The Art of Chinese Living

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May the heart of charity continue to expand forever

Jet Li 李連杰


Imake movies in places all over the world, and what I notice is that a great number of people still live in poverty-stricken, remote areas – where children not only lack the opportunity to receive an education, but may even end up dying from malnutrition. It shocks me, and fills my heart with grief, and I’ve always fretted about what I can do to help.

In 2007 I decided to establish a charitable fundraising organisation that I named the One Foundation. My hope was that it would encourage people with compassionate hearts to offer small donations, and that each of these small piles of sand would combine with others to become a mountain that could then provide meaningful aid to the disadvantaged and destitute around the world.

As a result of this, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and exchange views with people from many different cultures, and one of the things that I’ve discovered is that great numbers of people have only a very superficial understanding of the Chinese and our culture. They may be aware of my martial arts skills (gongfu), but they will not be aware of the age-old transmission of the discipline of Chinese martial arts. They might recognise the accomplishments of my personal model of a human welfare organisation, but they will not grasp the traditional Chinese concepts of beneficent love and great harmony that underpin it. Many people love the taste of Chinese food, but they’re unaware of the full breadth of it, varying across the many regions of our vast country. In short, Chinese culture is both extensive and complex, so it’s not something that can be transmitted in a few short sentences.

Xiang Yao has created four volumes of The Art of Chinese Living, basing these on a clear structural framework that encompasses a great wealth of details relating to our everyday life and culture. I sincerely welcome this wonderful achievement, and I’d love to see it translated and published in as many languages as possible, so that people around the world with an interest in Chinese culture can gain a deeper understanding of the country and its people.

The 21st century is the century of the Chinese. Communications, long-distance travel and the exchange of information offer more possibilities than ever before, connecting people and building understanding. It is wonderful to see Chinese people everywhere working hard to bring about prosperity and progess for our culture and society. These books are a good example. Xiang spent countless hours collecting and organising her material, and her overlapping roles of daughter, wife and mother penetrate the entire set, in terms of both content and perspective. She offers descriptions and well-chosen images of daily life from a Chinese perspective, capturing our cultural life and heritage in a systematic and straightforward way that’s both rigorous and easy to understand.

As well as being of great value to foreigners who want to understand more about Chinese culture, the traditions that are recorded in these books will be of great help to Chinese readers, both those of my generation, and of younger generations, eager to learn about what has gone before. For instance, consider the detailed introductions to traditional celebrations and foods contained in the chapters on festivals; the illustrations of homewares, jewellery and paintings, as well as lists of dramas and publications in the chapters on arts and crafts; and the proverbs and personalities introduced in the chapters focusing on culture. Some of the elements included here are things that many of us are already familiar with, yet to bring them all together in one place, organised like a well-laid-out map, makes these books a ready reference for parents and teachers educating younger generations. And each book concludes with a chapter called ‘Notes from Everyday Life’, which provides many practical tips relating to health, wellbeing and the environment.

I also recognise that Xiang’s motivation in producing this work was an act of philanthropy, which makes me identify with it even more. It began with an unselfish desire to share what she was able to contribute, for the benefit of other people. As a practitioner and promoter of a philanthropic enterprise active in China, the US, Singapore and other countries, I’m deeply aware that all actions for the public welfare have a positive impact on society. All of the income derived from the traditional-character editions of The Art of Chinese Living were donated to the project of establishing Dharma Drum University, an enterprise founded by the great Buddhist master Sheng Yan. As for the simplified-character reprints, Xiang chose not to collect royalties, in order to reduce the cost price and make the books available for a wider audience.

Doing good is a habit, and good intentions and good works are capable of building a harmonious and kind-hearted society. This was the original intention behind my founding of the One Foundation, and it’s something that I hope becomes a driving force for the Chinese people in the century ahead.