The Art of Chinese Living

/ / En


An inheritance of tradition

Yu Guangzhong 余光中

November 2012

The Chinese have long been at a crossroads, caught between the ideals of socialism and the success of capitalism, and the long heritage of Chinese culture has at times been viewed as feudal, if not worse. Capitalism promotes itself using fashion, while socialism uses political correctness. But fashion blows hot and cold, like the weather, and political correctness only changes every ten years, so cannot always be right. After the collapse of the USSR, the city of Leningrad reverted to the name of St Petersburg, and Russians returned to the Orthodox Church. In China, revolution became reform, and liberation became open-mindedness. The Chinese no longer export revolution; they now export Confucius.

Our world is often divided by politics, but united by culture. China’s Dujiangyan irrigation system in Sichuan, for example, has existed through many dynasties, but its benefits to the people have never changed. Xiang Yao has titled this set of four volumes The Art of Chinese Living: An Inheritance of Tradition, indicating her own desire to contribute to an enduring Chinese culture. Her method for achieving this combines traditional wisdom with the practicalities of daily life – filled with both contemplation and celebration, these are books that can be appreciated by all.

The title of these books also underlines the importance of family. For Xiang, human relations should be based on family unity, and cultural heritage should be viewed as a family asset – an inheritance from one generation to the next. This heritage is not limited to establishing a family tree, building a family temple or dividing a family fortune; it also embraces the responsibility to preserve history, folk customs and art. Many festivals and other traditions are therefore described in relation to the importance of family, and many articles draw on the lives of Xiang’s own extended family to explore these relations and to consider the role of filial piety in modern life. This kind of heritage touches the mind and the heart, but this is not enough: we also have to be able to taste it. This is why Xiang also dedicates such a significant portion of each volume to the very heart of the home: the kitchen.

These four volumes offer a wide-ranging interpretation of tradition – an encyclopedia for the modern family, full of information on such subjects as Chinese medicine, feng shui, cooking and health. Xiang is the daughter of the Peking opera queen Gu Zhengqiu, and the wife of the internationally renowned architect Kris Yao, but she has carved her own path through life, truly earning the reputation of a woman who has mastered the art of living.