Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three begot the ten thousand things

Had one of those wonderful serendipitous experiences which I guess we call yuanfen 缘分 over here. I was due to meet M, the French dancer-anthropologist researching qigong movements in Shanghai, in one of the parks where he conducts his fieldwork, but he had to attend a meeting at the Shanghai Municipal Qigong Research Institute 上海市气功研究所, so I got to see the Institute, and indeed meet the Director and Assistant Director. It was also my first chance to try to explain myself in Chinese. 我的专业是宗教哲学,可是我越来越看起来宗教不是哲学的事儿,比哲学人们得生活是重要,和运动,关系,跟人们意外的事儿的关系。I also said I was here looking for 研究朋友, research friends. I'm not sure it scans... but it seems to have been well-received, whatever it is I actually said. I got an invitation to attend a not-open-to-the-public day of presentations in March.

But that doesn't really describe the magic of what was going on. With M were his Catalunyan wife E (also a dancer) and their five-month-old daughter. E's Chinese is good, M's workable and beautifully accented, mine baby-steps. The Institute folks didn't speak English but the deputy, it suddenly emerged, is fluent in German - he spent two years at hospitals there, the first European country to take qigong seriously as medicine and even to include it in national health insurance. So our conversation swirled around in Chinese, English, occasional volleys of German - and the international language of baby love. At first E translated Chinese-English but eventually we realized we were getting by pretty well without it!

The Institute is 30 this year, and as I came in the Director was just unrolling some congratulatory calligraphy an 85-year-old retired professor had sent them. One was a text from the Zhuangzi, the other, in the glorious script of the most ancient Chinese inscriptions, the opening of chapter 42 of the Daodejing. We visitors marveled. It somehow completed the moment when, a little later, in a book M had been given by some researchers in Hong Kong, I found an English translation of Daodejing 42, and passed it to the Chinese, who puzzled through it with a kind of perplexed delight. It was something like this:

Tao begot one. 
One begot two. 
Two begot three. 
And three begot the Ten Thousand Things. 
The Ten Thousand Things carry yin and embrace yang.

 I have a feeling we're all going to be very good friends!

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