Sunday, 16 September 2007

Quakers and China

I have just come back from a holiday to China and seen at first hand the sheer pace of change since my last visit in 1991. Then markets were only recently liberalised, no private ownership of property, no private cars, foreigners mainly in tour parties (we have family in China so were not restricted then) but now a housing boom, traffic jams worthy of New York and London, modern 21st century cities and foreigners two a penny.

The pace of change shows no sign of slowing with many peoples standard of living raising fast enough for them to accept the increased disparities in wealth and so keep impulses for democratic reform under the surface. If no political freedoms certainly more cultural freedoms then in the past given the range of music, DVD’s and magazines available on the street.

Censorship is still an issue as I was unable to get on any Blog sites while there.But this is not a political piece, I am interested that this western economic transformation is taking place within a culture whose roots go back to several 1000 years and has a continuity that the West does not. To be similar, the Greco-Roman culture would have continued and the Roman Empire would have created a ethnic, language-political unity that would have constantly reasserted itself over the century.

For me the one recurring thought was this was a nation of over 1 Billion that consistently has no interest in invoking a unified and personified supernatural power. Hence, questions about the nature and existence of God which fuel much of the debate and discussions amongst Quakers are largely irrelevant.

These differences go deeper, for example Platonism stresses the rule of law, whilst Confucianism preached a society ruled by ethics. Quakers in arguing for that of the divine spark in all people is more in tune with ethical living then imposed authority. We are pulled back in the western sphere when looking at Enlightenment thinking calls for liberty and democracy, as Chinese Legalism demanded unquestioned loyalty to imperial authority. Here our roots in radical Protestants make us question any authority that conflicts with our vision of the righteous life.

I could continue to explore the links between Quaker practice and a Chinese philosophy primarily focuses more internally, while Western philosophy focus is more external. For me the challenge is how to unite the two so that I am concerned with changing the world to make it fairer and changing individuals so that it remains fair.

An example, could be to tackle the current western view of the environment by exploring our interrelationship with it as developed over the centuries by the Chinese whilst looking at at the political and cultural changes needed to make this a reality.