An Australian psychotherapist practicing in Shanghai incorporates Buddhist and Taoist concepts, as well as Eastern mindfulness training. A Russian graduate student in international commerce sings Peking Opera and Huangmei Opera. An American college student studies language and calligraphy for the summer.
They are among the increasing number of people drawn to China not only to learn Chinese but also to steep themselves in Chinese philosophy, arts and culture. They come for personal development.
Psychotherapist Malcolm Hunt from Australia has lived in China for eight years, including five years at a temple near Tianmu Mountain in Zaoxi Town, Zhejiang Province. With more than 20 years in mental health field, today he counsels expatriates in Shanghai, many of whom are under stress over relocation, a new culture, personal relationships and old problems they thought they had left behind.
In his view, more and more people are coming to China to experience Eastern culture. “Twenty years ago, many visitors came to see the scenery and sights, 10 years ago they came to do business, and more are coming to experience the culture,” he tells Shanghai Daily in an interview.
He occasionally gives talks at the Shanghai Institute of Language and Culture.
A Buddhist since 1986, Hunt says he was greatly influenced by a Buddhist master when he first came to China and was distressed over the failure of a personal relationship.
“I personally experienced the mindfulness approach to be one that was freeing as well as logical. I have further refined my own practice of mindfulness and meditation for the past five years in a temple in Zhejiang,” says Hunt, who took vows.
“When I was in Australia, my mother and father were interested in Chinese art and opera,” Hunt says. Though my mother could not speak Chinese, she would take me to see Chinese opera whenever it was staged. In my teens I was drawn to Taoism and poetry in translation.”
Hunt says Chinese culture can best be understood not as a single culture but as cultures within a culture. “Each region has its particular signature yet there are behaviors and ways of doing things that can be described as very Chinese.”
He is drawn by China’s thousands of years of history and contributions to world literature, as well as the “strong sense of community and belonging,” which is palpable in Chinese society. “The more I have absorbed Chinese culture into my blood stream, the more I have felt part of society, as it is the Chinese nature to welcome you into their family of friendships,” he adds.
Draw of Chinese culture
The draw of Chinese culture is evident at his temple in Zhejiang where foreigners came to experience Chinese Buddhist and rural culture. “Many flew thousands of kilometers just to do this one thing. As China has made it easier for tourists to come here, I think many are coming to see for themselves that China is a culturally rich and peaceful nation, with much more to offer the world than just exports.
“My passion is to promote Chinese Buddhist culture in its breadth of art, music, poetry and teachings,” Hunt says. “I hope to be a bridge between East and West.”
Ekaterina Svitaylo from Tomsk, Russia is fluent in Chinese and can perform excerpts from classical regional operas, such as Peking Opera and regional Huangmei Opera popular in Anhui Province.
The woman in her 20s was a finalist in the 6th Chinese Bridge Proficiency Competition for Foreign Students in China hosted by China Central Television and the Confucius Institute.
This year hundreds of foreign students from around 200 colleges participated. It is aired on CCTV 4 and the final will be staged from August 20 to 29.
Contestants introduce themselves, demonstrate a talent, such as singing, and chat with the judges, in Chinese.
Svitaylo is unable to be in China for the finals this month. “It’s a pity but my love for China’s diverse and brilliant culture is unending,” she tells Shanghai Daily.
Today she is a post-graduate student in international commerce at Shanghai University.
“I love wandering the tree-lined streets of downtown Shanghai and I have visited a Russian orthodox church there,” she says. She also enjoys the Bund with its classic European architecture.
Svitaylo can perform excerpts from the classical Huangmei Opera “The Female Consort” as well as the Peking Opera episode “Su San Leaves Hongtong County.”
She has had voice training so singing is not too difficult, she says, “but the real challenges are the complicated body movements, gestures and facial expressions. Even finger movements have nuanced meaning.”