Yesterday, I visited the Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum in Ningbo and found it to be a very meaningful experience. The museum contains exhibits on traditional Chinese culture such as embroidery, tiger-head shoes and woodcarving which I had never seen before. I also noticed some American visitors who were talking excitedly about the museum – and I could see in their faces how delighted they were to be there. To be honest, I felt very proud. Because you lived in China for five years, I curious as to what you think of traditional Chinese culture and which forms in particular you are most interested in.
I’m looking forward to your reply.
Dear Ms. Zhou,
I am very happy that your recent museum experience helped you to become more aware of the beauty of traditional Chinese art and culture. When I was a college student, I began exploring Chinese culture – first, through literature when I read the Analects of Confucius. Soon thereafter, I became interested in Zen Buddhism, which has its roots in China and which influenced several styles of Chinese ‘Zen’ painting and poetry. I later discovered the mystical Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu as well as the ancient Chinese work, the I Ching (Book of Changes). Through my life, these books have been my constant companions.
Many years ago, I visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei where I discovered the mysterious beauty of Tang dynasty landscape painting and for the first time saw fine examples of Tang, Ming, and Ching dynasty porcelain art. I was also amazed by intricate carvings done in wood, ivory, jade, and stone. Ancient Chinese architecture has always impressed me ‒ so much so that when I lived in California in the 1980s and 90s, I designed a Mediterranean-style house but with a Chinese-style roof (i.e. with ‘flying eaves’ that point up to heaven). The house also incorporated Chinese concepts of ‘Feng Shui’ (geomancy), and I arranged its rooms in accordance with the ‘Ba Gua’ (eight trigrams of the I Ching). I planned to furnish the home with some examples of Ming dynasty furniture, which I consider to be the most beautiful furniture ever made. Alas, the house was never built, but I still carry its design with me in my memory.
My thirst for Chinese culture led me to explore other art forms such as garden architecture, tea ceremony, ‘Tai Chi’ (I’ve taken classes twice) and classical Chinese music. My favorite Chinese musical instrument is the ‘Er Hu’. While I was living in China, I discovered Chinese cuisine, not “Chinese food” but rather the eight famous regional cuisines of China which I consider to be traditional art forms. Spicy ‘Szechuan’ food is still my favorite, but they are all amazing! Although I am still a ‘beginner’, my love of Chinese art and culture has become an integral part of me and has greatly influenced my understanding of the world.
I apologize for my lengthy reply to your email but as you can surely tell, I am very passionate about this subject. It is my sincere hope that you and those of your generation will learn to value and appreciate your culture’s vast literary and artistic heritage. Much of it is ‘intangible’, which means that unless it is appreciated, preserved and re-created, it will eventually disappear. Therefore, your responsibility is great. Fine art brings fine energy – it can change one’s life. My simple advice is to ‘seek out the best’. Explore the various forms and find one or two that particularly attract you. Then, go deeper. You won’t regret it!