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Archive for June, 2009

Also on Confucius

Monday, June 29th, 2009
Confucius
Image by Steve Webel via Flickr

It’s interesting to read Ellis’ writing on the revival of Confucius ideology in today’s China. During my recent trip to Beijing and Changchun, I saw many books interpreting the classics of Confucius on the shelves of bookstores.  

I remember growing up in China during the Culture Revolution. Reciting Mao’s quotations and shouting revolutionary slogans replaced the learning of classic Chinese, which rendered our generation illiterate to classic Chinese. Needless to say, we couldn’t read any of the Confucius’ teachings in its original writing. However, during the “Anti-Lin and Anti Confucius Movement” (Lin Biao, Vice Chairman and Mao’s heir apparent who was later condemned as a traitor), we were all required to denounce Lin and Confucius. We, middle school students at the time who had entered elementary school as the Culture Revolution swept through country, had no clue why Lin and Confucius was linked together. We followed the Party line and imitated newspaper articles.

Now students started reciting Confucius statements in its classic form, and the ideology of harmony, social order and obedience to elders and authority were hailed. Yu Dan, a college professor, wrote a series of books on deciphering classic Chinese philosophies, including one on Confucius. She put a modern spin or application in her interpretation and became very popular among the young. She reached celebrity status in China and hosted a lecture program on television. Reportedly, one of her book sold more than four million copies the first month it was released.

As a Chinese, I am happy to see the revival of Confucius in China. The Chinese culture is embedded with Confucius values despite the “smashing” of its ideology in China’s recent history. However, I hope the study is conducted from a cultural and philosophical perspective, as how Aristotle and Plato are studies, and it’s not subjected to current political needs.     

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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More on Confucius

Monday, June 29th, 2009
Kaohsiung Confucius Temple
Image via Wikipedia

As a follow-up to my previous blog and having read more about the state sanctioned reinstatement of Confucius by the Chinese government, I’ve been intrigued by the ideals and teaching of this great sage.

He was born in 551 BC in northeast China, in the small state of Lu, into a poor but noble family.  At the age of 53, he became the State’s Justice Minister.  But he was quickly disappointed by corruption in his own state, and then spent 12 years journeying around China, seeking a worthy new master but without success.  He died in 479 BC with no hope for the future of civilization. 

 It appears that he never actually wrote anything down, but his teachings were passed down by his disciples.  These, like western religions, probably included considerable poetic license, and extra contributions.  What was eventually written down were small fragments of his teachings and selected sayings written hundreds of years after his death. 

 

Confucius was not a religious leader, but he stressed the ideals of harmony and obedience and the concepts of virtue, which included honoring one’s family, conducting one’s life in total honesty and obeying one’s social superiors.

 

He believed society would benefit when learning, study, and ceremony was put before pleasure, profit, and power.  Therefore his ideal system of government would be one run by an honest bureaucracy under a benevolent prince committed to public duty, honesty, and compassion.  He also believed that government rule should be based on customs and historical rites, and should reject at all times bribery, coercion, or laws that would promote shameless self interest.

 

The Confucian ideas were adopted by the Han Emperors (206 BC to 220 AD).  They particularly valued his emphasis on a hierarchy of obedience, and that bureaucratic positions should be filled by scholars with adequate qualifications rather than nobles who had done nothing to deserve recognition. 

 

This gave rise to the Mandarins, a group of civil servants selected by grueling exams, who had to memorize reams of facts as well as arithmetic and knowledge of ritual and ceremonies.  Even today, it is thought that this is the reason that Chinese parents have always been so strict with their children and that the Chinese in general have been excessively deferential to authority.

 

With the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China, Chairman Mao condemned Confucius as a feudal thinker.  During the Cultural Revolution Red Guards destroyed many Confucian temples and monuments, including his family home, grave, and personal temple.  But it is now recognized that Confucian teachings of ethics, harmony, obedience, plain living and public service are ideals that can be followed by all societies.

 

While the Chinese Communist government is now trying to fill the ethical vacuums brought about by their economic explosion, Confucius’s teachings are relevant to much of 21st Century western society and governments.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confucius Makes a Comeback

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
NYC - Chinatown: Confucius Plaza - Confucius S...
Image by wallyg via Flickr

I was interested to read recently in “The Week,” that Confucius, China’s greatest thinker, and long regarded as an arch enemy of the Communist system, is now receiving state sanctioned backing for a revival. 

 

As part of an effort by the Chinese government to restore Confucian teachings, the state is funding a $30 million film about the philosopher, at the same time as Confucian texts are being pushed in both universities and schools.  In addition, Confucius Institutes are being set up in more than 50 countries to promote Chinese culture.  Even much of the prison population is being taught the teachings of Confucius in an effort to reduce repeated criminal activities.  The Beijing Institute of Genomics has recently compiled a massive database of Confucius’s descendants, trying to recognize direct blood line descendants amongst the 1.3 billion Chinese.

 

Unlike Christ, Confucius was not a religious leader or teacher, but he embraced the idea of harmony and obedience and focused on orderly behavior in one’s life, rather than any hopes or fears for what would happen in the next life.  Maybe this is why the teachings of Confucius are acceptable to China’s Communist leaders, because they require no belief in God, but give some valuable lessons which can address the disparities in status and standard of living that exists for much of China’s population.  These disparities could clearly lead to social unrest and the resulting problems, in the future, which the government would clearly want to avoid.

 

It appears the government believes that a return to Confucian values of honor and decency will fill the ethical vacuum that is a result of China’s explosion of economic growth and rampant consumerism.

 

The reinstatement of Confucius is yet another example of China rapidly moving to world power status and creating a “Chinese way” of dealing with modern day issues and problems.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

 

 

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News from Home

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

 

 

Mother and Wen in Changchun, China

Mother and Wen in Changchun, China

I can always tell my mother’s mood from her voice each time she picks up the phone. Mother is eighty-one and has been suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, and irregular heart beat. After Father passed away last September, my sister Ping invited Mother to live with her for seven months. Mother returned home with the arrival of spring. “I always feel your father is waiting for me at home,” she said before returning to Changchun where she had lived for the last 25 years.

 

The transition home has not been easy. Luckily, my sister Yan and her husband moved home to care for her. And my sister Wen, a doctor, lives two flights up in the same building. Wen comes downstairs to spend a couple of hours with Mother every evening. Mother loves to have her adult children around her.

Mother was tough and strong when my siblings and I were children, but she changed substantially when she became a grandmother. Now she could easily be emotional, to the point of almost sentimental.

“What’s matter, Mother?” I asked when I heard her lower than usual tone.

“My blood pressure went up to 190 today,” she said. “I felt dizzy and didn’t go out for a walk.”

At my request, Mother revealed that Ms. Wang, her walking companion and friend who lived in the same neighborhood, suddenly passed away. Mother was saddened by the news.

“We took a walk together the day before,” she said. “Then she was gone. Just like that,” Mother’s voice chocked.

Wen took over the phone and told me in a lower voice that Mrs. Wang returned home after her routine walk and collapsed when she was about to open her front door. She was eighty-four. By the time someone found her lying on the floor, she was long gone.

“Yan and I took Mother to a flower show today,” she said. “We wanted to distract her and lighten up her mood a little bit.”

I’m grateful that my sisters are extremely caring and giving when it comes to take care of our parents. For three years during Father’s fight with lung cancer, they took turns to be with him day and night—he never spent a single day by himself, either at home or in the hospital. Now they are giving the same love and care to Mother.

There is hardly any word one can say when faced with a sudden death.

“Take good care of yourself, Mother,” I said, feeling my words weak and useless. “The best way of dealing with such a loss is to cherish and appreciate each day,” I continued, making the point to her and to myself.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com.

What’s Next? Surviving the 21st Century

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

 

The Rt Hon The Lord Patten

The Rt Hon The Lord Patten

I recently had the honor of introducing The Rt Hon The Lord Patten of Barnes, CH, the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, at a meeting of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  Chris Patten was elected as a Member of the UK Parliament in May 1979, a seat he held until April 1992.  He had previously been a personal assistant and political secretary to both Lord Carrington and Lord Whitelaw when they were Chairman of the British Conservative Party from 1972 to 1974.

 

Following the UK general election of June 1983, Chris Patten received a number of ministerial and cabinet appointments from Margaret Thatcher and John Major until November 1990 when he became Chairman of the Conservative Party.

 

In April 1992, he was appointed Governor of Hong Kong, a position he held until 1997, overseeing the return of Hong Kong to China.  From 1999 to 2004, Chris Patten was European Commissioner for External Relations and in January 2005, he took his Seat in the House of Lords.

 

Chris Patten spoke without notes for over an hour on a wide range of issues and challenges of the 21st Century, based upon his very broad global experience.  Having been an attendee at the recent G20 Conference in London, he expressed his admiration for President Obama, his vision, intelligence, and communication skills, which he believes are needed more than ever during this period of American history.

 

As and when the world recovers from this American-made global financial crisis, Chris Patten believes we will enter a new era.  The post Second World War period of American dominance, both economically and militarily, will diminish.  40% of the world’s population lives in India and China, who both have economies and populations that are exploding.  He sees the world changing from US dominance to cooperation of four main economic power houses, the U.S. Europe, India and China.  Cooperation, he believes, will be essential to meet the challenges of the future – growth in population, scarcity of water resources, food production, health issues, and control of natural resources.

 

He pointed out that President Obama had, in one of his speeches, clearly stated that, in this “new world,” America’s voracious appetite for consumer goods will diminish and dramatic changes will be made in lifestyles, use of natural resources, particularly energy, food production, and health care.  He believes that China will be the driving force of economic growth, followed by India with the US and Europe making a much smaller contribution. 

 

China however faces many difficulties, including political control, use of food and natural resources, pollution, poor health, and scarcity of water.  

 

India’s problems revolve around a population explosion, extreme poverty, lack of education, corruption, and bureaucratic inefficiency. 

 

He believed that the European Union will continue to grow economically, but the political difficulties will not be resolved easily.  This, he stated, was exasperated by what he described as “odd” leadership within the main countries of the EU.  Where else could a Berlusconi be elected other than in Italy, a country that luckily seems to govern itself without a government?

 

President Sarkozy, he described as an unpredictable firecracker going off in different directions, and he had no kind words for Gordon Brown.  He believed that only Angela Merkel of Germany possessed one of the main benefits of good political leadership – she is always underestimated.

 

Chris Patten’s comments were followed by a lot of lively questions – all of which he answered eloquently with numerous references to books on a wide variety of intellectual and economic subjects.

 

It was certainly a pleasurable experience for all concerned to listen to the thoughts and observations of a man with a true world vision.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

King’s Hill Farm—An Organic Heaven

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009
The shoot of a cucumber.
Image via Wikipedia

Over the weekend, my husband Francis and I drove all the way from Chicago to King’s Hill Farm at Mineral Point, Wisconsin. We had been to the farm before and met with the new managers at the farm, Joe and Jai Kellum and their two young sons.

In less than a year, they have transformed the beautiful landscape into an organic heaven. In additions to the acres of vegetables such as scallions, leeks, broccoli, sweet peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplants, radish, kohlrabi, fennels, celeries, carrots, etc., that are fenced by solar powered wires, there is also a large animal kingdom, with all the creatures fed with organic food. Two large lamas stand tall among the big, fat turkeys, aggressive geese, and squawking ducks. In comparison, the cage free hens and roosters and the two dogs, with their six cute puppies, appeared much friendlier. Jai told me that they would have four piglets in a couple of weeks. As I walked around the large farm, listening to the humming of bees from their beehives, I was so impressed by what revealed in front of me that I kept taking pictures. The Kellums planted 40+ acres this year. With the expansion of their CSA program, I’m sure that they will enlarge the arable area and raise more poultry and other animals on the farm.  

We had the privilege of enjoying a mixed salad freshly picked from the field for lunch and a delicious dinner of slowly cooked goose breasts (raised at the farm) and kale greens over risotto-style barley. Stephen, one of the associates working at the farm used to be a professional cook. It was a joy to watch him cook with the fresh, organic ingredients and produce the mouth watering meals for ten people with art and ease.

Joe packed a bag of fresh produce for us to take home. Francis, who had worked with vegetable and flower seeds all his career, showed Joe and Jai how to save and preserve organic seeds. We like the Kellums and their holistic approach at the farm. Next time we are back, we will roll up our sleeves and dig our fingers into the soil.   

If you are interested in signing up for the CSA program, please do so at www.kingshillfarm.com/csa.htm.

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com.  

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Evolution of Language

Friday, June 12th, 2009
SHANGHAI, CHINA - JANUARY 9: (CHINA OUT) A wor...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

 During a recent trip to China, I picked up a few new phases that were created with new phenomenon of life in today’s China. I was talking about the westernized commercials and pursuit of luxurious life style in China with my sister Wen when she used the term 月光族”, pronounced “yue guang zu.” “Yue” could mean month or moon in Chinese, and “Guang” could mean depleted or bright, pending on the context, and “zu,” race or group. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, Wen laughed and said: “The phrase refers to those young people who spend their salary completely each month.” “That would be living from paycheck to paycheck in English,” I said. I liked the Chinese pun and humor much better.  

 Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with two reporters from Jiefang Daily, a large newspaper in Shanghai, China. Over dinner, we talked about the wired culture and internet lounge in China and they used the term “宅男宅女,literally translated: house men and women. I had to ask them to explain.

 “That refers to those who are addicted to internet. They glue themselves to the computer screen, order food and interact with others via internet. They don’t leave their house or apartment.”

 I saw such people at an “internet lunge” when I was last in China. I went in to send some emails with attachments that I cannot handle with my BlackBerry. It was cheap—2 yuan for an hour, about 30 cents. Most of the people there were young and were playing video games. They smoked and ate at their station, and I was told, they could pay a minimum fee and sleep overnight at the lounge as well. They had their headphones on and appeared oblivious to their surroundings. I was chocked by the smoke from their cigarettes after half an hour and had to flee as soon as I sent off my files.

 It is definitely intriguing to see the evolution of language with the change of culture and way of living. Now that I’ve started to contribute articles to newspapers and magazines in China, I begin reading more in Chinese so as to be abreast with the changes of language!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

 

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D-Day Remembered

Friday, June 12th, 2009
D-Day: The Normandy Invasion
Image by Army.mil via Flickr

The solemn ceremonies that we saw this week on the 65th Anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings in Normandy were really the end of an era.  There were excellent speeches by Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, and from our own President Obama.  What was striking perhaps was that this is the first time in all the major remembrance ceremonies for D-Day that the three major political participants were not even alive at the time of the Normandy Landings.

 

As has often been said, not only was the improbable success of the greatest invasion in human history a turning point in the Second World War, but it was also the first steps to the creation of a new Europe and the establishment of the U.S. as the preeminent world power.

 

Breaking the Nazi stranglehold on Europe was no easy task.  On that day, 6th of June 1944, thousands of young men lost their lives.  The battles would continue for over a year before the Allies finally brought Nazi Germany to its knees, and an unconditional surrender was signed.

 

Many of my family members participated in those events.  My father-in-law, now 94, who landed on the beaches on D-Day plus one, fought in the battle of Caen, and went all the way through France, and the Low Countries, until crossing the Rhine into Germany.  I asked him some years ago on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day why he did not make the trip to Normandy and participate in the reunion.  His answer was “once was enough.”  He had no desire to revisit those traumatic times and in fact like many veterans, tears will easily well up – even now – when he is asked about his experiences.

 

In June 1944, I was seven years old and living in Hove, a small town in Sussex on the English Channel.   We lived next to the local fire station, and about 200 yards from the beach, which was closed off by barbed wire, concrete blocks and anti-tank emplacements.  School lessons were often held in an air raid shelter, and I often saw aerial dog fights over the Channel, and the results of stray bombs and enemy planes strafing our town.

 

D-Day was of course all about surprise.  For some weeks before, we had large numbers of Canadian solders billeted in our apartment buildings and the garages behind, which also served as their kitchens.  I used to stop by after school for some French fries; and, if I was really lucky, perhaps half a bar of chocolate.

 

Military equipment at that period only moved at night, but walking to school, I often saw tank tracks on the road and camouflaged equipment in our local park. Of course to a young boy, all of this was very exciting.  I did not realize the implications of the proposed invasion and what success or failure would mean in my own life.

 

There will be very few veterans to participate in the 70th Anniversary ceremonies, but I hope continuing generations will remember the sacrifices made in a war that had clearly defined objectives, to destroy a brutal murderous dictatorship and establish freedom and liberty for all in a post-war new world.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Farmers Market at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
Chicago Botanic Garden Edens sign

Image via Wikipedia

On Sunday, my wife and I went to the first of the season’s Farmers Market at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where our farmer friends from Wisconsin, Jay and Joel Kellum of Kings Hill Farm, were selling their produce.  Unfortunately, it was rather a chilly damp day, and so I think the number of patrons were not as numerous as one would have expected.

 

This is the second year that the Chicago Botanic Garden has been putting on an alternate Sunday, Farmers Market throughout the summer.  So far, they have ten participants – a couple of stalls selling vegetables and fruit, a stall selling clay and ceramic pot containers, and an Asian lady selling tomato and other flower and vegetable plants.  There were also baked goods from an organic bakery, and a stall selling preserves and honeys.  All the produce and products were organic, and it seemed the public were very knowledgeable about Organic Foods. 

 

The Kellums, in addition to selling their beautiful produce which this week, included rhubarb, scallions, mini leeks, giant fresh asparagus, field greens, kale, and radishes, also had pre-packed boxes of vegetables for their CSA, as they are partnering with the Chicago Botanic Garden as a pick-up point for Kings Hill members.  CSA (community supported agriculture) members support the farmers by purchasing a box of organic seasonal vegetables delivered weekly or every other week, to pick-up points in the Chicago area.

 

It was interesting to see how discriminating the customers were in looking at the vegetables and choosing carefully.   Most of the offerings were priced at $2.00 to $4.00 – certainly, not enough to “break the bank.”  But it was nice to hear the customers appreciating the look of the produce, its freshness and quality.

 

Jai Kellum also distributes a weekly newsletter from Kings Hill Farm  (http://www.kingshillfarm.com/) describing the week’s activities, detailing the vegetables that are available for that week, and including some interesting recipes. This together with the Kings Hill Farm Brochure seemed to be well received by the buyers.

 

The Chicago Botanic Garden, which has so many great programs for all ages of the family, was also hosting a Wine Tasting Festival.  This also drew the crowds, somewhat dampened again by the weather.  Throughout the summer, The Chicago Botanic Garden Farmers Market and Kings Hill CSA Program will be on display every other Sunday. 

 

I was also told by Jai Kellum that they are hoping to participate in the Green City Market in Chicago on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well.

 

I have no doubt that the Kings Hill Farm customer base will rapidly expand, and my wife and I are looking forward to seeing their next offerings.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

 

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Writers Cramped

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 31:  Actor Alec Baldwin,...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

 

The excitement and fears about electronic books appears to be accelerating at a fast pace as evidenced by the amount of time and attention devoted to this new medium at BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s annual trade convention that took place in New York last week.

 

New versions of “Kindle” – Amazon’s electronic book tablet introduced last year – are coming at a fast pace.  Sony already has a version in the market.  Interread, a British company, has introduced the Cool-Er, electronic reader, and Google has announced their own version available through phones, iPods, and other connections that are bound to appeal to the younger consumer.

 

Where does this all leave the publishing industry and particularly its authors, who are seeing more and more of their product appear on Amazon at $9.99? 

 

It appears that the publishing industry is not sure where the bandwagon for electronic books is leading.  Will the “Kindle” and its competitors blaze a trail for millions of new readers?  Or to express a fear of many publishers, will their sales be cannibalized to the detriment of the published article in both soft and hardcovers?  Is $9.99 a sustainable price?  How does anybody make any money at $9.99?  And will an increasing number of established authors refuse to participate as they look at diminishing returns?  How can any author contemplate replacing royalties from books selling at $15.99 to $34.99 with royalties on electronic sales at $9.99?

 

E-Books represent less than 3% of total book sales, but they are the fastest growing part of the book industry; and, as of now, booksellers, authors and even the publishers have no idea whether the new electronic books will impact favorably or unfavorably on profits, and on their future audience of readers.

 

Amazon is claiming that they are losing money on digital books published at $9.99, but in the meantime, they appear to have sold hundreds of thousands of “Kindles” at $300 plus per item.  Presumably, this part of their business is highly profitable.

 

The recession has bit into book sales, and publishers, booksellers and authors are all suffering.  It is unclear what role electronic books will play in these difficult economic times.  We will probably have to wait at least two or three years to ascertain whether or not the electronic age has been beneficial to the industry.

 

In the meantime, one of the topics of conservation at BookExpo America was whether this annual convention has a role to play in the future.  Only time will tell.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

 

 

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