China and its deep ideas, tailor-made for royal ears

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -


As the en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­viser to Bri­tain’s Prince Philip, Martin Palmer noted that Queen El­iz­a­beth, who has just cel­e­brated her 90th birth­day, has reigned longer than he has been alive.

It is that longevity that has al­lowed Palmer, 62, who also is a Si­nol­o­gist, to help in­ter­pret the rich­ness of Chi­nese cul­tures for the royal fam­ily for many years, since he met them in the 1980s.

Palmer meets Prince Philip, who is 94, three or four times a year and talks with the queen once ev­ery two or three years.

Tao­ism, Con­fu­cian­ism and the in­tro­duc­tion of Chi­nese val­ues in deal­ing with chal­lenges of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and global warm­ing are among their talk­ing points.

“I think the in­ter­est­ing thing about the royal fam­ily and in par­tic­u­lar about the queen is pri­mar­ily longevity, a prime Chi­nese value,” said Palmer, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Al­liance of Re­li­gions and Con­ser­va­tion, an en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by Prince Philip in the United King­dom.

For the queen’s 90th birth­day, cel­e­brated twice this year, Palmer links longevity to Chi­nese val­ues. He cred­ited, first, “a tremen­dous sense of duty, which in her case is very much founded upon fil­ial duty — a great Con­fu­cian virtue”.

The royal cou­ple have asked how Con­fu­cian­ism shapes China, and what are the tra­di­tions of med­i­ta­tion and the core philo­soph­i­cal con­cepts of heaven, earth and hu­man­ity.

Palmer re­called the queen also asked why there were no wars be­tween these be­lief sys­tems, in­trigued as to how the dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions of Tao­ism, Bud­dhism and Con­fu­cian­ism work side by side in China.

In 1985 Palmer met the royal fam­ily for the first time when he was in­vited to talk to Prince Philip, who at that time was the in­ter­na­tional pres­i­dent of the World Wildlife Fund.

Palmer had writ­ten a book for the WWF, look­ing at how dif­fer­ent re­li­gions view the nat­u­ral world, de­pend­ing on what they be­lieved about its ori­gins.

Palmer was fol­low­ing the same cul­tural path as Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping did in his speech to UNESCO in March 2014, when he was vis­it­ing France. Palmer called Xi’s speech one of the most in­ter­est­ing speeches by a Chi­nese pres­i­dent in re­cent years.

Xi spoke very pow­er­fully about China’s cul­tures, tra­di­tions and civ­i­liza­tions, which should be part of recipe to bring China out of the dilem­mas it faces, he said.

Palmer said “eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion”, a phrase of­ten used in Chi­nese pol­icy, is a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pres­sion that he first came across in 2006 when he had been work­ing with Taoists in China on pro­tect­ing their sa­cred moun­tains and on their moral and spir­i­tual in­flu­ence on China, which he has been do­ing since 1995.

This is a con­cept, he said, that re­flects the no­tion that the Chi­nese have be­gun to care not just for them­selves but for peo­ple who are less for­tu­nate than them­selves, and for the forests, the rivers and the fish af­ter the rapid devel­op­ment of the past three decades.

“These had been shown in the Chi­nese clas­sics for thou­sands of years and this is a re­dis­cov­ery of Chi­nese civ­i­liza­tion be­cause it could shape how we lived,” he said.

“And so I have watched over what is now 10 years, this re­dis­cov­ery, reeval­u­a­tion of the best of cul­tural tra­di­tion.”

The old Con­fu­cian phrases of benev­o­lence, or ren li, are rooted in what it is to be a good hu­man be­ing, he said.

“So when eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion came along, for me, I could trace its his­tory.”

Palmer said the idea of hav­ing phases of eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion — which has be­come one of the over­rid­ing de­vel­op­men­tal com­po­nents of the Com­mu­nist Party of China since 2012 — should be given global recog­ni­tion.

Now one of the prob­lems is that the West has so de­val­ued its own no­tion of civ­i­liza­tion that it does not quite get it when a coun­try said it wants civ­i­liza­tion, Palmer said.

“This is China’s great gift, that we can have an eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion, which will come into be­ing. So I think that the sig­nif­i­cance of eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion is that it is a pro­found chal­lenge to a West­ern, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic world.”

For years he has trans­lated Bud­dhist, Taoist and Con­fu­cian texts into English.

“I am trans­lat­ing at the mo­ment the Three King­doms, and that wis­dom that is em­bed­ded in those texts and sto­ries, that is what I un­der­stand by civ­i­liza­tion,” he said.

Palmer said he is in talks with dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions in China, in­clud­ing the Party’s cul­tural and com­mu­ni­ca­tion units, about mak­ing a six-part se­ries tied to the Silk Road. It would look at the way that ideas, sto­ries, be­liefs and re­li­gions, and philoso­phies trav­eled back and forth along the Silk Road and shaped the great re­li­gions of the world.

“The China side is very ex­cited by this. I sup­pose they don’t meet many West­ern­ers who know as many sto­ries from Chi­nese his­tory as I do,” he said.

For years, as a Chris­tian, Palmer has led a sim­ple life, and has also ben­e­fited from Chi­nese wis­dom, which is about en­joy­ing what one can le­git­i­mately en­joy, as writ­ten in the an­cient Chi­nese clas­sics.

“For me it is about en­joy­ing the good things in this life,” Palmer said, “but mak­ing sure that is not at the cost of any­one else or at the cost of cre­ation.”

The sig­nif­i­cance of eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion is that it is a pro­found chal­lenge to a West­ern, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic world.” en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­viser to Bri­tain’s Prince Philip


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