What strikes me most about my recent five weeks in China covering the period from May 7 to June 13th, 2014 was the idea of synchronicity and the Tao. Although I had been to China almost fifty times over the past seventeen years, my first being in May 1997 to Maoming in Guangdong Province to adopt my daughter Katie, everything about this trip was like a pilgrimage returning to my beginning. Although ostensibly the three places I was going to (Qufu, Chengdu and Xi’an) were known to me, only Qufu was familiar as I have spent the equivalent of seven out of the last fourteen years in the city that calls Confucius its favorite son in so many ways. But it was the essence of Taoism and my true beginnings that seemed to always be leading the way, or should I say wu wei. This trip would serve to tell so much more of that history for me. Wu wei certainly defined this trip. This idea of non-doing or non-action which was not intent so much on results or concerned with consciously laid out plans or deliberately organized endeavors, as much as seeing and being where so much of what I felt connected to all these years. What this really means is the true character of wu wei is not simply inactivity but perfect action because it is to act without activity. I had always known it was more than what I found here in Qufu and Shandong Province.
After teaching English and Chinese history and philosophy, especially writing and talking about what wu wei meant, I wanted to put it in real terms. Yes, I planned to go to Qufu for the Young Artist presentation, but beyond that the five weeks in China, in Qufu, Chengdu and Xi’an were not planned in advance. Other than that I was going, as if in harmony with Tao, by letting my subconscious lead the way with an innate understanding of the universe that the answer as to my next step would make itself clear when the time comes to act. That the person or thing I needed at the moment would simply manifest before me, that I would make every effort not to act according to a self-conscious mode or feeling or deliberation, but according to the divine spontaneous mode of wu wei. Wu wei is considered to be the realm in which the Tao operates and is always good. For myself it was more than living in the moment, it was to live beyond thinking as well. The answer to my next step would always simply occur. For more than twenty-five hundred years philosophers in China had extolled the virtue of wu wei. Something many referred to as “the art of doing nothing”. What did it mean to me personally and could this trip show, or illustrate, that I was on the correct path, or coming closer perhaps to my source? After all these years and so many trips to China it would be to live solely within the harmony of my own internal truths.
The trip began however in Beijing with my meeting with my friend Goali Zhang who had been responsible for publishing my two books in China. I have known Goali for more than ten years and he is a good friend. When I mentioned I was going to Chengdu he said he would call his friend Lin Xu, the director of the Exuberant English Company, and see if he could help me in my stay in Chengdu. This proved very beneficial later. Gaoli is now the head of his own publishing house in Beijing. Hopefully we can continue finding new projects and working together in the future.
Although I have written, studied and taught classes in Chinese History, even taught and lived for three years at Cambridge English School in Qufu and Jining, Jining university in Qufu and Qufu normal School (2010-13) that was founded by Confucius’ ancestors in the 1890’s and been give the moniker, or name Kongdan having come to Qufu so often, I have never felt any real affinity for either Confucius or his Analects. Great respect for his influence on chinese history yes, but I am a Taoist through and through. To friends in Qufu I am considered a foreign scholar and consultant to the prestigious Qufu I Ching and Society.
Even after writing the manuscript of a book suggested by my publishing friend in Beijing that was to be called My China Dream…Reflections on Living in the Hometown of Confucius it was never published. At heart I am a Taoist with Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu as my mentors. It would not be until my recent preparations for the Chinese History and Philosophy class I taught at Miami Dade College and the Confucius Institute that the answer became clear to me. My affinity to Shandong and especially the city of Lu (Qufu) was primarily due to two other figures in Chinese history whose influence was as great, or greater than Confucius. Confucius was a little too authoritarian, i.e., “let’s all follow the same set of rules” that emperors and authority figures liked so well. The Taoist Chuang Tzu and his ideas of freedom always struck a familiar chord with me. I have always more identified with the earliest shaman, I Ching, and Taoist beginnings in China. Confucius was always a latecomer to the scene who seems to have had credit thrust upon him for many things not of his doing. But he was a consolidator who combined many disparate avenues of thought and writing prior to his time and deserves credit for this and his Analects. But from the first time in October, 1999 when I made my first visit here to Qufu there was always something pulling me back. Certainly something the local security bureau and police could not understand for sure as to my continuing presence. My foundation, the kongdan Foundation, printing and distributing 5000 copies a month for two years in 2006-7 of the Christian magazine the Daily Word gave them pause as to my continuing presence. and then to later teach in qufu was problematic. I was Dantzu long before my friends in Qufu gave me the name Kongdan.
It was in preparation for the Chinese history class for Miami Dade College that the answer that was always present, but somehow had remained hidden became clear. Two figures who were essential to China’s history, the Yellow Emperor who lived in 2600 BC (more than 2,000 years before Confucius) and the Duke of Zhou, whose name was Ji Dan, who codified the Book of Rites in 900 BC (400 years before Confucius) and who did so much to unify early China after the Shang Dynasty were both from the City of Lu…. which is now known as Qufu. Confucius was a latecomer to the scene. It had been the earlier characters I was drawn to and so much more. Then later in Jining with the Han and the flying iron horse 400 years after him that I felt a deep affinity for. Maybe this new book about my time spent in the hometown of Confucius would have been incomplete without including the Yellow Emperor and Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou.
This recent visit to Qufu (May 2014) I went to the historic sites dedicated to both men, the Yellow Emperor and Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou. It is as if both have played a significant role in which I have been in the past, am now, and yet may become. But there was to be much more on this trip focusing on the history of Taoism, Buddhism, the terracotta warriors and so much more in Chengdu and Xi’an. To have been coming to Qufu for fifteen years and made almost fifty trips, albeit to have lived here continuously for more than three years, only to just now see who was always present but unaccounted for… maybe I just wasn’t ready to appreciate their influence on my philosophical and spiritual development that begins with the earliest shaman, the Yellow Emperor, who was one of the greatest shaman in Chinese history. He was the promulgator of the earliest beginnings of both Taoist thought and the I Ching. He was one of my many mentors. From the earliest time when the shaman used the color red to represent life this has represented the essential color and connection to nature. From the earliest Chinese language the color red to translated into dan in English.
The Jingling Palace, a temple meant to honor the legendary Yellow Emperor located near Qufu was built in the 11th century. It was subsequently destroyed near the end of the yuan dynasty. However, several other structures in Shou Qiu, the complex that Jingling Palace was situated in, remain intact. Two giant tortoise steles flank what was the entrance to the palace. One of the two steles, the Stele of the Sorrow of 10,000, is at 52 meters (171 ft) high, the tallest unmarked stele in the country. A large pyramid constructed of rounded stone blocks, the symbolic tomb of the Yellow Emperor’s son Shaohao, is located outside the Shou Qiu complex. I do recall coming to see the “only pyramid in China” on one of my earliest trips to Qufu maybe 12-13 years ago. At that point however, I was merely drawn to Qufu for reasons I did not yet know or understand those first few years coming here. But I knew I had come to the right place even then. Even if it was just a starting point, or as I used to say when I was a small partner in a joint venture shopping center here, a platform to assess where and how to proceed.
The Duke of Zhou, or Ji Dan, as he was known, was a great moderating force in the early Zhou Dynasty. He was the fourth son of King Wen and a great military leader who brought order to China in about 900 BC. He was in a way a great mystic, or shaman who brought forward the code of how different segments of society should live together. He was a moderating force in times of chaos. The mandate of heaven was the Duke of Zhou‘s big idea. The ruler governs by virtuous example which spreads virtue throughout the land, and in turn demonstrates his harmony with the divine. Most importantly he codified the Book of Rites following the excesses of the Shang and lived in the city of Lu (Qufu).
He represented a synchronicity that could be understood, emulated and followed. He was Confucius hero, as well he should have been, as Confucius basically took the imprint on Chinese history left by the Duke of Zhou and simply copied it. JI Dan was his mentor and gave him a starting pointing for updating everything that had been written he could find including the I Ching. Those who followed Confucius continued that pattern attributing things such as the Analects to Confucius who was to become a depository for virtue for centuries after his death. It is the one that that Confucius and I share and have in common, besides my Chinese name Kongdan, a mutual admiration for Ji Dan, The Duke of Zhou. I think he was a great shaman in the mold of Fu Xi and the Yellow Emperor and understood the need for synchronicity that would mold things between heaven and earth as the true Perfected Man later defined by the Taoists and Chuang Tzu. He was the ultimate role model and ultimately was who, with the Yellow Emperor in tow, had kept pulling me back to Qufu until I could work my way past this guy named Confucius.
During the Cultural Revolution in 1966 The Duke of Zhou’s body was dug up and hung to illustrate “everything old was bad”. Later his Temple was reconstructed and now it is a tourist attraction in Qufu. He was a great man of his times. Confucius counted heavily on his writing in his own updating of Chinese history 500 years later in Qufu. I had been by his Temple literally hundreds of times without knowing Ji Dan’s history. On this trip, however, I spent an afternoon here reacquainting myself with an old friend. He is one of my favorite characters of Chinese history. He was considered China’s first sage, without him Confucius would have had little or nothing to go on.
My first week in Qufu, May 7 through May 13 was spent with friend Christiane Francois (Chris) who came with me to try to reconcile an old debt with a local businessman, Mr. Zhang and to hold our annual Sister City Young Artist ceremony at Jianbing Elementary School, an event with certificates for young artists and money to the winners at various elementary, middle and high school students in Qufu. I had been hosting the event, this year with Chris, for more than ten years here in Qufu. This was highlighted by their new art teacher, Mr. Kong Youqiang and the two art teachers at Jenny’s school, (Qufu #1 Middle School) Ms. Yuan Yichan and Yia Daoming, who we now have involved in the Young Artist program. Getting money from Mr. Zhang being unsuccessful, Chris returned to Beijing and home to Florida while I stayed in Qufu at the Shangri La for another week meeting with old friends and past students at Jining University and Qufu Normal School. This was highlighted by meeting and having dinner with Mr. Yang Jinquan from the Qufu Historic and Cultural Affairs Office. As usual my friends Andy, Maria, Jenny and Kevin, friends and students at university made everything go very well. Except for one minor detail, the Shangri La Hotel mixed up Chris and my bills and charged my VISA for the room and not Chris credit card by mistake. This was eventually cleared up but for the next two weeks in Chengdu this caused several problems but was fortuitous just the same.
I left Qufu by fast train on Wednesday May 21st, took the bus to Jinan airport for 6:30PM flight and arrived to Chengdu at about 10:30PM where my new friend Lin picked me up and took me to Flipflop Hostel where I had made a reservation. I was to stay here for the next eighteen days while in Chengdu (May 22nd through June 9th). Lin said he would be busy until the following Sunday when we would meet in his office to see how I might help him with his school. The next morning I met one of my students from Jining University, Megan, at Flipflop and we took taxi to the Qingyang Taoist Temple, then walked around downtown Chengdu had tea then I returned to the flipflop hostel. This would turn out to be the only time I would see Megan during my stay in Chengdu as she was busy with new job. I spent the next four days walking around within 4-6 block radius of hostel… lots of shopping and only two blocks from metro that would take me almost everywhere I wanted to go while in Chengdu.
On Sunday, May 25th, I took metro to Lin’s office where we discussed how I might help him over the summer. At that point I had intentions to extend my stay in China from June 13th to August 3 or 4th. A friend of Lin’s named Yuliang Zhou came and the idea of me teaching in another city close by named Suining came up and possibly doing sister city between Boynton Beach and Suining was discussed. I was to meet with Mr. Zhou and some of his friends from Suining a few days later to discuss. Later that evening we had scare at hostel… a fire in fruit market on first floor of building caused everyone to evacuate with luggage in tow. Fire was extinguished quickly with little harm done. The next morning I asked flipflop about a longer stay they said I could stay as long as I wanted paying a week at a time. Mr. Zhou called me on Monday and we were to meet the next day at a tea house with four or five of his friends from Suining. We met on Tuesday, but ultimately there was little interest in my going. I think school they had in mind did not need foreign teacher for the summer so it all became a moot point… it was much ado about nothing, except I discovered this great re-development known as Kuanzhai Lane with tea shops, restaurants, and a Starbucks. Later I discovered there were at least fifteen Starbucks in Chengdu, and counting.
On Wednesday, May 28th I went to People’s Park (line 2 of metro) to sit and read and have tea at Heming Tea House. It was a beautiful morning sitting next to lake watching the ducks and geese and people in tea house and in paddle boats on the lake. I would return here several times over next two weeks before leaving for Xian. It was during this time over the intervening ten days or so that Chris kept trying to change my airline ticket back from June 13th return to Florida to early august. Ultimately this would not happen as it was too expensive to change ticket and I would return June 13th. I should have known I would want to stay in China over the summer. While sitting here I met another teacher named John. He was retired and had son about three or four. He had married one of his foreign students from Finland about ten years earlier. She now worked in another city not far from Shanghai. I would go to his home for dinner tonight. I took a taxi later to 56 Cao Tang Bei zhi Lu, his apartment complex.
After our meeting at the teahouse I walked back over to the Kuanzhai Lane (about 6 blocks) where I had been with group from Suining and to Starbucks, then walk a very long way to Qingyang Taoist Temple where Megan and had gone the previous Thursday. This time I took 182 pictures until my battery went dead. I decided then to buy another battery. The temple appeared to have been damaged in earthquake a few years earlier, but I was impressed. There were several areas that interested me and I felt an immediate connection. Something I would feel weeks later in Xian and the Temple of the Eight Immortals and their ultimate connection of the shaman to the stars. Foremost was a series of about 25 stone carvings of figures that were connected to the cosmos. Of everything I was experiencing here at the Qingyang Taoist Temple this was what got my attention the most and made me want to return to Chengdu to study and discover more about what was ultimately my past.
There was also had a tea house that seems very noisy with lots of people playing cards and mahjong at the temple. This custom and tradition of a much laid back culture seemed to permeate Chengdu, a city of 12 million people. The tea culture was very much a part of living here in Chengdu. Much more than bustle found in Beijing or Shanghai. Directly west of the city center, this Taoist monastery/temple is culturally and historically the most important sight in the city. It’s said that at Qingyang Fair (its first incarnation), Lao Tzu attained immortality. And it was here that he revealed the Tao Te Jing (Classic of the Tao) to Yin Xi, frontier guardian at the Hangu Pass and last man to see Lao Tzu before he left the world of men for Mount Kunlun, gateway to the Western Paradise. Today Qingyang Gong is one of the most active and important Taoist monasteries in China. Among its treasures, of greatest historical significance is a set of rare and elegant pear-wood printing plates of abstracts of scriptures in the Taoist canon. The grounds contain six halls on a central axis, a room for printing Taoist texts that stands to the east, and a room for worshiping Taoist sages that stands to the west. The Hall of Three Purities (Sanqing Dian) is the monastery’s main building, but the most emblematic has to be the Bagua Ting (Pavilion of the Eight Trigrams). This octagonal building sitting on a square pedestal (symbolic of the earth) rises 20m (65 ft.) and has two flounces of upturned roofs covered in yellow, green, and purple ceramic tiles. Between the roofs, each facet of the octagon has at its center a plaque of the eight trigrams set off by a pattern of swastikas, symbolic of the sun or the movement of fire. The 81 carved dragons are said to symbolize the 81 incarnations of Lao Zi, but the number has closer associations with Chinese numerology and the belief in nine as the most “accomplished” of numbers. A bookstore in the Hunyuan Dian (Hall of Chaotic Origin) sells souvenirs alongside Mao bookmarks, Taoist study guides, and a fortunetelling manual called “Unlocking the Secrets of the Book of Changes.” I was greatly enamored by it all and anxious to return again when I return to Chengdu.
In front of The Hall of Three Purities (Sanqing Dian) are standing two eye-catching bronze goats. For visitors, stroking the bronze goats beard here is a must as it can supposedly vanquish life’s troubles and pains. I seem to be destined to a life of ease as the goat’s beard seems to have been transformed into my own, or maybe that I am just simply now one with an old goat. (My picture at the beginning of this website is of me and one of these goats). It is unique in that it combines features of all the Chinese zodiac animals, with mouse ears, an ox nose, tiger paws, rabbit back, snake tail, dragon horns, horse mouth, goat beard, monkey neck, chicken eyes, dog, and pig thighs. Another highlight here is the Eight Trigrams Pavilion. Built on square foundations, with a colored glazed dome on top, this octagonal building reflects the ancient Chinese philosophy that “the sky is round and the earth is square”. There are eight pillars with dragons drawn in relief in the corridor. Colorful caissons and the symbols of eight trigrams are ornately arranged across its ceiling. The Eight Trigrams reflects the connection between the I Ching and early Taoism in Chinese history and culture. This association deserves much more study. Later I took a taxi to John’s for dinner. We had frog legs and Harbin beer.
On the next day I went to the Wuhou Shrine (Memorial Temple of Marquis Wu) dedicated to Zhuge Liang, the Martial Marquis of Shu in the Three Kingdoms Period where I took 154 pictures. It was a bright sunny day and hard to get camera angles at times but still got some great pictures. Located in the south suburb of Chengdu, the temple was initially built in 223AD next to the temple of Liu Bei, the emperor of Shu. It was combined with the Temple of Liu Bei at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty; consequently, the entrance plaque reads ‘Zhaolie Temple of Han Dynasty’ (Zhaolie is the posthumous title of Liu Bei). The current temple was rebuilt in 1672. The most valuable cultural relic within the temple is the stele set up in 809. This huge stele 367-centimeter (144-inch) high and 95-centimeter (37-inch) wide is called the Triple-Success Stele. The three successes are: an article written by Pei Du, a famous minister of the Tang Dynasty who served four emperors in succession, calligraphy by Liu Gongquan, one of the most brilliant calligraphers in Chinese history, and a statement about the morality and achievements of Zhuge Liang. On a side note I have been the the home of Liu Gongquan, in Linyi, in Shandong Province that is a couple hours by train south of Qufu. Surrounded by old cypresses and classical red walls, it evokes nostalgia and times gone by. The main body of the temple is divided into five sections, the Gate, the second Gate, the Hall of Liu Bei, the corridor, and the Hall of Zhuge Liang, all of which run south to north. Inside, stone carvings and clay sculptures of Shu Emperor and ministers stand or sit together, making them a special feature. I got some great pictures here at the temple.
Everything about this trip has been at a leisurely pace. Unhurried, very casual, it is what I like about Chengdu. Where I am staying is only 45RMB a night, about $7US. I can eat for about the same or less everyday so I have been spending about $12-15 a day. It’s a good thing as I have very little money. That will change today. It is always amazing in my trips to China, especially this one. When something is needed it is though I am so in tune with the universal spirit of my being here, rather money or the right person that appears as if it is as Master Oogway says… there are no accidents. Where I am staying is a hostel and most people staying here are much younger than I… most would be in the 20-25 age range. Everyday different people from the world over pass through. Not only from around China, but people from Scotland, Germany, Finland, the UK, Peru, of course the USA, a girl from India would pass through in a few days on her way to meet family in Xian. A young guy from here in China looking for a job here in Chengdu to be closer to his girlfriend would stay several days in the bed next to mine (I stayed in a six bed mixed room) during which time we became good friends. His English name is George. He got the job and will be a great contact here in Chengdu in the future.
Today, Friday, May 30th I am to meet with Lin at Exuberant English to discuss how I might be able to fit in to his school. I left early so I could have lunch at restaurant call the Bookworm that was nearly his office. They serve American dishes as the American Consulate is nearby and caters to an international crowd. I like very much. What I am learning here is that along with the underlying contradictions I have looked to for almost forty years now, is that I am reminded of underlying truths as well. As I have taken and will take over 2,000 pictures on this trip… they are all dealing with the truth of my innate nature and who I am. Truths about myself I have always known but seemingly forgotten. It’s like a pilgrimage, back in Qufu with the Yellow Emperor and Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou, and now here in Chengdu with the Taoist and Buddhist images filling time and space as a constant reminder of the “who am I”. A couple days ago I was standing in a shopping center next to a Buddhist monk who appeared to be in his mid forties and as I watched him I noticed that he had solved this paradox of living in parallel worlds. In one hand he had a strand of prayer beads that he was constantly revolving from one bead to the next with his thumb never stopping. In his other hand he was holding an item to purchase and conversing with the salesclerk whether to purchase or not. It was as if he was spending time in both worlds simultaneously. He had appeared to have mastered this idea of being “in your world, but not of your world, i.e., the world as others knew it”. Three days later on the metro I was again standing next to a Buddhist monk as he too had prayer beads revolving in his hand as he moved his thumb continually from one bead to the next as if unaware of life as it swirled around him. Chengdu and Sichuan Province has been the center of the Buddhist/Taoist world in a continuum of over two thousand years. It was at this moment I understood why I was drawn to come to Chengdu. I think the paradigm shift here is what I have always craved is finding a place where there is no contention present, but where history, Buddhism and Taoism are found. Where I can truly find and be myself. That the more I have sit in meditation over the years, I find that to find the emptiness that fills my soul I must first go back to the beginning, just as the I Ching always has said and dictates. Just as with the shaman of prehistory in Shandong, important events and people who have shaped me and who I have help to shape over thousands of years, and now here in Chengdu where Taoism and Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, especially Chuang Tzu’s image of the Perfected Man who served as the ultimate link between heaven and earth. Together with Buddhism they could mesh and be truly appreciated because they were far enough away from Shandong and Confucius that they could develop unimpeded as Buddhism came to China and coming here first to Chengdu on its way to Chang’an (Xi’an). Xi’an would be my final destination on this trip after leaving Chengdu on my way to Beijing again and home. However, Xi’an was to have a lasting impact on my psyche that I could never have imagined. It is not only that the pace is slower and people seem at ease with their surroundings, the underlying truth about Chengdu is the lack of contention present in the demeanor of the people and what permeates the city. Somehow coming to lunch and meeting Lin about my working here with Exuberant English fits in with the ultimate synchronicity, although not quite yet as we shall see.
Friday afternoon I met with Lyn as several realities of the trip were coming into focus. First was the mistake made by the Shangri La Hotel in Qufu who billed my debit card instead of Chris credit card that made my bank account back in Florida unusable… so I had very little money. Second was attempts to change my return home from June 13th to August 4th so I could spend the next two months in China instead of going home in a few week as originally planned. Ultimately the next two weeks of attempting to make the change proved futile, although at this point that outcome remained unclear. On this day meeting with Lin he suggested I work full time assisting a student who needed to pass the TOFEL exam so that she could return to Oregon to study music at university there. Also after explaining my financial situation Lin gave me a 2000 RMB advance thinking I would be there until the first week of August and he wanted to help… and wanted my help as well with his school through the summer. I was to begin the next day with an interview of the girl who needed to pass the TOFEL exam. If all went well I was to begin working with my “student” the following Tuesday morning. The 2000 RMB was a lifesaver, something I could not have anticipated but would ultimately help to make my remaining stay in China until leaving on June 13th doable. At the time Lyn gave the money to me I thought we would change the airline ticket and I would be in Chengdu.
On the next day before leaving the hostel for the afternoon “interview” with my prospective student I received a text from a former student named Peter from Jining University who was planning a summer program in Zoucheng back in Shandong looking for foreign teachers for July and August. To go back to Shandong (Zoucheng, the home of Mencius is less than an hour from Qufu) sounded interesting, but at the time I thought little of it. I then went to Exuberant English for afternoon interview. Interesting note… Lin had asked me to “dress accordingly” which of course I would have. But we arrive for interview with mother and daughter and Lin is wearing a pair of shorts and shirt that appeared very casual then proceeded to extol the virtues of his school to mother while I interviewed with girl. I thought it went pretty well. I had taught TOFEL requirements to students in Qufu who needed to pass exam prior to going to UK. They had all subsequently passed the exam and so I thought it was an easy thing for me to do. Mother said afterwards they would decide prior to the following Tuesday when we were to begin. This would have been on June 3rd. They decided later to “go another direction” according to Lin, so this teachings opportunity was not to be. All Lin had for foreseeable future was Saturdays with classes of 7 to 12 and 13-16 year olds which he taught. At this point it was assumed that my flight would be changed until the first week of August.
The next several days Sunday, June 1st through Thursday, June 5th were fairly uneventful. Sunday was the middle of the Dragon Boat festival so several staff and guests from hostel walked over the a famous spot along the river to fly lighted lanterns, a traditional good luck activity. It was a nice event and my lantern actually “took off” through the night sky. My wish was that family and friends would be able to find their highest endeavor and destiny and to live it as I have done. And that this sense of wu wei that began on this trip would continue indefinitely. The next several days were spent pretty quietly, I would not be teaching and Lyn was out of town until Friday. So reading, contemplation, tea at tea houses in the park became pretty much the routine. I was lulled into thinking plane ticket would be changed and I would be in China until first week of August and I was enjoying this leisure time.
I had gone to a camera shop and bought an extra battery which came in handy on Tuesday afternoon when I took taxi to the Sichuan Museum. It was certainly a highlight of my visit to Chengdu. I took a total of 467 pictures at the museum. It was an awesome trip. Things I had studied and read about for thirty years were now just inches away as I went through the museum. At the time I was still in this “I’ll be here until August mode” and with free admission I planned to spend a lot of time here over the next several weeks. Of course that did not happen. Just as with museum in Xian I was to visit a couple weeks later, the things I was seeing brought back to life so much from pre-history, the warring states period, the Han, Sui, Tang and Song Dynasties that I have to return. The section on Tibetan Buddhism was really awesome. It was to be a great prelude to my visit in Xian to the Big Flying Goose Pagoda and the Shaanxi History Museum. To the faithful, those who have studied this for decades like myself, or even the uninitiated to see this all in its historical context for the first time would I think be pretty remarkable. For one who has a sense of history and is purposely here to experience as a teacher, it’s hard to describe. While at the Sichuan Museum I was busy taking pictures with plans to return later to label and categorize those that had special meaning. As it turned out I will be prepared when I return again to Chengdu and my next visit to this free museum. I was certainly getting what I came for.
Wednesday afternoon my friend John suggested over tea that he borrow a friend’s car for a two day period and we would use it to go to Leshon Buddha and Taoist Temples on Qingchen Mountain and Dujiangyan, an irrigation infrastructure built in 256 BC during the Warring States period of China by the Kingdom of Qin. John was very familiar with both as a “local” and had been a tour guide in Tibet many years earlier. I gave him 500RMB for two days for the car and gas. This turned out to be a bad move because his friend’s car had engine trouble and indecision on my part… was I staying until August or leaving China June 13th. This would have to play itself out over the next several days. John’s friend should not have said we could use car to begin with. We could have just taken bus for day trips and that would have been fine.
Deciding I couldn’t wait for decisions that seemed to take a long time, I decided to go to the Panda Preserve and Research Center the next day on Friday, June 6th. It was like checking off another box of “things I must see and do” while in Chengdu. The tour was arranged through the hostel where I was staying. Almost any tour could be arranged through the hostel. They later arranged my flight from Xian to Beijing for my trip back to Florida on June 13th once I knew my China stay could not be extended. It was to be on same airline (Hainan) that Chris was trying to change back in Florida. Had I known I probably could have gotten the agency to try to change my flight back to USA. Oh well, it was fate. The panda tour was only about an hour away and after about two hour tour we returned before noon.
On Saturday, June 7th everything changed to getting ready to travel mode and what must I see that I have not seen in Chengdu that is a must see before I leave. The earliest train to Xi’an I could leave Chengdu was Monday afternoon, an eighteen hour overnight train on hard sleeper that would arrive in Xi’an on Tuesday morning about 8AM. I had the staff at Flipflop hotel book my flight from Xi’an to Beijing late Thursday night so I would be there on Friday morning and I booked two nights (Tuesday and Wednesday nights) at a hostel in Xi’an. My friend George booked my hard sleeper ticket for me from Chengdu to Xian. He also booked the train tickets for me to go to Qingchen Mountain and Dujiangyan for the next day. This would give me three days in X’ian. Also this would only give me one more day (Sunday) to do what I wanted to do. What had originally been thought of as “I have lots of time” became I had no time. Also I was to teach today at Lin’s school. The first class was at 8:45AM. This was 8 to 10 year olds using their books and just having them read them in English. The second class at 10:30 was 13 to 15 year old all middle school students. We spent discussing what they each were good at, and learning to focus their school work in high school on that. One student was interested in the environment, another being a teacher, a third a translator. I finished about noon and then had lunch with school’s staff members I did not see Lyn and would not see him again on this trip.
When I returned to the Flipflop we finished all the arrangements and what occurred to me was that the only opportunity to see the Leshon Buddha was Monday morning before my train left for Xian. Upon checking further I determined there was no way to get to and from Leshon Buddha and be at train station in time for my 2PM departure. I had been in Chengdu for over two weeks and did not get to see the Giant Buddha. John and I had planned to go but the “car” was not repairable. Obviously the problems with car were too much. Now the Giant Buddha would have to wait. Feeling sorry for me my new friend George sent me a few pictures later by email to tide me over until my next trip to Chengdu.
My last full day would be a trip I would take by myself to Qingcheng Mountain and Dujiangyan. It would involve the metro to the train station, the train to the stop closest to Qingcheng Mountain, then a taxi to the gate of the mountain. Afterwards finding the bus to Dujiangyan… walking six blocks to its location, then after seeing what I was there to see, taking taxi to another train station, taking train back to Chengdu, then the metro to flipflop…
It seems God, the Tao, whatever always seems to provide whatever I need in my travels and has a great sense of humor. The right person always seems to just appear. This trip was to be no different on occasion after occasion. After getting on the train in Chengdu, I realized I had brought water to drink but nothing to eat. I knew I would not return to hostel until after ten that night, but I was prepared to find my way up the Taoist mountain. While on the train I met a lady and her friend who spoke perfect English and she suggested I tag along with her and her friend after we had spoken for a while on the train. Sounded like a good idea and she sensed I could use a little help. Soon afterwards I discovered she was a doctor, a psychiatrist in fact. I stayed with her until we reached the tram that went further up the mountain. She was walking up, but she wisely suggested that I take the tram and whatever assistance she had been ended here, as I thanked her for her kindness. Getting her email, she suggested that I be careful and we departed as friends.
Qingcheng Mountain was listed in the Directory of World Cultural Sites in 2000. It is one on the first batches of key scenic spots announced by the country and a national AAAAA tourist area. The mountain has been famous both at home and abroad for its beautiful scenery and landscape ever since ancient times. The average temperature here is 15C or about 60F. It has 36 peak, 8 large caves, 72 small caves and 108 scenes. The scenic reputation of Qingcheng Mountain is that it has the most quiet and secluded beauty due to the deep and scenic ravines, beautiful ridges and peaks, original plants and verdant forests. A major premise of Taoism is to become “one with the ten thousand things”. On the mountain it becomes easy to reflect on man’s rather insignificant attempts to gain some sense of self importance when compared to nature and God, or the Tao’s role in all that there has been, is now, or will be in the future. In the third century BC, Qingcheng Mountain was conferred as one on the mountains for sacrificing for the state of Qin Dynasty. Qingcheng Mountain is the place of origin of Taoism in China and enjoys the historic title of “city of Immortals” with the spirits of Taoist culture penetrating the ancient buildings, temples, religious activities, historical legends and diet customs. Qingcheng Mountain is “like a Museum of Taoism” originally build as Taian Ancient Town in the Tang Dynasty with a prosperous main street with buildings in the traditional design, houses built with cinerous bricks and black tiles and the water flowing beneath constituting a fantastic and fascinating picture of man and nature.
As I walk further up the mountain what I read below kept going around in my head. Then it came to me. The picture of the jade carving of the Taoist Mountain of the Immortals I had cut out of China Pictorial and put on the wall of my room back in high school, back in 1968-69, was this mountain. Over the years when people have asked me… what is this thing about China Dan. And just as the Tao itself is so indefinable, so much a picture of the universal… here I am sitting near the top of the mountain that I have so many recollections of that I now at this moment feel some kind of innate connection. For all my times spent to Qufu and Shandong over the past almost fifteen years, there is nothing like this feeling, except when I have been to the summit of Tai Shan and the Temple of the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang Ding) north of Qufu. Rather it’s the natural setting, or the closeness one feeling of the universe where there is nothing standing between you and your eternal self. I now was sitting here near the top of this mountain I had such a craving for in my youth.
Qingcheng Mountain is a famous Taoist mountain because it is one of the places where the Taoist religion originated. A Taoist teacher named Zhang came to the mountain and preached during the Eastern Han Dynasty period. Since then, over the last two millennia, dozens of other temples were built on the mountain. Tianshi Cave is one of the main attractions since it is where Zhang is said to have preached. From there you can see the dozens of other temples around, including Jianfugong Temple, Shangqinggong Temple, Zushi Temple, Yuanminggong Temple, Laojunge Temple, Yuqinggong Temple, and Chaoyang Cave. The sunrise, the misty “sea of clouds” as you climb serves to take you to heights you have never seen before. For me, it was like being home with dragons. It was so calm and peaceful here. A serenity that I could feel in my bones, although, walking up all those uneven stone steps, I grew very tired and felt the need for a walking stick, or cane. But there was something here I needed to see and experience.
As I was walking up the mountain, Jianfugong Temple, which is under Zhangren Peak, I came to the temple that was first built during the Tang Dynasty, about the year 730 AD, and it has been repaired and rebuilt many times since. Now, only two temples and three courtyards exist. One of the temples has three different areas for Taoist teachers and gods. Yuanyun Pavilion and a clear brook are in front of the temple. Behind it are scenic sights such as Chicheng Rock, Ruquan Spring, Shuixin Pavilion and Dressing Table. There is also a famous couplet about the temple written during the Qing Dynasty that has 394 Chinese characters. The surrounding grey-green forest provides refreshing shade while walking in the area.
I had a sense that I was not alone walking up what was hundreds of steps to the Shangqinggong Temple. And it wasn’t just tourists who were clamoring up and down the mountain. On the way was the Daozibi Wall dedicated to Lao Tzu. But I had to stop take a breather and reflect on where I was and Lao Tzu. I was here on the mountain where Taoism really began. What little understanding I have or may come to possess is here on this mountain as well. Not today, today is simply getting re-acquainted with my old friends, my past and trying to take in all I have seen and have yet to see on this trip. I’m here on the mountain where it is said it all began. As if I had walked these steps and been at home in the Temples on this mountain for an eternity. Just where is my home as if I wonder knowingly. Just being here for now is enough. To think I have written my own book emulating the thoughts of the sage, of Lao Tzu, and to be here now is quite humbling.
Further up the trail, or mountain is Shangqinggong Temple, one of the most famous Taoist temples, it sits near the top of Qingcheng Mountain. A structure first built during the Jin Dynasty, while the existing temple was completed during the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor of the Qing. I was struck by some of the paintings and other works of art done over the centuries that depicted an internal oneness and sense of nature found here on the mountain. Many had climbed these steps of self discovery only to return down the mountain never quite the same as before. It seems as though I have many times before.
The main buildings are the gate, the main temple where Taishanglaojun is enshrined, a side hall and the Yuhuang building. The main temple houses an image of Taishanglaojun, and treasured wood boards are carved with the full texts of the Taoist Classic of the Virtue of the Tao and Huangdi Yinfujing. Behind the Shanqinggong temple are steps that go up 100 meters to the top of Qingcheng Mountain, where a covered observation platform allows visitors to see the sunrise and the clouds and perhaps dragons.
One of the disadvantages of traveling alone without guide, I lost my friend at the tram… is going somewhere alone and trying to do so much on one day. I knew at some point I had to find the bus back at the entrance then go to my second stop of the day, Dujiangyan. Most importantly though, I knew I would return. Finding Lao Tzu and so many old friends here on the most famous Taoist mountain in China today was enough for now. Next time I come will be for a long time… Plus I am too out of shape to be walking up steep steps alone up a mountain that end or stops as if somewhere up, up in the clouds. My first resolution upon returning home is to walk every day, something I do now subconsciously as I prepare for my next trip up the mountain to visit with my old friends. I didn’t find out until later that I stopped climbing the last stop before the summit. needing to return down to catch the bus then go to next stop… i was concerned over time. afterwards I saw I could have had time to make the summit. As if a reason for returning to the mountain was pre-ordained.
So I begin climbing down these hundreds, maybe thousands of uneven stone steps, heading back to the tram and entrance so that I can find bus 101 to go find second leg of today’s journey, tired from so much walking while overwhelmed at what I am seeing and what I am leaving behind that remains unseen. I am leaving the greatest Taoist mountain going to find what is considered to be the greatest waterworks in the history of China that is less than thirty minutes away.
So I find the bus at the entrance and take to Dujiangyan, an irrigation infrastructure built in 256 BC during the Warring States period of China by the Kingdom of Qin. It is located in the Min River in Sichuan province, China, near the capital Chengdu. It is still in use today to irrigate over 5,300 square kilometers of land in the region. The Dujiangyan along with the Zhengguo Canal in Shaanxi Province and the Lingqu Canal in Guangxi Province are known as “The three great hydraulic engineering projects of the Qin Dynasty”.
Today it is a tourist site, as well as a place where the locals come for an afternoon of leisurely tea with many attractions. In 2000, Dujiangyan became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When I arrived about four in the afternoon, I was struck by the beautiful setting with a wide bridge across the river and the surrounding neighborhood where I took many pictures. I took a walking tour and found a plaque commemorating West Street, an ancient street here at the base of mountain nearby where the local jade industry once flourished thousands of years ago. I had some tea sitting next to the river enjoying the scenery then headed by taxi to the train station for my train back to the Flip flop Hostel and my last night in Chengdu.
Monday morning and my last day in Chengdu, I feel I have laid a great foundation for returning at some point with three new friends in place who can help take me to the next step should I return. There is one final thing to do before leaving and that’s to meet with John and discuss the money I gave him for car rental and gas we never used and commiserate over never making it to the Leshon Giant Buddha. So after nineteen days in Chengdu I am packed and ready to leave for my eighteen hour train ride to Xi’an, the ancient city of Chang’an, home to so many dynasties and the terracotta warriors. Finally, after so many almost going to Xi’an over so many years, I am really going…. My train leaves at 2PM.
So I meet with John near the metro station close to his home and we laugh at out travails and feeble attempts to use his friend’s car to go to Leshan Giant Buddha and all the false starts and stops that got in the way… so much for good intentions. He had given the car owner 200 of the 500RMB I had given him, so I asked only for the 300 he still had. We both laughed and agreed we should have just taken bus the previous week, but hindsight is so easy. His wife who I mentioned earlier was a student of his at one point years ago returns home next week. We are both disappointed I won’t get to meet her this time. We depart as friends and I head back to hostel. I try to call Lyn from Exuberant English, but his phone is shut off. I’ll try again on Friday from the airport in Beijing. I called Megan, my former student to say I was leaving this morning. I hope she does well in her new job signing up students to go to her school. I sign a copy of one of my books I leave for the bookshelves of the small library at front of Flipflop for the staff who seemed rather surprised that I am really leaving this time, check out and depart for train station for eighteen hour hard seat top bunk journey to my next destination. I only have three days in Xi’an so I need to make the best of them.
After almost fifty trips to China over the past seventeen years you’d think I would learn not to pack some much stuff. But I also bring ten or twelve books and usually just read two or three. (I read the The Snow Leopard almost three times on the trip) to the exclusion of everything else I have brought… books on I Ching, Taoism, etc., etc… Next trip I will probably do the same. Old habits do die hard. But I am on the train to Xi’an, a city like no other in Chinese history. It’s famous for terracotta warriors and home of ten dynasties yes, but it is so much more and beginning point for silk route and a city Marco Polo from Italy (like me) visited more than once. I will be staying in a hostel once again for money’s sake and the lack thereof. There are five historic sites I want to visit in the three days I am there. First and foremost is the Wild Goose Pagoda, second the Shaanxi History Museum, third the Temple to the Eight Immortals, the terracotta warriors, and finally the Dayanta Pagoda and adjacent historic neighborhood. But then I am not a simple tourist… I am a teacher of Chinese history at the Confucius Institute at Miami Dade College in Florida. Most of what I have seen and /or will see on this trip I have read, studied and written books about over the past forty-five years and if truth be told seem to have lived as well. My first recollection of Xi’an was an article in China Pictorial and a subscription to back in 1967-68-69 in high school. The paintings, artifacts from so many dynasties, and jade carvings captivated my spirit and this desire to return. It was from that first moment I knew somehow China lies in my destiny. There is universal synchronicity to our lives we are each here to discover that resides within ourselves, within us. When we come to understand what the shaman, I Ching and Taoism truly represent as the essence of our innate nature then returning to the place that defines us becomes paramount. It was what I sensed among so many people in Chengdu possessed. A subconscience sense of contentment and well-being because they knew who they were and had found contentment and the place they could live it.
Just as I have never questioned rather I would eventually make it to Chang’an, i.e. Xian. It was always when I was ready I would go and finally I am on my way. That teenager listening to a shortwave radio and Radio Peking holding his China Pictorial magazine in his hands looking at pictures reflecting history who could not then understand why he was so drawn to them was now at sixty one going to see the real thing. I could barely sleep on the train.
Stepping off the train in Xian with two gentlemen who were kindly helping me with heavy suitcases and finding a taxi, I was immediately struck with the thought that I had arrived at someplace different. I wasn’t sure what it was, but there seemed to be a mystery here to be unraveled. It was as if there were so many unresolved spirits here who seemed not to be able to find their way. Perhaps up to now and this fateful trip to China I have been one of them. From the Western Zhou and 1046BC to the end of the Tang Dynasty in 904 AD… for almost two thousand years Changan/Xian had been the focal point of thirteen dynasties. I was now here where so much history had occurred that I had studied, read and written about that I sense what really remained unresolved was totally within myself and why this connection to Xi’an felt so different then what I had already experienced in China. It was the same feeling I had back in October 1999 and my first trip to Qufu and a sense that there was a personal attachment somehow to that place. And here I was after almost a lifetime of wanting to be here in Xi’an with only three days. After finally finding a taxi that would use their meter, one of the Chinese men helping me agreed to accompany me to my hostel where I was staying. I felt he wanted to make sure I got there safely with my luggage intact and that a certain synchronicity I had been experiencing this entire trip was still in play.
After checking in to the Shuyuan Party Hostel adjacent to the South Gate just inside the wall of the city, I would discover one of the challenges of booking on-line. Also what I would later be told by a person staying there while on the terracotta tour… that perhaps I wasn’t quite the clientele they were looking for, me being 61 years old and the hostel really catering to the under thirty backpacking travelers. That being said I found the hostel fine except for allowing smoking in the common areas. Something the hostel back in Chengdu did not allow. I could not really complain as I was paying only 100RMB for two nights before departing for Beijing and home. Actually it turned out to be a great location or beginning point in Xi’an. On my first day, Tuesday, June 10th I left the hostel on foot after breakfast and walked a few minutes and found the Hu a Pagoda of Baoqing and what is called Shuyuan Men. Shuyuan Men is a cultural street located on the eastern side of South Gate. It was named after the Guanzhong Shuyuan (academy of classical learning) originally situated on the street. Guanzhong Shuyuan was the foremost educational institute in Shaanxi Province, and was one of the Four Famed Academies of Classical Learning during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
I think it’s my twenty years as a city planner and working in neighborhood development that helps to see things as they once were, are now and what may be possible that I try to bring to bear in my travels. After walking here I go a few blocks down the street to the main traffic circle of the city and see the Bell and Drum Towers that were built in 1380 AD during the Ming Dynasty. My interest was primarily to compare them to the Drum and Bell Tower in Qufu built next to the Confucius Mansion and Temple. Especially the Drum Tower in Qufu that was just down Gulou Street from where I lived for almost three years. Xian Bell and Drum Towers are much larger and pay a much more dominant role in the city center. In Qufu the poor Bell Tower gets no respect adjacent to Confucius Mansion. A telephone pole and wires are strung next to it in such a way that the 500 year old Bell Tower is nothing more than an afterthought.
Tuesday afternoon I decided to try to see the Little Wild Goose Pagoda. I walked following the map and directions of people along the way and finally arrived, but as fate would have it, it was closed on Tuesdays. Luckily a couple from Germany arrived about the same time and together we decided to find our way by bus to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda instead. One of them had an IPhone with map of Xi’an and bus routes. I found that very interesting. He found the bus and it came by our street in a few minutes and we arrived at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda about fifteen minutes later. After we arrived we went separate ways, but another example of people coming into my life at just the moment I need help.
The Big Wild Goose Buddhist Pagoda is located in southern Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China. It was built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty and originally had five stories, although the structure was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian and its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming Dynasty. One of the pagoda’s many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveler Xuanzang. Xuanzang started off from Chang’an (the ancient Xian), along the Silk Road and finally arrived in India, the cradle of Buddhism. Over the next seventeen years he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Having gotten the permission of Emperor Gaozong (628-683), Xuanzang, as the first abbot of Daci’en Temple, supervised the building of a pagoda inside it. With the support of royalty, he asked 50 hierarchs into the temple to translate Sanskrit in sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes. Today, I am simply taking as many pictures as possible and getting “feel” for this place of such great influence on what would come to be known a Chinese or “chan” Buddhism and later Zen in Japan. What I am mostly interested at this point is how Buddhism arrived in Xian from both the Silk Road and coming up from the southwest in Sichuan and Chengdu where I had just been a week earlier. The continuing moderating influence of Taoism as Buddhism became popular is significant. Also the power and influence of Buddhism here in the ancient capital that led to its lessening of influence in China is also of interest for further research and study. I left about 6PM with almost 200 pictures and many more questions than when I arrived.
When I got back to hostel I checked on tour to terracotta warriors for tomorrow and they were sold out. So my plans changed I would do the Shaanxi Museum and Temple to the Eight Immortals tomorrow and terracotta warriors on Thursday. I don’t need to leave for the airport until almost 8PM for my 11PM flight to Beijing so that should work. I did buy by ticket (265RMB) for the Thursday tour to the terracotta though. I would spend the evening doing as I did every night charging both batteries for the camera for the next day and the Shaanxi History Museum, where I plan to take many pictures…
Wednesday morning, June 11th, I take a taxi and arrive at the Shaanxi History Museum about 9AM. It was very crowded with what I would call swarms of tourists, school kids and locals. It was easy to see why. The breadth of history that is on display was hard to take in, especially with so many people wanting to see this great museum. Of course this didn’t keep me from taking over four hundred pictures, or in other words when both batteries were spent by 11:30. While I still have the Temple of the Eight Immortals this afternoon and terracotta warriors tomorrow, I have taken about two thousand pictures so far. These pictures are only one piece of how I assemble an impression of the times people lived through the centuries and corresponding dynasties. Almost as though I am an anthropologist and historian and reliving history as I go. It’s the same feeling I get in Qufu and Shandong after more that twelve years of being there. For my Chinese History and Philosophy Class for the Confucius Institute at Miami Dade College, I have assembled almost two hundred “pages” for my Power Point presentations covering Chinese pre-history up through the Song Dynasty and Genghis Khan before this trip and visits to Qufu, Chengdu and now Xi’an. It is as though I already have a pre-ordained sense of time, space, and places I have seen and been many times in the past.
That is what makes today and these three days in Xi’an so different. For one thing I don’t sense or have the comfort level obvious to me in Qufu and Chengdu. While I find myself comfortable in places where there is little or no contention present, here in Xi’an there seems to be contention in the air on every street corner. Yet this feeling is hard to pinpoint. There is so much here that needs to be sorted out to be more fully appreciated and understood. So as I entered the Shaanxi Museum I knew I was literally taking a brief snapshot of something that would take much longer to try to digest and understand, or if such a thing was even humanly possible. Chang’an stood at the epicenter of what was known as the Middle Kingdom for more than a millennium. It is as if those present all want their story retold in such way that expresses what they felt were best intentions, not necessarily outcomes, or how they left things at their end.
It was as if this heavy weight was on my shoulders as I entered the crowded museum this day. What I found in the artifacts and remnants of history was astonishing. It was as if each painting, piece of pottery from the Han, military armament, ding from the Wei, so many things from prehistory through the Tang and Song, Taoist and Buddhist, and so much more, all were coming front and center trying to catch my attention as my camera snapped and passed by. They all had a story to tell and were vying for my attention. Several times I had to step back, go find a place to sit and take a deep breath before returning to the line of people passing by. It was the same feeling I had when I stepped off the train the previous morning. There was something about Xian that made chills run up and down my spine. I was beginning to understand this unconscious reluctance to coming for all these years, perhaps a fear of what I would discover and find. Perhaps it was acknowledging what I would find here and facing up to it. It was as if the pictures had a story to tell and here I was now with over four hundred. But then this is not just the story of Chang’an, ie Xi’an… this was another pitch for immortality’s sake and window by so many who had come before me.
I knew then that this, coming on the heels of what I had seen and done over the past month in Qufu with the Yellow Emperor and Ji Dan – the Duke of Zhou and everything in Chengdu, was meant as a harbinger, or foretelling of my own story, what I know and more importantly what am I to do with it. Ultimately it was not only what I found to the north along the Yellow River, Shandong or Qufu and Confucius, or the Taoist and Buddhist mountains at the headwaters of the Yangtze and Chengdu. Ultimately China’s history lies between the two, here in Xian. Their coming together through the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang who was credited for uniting China and his terra cotta warriors I will see tomorrow.
After I returned to the hostel intent on recharging my batteries for my afternoon to be spent at the Temple of the Eight Immortals, something very strange happened. After downloading all my pictures from my camera and charging my batteries, somehow I misplaced one on my two batteries as I was recharging them. After more than an hour looking for it, I finally gave up and headed for the Temple. For most casual western observers understanding where ancient myths and legends, the role of the shaman, and how Taoism became the glue that created a seamless way of seeing the personal connection with the universe is difficult. In my own writing for over twenty years now I have tried to rectify this idea of “where does truth lie”. In my initial study of Taoism I came across the Eight Immortals more than twenty years ago. While there was little expectation of the common man of achieving immortality, there was widespread belief that you could live a better more secure life with the help of those who could do so. The Eight Immortals were seen as able to answer prayers, sort out difficulties, and were also able the fight injustice and oppression, kind of like ancient super heroes.
There had always been a synchronicity in Chinese history with the ability to blur the reality between what was real and myth. If you could combine the two to fit your vision of what you saw as your own personal reality, then you can shape events and those around you to fit your vision of your place in the universe. Certainly the first emperor of a unified China, Emperor Chin had no problem with putting this theory into practice. If you were the shaman, then later the “Son of Heaven” acting as the emperor, then the world became your oyster and you were the pearl. Two hundred years later, when another emperor of the Han deified the Yellow Emperor and Confucius together in 59AD, they were to be worshiped along with Lao Tzu as the manifestation of the Tao, or heaven here on earth. But there had to be a way for Lieh Tzu’s common man to associate with this desire and connection to immortality as well. The manifestation of the Eight Immortals allowed them a way to do so. All of this happened here in Chang’an, Xian.
This afternoon I would be visiting their home here in Xi’an. It was a fitting ending to my trip to China with all I had seen and done, except for of course my visit with Emperor Qin the next day. And of course it would mean more pictures. After some time spent on the back of a motorcycle/taxi I finally arrived in the neighborhood where the Temple of the Immortals would be found. Interestingly, even though the guy on the motorcycle had to ask directions four or five times, he could only get within two or three blocks of the Temple. He handed me off to a local person who after inquiring in an antique store took me the final two blocks to the entrance.
I immediately sensed a calmness and serenity that had been absent up to now in Xi’an, certainly the opposite of my experience at the museum this morning. It was as if I sensed the presence of Chuang Tzu’s Perfected Man here and the presence of what I would call dragons of antiquity. Almost like an old folk’s home for believers who had died and gone to heaven. Even the last emperor Dai Tian and his mother the Empress Ci Xi, in escaping Beijing towards the end of their reign, came to Xian and stayed here at the Temple of the Eight Immortals. As if subconsciously, or maybe not, knowing that the end of an era was near not just for them but for China. And nothing would ever be quite the same again. Myths and a reality that had withstood thousands of years could not hold up under the harsh truths of a new world order that China could no longer escape.
For me it was quite humbling. Upon my arrival to the Temple of the Eight Immortals in late afternoon there was a Taoist ceremony underway. I could feel my mentorChuang Tzu’s presence and a sense that I was being closely watched. At the spur of the moment, I went briefly to knell and pay my respects. What a fitting ending to this sojourners journey. My remaining battery would only let me take less than one hundred pictures even though it had charged overnight. Even worst the next day while visiting the Emperor Qin, who had burned all the books and killed so many of those I had respected and loved, my camera and remaining battery would only let me take less than thirty pictures of the terracotta warriors before retiring.Their faces but a jarring memory of those who had been there and were still a living history of what was then such a disaster for so many. Now I knew the chill I felt getting off the train here in Xi’an was but a remembrance. Almost as if it was announcing enough already… it’s time to go home. I had seen and been to all that I needed to see leaving little doubt as to where I belonged or what my next step should be.
The next day, my final day in China, I was to spend on a bus with a group of sixteen other people and a tour of the burial site of the first emperor and his terracotta warriors. The tour was the only practical way to get there. Even though the actual “time spent” at the site was a little less than two hours, we had left the hostel at 8AM and would not return until almost 5PM. Although I am the first to say, I am not the typical tourist coming to China for the first time to see as much as possible in a week to ten days… then go home and say “Well I’ve seen China”. In fairness, my first couple years of coming to China were spent on many tours in Beijing, Shanghai, Qufu, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Jinan, Wuhan, etc, etc… so I have had that experience many, many times… Just as I would not fit the profile of most young people staying at a “Youth Hostel”, it’s easy to say finding myself in a tour group is not my style. But, this was almost the only way for a “foreigner” to visit most of what would be considered “tourist sites” in China. An additional caveat was of course I spent a couple years teaching English at Jining University in Qufu to students who were to become tour guides. So it is as if I have come full circle on this issue.
It seems fitting in a way to spend the last day of this trip with the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 BC, after conquering six warring states to create the first unified nation of China. Qin Shi Huang (pronounced “chin shuh hwang”) was born in 259 BC, first son to the king of Qin, one of six independent kingdoms inside modern China. These kingdoms had been warring for more than 200 years, but through a combination of military strength, strategy and natural disasters, Qin Shi Huang conquered them all, proclaiming himself not just a king, but also an emperor — the first of China. An interesting note for me was Emperor Qin appears at about the halfway point of Chang’an (Xi’an’s) dominance before the Chinese capital would move to Nanjing and later Beijing centuries later. Also I did not feel the same connection to the terracotta figures that I had felt earlier so many times on this trip. The emperor was ruthless and had destroyed any and all remnants of historical records and pieces of Chinese philosophy that did not fit his own vision of history. All those who were conscripted to build this great mausoleum were later killed.
Emperor Qin was not well liked because he conscripted hundreds of thousands to his many public works projects. Any opponents were sent to a lifetime of working on the building of the Great Wall and what was most appalling he had began the burning of books and burying of scholars alive between 213 and 210 BC. Many great men and friends were lost during this period of great sadness. “Books” at this point were writings on bamboo strips bound together. The event caused the historical loss of many philosophical theories of proper government (known as “the Hundred Schools of Thought“). This meant that many works of Lao and Chuang Tzu and the I Ching, and early commentaries on Confucius and so many others would be lost and destroyed. Chang’an, as the early China capital, had become over the centuries the depository of philosophy and scholarship on ancient texts and writing. Now all this was being systematically destroyed along with anyone who tried to preserve it. Anyone caught with these banned writings thirty days after the decree was to be killed. The official philosophy of government (“legalism“) survived. It is little wonder, however, despite the lack of a functioning central government to pursue this policy, what happened was further destruction of historical materials: ironically the Qin capital city was sacked and burned in 207 BC, destroying official copies of works which had been retained in the imperial library and official archives, together with the Qin’s approved literary records. Together with the deaths of many scholars in these few years, the “burning of books and burying of scholars” resulted in some loss to the history of China and to human knowledge in general.
Perhaps, this more than anything, gave me such a foreboding prior to my coming here. Thankfully, soon after his death and destruction that followed, the Han who replaced him began rectifying this and tried to piece together what had been lost. Although for me a chill wind still blows over this place. The emperor finally got the immortality he sought with the discovery of his tomb and terracotta. His own tomb is inaccessible due the excessive amount of mercury found at the site. As if his destiny will be a paradox forever lying to and in obscurity. I especially felt this with the tour group as we went to his burial mount prior to going to see the terracotta. I did not want to be in this place. But will history remember what truly lies beneath such ignominy, i.e., shameful or dishonorable quality or conduct. And history does repeat itself.
During the rampages of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) many acts of mindless destruction occurred. Near destruction of the Temple of the Duke of Zhou and the Confucius Temple and Mansion in Qufu, and the destructive behavior at the Temple of the Eight Immortals here in Xian, plus Buddhist and Taoist Temples across southern China were wantonly destroyed in campaigns called… “Anything old was bad”. Many of which have been rebuilt now that their value to history and as tourist sites have been acknowledged.
When he died, Qin Shi Huang was buried in the most opulent tomb complex ever constructed in China, a sprawling, city-size collection of underground caverns containing everything the emperor would need for the afterlife. The ancient Chinese, along with many cultures including ancient Egyptians, believed that items and even people buried with a person could be taken with him to the afterlife. But instead of burying his armies, concubines, administrators and servants with him, the Qin emperor came up with an alternative: clay reproductions.
As a brief introduction, the terracotta site is divided into what is known as pit 1, pit 2, and pit 3. The Qin Terracotta Warrior Figures & Horses Museum includes the Bronze Chariots and Horses Exhibition Hall, the Circle Vision Cinema and most of all, four partially excavated pits, namely Pit No. 1, Pit No. 2, Pit No. 3 and Pit No. 4. Covering about 20, 000 square meters, this museum contains an estimated amount of 8, 000 life-size terracotta figures, including warriors, horses, chariots and some bronze weapons. Among these pits, Pit No. 1 is the largest. Being the first place excavated in 1974, it covers an area of 14, 260 square meters and contains probably 6, 000 terracotta infantry soldiers. Pit No. 2 is the second largest (about 6, 000 square meters), excavated in 1976, and is known for its vivid and abundant cavalry figurines. Pit No. 3 was discovered in 1976 as well. It measures 520 square meters, with only 72 terracotta figures. Evidences show that it was probably the command center of the Terracotta Army. Today Pit No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 are all open to visitors while Pit No. 4 is not. Pit No. 4 is the only one that is empty and unfinished. The tour spent time at all three.
In the last bit of synchronicity on this trip, I get back to the hostel having taken pictures only in pit 1 due to camera fatigue. The picture of me with the terracotta warriors (cost 10RMB) did not take, so a student, about 22, comes over sits down on the couch and shows me pictures of his bicycle trip from Chengdu to Tibet. And as luck would have it, he still had pictures from his visit to the terracotta warriors a few days earlier on his IPhone. He gladly downloaded his pictures onto my computer. So my pictures were complete. I would be leaving the hostel in a couple hours by taxi for the airport and return to Beijing where I started this trip five weeks ago. It was as if I had taken a lifetime to get here, then five weeks to live what I had always known and simply forgotten As I am on the plane to Beijing I decide to write a narrative of this trip and wonder why I had not done the same for the almost fifty trips I have made to China before this one. Each was a part of the journey to self discovery, but somehow this one was different. For this one the events in Qufu, Chengdu and Xi’an and what I encountered were too important to not stop and make note of. It is as if I live totally within the world I have created for myself (we all do actually). Almost as if where I now find myself and what I am doing now is not relative to time and that living and reliving history is much more important in rediscovering my ultimate role in history.