Peppered into our busy days were important cultural visits. One of our speakers said: “If you don’t like the Chinese people, their culture and their history, don’t even think about doing business here.” Many people see the financial opportunity in this growing economy and want in, thinking perhaps they can act in a Western way and get things done, or hoping that maybe they can change the Chinese. Forget it. So, in an effort to get a glimpse of Chinese culture, we attended a few events and sites for some additional perspective. In an effort to keep this brief, I’m going to mention a few key observations.
Called “China’s Venice,” this canal filled village has an ancient history. Part of it is still in ruins, occupied by poorer Chinese who sell from their doorstep or storefront. But one key section has been preserved and restored and it was gorgeous. It was interesting to see the crumbling present mixed with the beautifully restored history. It was a reminder of the disparity in wealth in China and how old this country really is.
Jade Buddha Temple
4 key components influence Chinese thought: Buddhism (Zen), Taoism (Feng Shui), Confucianism (Do unto others), and Communism. While technically religion is not a key component in a communist society, the rich histories of these other school’s of thought still permeate the Chinese psyche. This temple in Shanghai was a key reminder of the Buddhist history and combined the rich tradition of jade sculpture. Two key pieces punctuated the site and the reverence and respect and burning incense was definitely there.
About an hour outside of Shanghai is Suzhou, a now vibrant Industrial hub for China, rich with it’s own stunning history. This museum was very interesting, because, unlike American museums, the art was often in the practical aspects of life. Instead of creating art for art’s sake, the beauty on display was apparent in the architecture, ancient tools, writing instruments, and household items. Many of the things on display had a functional purpose, including a beautifully sculpted porcelain pillow. Another aspect that I loved was the “garden.” It was a brick courtyard with a lovely bridge and a few small plants. It was a concrete garden and focused on the functional aspects of the space and the water that flowed through it. It reminded me of some of the principles of Feng Shui, which I’m sure was a key factor though I did not get confirmation.
Shanghai’s Famous Acrobat Troupe
It’s difficult not to be impressed. People should not be able to move with such fluidity, grace, flexibility and intention as these acrobats can. I was in awe throughout, seeing some amazing daredevil motorcycles, fun jumping tricks, and romantic silk work. However, the thing that probably caught my attention the most was the straight face that 90% of the performers wore. They were focused and careful, probably because they had to be, but did not plaster a fake smile on their face the way Western performers do. At first it was jarring, it seemed like they weren’t having fun, but I realized that if one person was smiling and others weren’t, they stuck out. This show was never about the individual, it was about the fluidity of the group and the unity of their movements. I wonder if this explains their straight face?
Overall, the cultural experiences were a fun and informative glimpse into the cultural, which I continued through my own personal travels. More about that in other blogs.