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Could China lead the World?
IVU News 2-97

Have a compassionate heart towards all creatures. Respect the old and cherish the young. Even insects, grass and trees you must not harm. [Attr. Ko Hung, 284-363AD, Confucian-Taoist]

photoBy the time you read this, the unification of the tiny but frenetically successful British colony of Hong Kong and its huge and mainly rural neighbour will have taken place and the optimism expressed by so many people on all sides will finally be put to the test. From the point of view of the environment, the result will be vital not just for China but for the world. At present most of the population of China are vegetarian, if only from sheer necessity, consuming animal products only very rarely. If China can restore to Hong Kong its traditional high-fibre, low-fat diet, and if Hong Kong can extend to China its belated attempts to save its unique wildlife, and if both can tackle the terrible pollution in the area, then yes, perhaps the new China can and will save the world. But if a thousand million Chinese are seduced by the fat-laden flesh-and-burger culture of the west, if Hong Kong lapses into a complete disregard for the rights of other living beings, and if both continue to pollute the environment at the present rate, then ultimately the future of the whole planet must be in question. If this huge population turns from a natural diet of rice and vegetables to the wasteful and unhealthy practice of meat eating, then not just they but the whole earth will be doomed because the planet just cannot sustain it.

The hope must therefore be that the best of both worlds will be shared and enhanced -- China's healthy plant-based diet and the growing movement towards conservation and compassion in Hong Kong. And that is the basis for the optimism of many Chinese people -- not least the two IVU-affiliated societies, EarthCare and the Chinese Vegetarian Society -- in their approach to the change in sovereignty. In favour of the creation of a new and compassionate culture is the present healthy diet of most mainland Chinese and the underlying Buddhist tradition of non-violence. A factor working against this ideal has been the temptation for colonies to import the worst rather than the best from their colonial rulers -- for example, the sickening spectacle of bullfighting in Macau to celebrate the opening of the new airport attracted strong protests. Hong Kong has been successful despite not because of -- the depredations of the western diet. The success of its people has been due to hard work and intelligence -- qualities no less common among their mainland brethren, many of whom have settled in Hong Kong and contributed to its success -- and certainly not to the degenerate western practice of stuffing their arteries with cholesterol three times a day.

A firm believer in the future of this great country is Dr. Simon Chau, who now runs the 1000-strong Chinese Vegetarian Society, a worthy and rapidly expanding successor to the English-speaking society founded by Jan Moor. Another is Ng Wai Yee, president of EarthCare -- an enthusiastic and highly effective environmental group originally founded by Dr. John Wedderburn. Far from letting things lapse, the tendency is clearly for the Chinese inheritors of these movements to "pick up the ball and run" and it looks as though, in co-operation with their compatriots on the mainland, they may achieve the miracles that the original founders could only imagine. Last but not least -- in the long term, at any rate -- there is the new vegan group organised by Eva Wong, whose members meet regularly on their own account as well as contributing their many talents to other groups in the green movement. These people are not foreigners attempting to impose an alien concept, but native Chinese activists whose aim is the greening of a great nation and who believe that they will win: if they do not, the whole world will feel the consequences.

photoFor many families, the first meal of the Chinese new year is vegetarian as it is regarded as bad to take life as the first action in the new year. In South China, many elderly people abstain from meat on the first day of the new year to ensure a long and happy life. On the second day, some people make symbolic gestures such as returning carp to the rivers as a sign of love and compassion. On this day, dogs are treated well as it is believed that the second day of the lunar new year is the birthday of all dogs. According to certain ancient texts, the first eight days of the new year are dedicated as follows: the first to chickens, the second to dogs, the third to pigs, the fourth to sheep, the fifth to oxen, the sixth to horses, the seventh to human beings and the eighth to grains. It is believed that if those days are clear and bright the respective creatures born on those days will mature well and be healthy. If the days are dark, then they will be doomed. On the seventh day of the new year farmers display their produce, a celebration drink is prepared from seven types of vegetables, and noodles are eaten for longevity. The colourful lantern festival takes place on the first full moon of the lunar year. Oranges and peaches are the traditional fruits of this festival, the symbol of good omens.

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