William Stranger | Blast from Beijing
Everyone can agree that yesterday in Beijing Chinese offered the world it’s most spectacular Olympic opening ceremony ever. Did anyone notice what the Chinese were celebrating?
August 9, 2008 | There are good reasons for alarm at the state of the Chinese state today – the overwhelming support its undemocratic leadership seems to now enjoy from the better educated portion of its population, the rank consumerist materialism it has fostered in its rising bourgeoisie, its unforgiveable, deeply cynical patronage of the Sudan leadership that is perpetrating the Darfur genocide, the ongoing cultural destruction of the Tibetan and other ethnic cultures, the skin-deep sense of victimization that carries over from the the colonial exploits of Japan, America, Britain, and other imperial powers, the obvious pervasion of instruments of state control at every level of society, the horrific pollution throughout the country – not least in its capital city, Beijing – generated by its ferociously successful industrialization, and much, much more. All these are fair cause for ongoing alarm about the direction of the growing colossus that is China today.
Yet in yesterday’s opening ceremony to the Olympics we saw something that that just might possibly be the key to China’s – and thus the world’s – eventual salvation from what otherwise will likely be the emergence of an aggressively imperial modern China. That new influence is actually ancient, and it is something that until recently China has appeared to cause the Chinese leadership more embarrassment than pride: the country’s brilliant heritage of Confucian morality and Taoist and Buddhist spirituality.
Several years ago my friend Daniel Sheehan, the great constitutional lawyer who has done more than just about anybody to secure our 1st amendment rights, especially regarding religious practice, told me an amazing story. The Chinese Academy of Social Science got this idea that China should not only reclaim its Taoist heritage but actually use it to take the lead in what could (and should) be one of the great scientific enterprises of the 21st century, the exploration of qi (chi) – the pervasive energy that your acupuncturist awakens in your body with needles, that you feel flowing down your legs and through your hands when you practice tai chi, that indeed animates everything that lives and moves and breathes. The plan was nothing if not ambitious,. The director of Academy’s Science and Technology Division wanted the government to pony up $2 billion to fund the most comprehensive research on qi ever done. In this way, China would take the lead in the subtle sciences of the future. It was a brilliant, far-seeing proposal.
As every salesman knows, when you want to land a big deal you need a great demo. That’s where the Sheehan family came in. In December 1999 Daniel brought his 17 year old son Daegan with him to China and loaned him for an hour to the Academy for an amazing demonstration. The movie star handsome young American quickly found himself standing blindfolded on a stage in a lecture hall filled with Chinese political dignitaries and hundreds of social scientists. He had never in his life been instructed in or performed any kind of Taoist energy practice. He was told only to relax and to allow his body to move as it willed.
A man came out on the stage and stood behind Daegan, composed himself for a moment, and then began to do a spontaneous and unusual tai chi routine. His movements wasn’t anything like the standard long or short form taught now throughout the world. And here’s where a remarkable thing happened. Every movement made by what was obviously a powerhouse of a chi kung master was spontaneously duplicated by the blindfolded boy. Unless the man and the boy on stage were perpetrating a most remarkable fraud, there would only be one conclusion: the chi kung master had the ability to use his own energy to animate the body of another person. And not just a a fellow chi kung master. This was a hormone activated teenage boy, here at least temporarily made subtle by an esoteric gift courtesy one of the world’s most ancient – and most valuable – traditions.
The Academy didn’t get their money. The Chinese government doesn’t officially recognize recognize the reality of chi because that would undermine its longstanding contention that religion is an addictive opiate from which it is here to liberate us. After all, if there is actually is something valid in religions like Buddhism and Taoism, then how to justify its suppression of the Tibetan people . . . and Falun Gong?
Well, in yesterday’s opening ceremonies at Beijing’s amazing new stadium called “the Bird’s Nest” the Chinese officially laid claim to their venerable traditions. China openly celebrated itself as the home and nurturer of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. So now the contradictions that pull at the secular rationale of the state – which, after all, is founded on a communist critique of capitalism but today is pell-mell promoting capitalism to its people – have been widened by the government itself. The officially atheist government of China has given great praise to its sacred inheritance, an inheritance that challenges he very foundations of the state. That is a contradiction that we can all pray eventually does a whole lot of good.