International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

IVU News

The Chinese Vegetarian Society
IVU News 2-97

There are no problems!... It's overcoming your own attitudes rather than others. Legislative Councillor Christine Loh, a vegetarian of many years standing, in a talk entitled "Vegetarianism: Breaking through Social Barriers."

photoThe two vegetarian societies in Hong Kong, one English speaking and one Chinese speaking, merged in 1996 under the leadership of Dr. Simon Chau. The English speaking society, founded by Jan Moor in 1995, organised events and cookery courses and published a very informative newsletter. Jan, who teaches at the raja yoga centre in Dragon Road, behind the Tin Hau temple, sees vegetarianism as more than just a way of eating: Part of vegetarianism is more peace, non-violence, taking better care, better attitudes, quieting down, she explains; in short, a focus on the beautiful side of nature that can get lost in the rush of Hong Kong.

Jan herself is a shining example of her own philosophy, exuding peace, kindness and patience even while struggling through the teeming streets of downtown Hong Kong. In 1995, she commented that animal rights had taken a back seat to health issues at that stage, but that once we become more established we may be able to venture into that. And so indeed they have to such an extent that the vigorous and effective animal protection group, EarthCare, brought to life by vegan Dr.John Wedderburn is continuing to expand rapidly under the leadership of Ng Wai Yee. The yoga centre was also the venue for a talk by IVU Deputy President Maxwell Lee earlier this year, which was clearly a memorable occasion and was favourably commented upon by all who attended it.

The Chinese speaking society, under the leadership of Dr.Simon Chau, has grown from a mere 50 members in October 1995 to more than 1,000 in April 1997. Dr. Chau attributes the phenomenal increase in interest to more widespread appreciation of the health benefits and the increasing prevalence of western-type diet-related diseases. People still argue about nutritional details and moral issues, but I think things are changing our way because, if nothing else, there is more and more scientific data in our favour. Dr.Chau notes a significant change in attitudes over the past decade: ridicule was the regular reaction 10 years ago, and even five years ago many people regarded vegetarianism as superstitious and unscientific, but now it is becoming widely respected.

The underlying Buddhist tradition is a blessing in some ways, but a problem in others: the local Christians, for instance, regard vegetarianism as somehow a victory for the opposition and thus tend to be against it! However, vegetarian restaurants are multiplying rapidly and vegetarian products are becoming increasingly easy to obtain from the burgeoning health food shops and supermarkets jumping on the bandwagon, eager to cash in on the new trend. Moreover, tofu is a traditional Chinese food and there is no dairy tradition. Mainland China, too, is becoming more aware of the dangers of the western diet and a recent announcement that children should be encouraged to drink more milk was rapidly corrected to an announcement that soy milk was to be provided in schools nationwide.

Simon Chau grew up in the countryside of the New Territories on the southernmost tip of the Chinese mainland with a love of nature rather than of shopping malls. A former cross-country champion, he was greatly impressed by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. He graduated in 1970 and has worked as a teacher, editor, graphic designer, instructional television producer and presenter, newspaper columnist, radio talk show host and freelance translator and interpreter. Foreseeing the dangers of ecological disaster, famine and civil war, he co-founded the influential Greenpower in 1988 and Produce Green, Hong Kongs first commercial organic farm, in 1989.

A university assistant professor and expert on the art of translation, Dr.Chau gives frequent speeches and seminars and media interviews on subjects from environmental protection and animal rights to health and diet. He has published more than 60 books translations, adaptations and creative works of his own, covering topics from green philosophy to organic farming, vegetarianism, ethics, education, third world issues, social issues, meditation, and fables for adults and children. A vegetarian of some 15 years standing, he gave up meat before learning anything about the health benefits and over the years has come closer and closer to a purely plant-based diet, phasing out animal products gradually but determinedly. He subsequently became aware of the enormous health benefits as well as the more spiritual aspects of the vegetarian lifestyle, becoming interested in meditation and qi gong. Married with two children, he believes that the people of Hong Kong have a vital role to play in the greening of China, which is of paramount importance for the well-being of the planet in the coming century.

The Chinese Vegetarian Society meets every Saturday at the Kung Tak Lam vegetarian restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, has its own monthly newsletter and organises a variety of events. Although only one meeting per month is conducted in English, there is no need to speak Chinese to feel perfectly at home at any of the extremely well attended and friendly meetings, which regularly attract up to 200 participants. During the morning the core members of the society work hard to prepare the free Zen luncheon to show people there is good will in the world. Recipients are asked not to thank the society, but to pass on that good will to others they encounter. In the afternoon, there is a qi gong session, stalls offering green literature, organic vegetables etc. and then a guest speaker. In the evening the core group have a communal meal and discuss upcoming projects. People become vegetarian for a variety of reasons, whether health, environmental or humanitarian reasons: I chose all three, says Dr. Chau, though compassion was the prime reason; I dont like killing animals and I feel guilty if an animal dies for me: I think it is wrong.

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.