Some short remarks on The Art of Chinese Living
Nan Huai-Chin 南懷瑾
Early in the winter of 2009, the world-renowned architect Kris Yao and his wife Xiang came to visit me in Taihu. Kris’s old colleague Deng Kunyan, also a well-known architect, happened to be at my home at the time. This surprise reunion prompted many happy memories between them, and the conversation circled around the topics of architecture and modern civilisation.
After a while, Mrs Yao took out a draft of this set of books and handed it to me respectfully, saying, ‘Master, I’d very much like your feedback on this’. She explained that she had embarked on this labour of love with the intention of making some sort of contribution to Chinese culture and society.
I knew Mrs Yao’s parents very well. They had both been prominent figures in their day, and Mrs Yao was deeply influenced by the cultural traditions of this celebrated family. Her upbringing also instilled a great interest in the world around her. Growing up after World War II – an era of drastic cultural change – she felt keenly the conflict that had arisen between the old ways and the new ways that were replacing them. Her aim, then, in writing this magnificent set of books, was to help preserve traditional culture, reviving certain customs and enabling future generations to learn from the past in order to build a successful future.
When I was growing up on the Chinese mainland, the island of Taiwan could be seen but not touched. I imagined this famous mountain in the ocean as the enchanted home of gods and goddesses. What I did not know then was that when the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) came to an end, Chinese citizens who did not want to be ruled by the subsequent Qing dynasty retreated to the Taiwan region. As a result, it began to inherit Chinese cultural traditions. Although it is much too small to represent the entirety of China, this cultural convergences meant that the island became a miniature paradigm of Chinese culture, including the Hakka, Fujian and Ouyue cultures, all evolving out of the ancient Hoklo culture.
Mrs Yao was born at a turning point in Chinese history, but unlike many of those around her, she is not interested in pursuing self-interest. Instead, she elects to spend her time exploring what so many have become indifferent to – the big issues underpinning the Chinese way of life. This fills me with admiration, and so it is with great pleasure that I contribute these words to her book.