Green val­ues are com­pat­i­ble with tra­di­tional cul­ture

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Chi­nese tra­di­tions are closely linked to cul­tural be­liefs con­structed upon the “three pil­lars of Chi­nese cul­ture,” made up of the teach­ings of Con­fu­cian­ism, the phi­los­o­phy of Bud­dhism, and the ideas of Tao­ism. Aside from fol­low­ing these ideals, Chi­nese has also in­cor­po­rated re­li­gious wor­ship to es­tab­lish a su­per­nat­u­rally based cul­tural tra­di­tion to­day.

While dif­fer­ent Chi­nese re­gions ob­serve small de­tails of this cul­tural/re­li­gious sys­tem dif­fer­ently, the uni­ver­sal prac­tice re­quires ev­ery­one to burn joss sticks and pa­per money on fes­ti­vals and days of me­mo­rial.

How­ever, in­stead of con­cen­trat­ing burn­ing of such ma­te­ri­als in one area, of­fer­ings are usu­ally burned in large quan­ti­ties by many peo­ple on dif­fer­ent days. The prac­tice tends to gen­er­ate a huge amount of smoke and ash.

As such the most ob­vi­ous down­side to Chi­nese tra­di­tions is air pol­lu­tion. Mol­e­cules that are the byprod­uct of burn­ing in bulk have been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven to be harm­ful to the planet’s at­mos­phere.

In re­cent years, sci­en­tific re­search has dis­cov­ered that the air in cer­tain pop­u­lar tem­ple ar­eas of Tai­wan con­tains high counts of a fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter known as PM2.5. The mat­ter is an air pol­lu­tant that gen­er­ates a haze and is haz­ardous to hu­man health when highly con­cen­trated.

The un­de­ni­ably dan­ger­ous air pol­lu­tion around Tai­wan tem­ples leads to an ob­vi­ous con­clu­sion, that a new form of cul­tural prac­tice must be adopted by all Chi­nese cul­tures around the world for the sake of the en­vi­ron­ment.

It is an en­cour­ag­ing phe­nom­e­non to ob­serve that Tai­wan has taken the ini­tia­tive to ad­vo­cate the ob­ser­va­tion of an­cient tra­di­tions in an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way.

Progress took its first big step when the late Tai­wanese ac­tress Aunt Wun Ying ( ) be­came the spokes­woman for change. As a fig­ure­head of the older and more tra­di­tional gen­er­a­tion, the ac­tress had great suc­cess in get­ting through to the pop­u­la­tion, urg­ing peo­ple to adopt com­mu­nity burn­ing, where pa­per money and joss sticks are burned in mod­er­a­tion by a smaller group of rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Though the ac­tress’ un­for­tu­nate pass­ing soon af­ter the launch of the pro­gram less­ened the po­ten­tial im­pact of the idea, re­cent ef­forts by the cap­i­tal’s sym­bolic re­li­gious hub Xing­tian Tem­ple ( ) and the 275-year-old Mengjia Long­shan Tem­ple ( ) are now be­com­ing ex­am­ples that aim to lead the na­tion into be­com­ing a greener Chi­nese coun­try, al­beit not with­out crit­i­cism.

Caus­ing an­guish for joss sticks ven­dors and be­liev­ers alike, Xing­tian Tem­ple an­nounced the re­moval of all in­cense burn­ers and al­tars for of­fer­ings last year for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion pur­poses. The tem­ple in­stead en­cour­ages tem­ple­go­ers to pray us­ing their hands.

Like­wise, Long­shan Tem­ple also re­tired four of its seven in­cense burn­ers last week, in re­sponse to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s ( ) con­cerns and lob­by­ing from med­i­cal ex­perts.

Though most had as­sumed progress to­ward re­form­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture would be at a slug­gish pace, the quick ac­cu­mu­la­tion of lo­cal tem­ples that are will­ing to con­sider an­swer­ing the call to ac­tion in one form or another has been pos­i­tive to ob­serve.

What is both mo­ti­vat­ing and ironic how­ever, is the fact that as one of, if not the most tra­di­tion­ally Chi­nese coun­try in the world, Tai­wan would not be con­sid­ered a likely pi­o­neer for eco-friendly re­li­gious prac­tices.

One would most log­i­cally as­sume that the first Chi­nese coun­tries to re­spond to sci­en­tific sug­ges­tions would be places like Hong Kong, a coun­try that has ex­pe­ri­enced heavy Western in­flu­ence, or per­haps a South­east Asian coun­try that has un­der­gone eth­nic in­te­gra­tion.

Let’s hope that with the first steps taken by tem­ples in Tai­wan, all Chi­nese tem­ples and shrines around the world will soon fol­low suit and re­form the cul­ture into one that is at once tra­di­tional and eco-friendly.

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