Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Guilty Until Proven Innocent


My friend Lynn, an American reporter based in Beijing, introduced me to two Qi Gong master friends of hers at her Christmas party. “You really believe that?” I asked her quietly in the kitchen after the introduction. “Yeah.” She replied with the usual enthusiasm, “Last time when Mr. Liang used his Qi on me, I felt a strong force pushing me. Her wife over there,” she pointed at a plain-looking middle-aged woman with long plaited hair, “is supposed to be an even more powerful master.”

I was reluctant to buy into her enthusiasm. I had my experience with Qi Gong in 1986 when I was in junior high. Qi Gong is this Chinese breathing exercise developed from Taoist and Buddhist traditions to improve Qi, the vital energy that moves our body and the universe. Depending on the school of Qi Gong you follow, the practice promises better health, magic cure for sickness or the ultimate path – eternal life in some faraway dream land.

The early and mid 80s in China was a time of rapid opening up and eager absorption of Eastern and Western knowledge. Freud’s dream analysis, Zen comic books, UFO sightings, supernatural power in humans, and Qi Gong were among the many trends that captivated the entire country one time or another. Qi Gong masters would tour the country giving talks to packed auditoriums. Thousands and thousands in the audience would be induced into a state of mass hysteria (or euphoria). Many felt the strong Qi from the masters. There would be bawling, screaming, and reputedly instant cure of the incurable. Many became devout followers.

In my parents’ work unit more and more people were practicing Qi Gong in the morning. Some would be standing still in front of trees, some walking, some yelling into the sky, per instructions of the different schools of practice, and all involving some repetitive movements of the limbs as the body undulate with the Qi. My parents were among the few who are too negative to believe in anything. The only time I remember them mentioning Qi Gong was when a colleague of theirs started practicing Qi Gong after having been diagnosed with colon cancer.

The colleague died two months later, after trying all of the popular Qi Gong schools.

As a teenager, I was curious about all the hype and wanted to experience the magic Qi. So when a Qi Gong master came to our neighborhood to set up a seminar, I went.

I remember the seminar was at a local school, in a small classroom warmly lit and full of uncles and aunties from the work unit. The master started explaining Qi Gong by citing the Chinese classic fantasy novels, especially my favorite, Journey to The West. According to him, all the deities in that book were simply Qi Gong masters who had attained eternal life and magic powers through practice. “Do you know why Lao Tse in that book has a greenish light in the cloud he rides? That’s the color of Qi of the highest level.” He exclaimed. All the uncles and aunties nodded in utter deference. The fictional account of a Monkey King’s adventure to India apparently had very materialistic basis and represented the highest form of our Chinese civilization.

To further prove the power of Qi, the whole class meditated in silence, with the two palms closed facing each other in front of the chests. We were instructed to pray for the middle fingers of our right hands to grow longer. After a minute, as people slowly got out of the meditation, sporadic wows and ahs erupted in the room - the middle fingers of the right hands indeed looked longer than the left ones!

After demonstrating this remarkable feat to my classmates for a few times, I forgot about Qi Gong. The celebrity masters slowly went out of fashion – some went overseas, some arrested for fraud or political reasons (depending on whom one listens to). The country got caught up in heated political discussions in 1989. I got caught up in the TOEFL and GRE and went to America. While in the States, I heard Falun Gong, a new school of Qi Gong practice, became hugely popular and the government cracked down on it. One of my university friend, now an established professor at an US university, got black-listed by the government after he presided over a local chapter of Falun Gong in the US.

As a former PhD student in science, I had become skeptical, if not outright critical, of Qi Gong’s claims of magic powers. But after having lived in the political correct US for so long, I felt obliged to suspend my disbelief when discussing the claims of an old tradition worshipped by many. So when I found myself standing right next to Mrs. Liang, the super-powerful Qi Gong master, in Lynn’s kitchen at the Christmas party, I asked about her story.

Thus started Mrs. Liang’s narrative, for a good hour, with me nodding my head every minute and chiming in an “ooh” or “ahh” once in a while:

Mrs. Liang grew up in a poor village in Jilin province in northeastern China. When she was little, a fortune teller told her parents that she was destined to save the masses but they thought the fortune teller crazy. When she was fourteen, a Taoist priest from the Wutai Mountain (Wutai is one of the four Buddhist mountains in China; I guess there could be a Taoist temple among the hundreds of Buddhist monasteries there) identified her as the star pupil divinely revealed to him in a dream. The priest had traveled far and wide to locate her.

But her parents refused to let her go with an old priest. After the priest reluctantly left, the young Mrs. Liang suffered from frequent seizures until her parents came to their senses and took her to the Wutai Mountain. As soon as she reached the mountain, her seizure stopped.

There at the mountain she stayed for 7 (or 10 or 12 or 14, I forgot which number is auspicious according to the Chinese tradition) years. One day her master told her that she needed to leave. She asked why, as she was happy living in the simple Taoist temple, sweeping floors and practicing kung fu. But her master was adamant – she still had mission to fulfill in the world.

She refused and refused. One morning out collecting firewood, she fell. Surprisingly, instead of falling into the ground, she fell through clouds and fogs and forests until she hit the foot of the mountain. She wanted to climb back up to her temple. Every time she tries to go up, however, her legs would go weak. At that point she realized that her master’s power was preventing her from going back. She had to go back to the world.

She cried, while telling me that story in Lynn’s kitchen. “I kow-towed to the mountain and swore I would go back to serve my master after finishing my duties.” She said while wiping tears off.

She found out later that she was destined to cure the world of sufferings and sicknesses before she could go back to her own enlightenment (a very Buddhist mission for a Taoist disciple. Oh well). That was after another divine revelation story which I don’t remember now. In the past few years, she and her husband had been working on helping the confused and the sick “see” their hang-ups, and if evil spirits were involved, expelling the spirits.

Lynn’s domestic helper, a honest and humble man from the countryside, interjected earnestly, “Oh master, I would like to seek your wisdom on something. For many different occasions I saw the places in my dreams before I visited them for the first time. What does that mean?”

The master said – you have the seed of supernatural power; have you been practicing Qi Gong to cultivate it?

More and more people stayed in the kitchen to listen to her story by now. One Chinese guy, a business manager, asked her to test his Qi. She shook his hand, then mine, and she told him, “Your Qi is very strong compared to his.” She pointed at me. Duh, I thought – I had been told many times that my handshake is weak.

“Can you read my future from my handshake?” The Chinese guy inquired. Mrs. Liang had claimed powerful Qi Gong masters could tell the past and the future from a person’s Qi, and the Chinese guy was debating whether to pursue a new career. Mrs. Liang closed her eyes for a beat. When she reopened them she shook her head, “It’s too noisy here. Come to my house some other day and I’ll do a special session for you.”

My jaws were dropped half of the time during her storytelling. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I was watching a true master or a supreme actor. Either way, I asked how she could help improve my parents’ health, especially my dad’s diabetes, which was pretty much the only reason I could still suspend my disbelief.

“Come to my house next week.” She said. “I can give you one of the special cards I’m preparing. I gave a card to a friend’s father after my friend begged me for many times. The next day the diabetes of my friend’s father went away! In fact,” she paused to let several others leave the kitchen before continuing, “I’m working on a cure for the bird flu. Once I put the cure on the card, through Qi, nobody needs to worry about the bird flu if they have a card from me.”

I left the party without being able to form an opinion on the Qi Gong masters, because there were two prominent political dissidents and several journalists at the party, because I respected my friend Lynn’s experience and instinct as a seasoned reporter. A well-educated American was asking Mr. Liang if she could learn Qi Gong from him. Surely in such level-headed companies…

Today during lunch time, I bumped into Lynn’s Chinese Assistant Xiao Liu. We chatted for a while, about stuff.

“Do you remember the Qi Gong masters at the Christmas party?” She asked casually.

“Sure, Mr. and Mrs. Liang, right? They were certainly… something.” I chose my words carefully. “Did you know that they are working on a cure for that bird flu?”

“Oh that, the card. It’s like a phone card with a smart-card chip. They gave me one for the headache I had that night. Didn’t do a thing.” The memory brought a disdainful look to Xiao Liu’s face. “They kept on asking if I was feeling better so I had to tell them, yeah a little bit.”

“Lynn trusted them…” I hesitated at how to proceed with the conversation.

“I told Lynn from the beginning that they were frauds. She refused to believe me.” Xiao Liu ignored my dancing around words. “I have a friend who works for many expats here as a translator. Mr. Liang met her at the party and called her repeatedly afterwards. He wanted to use her contacts to sell their magic cards. At RMB 500-600 (US$63-75) a pop! My friend didn’t want to do it. So a couple of the days ago he called my friend again and said, ‘why don’t we work together to make some money? We are only trying to fool the laowais (foreigners).’ ”

Alas, why did I distrust my instincts in the name of respecting my cultural heritage and upholding political correctness?

“I just don’t get the laowais.” Xiao Liu continued, “Why are they so eager to believe?”

Indeed, why are they? Don’t they realize that most verbal expressions and human interactions could and may hide some less pretty motives in this vast country on a binge of wealth making, especially after “five thousand” years of history, after the Confucian teachings suppressed genuine human feeling to fit strict social norms, and after the numerous political movements in the communist China in which the truth-speaking got squashed?

I pondered for a beat and wondered out aloud. “I think this might indicate a cultural difference (everything is cultural, n’est pas?). In the West, it’s innocent until proven guilty. Here in China, it’s guilty until proven innocent.”

Come to think of it, politically correct or not, it’s really not a bad attitude to have in order to survive in China.

5 comments:

At the Money said...

What's the difference between gullability and stupidity?

******

For Some Chinese,
Success in Life Is
A Name Change Away

Businesspeople Use Feng Shui
To Choose New Monikers;
Mr. Chen's Big Comeback
By LI YUAN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 17, 2006; Page A1

When Li Jun asked a feng shui master last March for tips on how to make his new investment consultancy in Beijing successful, he got a quick answer: Change your name.

"Jun," which is Mandarin for "handsome," would not help his career, the master determined. Instead, he suggested Mr. Li call himself "Jianming," which means "establishing a bright future."


Mr. Li immediately started using the name Li Jianming in all his social and business dealings. Ever since, his business has been growing. His staff has expanded to more than 20 from just a handful in less than a year. Mr. Li attributes his success to his new name. "I will do whatever the master says can bring better luck to my business," says Mr. Li.

Name changes such as Mr. Li's are increasingly common in China amid a business boom and a resurgence of feng shui. An ancient Chinese art, feng shui aims to help people achieve health, prosperity and harmony through the layout of buildings, the arrangement of furniture and the bestowing of names with good omen.

Shortly after Mr. Li changed his name, his wife changed hers. Later in the year, three of his close friends did the same. Though no official records exist, Chinese scholars believe that more than a million people in China have changed their given names in recent years.

The number of feng shui masters specializing in changing names also has increased rapidly. A street outside Yonghe Gong, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in central Beijing, is lined with dozens of shops that offer help with name changes. Less than a decade ago, there was just one.

Thousands of Web sites are dedicated to finding names for newborns and adults. In chat groups, Chinese discuss which names are good and which are bad. People can even use their cellphones to send a text message containing their name to a feng shui consultancy. Seconds later, they receive a text message saying whether the name is "auspicious" or "ominous" or a mixture of the two.

Name changes have gained popularity as the country's political climate eased over the past decade. Many name changers are driven by a desire to reconnect with China's rich pre-Communist history, when feng shui-blessed names were popular and superstition about names was prevalent in all parts of society, from emperors to farmers.

Today, name changes are especially popular among the country's new business elite. Entrepreneurs believe a new given name offers a chance to start a new chapter in life. Moreover, a new name is seen as an expression of personal freedom, at a time when individualism is on the rise.

Amid rapid change in Chinese society, people are feeling less secure, says Xu Anqi, a sociologist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "Naturally, some people will look for luck," she says.

Consultations to find the right name can cost between $10 and $300, or higher, a large sum considering hundreds of millions of Chinese still make less than $5 a day. But many people can turn to the Internet for a free evaluation.

For years, feng shui was banned by the Communist Party. As a result, many Chinese born after 1949 were given names that did not heed feng shui rules. Instead, names often echoed political events, such as "Wenge" (Cultural Revolution) if a person was born in 1966 when the political upheaval started, or "Changjiang" (Yangtze River) if a person was born during one of the many times Mao Tse-tung swam across the big river between 1956 and 1966. Many women have "hong" (red) as their given names -- the color that symbolizes the new China and the Communist Party.

Though the ban on feng shui is no longer enforced, most name changes are not made officially. It's legal to change one's name, but China's government cautions people against doing it. A state-run newspaper spelled out all the complications in an article last month, noting that after an official name change one still has to change the names on such things as real-estate documents, insurance forms and banking accounts. Meanwhile, local police stations often reject requests for name changes. In principle, police say, they only consider requests from children whose parents are divorced and adults whose names contain rare or difficult-to-pronounce characters.

Frustration with the official process is a frequent topic in Internet chat groups. "Forget it," one person recently told people interested in going through the red tape, in a discussion on Baidu.com, one of China's largest Internet portals. Another had this advice: "Bribe your local police chief with two cartons of cigarettes."

Feng shui masters say that names in official records don't matter that much anyway. They tell clients to simply encourage their families, friends and every new acquaintance to call them by the new name. They also advise clients to buy a jade stamp engraved with the new name, as a symbol of the change.

Composing a name is an art without hard and fast rules, feng shui masters say. The masters generally weigh a client's balance of yin and yang and count the number of strokes in the characters of an existing given name. Success is a matter of finding a name that balances the inner forces in a person to help them have a better destiny, they say.

Not everybody sticks with a new name. Li Lin, an insurance executive in Beijing, stopped using her new name not long after she adopted it. "It didn't sound as good as my original name," she says. "And it was a bit confusing for people around me."

But stories of success continue to fuel the trend. Chen Mingjian changed his given name in 1998, after he was fired from an investment consultancy he co-founded. A feng shui master said Mr. Chen's original given name, Jian, or "healthy," attracted money and success but mainly for his employers, not for himself. The name Mingjian, which means "understanding the key point," would give him a better chance at earning a personal fortune, the master said.

Mr. Chen now owns HollyHigh International Capital Co., a mergers-and-acquisitions consultancy with offices in Beijing and Shanghai. "Name changing...gives you psychological assurance in difficult times," says Mr. Chen. "My career didn't take off until I changed my name."

Mr. Chen says eight of 32 of his classmates from prestigious Tsinghua University, most of them bankers and investment bankers, have followed his example and changed their names in recent years.

"I may change my name again if there are dramatic changes in my life," says Mr. Chen.

Beijing Loafer said...

the only difference is statistics. of course people don't see it, or don't like to see it.

Dabbler said...

That seems a sadly extreme case of trickery. There are always those few who exploit people in need. They deserve to be discredited. Having done Taichi excercises for a couple of years, however, I think most people who make Qi-related life style choices are in it for the sustained benefits of regular exercises, not for instant magic. Any rationalist can see the health benefit of Taichi - essencially you force your body to move slowly and precisely. Meeting these juxtaposing challenges repeatedly on a long-term bases surely holds promises of fitness and health.

Beijing Loafer said...

I agree that Qi-related lifestyle and exercises are beneficial to health. What I was commenting on was more on the current state of China - the dressing up of traditions for sale, and people's tendency to believe in the unbelievable.

zico F said...

Dear Editor
relay compilation news, zico for democrazy

Somebody please stop the madness already
fengshui fever
Lilian Too is driving my mom crazy ! Well, actually, not Lilian alone but, the whole bevy of self-proclaimed fengshui dunces that publishes their smartass advices online. For free. Emily played a part too, she printed a stack of those materials for my mom ... and my mom has since gone cracked.
Thanks to those divine fengshui advices, my mom's now not acting so normal. She would walk around the house with a compass, and would speak to herself (that's damn creepy I tell you). Then occasionally, she would give out a blood curdling yelp, that some piece of furniture shouldn't belong to some place, or some table is at the wrong angle.
As if it's not bad enough having a geriatric walking around mumbling by herself, I was constantly being badgered for not complying with their set of so called 'prohibited acts'. I couldn't recall what they are but, it's kinda like requiring me to sleep with my head facing north, my left leg pointing north west, my right hand pointing south, my right leg pointing north east... my left hand grabbing my own crotch and yell "Teeeheehee ... owh" every 10 minutes. Or just simply, to sleep in a position that requires an intermediate level of yoga skills.
Supposedly, sleeping like this will bring me better luck and prospect for my career ...(that is, if I didn't suffer major bone dislocation and loses my job). Of course I protested ... and after debated for a while, they managed to come up with some remedy/solution. To place a bronze tortoise with a head of .... some really weird looking horse with beard and horns .... wait, that's a dragon ... on the small table inside my room. What ?!
I told my mom - if fengshui can bring luck and fortune by just complying a set of procedure, then there wouldn't be so much suffering and pestilence on this planet. But she would always retort back "What's the harm of believing in them ?"
The harm ? To waste our money buying those weird and expensive fengshui paraphernalia .... making fengshui masters richer and richer.
Denizens of Earth, if you want to void yourself from suffering/poverty, the best thing is to work hard. Plan your budget. And use your brain.
Somebody please stop the madness already
My mom sneaked in a clandestine manner pass me, with something hidden behind her back.
Me : "Mom, that thing's gonna end up inside the garbage bin if you ever put it anywhere in my room..."
Mom : "What ? It's for your own good !"
Me : "Mom, I've warned you..."
Mom : "This thing costs over 30 bucks, ok ?"
Me : "I couldn't have cared less. It's gonna end up in the garbage bin. Period."
Mom : "If you throw it into the garbage bin, I'm gonna kick your ass..."
Me : "!?"
Look what has fengshui done to my mom. What next ?
Crashing furnitures on my head ?
No wonder we're having so much domestic violence nowadays.
source : http://www.michaelooi.net/archives/2004/12/lilian_too_is_d.html

Controversy Feng shui in Taiwan

Yilan County set to spend NT$20m to counter bad feng shui
2005-12-17 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Chang Ling-yin
Yilan County Council has decided to spend NT$20 million changing the position of the front gate of the council building because councilors have decided that the building had bad feng shui.
The Yilan Council Building cost NT$700 million to build and was completed in 2001. The structure, designed in the image of a huge sailboat, won the National Golden Award for Architecture thanks to its unique style.

But since the opening of the building, four sons of Democratic Progressive Party councilors have died in a series of accidents and numerous DPP councilors have been plagued by lawsuits. As a result, many councilors began to suspect that the building's feng shui is having a bad influence on the councilors' fortunes.

Some DPP councilors even implied that DPP nominee Chen Ding-nan's failure in the Yilan County Magistrate Election was down to the building's feng shui, according to the local media. DPP Councilor Wu Fu-tian was saddened in 2002 after he became an Yilan County Councilor. Wu's son was killed in a train accident, and another councilor, Kuan Te-chi's son died in a car accident and councilor You Xiang-de's son went missing after falling into the ocean while surfing.

Wu even said that the three unfortunate accidents should not be imputed to feng shui and in fact, the three children died due to individual carelessness.
But another councilor Huang Shi-chao's son also died in a car accident a few days ago and then many councilors suspected that the building's bad feng shui caused these coincidences so the council has decided to spend money changing the position of the entrance and turning the front gate to face the east.

As the Yilan County Government has not begun the renovations yet, Kuomintang Council Speaker Chang Jian-rong said that the government had better begin construction as soon as possible to let councilors live without fear.

But maybe some people could not understand why the government has to spend such a huge of money for feng shui, which is superstitious to an extent, he said.
http://www.etaiwannews.com/showPage.php?setupFile=showcontent.xml&menu_item_id=MI-1123667366&did=d_1134791983_17631_BEEEEE1A950F792043EF7A922FAB9CDA29D610C8_22&area=taiwan&area_code=00000


Controversy Feng shui in Beijing
Feng Shui - science or superstition ?
16.09.05

"Feng shui is no science. It only fills the wallets of some charlatans," Chen Zhihua, an architect and professor at prestigious Tsinghua University, was quoted as saying.
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=5&ObjectID=10345710

BEIJING - A university in eastern China has stirred up a storm of controversy about feng shui, with academics around the country sounding off on whether the ancient Chinese study of geomancy is a science or mere superstition.

Feng shui, or "wind and water", is the process of maximising the flow of energy to achieve harmony between people, structures and nature, for instance in making a decision about the siting of a building or placing of furniture in a room.
It is taken very seriously in Hong Kong, Taiwan and among overseas Chinese, but was branded a superstition on the mainland when the Communists swept to power in 1949.
In recent years it has staged a comeback in China, but a new feng shui course offered by an institute affiliated to Nanjing University has prompted calls from some academics to have it shut down, Xinhua reported on its English Web site, www.chinaview.cn.

"Feng shui is no science. It only fills the wallets of some charlatans," Chen Zhihua, an architect and professor at prestigious Tsinghua University, was quoted as saying.

An unnamed feng shui practitioner was quoted by Xinhua as saying at least 70 percent of the real estate projects in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, had been evaluated by masters before construction began.

"More and more individuals and organisations are approaching feng shui experts for various advice, from how to decorate their homes to where to rent office space," Xinhua said.

Before construction began on the new Disneyland in Hong Kong, which opened this week, designers consulted feng shui masters to make sure "qi", or energy, would flow smoothly through the park.

Sources connected to the Nanjing feng shui course said the classes would continue, despite the ill wind.
- REUTERS

Falun Gong versus Feng Shui ?
No one can't stop a feng shui movement in the world but maybe Falun Gong comunity can do it ?
Falun Gong Community does not combine to Feng Shui method (Flying Star and other), Falun Gong answer me :
Simple think you must read Zhuan Falun book, Falun Gong & others book, than, harmony in nature "yes", but what ever feng shui method "no"
By the way, for your information, Falun Gong is efficient itself as it will help you, at the beginning, eliminate bad qi while obtaining good qi from the universe while doing the exercises. Hence, no need for Feng Shui or any other methods.
Master (Li Hongzhi) has also stated that Feng Shui only works in China and some surrounding areas, not in other geographical locations as it was originally designed only for those locations long time ago.
I think, it has made deep impact for all feng shui communities in the world, maybe it will make headline news? I think you may clarification for Falun Gong state then publish for every one to know why for democracy.
Would you like to feed back me, thank you

note : some clasical feng shui master had feed back to me with various respon : neutral, still learn to compare betwen falun gong method vs feng shui method, and others respon sound like an angry to me.