First International Summit on Laozi & Daoist Culture


 

Part I PRC Embraces Daoism

The First International Summit on Laozi and Daoist Culture held Nov. 5-7 at the China World Hotel in Beijing launched or rather resurrected Daoism as an official native religion of China. More than 600 Daoist academics and clergy from all over the world attended and presented. Organized by Prof. Hu Fuchen, president of China Research Association of Laozi Daoism Culture (CRALDC), it is the first such summit to receive the imprimatur of the Party. The two-day summit’s theme was "Daoism, Science, Harmony, Health." I was fortunate to be invited by the People’s Republic to attend this summit and give a presentation of a rare Daoyin form. In Part II I will include an excerpt from my paper which is to be published by the Summit Committee at a later date.

China World Hotel — Beijing

On the first day we were taken from the China World Hotel–a stunning and elegant jewel in the heart of Beijing–to the Great Hall of the People. First stop, upstairs in the Great hall for a photo op with senior ranking party members. Standing on rows of bleachers, we foreign delegates weren’t told who the senior members were, only that we were to clap when they came in to take their seats in the front row. (The wide angle photo was offered later at the conference for sale for 600 RNB, less than 100 USD.) Post photo, we returned downstairs for the official opening of the conference. Academicians gave addresses supporting Daoism as the ‘face of China’ and Party leaders–whose tone was genial but firm–spoke about (now) embracing Daoism as an important part of Chinese culture and that hereafter it would be modified, codified and managed into a more harmonious organization. This last bit was worrisome to some of the delegates. The homogenization of Daoism "will be like herding cats." Moreover, what will Daoism lose if it is squeezed into one ‘harmonious" template? Other foreign delegates thought Daoism could use some standardization.

Delegates attend the opening addresses at the Summit — Great Hall of the People

Afterwards we were ushered to a luncheon in the Great Hall. The Hall was magnificent, filled with art, paintings and carvings… the carpets thick and rich and the ceilings and cornices were all intricately and colorfully hand painted. The luncheon too was an amazing rush of fabulous dishes of foods I haven’t seen or tasted before, despite having attended at least half a dozen banquets in China. Special foods, rare foods and rare dishes were brought before us, Chinese wine was offered with amazing service and table settings were grand. My table guests include new friends Taiji instructor Stuart Shaw and his lovely wife Carol both from Australia. Our other table mates were Chinese and our language barrier precluded much discussion. Sadly, my humble Mandarin meant I didn’t learn as much about the foods as I would have liked. I only understood that these dishes were not ‘ordinary’ foods. I had no doubt that was true.

As my friends and I were leaving the banquet, we lingered to admire the brush paintings and calligraphy lining the walls of the huge room. The Hall was becoming silent and we dropped our voices–it seems we were the last of the hundreds of guests to leave. As we rounded the bend before leaving the room, I looked back over my shoulder to take in the whole panorama. What I saw raised goose bumps and made me pause in awe. There was one server standing at the head of each of perhaps 100 tables, stock still. No bustling, no cleaning, no talking. Silent sentinels, hands clasped in front, heads forward–devoted, disciplined and respectful–waiting for us, I surmised, the last guests to leave. Chinese friends later would tell me that the servers at the Great Hall are in the military and it is a special assignment to serve at such functions. The hush followed us out the into the hallway and onto the steps and the sunlight of Beijing. 

Part II coming soon.

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