lao, is the second most common surname in China.  (In Chinese, surnames are shown before the individual, “Christian” name, as in “Smith, John”.)

There is no definite historical evidence for the existence of Lao Zi.  The earliest certain reference to the present figure of Laozi is found in the 1st‑century BC Records of the Grand Historian collected by the historian Sima Qian from earlier accounts.   There are many variations of a story retelling his encounter with Confucius, most famously in the Zhuangzi.

The Tao Te Ching is a collection of essays that explain the origins of the world and set forth a group of principles or aphorisms.  These aphorisms have come into common use as sayings that express deep philosophical principles, such as “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  Another, less obvious saying is “The greatest teacher teaches by non-teaching”– meaning, approximately, the best teacher does so by not lecturing to his students but rather letting them ask questions and helping them to answer their own questions.

The Taoist religion is a popular synthesis of the philosophy of the Tao and traditional Chinese religions that involved the worship of household gods (an outgrowth of animism, the belief that all inanimate things like rocks and trees had inside of them spirits or gods).  It was supplemented by Buddhism, a religion that was imported into China from India, where it started in the sixth century BCE with the Buddha.

Buddha (also known as Siddhartha Gautama) was a historical figure who was revered for his philosophy and personal dedication, particularly his asceticism.  He is said to have been born April 8, 563 BCE, but his death date is not given.  Wikipedia says, “The Buddha taught a middle way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Indian śramaṇa movement. He taught a spiritual path that included ethical training and meditative practices such as jhana and mindfulness. The Buddha also critiqued the practices of brahmin priests, such as animal sacrifice.”

The philosophy of Confucianism originated with the historical figure of Confucius (Kung Fu Tse or Kong Qiu), who is generally believed to have lived in the sixth century BCE; in fact, he is given the historical dates of September 28, 551 BCE to April 11, 479 BCE.  His thought “emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity.” (Wikipedia)

These philosophies and religions, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, long predated Christianity and formed the bases for Chinese thought, principles that persist until the present day.

Communism took over China in 1949, with the victory of insurgent armies led by Mao Tse Tung (Mao Zedong) who had been fighting the Chinese government since 1927– when they broke with Sun Yat-sen (who died on March 12, 1925 of gallbladder cancer) (and is unique among modern Chinese leaders for being “widely revered” in both Taiwan and mainland China) (he formed a “brittle alliance” with the Chinese Communist Party in 1923) and Chiang Kai-shek (who took over the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party of China after Sun’s death)  over the leadership of the Chinese revolution of 1912 1911  .  Chiang Kai-shek evacuated the mainland to the offshore island of Taiwan and remained the tyrant dictator of Taiwan (although he pretended to be democratically elected) until his death in 1975.  Mao Zedong, who was functionally the tyrant of mainland China, died in 1976.

Sun Yat-sen (born Sun Wen) is known in Communist China as “Forerunner of the Revolution” and on Taiwan as “Father of the Nation”.  He was “fortunate” in having died at the age of 58 in 1925, before the split between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party.  Of interest to me and a few other medical people, he was diagnosed at autopsy as having adenocarcinoma of the gallbladder metastatic to the liver.  He underwent an exploratory laparotomy at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where his true condition was discovered.  He was initially treated with radium, although given his prognosis of “ten days to live” at operation on 26 January, little was to be expected.  He survived long enough to be transferred to Kuomintang headquarters on February 18 and began treatment with traditional Chinese medicine against the advice of doctors.  He died 22 days later, on March 12, 1925.  He was generally (and mistakenly) thought to have cancer of the liver, until an American pathologist noticed an original copy of his autopsy report on display at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou in 2016.  Currently, liver cancer is far more common than gallbladder cancer; the incidence of these diseases in China at that time is not known.  The difference lies in the cause; liver cancer is often caused by chronic viral hepatitis, commonly type C or type B, while gallbladder cancer is commonly caused by gallstones.

After Mao’s death, the official atheism of the Chinese Communist Party was tempered somewhat with the recognition of Confucianism as a legitimate philosophy that was somewhat consistent (in their view) with Communist principles.  Taoism, with its emphasis on freedom and individuality, and Buddhism, with its pacifist and quietist tendencies, did not fit in well with official Chinese doctrine.  Both were suppressed and discouraged.

Taoism has many facets, one of the most prominent of which is its emphasis on recognition of nature’s role in human affairs.  As such, it is consistent with the green movement and encourages such green concepts as reverence for Nature, vegetarianism, recycling, and diminution of man’s footprint on Earth.

This is the basis for the SCMP’s opinion piece.  I invite you to read and digest the news and opinions of this influential newspaper and web site.  Its orientation is specifically Chinese, but it shows remarkable independence from the official line of the Chinese Communist Party.

(The information about Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism and the parts about Chinese history are sourced from my extensive readings on these subjects, but I don’t guarantee its total accuracy, just the general thrust.  See Wikipedia for a more accurate line.)

April 18, 2020 1:30 PM PDT: Some changes were made.  Additions are in bold italics.  Removals are shown as strikeouts.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 2020-04-18 11:22 AM

    They should go back to Taoism and Buddism, definitely Taoism, to stop them taking advantage of some countries ‘ poverty to buy wildlife .( Ex: slaughter of elephants for their tusks, vacuuming off West Philippine Sea aka South China Sea of giant clams, and catching a Chinese ship off Turtle Island in the Philippines with 350 turtles , some of which are over a hundred years old, ) and forcibly encroaching on Philippine territories , like Scarborough Atoll and Spratley Islands, less than 20 miles from Philippine shore and over 200 miles from China’s southernmost tip .

    This is not a conspiracy theory.


    • 2020-04-18 12:51 PM

      Dear Ren, you are not being redflagged (I myself fell prey to that theory a while back). To clarify, I had a little trouble a long time ago… I realized then that I had set my comment policy to allow, freely, all comments by any individual party after the first comment had been approved. This, potentially, could allow someone to make a comment that would be posted without my knowledge if I had previously approved their first comment. When I realized what I had done (this was several years ago, before anyone even commented other than one certain person who shall remain nameless) I decided to change the comment policy to “manual approval” of every comment. That’s where the policy stands today. It is entirely possible for me to miss comments if I am not on the computer or on the phone, which does happen (I am not glued to either one, although I generally/usually keep my phone in my pocket even when I am visiting the “necessary” (such a quaint euphemism!).
      Therefore, I missed your first and second comments, in fact I missed the third one too until just now.
      I don’t know what time zone you are in, but I noticed something recently that made me think that you were in western Asia somewhere, thus eight or more hours “ahead” of me… look, I used to live in Hawaii when I was a kid and I wish I lived there now, but Fresno is almost as good considering the lack of coronavirus cases near me! And the price of gas here is great.
      Anyway, to your point (and no wonder you are paranoid, when making comments that certain Chinese Communist petty officials could find offensive): for a “communist” country, China’s foreign (and domestic) policy is remarkably “capitalist”– in particular, their behavior is what I call (after others) “Cut-throat capitalism”. China is loath to institute aggressive military measures except against countries who have no reasonable chance to fight back and no global publicity machine to highlight “micro-aggression”. China is what used to be called “mercantilist” I think. They take advantage of other people’s economic weaknesses (poverty), to paraphrase what you just said in your first comment. This is seen in their behavior in the China Sea, where they are “hoovering” up small islands and even creating solid ground on some atolls, with no regard to ecological problems they create by filling in reef structures with reinforced concrete.
      This is also seen in the “Belt and Road” initiative, where they have signed poor African (and other) nations on to loan programs that essentially create Chinese private properties by allowing or encouraging the signatories to default on their loans… this is really insidious and pernicious.
      I am not a fan of the government of China (although I do like the government of Taiwan a little bit). I am a fan of the name Mei-ling, as in the sister of the widow of Sun Yat-sen… I’ll stop there because I think my fifteen minutes is up.
      I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your comment appear on my site at the speed of the net. If I could, I would make an exception in your case to allow you to comment anytime you want and have it reflected on my site immediately… To make it up to you, How about if you write a guest post about the Philippines? I’ll publish it here, although I don’t have as many fans as you do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 2020-04-18 2:21 PM

        I’m Filipino-American, was born in the Philippines, and immigrated with my family to the US when I was 6 years old.


  2. 2020-04-18 11:24 AM

    I’d like to inform you that my comments cannot go through . I think I’ve been redflagged.


  3. 2020-04-18 11:30 AM

    FYI, my comments cannot go through anymore. This is my 3rd comment. I think I’ve been redflagged by WordPress.


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