Sunday, November 27, 2011

Global Warming: The Four Noble Half-Truths

One of the fun things about the Global Warming debate is how many different fields of knowledge it draws on.  What is the temperature and acidity of the ocean?  How has the beta radiation emitted by the sun varied?  How quickly did balsa trees in Siberia grow?  How much methane is released per year in the Arctic?  What sorts of grapes were grown how far north in Medieval Europe?  What kinds of mosquitos can survive in the "heat island" of urban Tokyo?  Even scientists in obscure fields like glaciology get their moment in the sun, so to speak. 

How about those of us who study comparative religion?  Can we add anything to the discussion?  Perhaps a bit of perspective on the Global Warming movement as a religious movement. 

Has anyone noticed how closely the claims of Anthropogenic Global Warming resembles the basic teachings of Buddhism? 

The Buddha is said to have discovered Four Noble Truths while meditating under a bodhi tree:

First, life involves suffering (or "is suffering," there is some debate on just how broadly he defined the problem). 

Second, the cause of suffering is desire (or karma; again, there seems to be some question about exactly what Buddha meant). 

Third, the way to end suffering is, therefore, to end desire (karma). 

Fourth, Buddha offered an "Eight-Fold Path" to ending desire or karma, and therefore attaining nirvana: right view, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration (of mind, not of greenhouse gases). 

The parallels stumble over one another to emerge.  Let us put them in the following order:

The Four Noble (Half) Truths of Global Warming
By most measures, worldwide air
temperatures have increased
over the past 2 centuries by a
little more than 1 degree C.
#1  Earth's atmosphere has been warming. 

The truth: Almost certainly so.  While some skeptics point out that weather stations in cities are subject to "heat island" effects, and argue that AGW proponents have not taken this into account sufficiently, it seems clear from a variety of measurements that global temperatures have, in fact, gone up about 1 degree C over the past century. 

Mendenhall glacier,
near Juneau, with
Nugget Falls in
foreground, early 1980s.
If nothing else, global warming can be deduced from the fact that around the world, glaciers have retreated dramatically since about the mid-19th Century. 

#2  The main cause of atmospheric warming, is car-ma.  (And car-pas, they reproduce so swiftly nowadays.)   
The truth: possibly so.  There is nothing inherently unreasonable in supposing that greenhouse gases will warm the atmosphere, in fact it seems to be simple physics.  (Or so they say.)  What is clear historically is that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased over the past century, and that carbon isotopes in the CO2 show that much of the increase comes from carbon released by human activity.  

The same glacier a quarter
mile behind the falls, about 2006.
(My sons John and James
standing in front of the falls.)
However, almost half of all warming occurred before about 1945.  The amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere per year was about 1/30 then, what it is today.  So it seems unlikely that the small amount released before WWII would have had such a dramatic effect on worldwide climate.  Applying Occam's Razor, it seems plausible that whatever caused MOST of the global warming before 1950, may have cause some or most of it after 1950.  Therefore, it seems likely that half or more global warming was NOT caused by release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases by human industrial activity.  (car-ma)  But it is also possible that these trends mask other changes (much discussed by climate scientists, including sun-spot cycles, solar radiation, ocean currents, and so forth) that would normally result in cooling rather than warming.  And it is also true that temperatures rose most dramatically after about the mid-1970s.  So empirically, it seems a flip of the coin whether half the warming was due to human activity, more or less. 

#3 Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a terrible thing, which will harm or destroy much complex life on earth, including our ownIt is therefore critical to end the cause (car-mas, car-pas) of this bad effect.

The Truth: I seriously doubt it.  If Earth's ecosystem were so fragile and subject to runaway warming and cooling trends, how did we develop life on this planet in the first place?  Some periods in the past have been much warmer than today -- yet the ice sheets did not melt, and Earth did not become another Venus.  Reports of flora and fauna from the Shang Dynasty in northern China show that 3 thousand years ago, the region was much warmer and wetter than it is today, for instance.  Other periods have been much cooler, yet Ice Ages eventually ended due to natural cycles and (presumably) negative feedback mechanisms.

Planet Earth seems fairly resilient.  Even UN predictions suggest that continued global warming will only raise the sea level by about a foot or so over the 21st Century -- so slight a rise it will be easy to gradually adjust for it, even on the lowest Pacific islands. 

What makes it easier to doubt the apocalyptic scenarios offered by AGW, is how often they have proven empty.  Al Gore blamed the Bush administration for Hurricane Katrina, and won a Nobel Prize for doing so.  The many gross errors he made in An Inconvenient Truth make one wonder about the standards of his supporters.  One also commonly comes across extreme claims about Pacific Islands sinking under the waves, Himalayan glaciers disappearing, the causes of melting ice on Kilamanjaro, and the supposed desertification of the planet, leading, one otherwise well-informed AGW proponent assures me, an "end to agriculture" and mass starvation, would reach 70% in a few decades, despite reams of contrary evidence I pointed him to. 

One can see the psychology of doomsday thinking at work, here.  Population Bomb, anyone?  Late, Great, Planet Earth

#4  Our environmental Buddhas offer an "Eight-Fold Path" to end car-ma, and attain nirvana, which also involves right view (global), aspiration (green), speech (media), action (turn off the lights!), livelihood (organic farming), effort, mindfulness, and concentration (of greenhouse gases, but first of cash into the right pockets).

The Truth:  Most of this looks more and more like a scam.  Adopting the whole program might well destroy the world's economy (what's left of it), and would likely devastate poor countries.  And Al Gore and Co would probably get even richer than they already are, off government pork falling off the butcher's wagon. 

Why do I think that?  Over the past several years, the world economy has been deeply threatened by public debt.  This is a problem that we all know the answer to: spend less money.  And yet the Left, which pushes programs to solve AGW, has in fact not decreased spending, even when it held the White House and both houses of Congress.  No, it has increased spending dramatically. 

And where has that money gone?

Into the pockets of constituents and supporters. 
So long, cruel world!  Republicans
aim to slow the growth of spending
 by two freckles and a hair,
in the year, 2525!
Faced with years of crisis, the Right has been far too timid in cutting federal spending, and has often been complicit in pork-barrel spending, too.  Meanwhile, the Left (both in America and Europe) has reacted by sabatoging every effort to bring spending under control.  An overly modest program by Paul Ryan, for instance, was depicted in attack ads as an effort to "push grandma over a cliff" -- even though it would in fact not effect seniors. 

What does that tell us? 

The Left in America and Europe is addicted to huge amounts of public spending.  It doesn't matter what the money is spent on -- the Democratic Party is unwilling to cut ANYTHING.  (Except maybe the military.)  After a year of crisis and negotiation, the Democrats agreed -- maybe -- to cut some $1 billion from the federal budget, when the debt that year was more than $1.5 trillion!  Our enormous national budget, nearing twice what we take in, now, appears to consist entirely of sacred cows.

It is reasonable, I think, to distrust attempts by people so eager to spend money and increase government power to "manage" the alleged threat from AGW by further increasing the size and power of central government.  I simply don't believe what the plutocrats claim or promise, anymore.  I think it is mostly an effort, perhaps unconscious in some cases, to line their own beds and increase their power over the rest of us. 

Furthermore, given the growth of technology and how slowly the Earth is warming, I believe far cheaper methods of cooling the atmosphere, should they be needed, will become available, if they are not already.  Some discussion has taken place over the possibility of releasing SO2 into the upper atmosphere. Whether that will become viable, or some other solution will be found, I think it would be foolish at this time to wed ourselves to expensive, economy-killing, and probably unnecessary programs from the same people who gave us 20th Century socialism and the debt crisis, and stopped nuclear power in the US. 
And those, my friends, are the "Four Noble Half-Truths," so far as one scholar of religions can make them out.  If that does not seem so far, take comfort in the fact that after 2600 years, no one seems to really get Buddhism, either.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Peter Atkins: thank God for philosophy!

"Science uber alles!"
Before traveling to Asia, someone pointed me to a recent debate between John Lennox, the Oxford mathematician, and Peter Atkins, the fire-breathing atheist and chemist at the same university.  During the debate, Dr. Atkins made the following astounding comment, in reference to Anthony Flew's conversion to theism:

"He's a philosopher.  And philosophers don't really understand the nature of the world.  Scientists understand the nature of the world.  Philosophers are pessimists, always putting (limitations on) knowledge . . . Worst of all are theologians, because they add obfuscation . . . Scientists are coming to give the real answers, the evidentially-based answers, the reliable answers." 

Someone described Atkins as "arrogant" and "condescending" in this debate, and I can see that.  What is more astounding to me, though, is the naive and unself-critical character of these comments.  Surely an educated man should know better than to say such silly things. 

Atkins is not the only one.  Adulation of scientists and the scientific method is one of the defining characteristics of the New Atheism, along with scorn for supposedly lesser modes of knowing, like philosophy, history, and of course theology.  The same attitude oozes from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion like carbon compounds from the La Brea tar pits.   

But scientists should, I think, thank God for philosophers.  First, because science grew out of philosophy historically.  Secondly, because science depends on philosophy to think.  And third, because those scientists who seem to most scorn philosophy, still make use of it in their arguments, though often poorly.  If they were to recognize the importance of philosophy, perhaps they would make better use of it. 

(1) Science grew out of philosophy.   Modern science first appeared (depending on whom you ask), either in Ancient Greece about the time of Aristotle, or in Medieval Europe some time between the 13th and 17th Centuries.  In both cases, science grew like a shoot off the trunk of philosophy -- and also theology. 

In The Christian Delusion, skeptic Richard Carrier marks Aristotle as the beginning point of ancient science:

"The truth is that the Greeks and Romans achieved tremendous and continual advances in science and mathematics after Aristotle.  Aristotle's generation marked only the beginning of the history of ancient science -- almost every amazing thing they discovered came after him.  And they discovered a lot." (Christian Delusion, 400, Carrier's emphasis)

Aristotle, of course, was the third great philosopher in a lineage from Socrates to Plato and on. 

Carrier then described a "sample" of scientific work from this time forward, beginning with Aristotle, the philosopher.  His next two examples are successors of Aristotle, lying therefore in the same lineage that began with the philosopher, Socrates. 

"Eureka!"  Archimedes figures
how to use water displacement
to test the gold content in the
king's crown, and expresses
 the spirit of Greek science,
with one fine word.
One might argue that Socrates was too theoretical and focused on society, and Aristotle and like-minded Greeks helped create something more practical by focusing on how things work in nature.  But there seemed to be no sharp divide in the ancient world.  The habit of thinking systematically about the nature of things, seemed to encourage and lead to empirical study of the artifacts of nature. 

Unexpectedly, Carrier also admits that theology was instrumental in the origin of ancient science:

"Most intellectual polytheists believed in a Creator who had intelligently ordered the cosmos, that this order could be discovered by the human mind, and that such discovery honored God.  Scientists like Galen and Ptolemy were thus motivated to pursue scientific inquiry by their religious piety, exactly as Stark claims Christians were, and for exactly the same reasons." (Ibid, 407)

Stark, however, was referring to the rise or rebirth of modern science in Europe, beginning in the Middle Ages.  He details the religious affiliation and depth of piety of the key founders of modern science in his book, For the Glory of God.  Most, he finds, were pious Christians, either Protestant or Catholic.

A number of books have told in more detail the story of how Medieval philosophy led to the birth of modern science.  A balanced account I recently read was James Hannam's The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution.   Hannam, a British historian of science, shows that the origins of European science cannot be separated from either philosophy or theology.  One can see the connection in a comment by John Buridan, whom Hannam describes as "the most remarkable philosopher of the 14th century (my emphasis):"

"In the celestial motions, there is no opposing resistance.  Therefore, when God, at the creation, moved each sphere of the heavens with just the velocity he wished, he then ceased to move them himself and since then those motions have lasted forever due to the impetus impressed on the spheres."  (Hannam, 180)

Kepler and Newton clearly saw astronomy as a field of theology.  Robert Boyle helped invent Dr. Atkins' own field of chemistry -- when he wasn't sponsoring new translations of the Bible.  So if he were properly grateful, Dr. Atkins might thank theologians for inventing his craft, not simply accuse them of obscuritanism. 

(2) Science depends on philosophy to think. 

Philosophy, according to Funk & Wagnall, is in its first two meanings:

"1. The inquiry into the most comprehensive principles of reality in general, or of some limitted sector of it such as human knowledge or human values." 

2. "The love of wisdom and the search for it." 

The second meaning here explains the etymology of the word: "philo," or "love," of "sophia" or "wisdom." 

Obviously, no good scientist should object to the love of wisdom.  (However much bad scientists, or bad men who do science, may despise it in practice.)

Science is, in the normal manner of speaking, one particular kind of inquiry into the principles of reality, or some limited sector of it.  The same dictionary gives as its first two definitions of "science" the following:

(1) "Any department of knowledge in which the results of investigation have been logically arranged and systemetized in the form of hypothesis and general laws subject to verification." 

This broad definition might include law, history, and theology, as well as some forms of "philosophy."

(2) "Knowledge of facts, phenomena, laws, and proximate causes, gained and verified by exact observation, organized experiment, and ordered thinking."

This more narrow definition is what distinguishes the chemistry of Atkins or the zoology of Dawkins from "philosophy" or "theology" in the academic sense.  But notice that science involves not only "observation" and "experiment," but also "ordered thinking."* 

Ordered thinking is precisely what philosophers attempt to do.  And philosophy is defined, above, as inquiry into principles of reality -- which of course is also the goal of science.  So science can be seen as a compartment of philosophy. 

A more specific compartment of philosophy is epistemology, the art of knowing, and of knowing what we know.  (As the Chinese philosopher Confucius put it.)  Wikipedia rightly describes epistemology as a field of philosophy:

΅Epistemology . . . (from Greek επιστημη (epistēmē), meaning "knowledge, science" λογοσ meaning "study of") is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge." 

Anthony Flew has, for many decades, approached reality as a careful thinker.  In my own on-line debates, I have often found a higher quality to arguments made by academic philosophers than by scientists or other scholars.  Whether atheist or Christian, philosphers are trained to think clearly.  In my experience, this training makes a real difference. 

Atkins complained about philosophers placing limits on what we can know.  In fact, of course, science itself is finding such limits, as Atkins knows.  But the scope of knowledge is indeed a branch of philosophy.  It is also absolutely essential to any careful and respectable science.  Perhaps one of the reasons the New Atheists so often make such foolish and grandoise claims about areas of knowledge of which they are largely ignorant, is because they fail to attend to the limits of their own knowledge.  Perhaps scientific stardom has become a kind of drug for some of them, which having been indulged, predisposes them to such bombastic rants as Dr. Atkins indulges in, above.   

No science is possible without philosophy, since science is a special form of philosophical reasoning.  Sciences like biology and physics are less immediate and certain than some other forms of philosophy, like pure logic and mathematics. They carry the advantage of touching (by faith in our senses) objects in the real world, and the disadvantage of being less sure (because our senses can be deluded).  On the other hand, the physical sciences are more immediate than history, or other disciplines that depend on human testimony (which can also be deluded), like sports-casting, dating, or finding after-Christmas bargains on-line.  But the physical sciences do not tell us everything we need to know, either, which is why "faith" in other people, and ultimately in God, is so important.  Theology is, in part, the art of testing that faith.   

So Atkins is just confused.  C. S. Lewis said, "We need good philosophy, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy exists."  Scientists like Atkins depend on bad philosophy, because they forget that good philosophy exists and is a necessary component of good science.   

(3) Scientists who most scorn philosophy, still make use of it when they argue.

I've often noticed this, especially after my 2007 book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, came out.  There is a scientist who posts on the Amazon forum for that book, who calls himself "Scientific Mind."  Almost all his arguments against religion appear to be philosophical (in an often remarkably amateurish sense), or historical, not scientific.  The same is true of Richard Dawkins.  He might scorn theology, philosophy, even history, yet he frequently makes arguments from those fields to support his points.  In fact, I've never met one of these scientific atheists, who did not step into a phone booth and turn himself into an amateur (and often poor) philosopher, as soon as he began to attack religion.

Imitation is, they say, the sincerest form of flattery.  But I would rather Dr. Atkins take the following saying to heart, even if it is by a mere philosopher: 

"Know thyself."   

Footnote: Writing on Thanksgiving, 2011, I'm thankful today for many things, not least for family, exciting work, the beauties of mountains and forest and sea.  I'm also grateful for the many brilliant philosophers, theologians, and scientists I've been privileged to learn from.  I'm grateful for the wise thinkers -- belonging to these three, and other fields -- who are contributing to our upcoming book, Faith Seeking Understanding.  I'm also thankful for those of you who occasionally read my blog, and comment thoughtfully on the ideas posted here. 

(*There is a broader and older sense in which science is almost a synonym for philosophy -- that which is known, that which we try to know, and how we seek knowledge of it -- "systematic knowledge in general," as Funk & Wagnall put it in their 4th definition.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is the resurrection impossible? Response to Brad Bowen

This morning a philospher named Bradley Bowen took on the resurrection of Jesus at the Secular Outpost.  I would like to respond to some of his comments. 

"My position on the resurrection claim is that it should be analyzed into two main claims:

"1. Jesus died on the cross on Friday of Passover week (and remained dead for at least six hours).

"2. Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday following Friday of Passover week (or within a few days after that Sunday)."

The exact dates do not seem so important, but let's follow this line of thought and see where it goes.

"However, even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that (2) is true, the evidence for the resurrection still falls short of what is required, because the combination of (1) and (2) is a physical impossibility (more or less). So, in supposing (2) to be true, the requirement of evidence to establish (1) becomes rather difficult to achieve."

This looks like begging the question. Yes, it can be assumed that miracles don't happen -- if they don't. But if it is even POSSIBLE that God is real, then it is not "physically impossible" that Jesus rose from the dead. (And in fact, in his efforts to undermine the resurrection, the atheist philosopher Michael Martin points out that it may NOT be "physically impossible" -- see pages 74-75 of The Case Against Christianity.  I'm always amazed at how often the possibilities in a binary field of possibilities seem, in atheist eyes, to BOTH exclude Christian truth.)

Owen appears to be assuming, before looking at the evidence, that it is impossible that God exists.  That would not seem to be the correct first step in discovering whether or not He does in fact exist.  Or maybe he means something else by saying the resurrection is "physically impossible?" 
"Although there is obviously some evidence that Jesus died on Friday of Passover week and remained dead for at least several hours, the evidence is hardly compelling. For one thing, if Jesus was buried in a stone tomb before sunset on Friday evening, as the Gospels report, then he might well have been observed for only an hour after his alleged death. Once his body was inside the tomb, no one could observe whether or not he was breathing or had a heartbeat."

"One of the main problems with the claim that Jesus died on the cross is that we don't know the extent of Jesus' injuries prior to and during the crucifixion, and we don't know how crucifixion causes death. Another problem is that modern medical science would not make an appearance for well over a thousand years, so there was no scientific medical expert available to verify that Jesus was truly and completely dead."

Do you see the problem?  Ancient Romans may have crucified thousands of people.  But being unscientific, they had no way of knowing if their victims were actually dead or not, before they buried the bodies. Despite all the people they had killed, the Romans had little idea of what death looked like.  So after having scourged a criminal, beaten him, made him carry a cross up a hill, crucified him and pushed swords into his side so blood and water came out, then sealing him behind a massive stone underground, after hours of torture and what looked to ignorant pre-scientific Romans like death, victims of Roman crucifiction were constantly ripping apart the mummy-like wrappings they were entombed in, tossing boulders aside like bamboo shutters, scaring off guards, and appearing in a blaze of glory to their followers as the Lord of Life, conquerer of death, the picture of a better mode of existence that promised to make all things new. 

This explains all the competing claims of resurrection of historical figures in the ancient world, of which NT Wright, the Oxford and Cambridge historian, in his 816 page Resurrection of the Son of God, could find . . . Well, OK, he couldn't find any real parallels, and neither has anyone else, really.  But those Romans were so incompetent when it comes to killing people, who knows how many of the people they killed may ultimately turn up, still breathing? 

This is not a persuasive hypothesis.   

"So, the evidence for the resurrection fails on two accounts. First, the evidence for (2) is rather weak, and second, if we suppose (2) to be true, then the evidence for (1) is too weak to be sufficient to establish a claim of a physically impossible event."

Owen hasn't actually address (2) yet; he has merely asserted its weakness.

And his claim about (1) is, likewise, merely a restatement of skeptical dogma, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the real evidence for the resurrection. 

From here on, however, Owen offers a somewhat more interesting argument -- or one that, at any rate, I recognize AS an argument:

"Not only is the evidence for the resurrection insufficient, but there are good reasons for believing that it is false that God raised Jesus from the dead. Here is an argument that Jesus was not raised (JNR):

"JNR1. Jesus advocated the following religious beliefs: (a) Moses was a prophet of God, (b) the Old Testament was inspired by God, and (c) Jehovah is God.

"JNR2. If Jesus advocated any religious belief that is false, then Jesus is not God incarnate.

"JNR3. At least one of the following beliefs is false: (a) Moses was a prophet of God, (b) the Old Testament was inspired by God, or (c) Jehovah is God. Therefore:

"JNR4. Jesus is not God incarnate.

"JNR5. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then Jesus is God incarnate. Therefore:

"JNR6. It is not the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.  I am confident that (JNR3) is true."
The main problem with this argument is that it seems too a priori and theological.  It is true that evaluating the truth of an historical claims needs to involve two elements: (1) The actual historical evidence for that claim, and (2) The plausibility of the claim judged by what we know or believe about the world in general.  For instance, claims that a "cow jumped over the moon" may purport to involve real testimony, but we reject them more quickly than the claim that Apollo 12 landed on the moon, because of our diverse prior expectations about how cows and space craft respectively behave.  (Or misbehave.)  

While the prior plausibility of an event can be judged on philosophical grounds, philosophy and theology is in many cases too subjective and complex to arrive at so much certainty that it allows us to dismiss or accept historical claims a priori, in opposition to the evidence.   Such would appear to be the case with this line of argumentation.

All of these claims are highly disputable.  Even the meaning of some is hard to pin down very exactly.  What does it mean to say God "inspired" the OT?  What does it mean to say Jehovah "is" God?  As I argue in my dissertation, identifying two names for the supreme God in two different languages is not a simple, but it is certainly a doable, semantic action, but it is very difficult to say Jehovah "cannot be" God. 

So it seems to me that Jeff's argument here cannot carry much weight.  If any one pillar collapses, the whole thing falls down.  And most of them look pretty wobbly, to me. 

"Premise (JNR2) appears to be true to me, and it would certainly be difficult for a Christian believer to deny (JNR2), for that would undermine the authority of the teachings of Jesus. The belief that Jesus is God incarnate is a primary reason given by Christians in support of the authority of Jesus' teachings. So, if one admitted that Jesus could give false religious teachings and yet still be God incarnate, then his allegedly being God incarnate would not be a good reason for following his teachings."

Brad appears to be saying, in effect, that "God would not cause Jesus to rise from the dead, if He also allowed the gospel writers to report Jesus as saying anything that, interpretting literally, I find it hard to believe."  But maybe God is more forgiving than that.  Maybe even if, say, Matthew puts something in the mouth of Jesus that Brad finds unbelievable, God STILL raised Jesus from the dead.  I, at any rate, see no difficulty in believing that.  Anyway, it looks to me like a mainly historical problem, not one that can be solved by these sorts of arguments. 

I think, in addition, that aside from the historical evidence, the prior probability for the resurrection of Jesus is very high.  That is, even aside from the actual historical evidence that He did, there are many good reasons to think that God WOULD LIKELY raise Jesus from the dead.  No argument for the resurrection that seems strong to me, depends on the premise, "The Bible is the infallible Word of God."  It seems to me Bowen might still be stuck in that old quarrel.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fulfillment thinking in Chinese history, Lin Yutang.

Morning meeting at ORTV.  Doris Brougham is
playing the trumpet to the right of the leader.
I spoke on that subject yesterday morning to about 170 staff at Overseas Radio and Television (ORTV).  I began with a joke about the competition.  Traveling around Taiwan, I noticed not only the old cram schools that teach the "American language," but advertisements for what I took to be a new cram school staffed by overseas Chinese, called "Cai English."  Indeed, as the staff no doubt knew, large banners for this "school" can be seen draped over buildings all over the island, with pictures of a pleasant-looking Chinese lady and then another Chinese man or woman by her side.  But in fact, she's the presidential candidate in the upcoming election for the Peoples' Progressive Party.  The people by her side are not fellow teachers, but local candidates in the same election.  Her name happens to be "Cai English." 

People laughed at the joke.  Good, because I needed encouragement to go 45 minutes in Chinese.  If I can judge by my own experience as a public speaker, I want an audience to laugh so as to establish community, the feeling that we're all in it together, it's not just me up their talking, but that they're part of the experience, too.  Asuccessful pun is also a good indication that a talk in another language is going well, since often, Chinese assume that if the meanings don't click, you've simply screwed up and / or are totally incoherent in their difficult language. 

What was a little unique about yesterday morning's talk, besides the longest talk I've given in Chinese for many years, was its focus on leading Christian thinkers in the fulfillment tradition.  I wanted people to know who they were, and what they'd accomplished, and encourage creative Chinese Christians to recognize that their own work also belongs in some sense to that tradition. 

Doris Brougham was the only person in the audience who knew who John Ross was.  She also not only knew who the great writer Lin Yutang was, as do Chinese around the world, but called him "a good friend."  It turned out they'd collaborated on some work.
(I visited his old house on Yangmingshan later in the morning -- which reflects his own style and love of Chinese culture (note the fish pond, where he liked to pretend to fish in the morning), combined with interest in traditional European styles and science.  More on that, later.) 

I also joked that, ten years after the typhoon that accompanied me to the island on my last visit, ten years ago, "It's still raining!"  I recognized the laugh, that time -- it's the same laugh we Seattlites sometimes give to comments about our weather, after a particularly bad spell.  But I think the weather in Seattle is better than in Taipei.  Aside from the fact that it probably doesn't rain as much in Seattle, we don't often get a rain that encourages snakes to waylay strangers.  One can walk in our rain without water dripping down our bodies from the inside, even if it doesn't reach us from the outside.

ORTV is a remarkable organization, and Doris Brougham is an amazing person.  I think I'll also introduce her and the work they do in a later blog.  She is an institution in Taiwan (the president of Taiwan is honoring her this week for her work), and somewhat known in other parts of Asia, but probably not so many people in other parts of the world are familiar with this remarkable missionary / trumpet player / educator / HONEST televangelist / successful CEO.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Notes from Taiwan

Water makes Taiwan beautiful, though. 
My last visit to Taiwan came ten years ago, the day after 9/11, as a matter of fact.  It was loads of fun getting on an airplane right when air travel had become a weapon in worldwide jihad, also having to fly around a hurricane between Japan and Taiwan.  It turned out another hurricane was bearing down on Formosa as well, which helps explain why the island is so green.  This hurricane didn't pack particularly strong winds, but it came in (unusually) from the north and kind of settled over Taiwan, creating torrential rains for some time, and flooding parts of Taipei. 

Ten years later -- it was still raining, when we arrived.  Did the sun ever come out? 

Doris Brougham and Overseas Radio and Television (ORTV) sent a car to pick me up, and helped me find a place to stay, with a kind Presbyterian dentist. (Also mountain climber and fervent supporter of Cai Yingwen in her bid for the presidency next year.) I'll be speaking to the ORTV staff, tomorrow morning.  I attended their meeting this morning, which was kind of like a cross between a TV music special, and a campfire revival.  These people are professionals, and you could easily have filmed the whole thing and made a creditable show out of it, but they also seem quite sincere in their worship.  I certainly enjoyed singing a cheerful old aboriginal song about "my help being from the Lord." 

Other notes from the trip to Taiwan so far:

* Lots of new superhighways, some under construction.  The famous 101 building, once the tallest in the world, now dominates the Taipei skyline, with nothing even close for miles around. 

* The train system is efficient, with about 5 lines in Taipei, even though it caused me to miss an important appointment today.  (One line splits and goes in two directions, and I got on the wrong train.)  Stations are decorated in a lively, friendly, and clever way.  Prices are reasonable, as with most things (except housing) in Taiwan -- far cheaper than Japan, a little cheaper than the US, about the same as Korea.

* The Japanese hamburger chain Mossburger is all over the place, now. 

* Otherwise things don't seem to have changed that much.  They still sell betel nut, the mildly narcotic nut that turns teeth purple or black.  Almost all my old favorite Taiwanese foods seem to still be available: I had a wonderful Papaya shake last night after dinner. 

* How polite and mellow everyone seems, compared to mainland China!  They even say "thank you" and "please!" 

* In some cases this has run almost to political correctness, gentrification, even chicification.  Baby changing areas are provided at train stops.  Tourists are told not to swim in the river in Wulai, for fear of being swept downstream.  In some places you have to pay for plastic bags.

* The worst is the garbage collecting system.  It used to be that people piled their refuge in plastic bags at central collection areas.  Cats used to hang and look for goods to grab.  Now when the garbage truck comes, it makes music, and everyone comes running with their trash.  This is harder if you live on the fifth floor.  (My driver on the way into town claimed they were building all 30 story buildings, now, but in fact most of the apartments seem to still be 5 floors.)  My host tells me love stories are sometimes told about people waiting to unload their trash. 

* So maybe entropy won't have the last laugh, after all.

Friendship Presbyterian
church (mainlanders) and
Taiwan Presbyterian
heathy competition?
* I was walking along Roosevelt Road, trying to find a Friendship Presbyterian Church on Sunday.  I felt someone tugging on my day pack.  I looked around, to find a young Chinese man, walking with a limp, and with a large scar on his forehead.  He was zipping up my backpack!  "Don't worry, I'm not going to steal anything!"  He said, though talking in a way that suggested some mental disability.  He pointed to his scar, and said something about someone having done something to him once, but don't fear, he just wanted to make sure nothing fell out of my pack!  I thanked him, and told him I wasn't worried. 

* The dogs, by contrast, are mostly pretty unfriendly.  I hiked up a mountain behind where I'm staying yesterday, and got barked at by lots of dogs of the short-haired, business-like, native variety. They seemed to live at the temples on the mountain. I stopped at one resting spot, and two dogs came at me from different sides. I worked my way to the railing and picked up a brick, and they ran off. Then a little further up the trail, four dogs were standing on top of a large grave, barking at me. I picked up a stick, and they marched down off the grave, rather gravely, in the other direction.

* I stayed in the home of my friend Joshua in Caotun, near Taizhong, two nights ago.  It's a trilingual family: English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese: their two cute girls will get quite a start in life.  Joshua recorded an interview, which I expect will be on-line some time.

* Back in Taipei, and it's raining again.  I missed an appointment today, partly because of that rain.  "Heck it could be my fault." 

* Am also looking forward to meeting the founder of Cosmic Light, tomorrow or the next day.  He's an historian, and the publisher of the two remarkable books by Yuan Zhiming that I'm researching for my doctorate.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mount Tai: first mountain under Heaven.

Sleeper Train to the Zhou Enlightenment

My third "night train through history" was from Anyang in northern Henan Province, where the ancient Shang empire reached its greatest glory, including in human sacrifice, until it, too, fell into decay, to Tai An, in the shadow of Mount Tai at the center of the Shandong Peninsula jutting out towards Korea.  This small but more attractive city is not far from the home of a teacher whom we call Confucius.  The journey reprised the flow three thousand years ago from the Shang to the Zhou, and from harsh northern religious practice to what I like to call the Zhou Enlightenment.  (Which seems, like most true enlightenments, to have been partly inspired by faith in God.)  The original political center of the Zhou was also in the Yellow Valley, but it was as the Zhou empire split up into smaller states, and teachers like Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Lao Zi, and Zhuang Zi poured over early Zhou documents about a just God, that Chinese civilization found its moral core.
"Insurance is even weightier than
Tai Shan" -- a proverbial analogy
for anything of special importance,
with the actual Mount Tai in
the background.

Off the train, I quickly found another light yellow "Like Home" hotel facing me, after skirting a mess of new construction in the dark. This hotel chain seems to represent the rise of the prosperous middle classes in China. It's too expensive for most Chinese, but too cheap and casual for the wealthy. It's clean, predictable, bright, and reasonably comfortable. I've consistently stayed in these hotels on this trip, and had yet to see another foreigner. (A few Italians would show up the next day.) 

As at the Like Home hotel in Hangzhou, part of the homey feeling proved to come from needing to frequently chase staff away from the computer provided for guests.  Actually other staff did the chasing. 

The first day in town, I washed clothes, walked about 6 miles through town, and realized how tired and sore I was.  It drizzled much of the day.  My feet were sore, my right leg hurt, and my back was adding its monotanous tune to the chorus. 

The next morning dawned bright, and I determined to climb as far as I could, at whatever cost to the body.  It was Sunday, and there was a huge crowd at the bus station, with about ten lines some 20 deep each.  I got in the line for tour guides, was told my mistake, and went to the back of another line.  After much waiting, then another line for the buses, we finally set off.

I calculated how much money the state must make from this mountain: $100 million a year in gate sales alone, or more?  Plus hotels, buses, food, trinkets, souvenirs . . . No wonder the town looks well-off. 

I was surprised, though, to see a few villages and plots of garden clinging tenaciously to the slopes of the mountain, here and there.  This is how people have lived for thousands of years, and in much of China, this is more the norm than the tourist industry.  I noticed a few purple morning glories on these lower slopes -- a small token of the masses of this flower I saw on my last visit, some 20 years ago, earlier in the season. 

Here are a few photos from the hike itself, along with comments on the historical and spiritual significance of some of these scenes. 

The most famous stretch of the steep and long climb up Mt. Tai leads to South Heaven Gate, some 2000 granite steps ascending towards heaven.  Here are a portion of the steps. I took a fork in the trail to the right, which proved useful, because I avoided the crowds, and therefore got a chance to interview three hikers with my survey.  (One told me his climb was a kind of celebration because he had reached the age of 30 without getting married, and therefore felt that had earned him the right to remain free!)

Along most of the route up, are numerous vendors, displaying a wide variety of wares: drinks, herbal medicines, red clothes to tie to trees for blessings, photographs.  The stretch in this picture is unusually free of them.

In a sense, Mt. Tai is a hike through a world of visual cliches.  One can hardly take an original photograph when the best sites are marked with inscriptions, some of which are ancient, and thousands of lens are trained on them everyday.  Some of these inscriptions remind climbers of the special significance of this mountain, among all those in China: "Of the five peaks, deserving of unique honor;" "the first mountain under Heaven." 

Here emperors came to report on their rule to the one sentient being whom they recognized as of greater authority than themselves: "Shang Di" (God Above), or "Heaven."  This was the most weighty and significant ceremonial act in any emperor's reign. 

At this spot, supposedly, Confucius looked at the little peaks below, and said "Under Heaven is small."  "Under Heaven" is a phrase meaning "the empire," "all humanity or the world."  Heaven can also be understood as Confucius' name for the Supreme God, whom he recognized.  The phrase, then, while taken as a commonplace, expresses both the heart of Confucius' theology and his humility, as well as describing the most obvious physical fact visible from the summit of this peak which, much like the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, while not extraordinarily tall, is particularly prominent in Shandong Peninsula.  The humility this comment reflects -- the works of men are insignificant in the light of Heaven -- is the key to Confucius' power in Chinese history, as I explain in True Son of Heaven.   

"The wordless stele."  This was erected by Han Wudi, a century or so before Christ, just feet below the mountain's summit.  It expresses his inability to fully express his feelings on the summit of Mount Tai.  It is, in a sense, like the "altar to the unknown God" at which the Athenians worshipped.  It also reflects the most famous phrases in Lao Zi's great masterpiece: "The Way that is spoken, is not the true Way.  The Name that is Named, is not the true Name."  It is a fundamental expression of humility.  As Confucius recognized, one can know some things, and humility does not mean denying that which one can know.  But Lao Zi expressed a deep sense of insufficiency in the fact of the Ultimate, which he called Dao or the Way.  (The word "Dao" could also mean "to say," so the phrase runs, "the dao that can be daoed, is not the true dao" -- it sounds pithy in Chinese.) 

The summit itself is now occupied by a temple to the Jade Emperor, a Zeus-like figure, only less impetuous and more stately, as befits the top bureaucrat in the later Chinese concept of Heaven.  This is a late corruption of belief in the Supreme God.  There are other temples to popular deities lower down the mountain. But before they were constructed, Mount Tai was the most eminent place in China where prayer was made to God long before the time of Confucius, then down through Chinese history, by some of the greatest Chinese rulers.  A plaque at the summit memorializes the spot, in the temple to the Jade Emperor, where sacrifices were made. 

Inscriptions from the Tang and later dynasties are carved on this cliff face just below the summit. Like all the most famous scenes on Tai, one has to find a window of opportunity to take a picture here.  I took a train to the coast the next evening, then a ferry to Korea, and flew on to Taiwan.  Perhaps the most interesting part of that journey was a long and revealing conversation on the train with an interesting cast of characters, largely about the nature of modern China.  I'll save that for a later blog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Song of the South

Here are a few scenes in one of the most famous paintings in Chinese history.  Less than ten inches tall and seventeen feet long, in it, Zhang Zeduan sets out in magnificent and humane detail the "life in the city" of Kaifeng on the Qingming Festival: restaurants, people bartering, supping, working, here a boat leaving its moarings while all the city is occupied with its own concerns -- this is just a tiny part of the painting. 

This was the capital of China during the period known as the Northern Song. The Song was one of the greatest dynasties in Chinese history, not because it conquered vast swaths of territory, but for its art and poetry. Indeed, while no one doubts his talent in painting birds, or his artistic choices on which he lavished state funds, the famous Hui Zong emperor is sometimes blamed for not spending enough money on defending China from the Mongol tribes to the north. 

Mountain Path in Spring, by Ma Yuan, also called "One
Corner Ma" for his suggestive use of blank spaces.  Ma was
born near Hangzhou.

That's why the Northern Song was followed by the Southern Song, as the remnants of the ruling class (protected by the heroic general, Yue Fei) escaped to the southern city of Hangzhou, where the dynasty survived, and often thrived, another 152 years.  This was an inventive, cultured, and prosperous period in Chinese history, despite the sword (ultimately wielded by Ghenghis, then Kublai Khan) hanging over its neck.  The population boomed, art flourished, food production soared with new technologies, printing was popularized, and gunpowder was put to use against the Mongols. 

I stopped in Kaifeng, thinking to spend the night.  It was sad, though, to see what the city had come to. Compared to its Yellow River neighbors, Zhengzhou and Luoyang, it seemed a dismal, run-down place.  No cheery hotels were to be found, and really nothing of beauty: forlorn and crude restaurants, dismal three story buildings, back alleys with a lot of older people who look at you as if to say, "What is a foreigner doing on this God-forsaken lane?" 

In any case, it was clear this would not be a good place to conduct my survey, which is focused on China's intellectuals. 

So I caught a night train south to a probable city -- Hangzhou.  Geographically, this was a move from the drier northern valley of the Yellow River, to a lusher city further south, and near the coast.

For the only time on my trip, I shared a train with other westerners.  Two women and one man, all about 60, from Italy and France, were in the next alcove of bunks.  I used up much of my French trying to communicate with them, and they, their English, apparently.  How they communicated with the Chinese, I have no idea.  They shared their cheese and crackers with me -- an unexpected meal, but then traveling in China is always full of suprises.  There was also a young woman at the other end of the car, whom I took to be Russian, though I didn't hear her speak, and who could have been one of the Bond girls, by her looks.  I did talk with a Chinese graduate student from Kaifeng, who lamented how her home town had come down in the world, in its rivalry with Zhengzhou, a town which, she assured me, her fellow residents of Kaifeng despise.

One could see right away why the Song moved.  Hangzhou is everything Kaifeng is not: prosperous, mellow, modern but also preserving and remembering the old, thriving, full of sights that are worth seeing, places to walk, practice qigong, or contemplate. 

The haze which had remained over northern China for some days also reminded me that what often appears to make Chinese painting unique, often reflects genuine local conditions.  (Another such case is the shape of mountains in some paintings, which seem improbable to outsiders, but reflect the actual eccentricity of many Chinese peaks.)  Compare the sky in this photo over West Lake, for instance, to that in the painting by "One Corner Ma" above. 

One of my own favorite Chinese paintings is of a mother gibbon and baby in a tree, apparently near Hangzhou, also in this style, making suggestive use of fog and emptiness, with Zen intimations. 

There is a lot of city to my back here, by the way.  The walk along West Lake is really beautiful, full of tea houses, bamboo groves, and people exercising to someone's lead, strollers, night lights, and boats for charter to take you to an island, temples rising over the mist that surrounds the lake.  They've done a splendid, tasteful job of beginnning to restore this part of the city's glory.  The district is full of up-scale shops, boutiques, and expensive restaurants.  $20 for Teppanyaki, anyone?  Apparently that works for a lot of people, here, and by some, is more the lower end of the scale.  But the lake itself is, at the same time, a huge modern Chinese metropolis.  I went and got some noodles.

The old Song capital is to the left, and out of town: my leg was already hurting, and I didn't make it quite that far.

All this prosperity and softness does not seem to have made Hangzhou natives particularly mellow to one another, though.  I saw three public arguments break out in the day I spent in Hangzhou.  One involved some older, and obviously uneducated, women who were telling people as they walked along West Lake "Jesus Loves you," with a tape recording from the Book of Genesis playing in the background.  More sophisticated Chinese seemed to question, not their beliefs, but the propriety of ambushing people strolling in the park with this propaganda.  "But you play your music!"  It did not, indeed, seem an effective strategy in this city.

Nor did the city prove as useful for my research purposes as I had hoped.  So I did not stay long. 

Even the pollution in Hangzhou can be trendy.  Here's a Starbucks cup, floating on the West Lake.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Tang Conquest, by train

My host and I with
the great Timothy Richard.
There was also a photo of him
in the student's cafeteria, but the
university is less kindly
disposed to those of its students
who share his faith, I learned.  Note
the hazy skies.
I didn't plan the trip this way, but in retrospect, it seems I followed the footsteps of the founders of three great Chinese dynasty -- only rather than traveling by foot, in each case I took a night train, no doubt sleeping through many battlefields.  In the next three posts I'd like to recapitulate those journeys, describing a bit of what each shows about China along the way. 

My first stop in China was Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi Province, where I stayed for three days.  Beautiful old buildings are rare, aside from the Twin Pagodas, as they are popularly called, which we climbed.  The city is flanked on two sides by mountain ranges, which traps the air, like in Los Angeles or Taipei, making it a smoggy and dusty town when the wind forgets to blow.  This was the case during my visit, and so I was somewhat hard-pressed to compliment the city to friendly locals.  But people were so friendly and helpful in Taiyuan, and the work that I came to do was very successful.  I won't say much about the latter now (I may post later on what my results say about the New Atheism), only that it included a bit of field research to complete the chapter of my dissertation in greatest need of improvement. 

My hosts were extremely generous, along with helpful.  In fact, the food was so good it didn't require any desserts, just or otherwise.  Honestly, some of the best days of eating in my life.  (The rest of the trip, I ate more with a view to economy and convenience.)  The final night's tender white fish, cooked so succulently in red spices without losing its own gentle flavor, it practically hopped onto my chopsticks by itself, would by itself have been a superb main course.  Add delicate green balls of vegie the consistency of a light chocolate confection, dipped in a kind of strawberry sauce, delicious meat balls, a form of potato swimming in flavorful sauces that made me almost ashamed of our humble mashed potatoes and gravy, celery and peanut hors douvres, some of the best baozi I've had, added to good company and cool lanterns, made it a meal to cherish.  Remarkably, all this without a trace of ill aftereffects of holiday eating -- this stuff goes down easily.

Only the service was rather surly.

That was but one of four highly memorable meals.  My host started us off with a very expensive meal at what he claims, and I can believe, is the best restaurant in the city.  The food AND service were excellent.  Later we ate at a much less pricy noodle restaurant founded in the 19th Century.  It was nicely decorated in period pieces, and had the feel, rare in China, of an Udon shop in Japan, or an English pub.  The noodles were flavorful and delicious, hinting of spice and vinegar.  This was across the street from a school that was the old Shanxi University, founded by Timothy Richard with money from Boxer indemnities.  They wouldn't let us go in to see the inside, though. 

Finally, for lunch the next day we foraged in the dirty, messy back alley that serves the present Shanxi University as a combination "Snake Alley" (old Taipei) or "The Ave" (present Seattle).  An egg pocket sandwich loaded with lettuce, Muslim noodles (my host thinks they're more trustworthy than some other public eats), and potatoe chips on a stick, make from slicing one spud into a spiral, necessarily a little moister than conventional chips. 

Having completed my research, and cleaned some clothes, I followed the route of the Tang conquest of the Sui, rather approxiately, and took a night train south to the Yellow River Valley.  Li Yuan was a governor in the Shanxi area, under the Sui.  When it became clear the corrupt regime, bankrupt from attacking Korea and building the Grand Canal, was due to fall, a prophecy arose that someone surnamed Li would conquer the Sui.  This prophecy might have been partly self-fulfilling, since it encouraged Lis to revolt, and the government to suspect any powerful person with that name.  Eventually Li Shimin persuaded his father that the Sui would get them if they didn't act first, and the governor and his war-like sons moved south, eventually to conquer the city of Xian, then further west in the Yellow River Valley.

It was Li Shimin, now emperor of China, who greeted the first Christians known to arrive in China, the Nestorian missionaries who traveled overland and came to Chang An (Xian) in 630 AD.

Moderning China: this little doggy is NOT going to market.
My destination, admittedly, was further down stream: the city of Zhengzhou, not far from Luoyang, at times the eastern Tang capital -- the present capital of Henan Province, which would be about the 10th biggest country in the world were it independent.  (Also one of the centers of Christianity in China.)  After some searching, I found a clean hotel in my price range, managed to change to money (this all took hours), and set out to explore the city. 

Zhengzhou is not set in any dramatic natural geography, nor has it preserved any beautiful old buildings.  It's a governing center, a center for commerce, and home to millions of people -- but the town is clearly trying to make something of itself.  The modern center of life in the city seems to be a large square, with two lit pagodas constructed where it borders a major intersection, with a mass of lively shopping and eating places on the site of the square facing it.  This is a few blocks from the trainstation, but since the streets are at odd angles, it takes a bit of searching. 

You can't deny Peoples' Park in central Zhengzhou lives up to the aim implicit in its title.  Four or five heated pingpong battles are waged in one corner, fathers and sons, husbands and wives (some of the women are pretty good!), friends, the ball flying and spinning to my untrained eyes like Forrest Gump's contest in Beijing.  Children blow bubbles, and climb on rocks overlooking the canals.  Visitors photograph one another in front of late-season golden chrysanthemons and dahlias.  The dahlias in one prominent patch are probably each photographed dozens of times in a day.  (it is still a gritty city, in need of much more green to make it tolerable to a Seattlite.)  You can't say they don't get any love -- or CO2.  One orchestra plays nostalgic songs about missing one's home or the hills with about 100 middle aged people watching.  For how many does the song tell the story of their lives?  What has China lost, in being industrialized and urbanized?  What is the world losing? 

Song Shan, the "Central Mountain" of China's peaks representing the five directions, is a two hour bus ride from Zhengzhou.  I described my trip there in an earlier post.
Shaolin temple. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

If it's Tuesday, this must be Weihai

I'm catching my breath in Korea, before a flight tomorrow morning for Taiwan.  Friday morning I'm scheduled to speak to Cosmic Light in Taipei: I found out in Weihai, on the other side of the Yellow Sea, waiting for the passenger ship Golden Bridge.  (Registration: Panama, of course.)  Apparently I should speak in Chinese: since I haven't prepared this talk, and will be traveling all day tomorrow, this could be interesting.

I'm not suffering from jet-lag.  It's more like:

* Six night trains.  

* Five ancient capitals. 

* Four aching body parts. 

* Three sacred mountains (Song, Heng (恒山;南岳), and the greatest of all, Tai).  (Note: what to do if your back aches, both feet ache, your leg aches, and you've only had one night of sleep out of three?  Climb a precipitous 5000 foot mountain!  It worked wonders on all fronts, including sleeping the following evening, and even, surprisingly, the previously almost disabled leg.)

* Two + weeks on the road.

* And a hundred plus interviews left to translate.  (Thanks, A, for the help in Shanxi.)

I'll describe what is happening in China, and hopefully add a bunch of photos, as time and machines become available.

One thing that isn't happening in China, is Blogger; it seems the Chinese government isn't overly fond of American web sites.  Thanks to David Steinmetz for posting the past few blogs when I was unable.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Notes from Central China

* Two days ago I visited Mount Song, a couple hours by bus from the capital of Henan Province, Zhengzhou. This mountain is famous as the Central Peak of the five ancient sacred mountains of China, with each peak corresponding to a direction. (Tai Shan in Shandong is the greatest.) Emperors would fulfill their greatest duty by coming to each to sacrifice. The traditional Chinese religions are represented by three great temples: the Song Yang ("sunny side of the Song") Academy near the bottom of the peak, where some of China's greatest Confucian thinkers taught, perhaps under this tree, a Buddhist temple further up whose name escapes me at the moment, and Shaolin Temple, which in theory is Zen.

* The best as far as I'm concerned was the Confucian academy. Quiet after noisy Chinese cities, peaceful with bamboo groves, and holding an ancient cypress said to have been promoted (feng) by Han Wu Di some century before Christ, one person there told me it was 4000 years old. The tree still had many healthy limbs, though its thick branches were supported by pillars in places, and surrounded by a field of clover. Very lovely.

* A girl on the bus volunteered to help me with Chinese, assuming, of course, that as I foreigner I didn't speak any. She went to cooking school in Shenzhen, and has been living in Australia for 5 years, but has an American boyfriend. She was traveling with her family, whom she doesn't see often, and was obviously delighted to be with her parents again. I probably only understood 60-70% of the tour guide's rapid explanations, with a touch of a local accent, so was glad of a little help. (She didn't really explain much, though.)

* The tour guide at the Buddhist temple rounded on her sharply for (he supposed) taking pictures inside the temple. "Didn't I say at the very beginning of the tour not to take pictures? Are you a foreigner?" (And therefore, implicitly, lovably or contemptibly stupid by definition?) Being a man of strong natural authority, this must have felt crushing; the girl explained to him that she (a), didn't know much about Buddhism, and (b), to me later that she was not taking a picture, and (c), people in temples in Thailand never objected.

* His Chinese was easier to follow, and he gave a good, highly evangelical, explanation of Buddhism along with the temple's peculiarities.

* Shaolin temple is the star tourist attraction here. It is surrounded by hotels and gongfu schools, where thousands of boys (saw no girls) dressed in red run through their fighting exercises in smaller groups. It is a little intimidating. But I walked past Shaolin, which is overly commercialized, skipped the show they put on of fighting monks, and headed up the hill behind it, ignoring the trams, wanting to experience the mountain itself. I could still hear the sacharine sounds of Buddhist Muzak on a loudspeaker most the way up. But I enjoyed the autumn trees, of which there was a large variety, till the trail finally ended at the top of the tram, below a high cliff.

* I talked with a Buddhist monk on the way down. He was about 70; he said he'd been a monk since he was 9. How about during the Cultural Revolution? I asked. "We hid in the mountains and they couldn't find us," he answered. "What kind of Buddhist are you? Pure Land? Zen?" "Acupuncture," he said, showing me his needles.

* The hotel I stayed at was in a derelect little village about a mile from Shaolin Temple. The hotel was peculiar because it was run by a bossy local who seemed more like a farmer, and kept on trying to get me to order a meal, as if I had no choice but to eat there, and I was his only support (though there were other guests), then tried to get me to order a bunch of expensive stuff. (I just ordered noodle soup.) I had to ask for a towel, and got two skimpy pieces of cloth that didn't do much. The owner tried to get me to order a taxi the next day, and pay about three times what I ultimately did pay to get to Zhengzhou by buses. The hotel was clean enough, though, and the air was clearner than in polluted Chinese cities.

* Waiting for the bus, a little dog sits in the middle of a four-lane highway. He is attentive to a large yellow dog about 300 yards downstream, but ignores all vehicles. Trucks loaded with machinery and vans honk at him, and he reluctantly picks himself up and sits in another lane, or -- his favorite spot -- on the line between two lanes. Vehicles that merely swerve to avoid him are not spared a glance, any more than the orc chieftain attacking Gondor to flying missiles. This seems to work for him, at least in the short run, and is no great aberration in China, where driving is a much less linear activity than in the US, at the best of times. (Crossing a street, one wades through each lane of traffic in turn, circumnavigates buses, motorcycles, etc.)

* On the bus, I gave my survey to a self-educated young lady of the Tujia minority who engaged me in conversation. When she was growing up, she said, she sometimes heard the cries of female infants who had been thrown out to the wolves or bears. Some accused her mother of doing the same with one daughter, though she didn't buy that. Given this attitude of despising girls, I understood her choosing We Ze Tian as one of her favorite Chinese rulers on my survey, as many women do. She admitted the stories of what Wu had done to her own children gave her pause, but she didn't believe them: "No mother would do a thing like that. I can't believe it." This struck me as ironic, but she told me, "I'm an optimist. I don't pay attention to the bad things." She was a very sharp lady, who had read many books in English, including Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything, and gave me advice about publishing in China.

* I'm in Zhengzhou now, the capital of Henan Province. It's a huge city, and it took some searching to find a hotel at a reasonable price that accepts foreigners. One I stopped at was called "Friendship Hotel," with a sign saying that in English, but inside they said "We don't accept foreign guests." Some friendship.

* I wandered all day through the streets of Zhengzhou, passing thousands or tens of thousands of people. Late in the afternoon I came across a young western man with a full head of curly hair in the company of a Chinese woman -- the first westerner I'd seen all day. "There goes another one," said a Chinese man to his friend as I passed, in the tone of a man who had seen two bad omens in a row.

* After some searching, I stopped at a Chinese fast-food restaurant for dinner. The young man at the next table tried to explain the ordering procedure, but I somehow wound up with fried rice instead of noodles. I said, "No problem! This will do just fine." Someone behind the counter came in for recriminations anyway.

The man at the next table asked what country I was from. He then asked if I believed in Jesus. He turned out to be an evangelist from another part of northern Henan. He grew up as a Christian, but was "very bad." When he injured his leg, an evangelist came to pray for him, and he was able to sleep, finally. This renewed his faith, and he became an evangelist. He knew all about Reinhold Bocke's crusades in Africa, and about the churches in Korea -- he had a passport, and the countries he most wanted to visit were Korea and Israel. Almost every town in his country has a church, he said, looking at my map and going through towns printed on it one by one.

I got the feeling, talking with this young man, that I was being evaluated, that my foreigness was secondary (for once) to the quality of my faith. He also made no effort to speak any English, and obviously didn't care, as most Chinese young people do.

He told me of miraculous healings to people he knew, and asked me about my own experiences.

Zhang was also a fan of Yuan Zhiming's sermons, which he had heard on CD. "I'd really like to hear Yuan preach," he said. We had a wonderful conversation, and parted, hoping to keep in touch.

* This morning I went in search of Shang Dynasty remains. Some of them turned out to be in a little park I'd passed through the night before, whose bushes a couple men had mistaken for a public loo. This morning, the huge faux bronze set on a pillar with scribblings of scenes from (obviously slave, fitting the Marxist storyline) Shang society in faux Shang style, is surrounded by qigong and badmitten enthusiasts. There is no further explanation about the little hill in the park, and what was found there, other than the legend "Shang Dynasty remains," plus the modern art in Shang style. (Well-done though. If only public art in the West were so good.) All this one pedestrian overpass from the modern outdoor mall that seems to have become the hub of the city for stylish young people . . . dancing over the graves of their ancestors, no doubt. Well, the Shang emperors deserved it, the cruel SOBs. Long live the slaves!

I also found a vast "inner wall" of the Shang about half a mile north, running several city blocks long, and being reconstructed, with tin screens around the work, which had gaps in it occasionally, so one could peek through. This wall encloses a huge space within modern Zhengzhou, which was once one of five Shang capitals, before the time of King David. Two others were at Shangqiu and Anyang (both also in northern Henan); I'm not sure if the other two have been found. One document in the Book of History tells how the emperor divined to decide whether or not to move the capital, against the opposition of some significant political faction: it was after this that the capital was moved to Anyang.

The city of Luoyang, a few dozen miles west of here, also has a long history as capital of China in later dynasties, and was said to have been founded by the Duke of Zhou in the early Zhou, where he gave a brow-beating speech to the conquered nobles of the Shang, and told them to man up, sacrifice for the new dynasty, accept their subservient status, and they would get along just fine in the new order, thank you very much.

The Zhou would prove a much more human rule, ultimately, with the help of Confucius and Lao Zi & Co, but human sacrifice was still common in the early Zhou.

This is, indeed, the "Cradle of Chinese Civilization."

I also found a vast "inner wall" of the Shang about half a mile north, running several city blocks long, and being reconstructed, with tin screens around the work, which had gaps in it occasionally, so one could peek through. This wall encloses a huge space within modern Zhengzhou, which was once one of five Shang capitals, before the time of King David. Two others were at Shangqiu and Anyang (both also in northern Henan); I'm not sure if the other two have been found. One document in the Book of History tells how the emperor divined to decide whether or not to move the capital, against the opposition of some significant political faction: it was after this that the capital was moved to Anyang.
The city of Luoyang, a few dozen miles west of here, also has a long history as capital of China in later dynasties, and was said to have been founded by the Duke of Zhou in the early Zhou, where he gave a brow-beating speech to the conquered nobles of the Shang, and told them to man up, sacrifice for the new dynasty, accept their subservient status, and they would get along just fine in the new order, thank you very much.

The Zhou would prove a much more human rule, ultimately, with the help of Confucius and Lao Zi & Co, but human sacrifice was still common in the early Zhou.

This is, indeed, the "Cradle of Chinese Civilization."

"When you snatch the tourist
souvenir from my hand,
glasshoppa, it will be time
for you to leave."  Shaolin temple,
money machine.