Here’s the Difference – Lesson 1

I’m always searching for a simple way to explain the difference between China and the West.  My efforts, however, are inevitably too simple or too complex, or both.

I’ve ultimately concluded that there is no single explanation much as there is no way to translate directly from English to Mandarin and back again.  You can see it.  You can touch it.  You can hear it.  You can even feel it.  What you can’t do, however, is to confine it to the two dimensions of language.

Do all of these things, however, and you will ultimately understand.  Not a singular, momentous gestalt, mind you.  More of a slow awakening until, at last, you realize, that you are awake.

Here’s an example to get you started:

The entrance to Hong Luo Temple
The entrance to Hong Luo Temple.

I was enjoying an exceptionally beautiful fall day recently walking the grounds of the Hong Luo temple in an area of Beijing known as Huai Rou.  The temple is a campus, actually, covering 3.1 sq. miles, built during the East Jin Dynasty (317 – 420) and expanded during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907).

In close proximity you can experience the splendor of the Imperial Bamboo Forest, the Duo Ginkgoes, said to be more than 1,000 years old, and the Wonder of Wisterias Wreathing Pine. And in addition to the Hongluo Temple you can visit the Guanyin Boddhisattva Temple and the 500-Arhat Statues, each with its own rich story to share.IMG_0952

To the north lies Hong Luo Hill, with two peaks, rising 813 meters (2,667 feet) from the base.  There are several routes to the top.  And unlike the switchback routes that might be used in the West to navigate such steep terrain, the Chinese who constructed these well-maintained paths relied on stairs – hundreds of them.

And in the middle of one such path I came across the sight you see above.  As you can see, an outcropping of rock stands in the middle of the path that the builders wanted to follow.IMG_0973

Faced with such an obstacle, what might we in the West have done?  Rerouted the path?  Dynamited the rock?  Brought in a huge machine to dig it out?

I obviously don’t know.  But something tells me we wouldn’t have pursued the simple, yet complicated, solution that the Chinese employed.  They built around it.  But not just in one direction.  In multiple directions.  And not in a symmetrical or evenly constructed way.  There is no obvious rhythm or linear pattern.

Yet somehow it works.  And is somehow visually enchanting to boot.

Think about it.  And you’re on your way.


Copyright © 2013 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.