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WORLD LEISURE No. 1/2009. Copyright by the authors

 

Social Transformation:

The Value of Traditional Leisure Culture of China Revisited

 

 

Abstract

 

  In the 5000-year-long history of Chinese culture, leisure culture has played an important role in passing on Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist culture. However, for more than a century now, with the Chinese society undergoing several great social transformations, China's tradition of leisure culture has been mutilated more and more and fallen in disorder.? Since the 1980s, especially, the Chinese society has entered a new stage of transformation -- that of modernization.? The economy has been growing rapidly, the industrial structure has seen major reformations, and the culture has become diversified, multifaceted, and multi-layered.? With the infiltration by elements of modernization, vogues, and Westernization, the essence of leisure values has been much tainted by materialism, which has accelerated the deconstruction and reconstruction of traditional leisure values.? It is in such a background that we call on people to look back to the value of traditional leisure culture, in the hope that we will thus be able to find a new approach for different expectations people have for sustainable development and harmonious society.

 

Key words: Social transformation, wisdom on leisure, sustainable development

 

 

Land mail address:

 

Ma Huidi

Center for Leisure Studies, Chinese Academy of Art

1 Huixinbeili, Room 2521

Beijing, 100029, China

 

Tel. & Fax: 86-10-64813408? 64813409? 83117612

Email: mahuidi@china.com

Website: www.chineseleisure.org

 

Liu Er

Building No. 16, Apt. 504

Harbin Institute of Technology at Weihai

2 Wenhua West Road

Weihai, Shandong, 264209, China

 

Tel. 86-631-5687825

Email: liuer62@126.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Meaning of Leisure in China's Cultural Tradition

 

  The meaning of leisure can be traced far back in the cultural tradition of China.? First we can look at the etymology of the characters that make up the word "leisure" (xiuxian).

  As is well-known, Chinese characters originated as pictographs.? For example, the xiu in xiuxian depicts a person leaning against a tree to take a rest.? In inventing this character, the ancients already had it carry the idea of harmony between human beings and Nature.? And the traditional form for the character xian contains the character yue (the moon), alluding to a poetic scene of a person looking at the moon in a leisurely mood, a scene that represents the purity of man and good life.

  Etymologically, xiu and xian can also be understood in the following way:

  In the Kangxi Dictionary (an authoritative dictionary compiled during the Kangxi reign of the Qing Dynasty), definitions of xiu include auspiciousness, joyfulness, goodness, and blessings.? In the poem "Jingjing zhe e" (The Lush Cowherb) in The Minor Hymns of The Book of Odes is said, "When I was able to see my love, my heart was full of joy" (ji jian junzi, wo xin ze xiu).? In his famous annotation of The Book of Odes, Zheng Xuan thus explains, "xiu means joyful".? In Jingyi Shuwen (Interpretation of the Book of Odes as the Author Has Learned), Wang Yinzhi gives a similar explanation.? In a poem entitled "Wanqiu Xi Yu" (Enjoying the Rain in Late Autumn), the Tang poet Li Qiao wrote, "The farmers are happy for a bountiful year, and the whole world is celebrating this time of blessings." (jiunong huan sui fu, wanyu qing shi xiu). ? As Shuowen has it, xiu is a person leaning against a tree.? That this character shoud depict such a scene also reflects the Chinese understanding of man's relationship with -- and their worship of -- Nature.

  The character xian has as its derivative meanings morality and law, and thus contains an element of constraint and discipline.? Xian() can be used to mean xian(), which means refinement and the purity and peacefulness of mind.? The "Da Zongshi" chapter of Zhuangzi says, "His mind is at peace (xian) and untroubled", and Sun Chuo's "You Tiantaishan Fu" (The Touring of Mt. Tiantai), which was selected for Wenxuan says, "Upon finishing our tour of the whole Mt. Tiantai, we rested our bodies, and our minds were at peace (ti jing xin xian)."? Citing an annotation of Chuci楚辞 (The Songs of Chu) which has now been lost, Li Shan in his annotation of Wenxuan says, "xian means peacefulness", and "xian means refinement of character." ? Thus, the ancients understood xian not simply as a length of free time used for recreation, but also a particular state of mind.? The unique cultural content of leisure gives expression to the dialectic relationship between work and rest in human life, and is a metaphor for the spiritual life that is beyond the physical life.

  It is evident, then, that the Chinese concept of leisure contains three harmonious relationships between xiu and xian.

  First, we have the harmony between human beings and Nature, with humans being considered part of Nature.? Thus, we should not wantonly offend Nature, but should take the reverence of Nature to be natural.? In ancient times, the Chinese used the term tiandi天地 (heavens and the earth) to mean Nature and treated them as divine.? The earth receives the seeds of the five grains and care for the six domestic animals, enabling people to live in abundance, while the heavens bestows sunlight and rain, as well as the cyclic four seasons.? The beauty of Nature nourishes and edifies humanity.

  Secondly, we have the harmony among people.? In general, people all like to pursue auspiciousness, joyfulness, goodness, and blessings as their goals in life.? The attainment to these goals is dependent on the sincerity, honesty, and purity of people's minds, and on rules and constraints in terms of morality and discipline.? Therefore, xian can mould people's character, helping to create a harmonious relationship among people.? This is one of the most valuable cultural heritage from the Chinese tradition.

  Thirdly, there is the harmony between man and himself, namely, the harmony between body and mind, between action and repose, between the brain and the body, and between being busy and being in leisure.? It also implies the pursuit of a joyful life and a concern for the spiritual life beyond material production.? Only when one is in a state of leisure and inaction (wuwei) is he capable, as an individual, of feeling joy and harmonizing the myriad things, and thus becoming an outstanding person.

  The "three harmonies" associated with leisure are also embodied in Confucian and Daoist thinking.

  The Confucian tradition emphasizes governing through rites and establishing benevolent rule and advocates "starting from poetry, laying a sound foundation for society through rites, and reaching the ideal society through music", with great importance being assigned to recreation, which is embodied in the six arts of rites, music, archery, chariot-driving, calligraphy, and arithmetics .? For the Confucians, a rich and colorful lesirue life is man's aesthetic activity in its most sublime form.

  The Daoists stressed "quiet observation of the mysterious" as a path to the Dao (, the Way), highlighting the introspective nature of man and his withdrawal from the world and emphasizing the individual's capacity for comprehending.? "The Dao generates it, virtue (de) preserves it, matter gives it form, and circumstances brings it to fruition.? Thus, myriads of things all venerate the Dao and value virtue.? The venerability of the Dao and the high value of virtue are not designated by anyone, but come to be naturally." (Laozi, ch. 51)? Thus, the Daoists believe that we should "always follow the Dao", have the Golden Mean (zhong) as the measure of things and peacefulness (ping) as our expectation, so as to realize the coordination and harmony between man's inner world and the external environment.? The beauty of humanity is thus perceived and constructed.

??? Through xinzhai心斋 (spiritual fasting) and zuowang坐忘 (sitting still to let all thoughts and desires diminish to the extent where one forgets the world and even one's self), Zhuangzi aims at the calming down of inner tensions, movement in accord with time, identification with the world, and thus adaption to all kinds of circumstances.? "Those who comprehends the virtue of tiandi know that it is the primordial source in harmony with the heavens and that it works to smooth out the differences among things and is in harmony with humanity.? What is in harmony with humanity is called the music of man, and what is in harmony with heavens is called the celestial music." (the "Tiandao" 天道 (heavenly Dao) chapter in Zhuangzi)? Following this tradition, xiaoyao you逍遥游 (free and easy wandering) where one "wanders beyond the four seas" and "appreciates the great beauty of heavens and earth" became the ultimate wisdom of the Chinese with regard to leisure.

  A search conducted by Dr. Zhou Yongsheng of Renmin University of China on the Four Books, the Five Classics, the Lushi Spring and Autumn, and other historical sources reveals that the ancients seldom used the word xiuxian.? The word was used for the first time after the Western Han Period for the earliest.? In volume 100 of the Northern Histories of the Twenty-Five Histories in Dr. Zhou's own collection is found the following, "When the land was laid fallow (xiuxian), he always concentrated on his own reading and declined all social activities" , which appears to be the earliest incidence for the use of the word xiuxian.

  Xiuxian became a word in popular usage in the early 1990s, first as a modifier for certain styles of garments, shoes, and caps, e.g., xiuxian yi (casual wear), xiuxian xie (sneakers), xiuxian mao (tourist cap).? In the 1984 edition of Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (an authoritative dictionary of modern chinese), xiuxian was defined as "(arable land) being laid fallow for a season or a whole year, e.g., xiuxian di (fallow land)."? Though the definition is intended on something in the natural world, it reveals a law followed by all things, that without xiuxian, no life can continue, not to mention the harmony and splendor of the world.

 

Leisure: A Unique Wisdom of the Chinese

 

  From ancient times to the present day, leisure, as a special cultural form, has often permeated people's lifestyles and behavioral patterns widely as a force that is direct, intimate, free, sentimental, and humanizing.? Not only has leisure aided human beings in a biological sense, helping them to recover their physical strength and energy, but through meaningful leisure activities people have brought forth many beautiful fruits -- spiritual sublimation and the release of humanistic concern and creativity.

  Sages and worthies of China's past often associated leisure closely with natural philosophy, personal cultivation, aesthetic tastes, art and literature, and the cultivation of longevity.? It is this wisdom about leisure that gave rise to great works of literature all the way from The Book of Change, Laozi, The Analects, "Xiaoyao You" (a chapter of Zhuangzi), The Book of Odes, The Songs of Chu, the Han Odes (hanfu汉赋), the parallel verses (pianwen骈文) of the Wei-Jin Periods, the Tang poems, the Song lyrics, the Yuan drama, and to short essays written by the literati of the Qing Period in their leisure, as well as gestated the cultural trait of hehe合和 (union of and harmony among different elements).

  Although ordinary people of ancient times were much limited in the scope of their leisure activities, we can still easily identify a large variety of excellent cultural creations among the general populace, such as Tai Ji, Qi Gong, Chinese Kungfu, temple fairs, hawking, aviculture, fish watching, fishing, guessing games, yinglian楹联 (couplets hung on the columns of halls), poetry societies, academies (shuyuan书院), kite-flying, shuttlecock-kicking, boxing, tea-sipping, book fairs, gardens, Chinese painting, quyi , wind and stringed instruments, drama, calligraphy, metal and stone inscriptions, and so on, that represent the cream of Chinese culture.? These cultural creations give expression to the intelligence and wisdom of the Chinese people, their morality and ethics, and their hardworking and kindheartedness.

  The poet Tao Qian of the Eastern Jin Period wrote the lines "Picking chrysanthemum at the fence east to my abode, I chanced to see the mountains in the south."? In his short essay "Lin'gao Xianti" (spare time chat at Lin'gao), The Song poet Su Shi noted, "rivers, mountains, wind, and the moon -- none of these has a definite master.? It is those who know how to enjoy leisure that receive their services."? And the literary master Lin Yutang of the modern era wrote in The Art of Life, "I would be greatly satisfied as long as I am allowed to befriend grass and trees and to get close to the land.? My soul feels a great joy as it creeps comfortably in soil.? When inebriated with the feel of the land, one's soul feels so relieved, as if it is in the Heaven."

  This kind of wisdom helps us to realize that "the leisure life is not a privilege limited to the rich and the successful only, but a product of a carefree mind….? This kind of frame of mind is produced from being philosophical.? Being rich is not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the leisurely life, nor are the rich necessarily able to have the joy of such a life.? Only he who does not set too much stock with money can really appreciate the joy therein.? He has to have a rich mind, love the simple life, and refuses to be occupied with how to make more money." (Lin Yutang).? Admittedly, Lin is being a bit too idealistic here, and this theory of his is rather far away from market laws.? But in terms of purifying people's spiritual world, it is not difficult for us to see that his words contain a noble, clear, profound, and beautiful wisdom about leisure.

  The spiritual heritage in The Book of Change and Laozi, in Confucius and Mencius' teachings, and in Tang poems and Song lyrics, which have spread far and wide in the world, is the sublime wisdom and belief of the Chinese people as well as a lifestyle expressed through leisure in the cultural tradition of China.

 

Where Lies the Value of Leisure in the Chinese Tradition?

 

  From our interpretation of the meanings of leisure and description of the traditional wisdom of the Chinese regarding leisure, we can perceive the value of leisure at least at two levels.

  First, at the level of practical life, the purpose of leisure is to satisfy people's physiological, psychological, and spiritual needs, to mould and elevate people's spirituality by making entertainment a medium for education, and to promote all-rounded development of the individual.? The existence of leisure is crucial especially for developing harmonious relationships between human beings and Nature, among different people, and between the individual and his/her self.

  For example, in the traditional agrarian society of China, the basic economic mode was one of self-sufficiency, and the living standard for ordinary people was "be content with a decent amount of wealth".? What was the standard for "a decent amount of wealth"?? In terms of material life, there was the saying, "An acre of land, two heads of cattle, a wife plus a few kids, together with a warm bed to sleep on."(yi mu di, liang tou niu, laopo haizi re kangtou); and in terms of spiritual life, we have the saying, "With the habit of pursuing learning, the family can long continue; and with honesty and integrity the house will last long."? With these standards, people are apt to maintain close relationships with Nature, with neighbours, and with family members.

  Confucius praised his disciple Yan Hui by saying "A small basket of rice to eat, a gourdful of water to drink, and living in a mean street -- others would have found it unendurably depressing, but Hui's cheerfulness is not affected by it at all."? Zhuangzi believed that the wise can possess the sun, the moon, and all the mountains, rivers, flowers, herbs, trees, birds, beasts, fishes, and insects in the natural world, whom they can befriend and appeal to, and with whom they can always have a chat and poke fun.? In their ideas is emphasized the harmonious coexistence of human beings with Nature.? These ideas also lead us to live a simple life with minimal exploitation of Nature.? Our ancestors understood that "a wren, in making its nest in a vast forest, can occupy but a branch of a tree; and a mole, drinking from a river, can take no more than a stomachful", and that the enjoyment of a simple life not only helps to restrain people's unbounded greed and free them from slavery under material possessions, but also allow them to have time to enjoy the fun in Nature and in life.? Just because this kind of life is simple, it makes for the possibility of a harmonious life, a more natural humanity, and a joyful and free mind.

  Then, at the level of culture, leisure is the practice of a joyful life and the experience of life's meanings, a humanistic phenomenon with great importance, the locus of meaningful human existence in an ontological sense, an important stage on which the process of "becoming" is played out, a beautiful home for the human spirit, and also the most effective approach to building a civilized society.

  In the China's leisure culture tradition, two flowers are the most splendid and long-lasting.? One is the house code, and another is "womanly work".? Like the "drizzle that moistens things" or the "flowers that mingle with the soil", they have subtly affected and nurtured generation after generation of Chinese people.? On this basis are set the two pillars of the Chinese civilization -- "reverence for the teacher" and the "country of proper manners".

  House codes are a product of China's benevolence-centered culture, and a carrier for Confucian ideas and culture, as well as the basis for leisure education.? For thousands of years, various "house codes" have nourished and nurtured the Chinese.? They were the basic means for propagating the methods for self-cultivation, for managing the household, and for interacting with other people.? They also represent a basic form of education for children on the part of parents that has been continued for a long period of time.? Because they were easy to read, understand, memorize, recite, and put into practice, as well as closely related to the moral practice of ordinary people, the "house codes" and beginning texts for children such as Master Zhu's Maxims for Managing the Household, the Three-Character Classic, and the Thousand-Character Text had a profound effect on popular ethical beliefs, norms for conduct, and rituals, becoming model texts used to correct family moral standards and raise family reputation that have been passed on from generation to generation.

  For example, Master Zhu's Maxims for Managing the Household contains the following admonition, "Each time when we have a meal, we have to think it was not easy to produce what we eat -- even if it is just a simple meal; and when we handle a small piece of cloth, we always have to understand it has been manufactured through hard work.? One should make preparations for the rain before it comes, not dig a well when one is already thirsty.? One should live a thrifty life oneself, nor be wasteful when entertaining guests.? Pottery, if clean, would be better than dishes of gold and jade; and vegetables from the garden, if finely prepared, would be better than many a delicacy.? Never build fancy mansions, nor use stratagem to acquire fertile land. …? Many generations have been nurtured by admonitions like these, which they have internalized into a lifestyle and behavioral pattern that is common but also noble.

  To the Chinese, the household is connected with the state.? Thus, self-cultivation prepares for establishing order in the household, which in turn is the basis for governing the state and pacifying the whole world.? This makes it clear that the self, the household, and the state are a closely associated trinity.? Happiness and harmony in the household is the basis for the happiness and harmony of the individual and of the whole society.? Therefore, the house codes in ancient China had a special educational function.

  Similarly, in the agrarian China that continued for so long, "womanly work" (nügong女红) made a special contribution to the value of the existence and life of people, especially of women.? "Womanly work" usually refers to the needlework of women such as embroidery and sewing, which were an important component of the leisure activities of women in ancient times.

  Many literary classics of China contain descriptions of scenes of "womanly work".? The neize chapter of Liji (the Book of Rites) says, "For ten years, girls do not venture outside home, but follow the instructions of their elders.? They prepare hemp and silk and weave them into cloth, learn womanly work to provide clothes for the family."? The virtuous and faithful Liu Lanzhi in the poem "The Peacocks Fly Southeast" (kongque dongnan fei), who "was able to weave plain raw silk at thirteen and learned to cut cloth to make clothes at fourteen"; Mulan in the poem "Song of Mulan" who "kept on weaving facing the door"; and Qingwen in A Dream of the Red Chambers (hongloumeng) who "mended a peacock feather coat in her sickness" are other examples.

  Nügong is a field in which women can demonstrate their talent and which plays a very important role in raising women's moral caliber, enriching their mind, and giving them a good education.? It is not only a means for cultivating feminine virtues, but also the most beautiful flower in the treasure of Chinese folk art.? Its artistic content and unique aesthetic value are something people around the world hold up in high esteem.

  Nügong is centered on needlework such as sewing, weaving, and embroidery, but are by no means limited to these areas.? In other words, on the basis of ordinary needlework, Chinese women have put their aptitudes and talents to work in creating and developing a large number of art forms, such as spinning, dyeing, shoe-making and hat-making, weaving, facial decorations, and toys.

  For thousands of years, nügong has doubtless had profound effect on womanly virtues in China.? First, nügong can directly or indirectly foster womanly virtues.? Second, it helps to create a spiritual world of virtue, gentleness, and beauty for women.? Third, it has played an important role in shaping the role of the mother for generation after generation of women, especially in their role of giving birth to the next generation, bringing up their children, and inheriting and passing on the feminine virtues of tolerance, goodness, kindness, and dignity through their own earnest practice.? This is also one of the reasons why the traditions of nüxun (admonitions to women) and nügong have continued for thousands of years without going extinct.

??? In this paper, we have only picked two of the many flowers from the rich garden of China's leisure culture.? But even just from these two flowers, it is not difficult to conclude that leisure is a beautiful home for the human spirit.

 

The Chinese Society in Transition:

The Loss of Traditional Values of Leisure and the Resulting Confusion

 

  China is doubtless entering a new historical stage -- a stage of rapid changes and colorful variations, a stage when material wealth has been greatly increased, a stage when human beings are not in harmony with Nature, a stage full of competition among people, a stage when interaction among people have become very frequent, a stage when everyone is full of many kinds of desires, and a stage when there is more and more leisure time.

  Unfortunately, however, traditional values of leisure have in this multivariated social transformation been mutilated more and more; and the essence of these values has been more and more tainted with materialism.

  Today, leisure is either distorted or understood in too narrow, too shallow, and too vulgar a way.? Most people simply identify leisure with beer and skittles, with entertainment and shopping, or with what is fashionable that the rich like to boast about.

  Take for example the three "golden weeks" implemented by the Chinese government in 1999 .? With this national policy as a lead, there has occurred in the whole country "nationwide tourism" and "nationwide shopping spree".? Because the policy is too utilitarian in orientation, various forms of consumerism has been rampant, helping to release people's possessive desires, which has further added to the madness of the present era.

  According to statistics released by government authorities, the capacity of top-grade luxury items from abroad to permeate the market in mainland China has rapidly expanded in recent years.? At present, the total annual sales of luxury items on the Chinese market is more than 2 billion U.S. dollars.? It was predicted that the growth rate of the sales of luxury items will be 20% a year from 2005 to 2008, and that the figure will be 108% by 2015, and total sales will exceed 11.5 billion U.S. dollars.? China will then become the second largest market for luxury items in the world.

  According to the Tourism Bureau of Hong Kong, the number of tourists entering Hong Kong from mainland China reached 12.5 million person-times in 2005, and their spending in Hong Kong amounted to 40 billion H.K. dollars, or about 40% of Hong Kong's total revenues from tourism by tourists from outside Hong Kong. (see figures/tables 1, 2, 3)

  In recent years, there have appeared large numbers of house slaves, car slaves, and card slaves, which means many people have to become workaholics who keep on working day and night in order to pay back their debts and casting away all such things as meditation, appreciation, self-discipline, benevolence, and responsibility for society.? Lost is the state of mind where "one is leisurely following his/her own heart", with both elements of xiu and xian; and lost is the carefree mood with clarity and purity of heart.

  A house slave confessed thus, "… I began to work more desperately.? I have to work overtime for the bank, to pay for my house.? I have to struggle for it all my life. …? The house is a gift to man from Nature, but when did it become a mountain weighing down on man?? How come man has become an instrument to what is supposed to be an instrument of his?? Are we still wise and spiritual enough to be awakened from this absurd state of affairs?"

  Just because we lack the wisdom and spirituality to be awakened, we are straying further and further from the wholesome activities for the evolution of human beings.? Survey studies have shown that among the well-educated Chinese, the proportion of those who do not do much reading has been increasing.? There are fewer than 3000 public libraries in China, and a rather large percentage of those have not made any purchase for many years and are serving few readers.? The situation of reading by individual citizens is even more worrisome, with the average Chinese national reading only 0.4 book a year.

  With the vogue of tourism in the last decade, the number of tourists and revenues from tourism have both been increasing by more than 10% a year.? This has given more impetus to economic development and helped to alleviate unemployment, but it has also brought many negative consequences for natural ecology, human ecology, and natural resources.

  On the one hand, we have a "blowout" in tourism, which seriously discounted people's experience of cultural and spiritual life.? The famous 16th-century Chinese travelers Xu Xiake summed up his life as one devoted to "Reading ten thousand juan (chapters) of books and traveling ten thousand miles".? His travels were travels rich in spiritual content.? Today, however, most people travel as a way of displaying their position, status, and wealth.

  On the other hand, the mass tourism today has placed heavy pressure on natural resources.? China is a country with severe shortage in water supply, with a per capita water supply only a quarter of the world average.? Results from a study carried out a few years ago show that of the 600 plus cities in the country, more than 400 suffer from shortage in water supply, with 110 suffering severe shortage.? The cities in the country are 7 billion cubic meters short in their water supply.? If overdrawing of underground water were not allowed, the shortage would total 10.5 billion cubic meters.? Shortage in urban water supply had prevented China's GDP from increasing a further 200 to 300 billion yuan.? The situation should be much more serious now that several years have passed since the study was carried out.

  Furthermore, as urbanization accelerates, acreages of arable land and greenbelts have been decreasing.? Studies show that the per capita land is 44.5 mu (1 mu = 0.165 acre) in the world, but the average for China is only 12.4 mu, or 32.1 mu short of the world average; the per capita arable land is 4.8 mu in the world, but the average for China is only 1.3 mu, or 3.5 mu short of the world average; the per capita grassplot is 10.4 mu in the world, but the average for China is only 5.2 mu, or 5.2 mu short of the world average.

  And pollution of rivers is widespread in China.? With economy developing rapidly, industrial and urban domestic water consumption has increased from 87.2 billion cubic meters in 1980 to 196.4 billion in 2004, an increase of 109.2 billion in 24 years.? On the other hand, the discharge of polluted water and waste water has increased from 31 billion to 68 billion cubic meters, including about 53.3 billion discharged into rivers.? As a result, pollution of rivers and lakes has become very serious, producing a new artificially generated disaster.? In the suburban areas of many cities in the north, all the rivers are polluted, and many rivers have dried up at their lower reaches.? In the south, diked areas of the Zhujiang Delta, the Changjiang Delta, and the riverlet network along these rivers have been seriously polluted.? Water shortage due to water quality has occurred in many places, where there are rivers but the water has become undrinkable.? Aquatic environments and aquatic ecology have continued to degenerate.

  All kinds of over-consumption have led to the loss of the inhibitory effect of traditional values about leisure on the greed that is in human nature.? The pursuit of wealth has, on the one hand, turned us into slaves of wealth and, on the other, made us short-sighted and devoid of wisdom.? This situation has cause us to think about the value of leisure.

 

A Call for the Return of the Value of Leisure

 

  After going through 3 decades of social transformation, the entire Chinese society, especially the government and the intellectual elites, are doubtless beginning to realize the need for cultural self-consciousness and cultural introspection.

  The government is paying attention to leisure from the perspective of people's livelihood.

  In the area of institutional arrangements for holidays, the 5-day week was implemented in 1995, and the three long weekends were implemented in 1999, with the total number of non-work days reaching 114 a year.? In 2007, adjustments were made to the "Three Golden Weeks" so that the institutional arrangements for holidays are now more rational and better reflect the cultural characteristics of holiday leisure.? The contents and forms of leisure are now focused on pluralization, diversification, and popularization.

  In the area of cultural policy, the government has been encouraging the development of cultural projects and infrastructure for leisure activities, e.g., the huge amounts of funding devoted to the building of various kinds of public facilities for cultural services, such as libraries, museums, art galleries, gymnasia, theaters, park lands, and recreational space.? The protection of material and non-material cultural heritage has been listed among the long-term plans of the cultural development of the nation.

  In the area of education, the government has been encouraging the initiation of children to traditional learning.? Children are given opportunities to learn and recite Confucian and Daoist classics and to receive education in "house codes".? Children in primary schools also have opportunities for learning simple nügong skills, while "national studies" (guoxue国学) have been enhanced for college students.? Dozens of colleges and universities in China have built "institutes for national studies", and "Confucian academies" have been set up in more than 100 countries around the world.? Instructions on manners have been restored as part of the school curricula.

In designing its governance strategy, the government has also absorbed a good part of China's cultural heritage.? The Chinese government has taken an active part in the Convention on Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development and other organizations for environmental conservation. Domestically, the government has made it one of its goals to foster a scientific outlook on development and to build an environment-friendly and economizing society, thus inhibiting fickleness in society and economic overheating in many areas.

  The government has increased its funding in support of the theoretical study of leisure in the academic world.? Since 2000, dozens of relevant research projects have received funding from different sources with the government.? There projects have yielded valuable findings to help the society reevaluate the value of leisure, the government to formulate its cultural policies, and ordinary people to enjoy leisure lives of good quality and taste.

  Starting a decade ago, the academic world began to translate and introduce works in leisure studies by scholars in developed countries into China and to work to strengthen cooperation with relevant international organizations and academic institutions abroad.? These efforts have helped to bring some fresh air to China's traditional ideas about leisure, which consequently have been spread to wider circles and recognized and accepted by people with different cultural values.? Some institutions of higher learning have started programmes in leisure studies, and there will be graduates in this area in a few years.

  It is self-evident, then, that social transformation in China has underscored the importance of leisure, with positive effects on the individual, the society, the government, and the economy.

  For the individual, leisure is significant for its humanistic concerns, for it pays more attention to the state of the individual's life and spiritual attitude, as well as the process of "becoming".? Leisure helps to prepare the individual to experience an aesthetic, moral, creative, and transcendental life-style in a milieu of spiritual freedom, enriching the individual in terms of cultural cultivation and spiritual quality.

  For the society, leisure has become a dimension to be considered for public policy, economic policy, and cultural policy, the basis for constructing a harmonious society, and an important expression to promote the inner harmony of the human individual (i.e., harmony between body and mind, between brain and body, with a balance between work and leisure, and between tension and relaxation), the harmony between human beings and Nature, the harmony among human beings, and the harmony between the individual and the society.? It also plays the role of correcting, balancing, and remedying for the process of social development.

  For government administration at all levels, leisure marks a transition of governance style from one emphasizing economic, administrative, technological, and legal means to one emphasizing the use of cultural guidance and humanistic concern to propel social progress.? As a form of subculture, leisure plays the role of helping to transmit the mainstream culture and to create cultural diversity.

  For the productive forces of the society, leisure is in essence an investment in -- and the accumulation of -- people's cultural accomplishment.? In the process of cultural progress, it fosters the individual's ability in many aspects so that he/she can live a more creative life.

 

Conclusion

 

  Leisure is an important component of human culture and an area of national economy and people's livelihood to which we should pay close attention.? Rulers in different historical periods all tried in different ways to meet people's need for spiritual and cultural life beyond the material life.? On the one hand, such need is the necessary outcome of the laws of Nature; on the other, it has provided the social basis for the creation of civilization.? The history of human progress has shown that periods of stability and prosperity are usually supported by a flourishing leisure culture.

  Aristotle once said that leisure is "the centre-point about which everything revolves" as well as the condition for the birth of philosophy, art, and science.? The Modern Western thinker Josef Pieper also argued that leisure has three characteristics.? First, it is an attitude of mind, "a condition of the soul".? "Leisure implies … an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being 'busy', but letting things happen."? Second, leisure is "a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation."? It is, “an attitude of contemplative celebration,” and requires of man affirmation of God’s work and his own.? Third, since leisure is a celebration, “it is the direct opposite of effort (and) opposed to the exclusive idea of work (as) social function." As well as Ken Roberts claim: "Leisure’s role in people lives is not purely economic. Leisure has important social, psychological and cultural dimensions.

  Ancient Chinese thinkers believed that "The gentleman cultivates himself in quietude and nurtures his moral sense with a life of thrift.? Without indifference to fame and wealth his ideal would not be made clear, and without tranquility of mind he would not be able to go far in realizing his ideal", and praised the state where "the body is at rest and the mind in a leisurely mood".? It is in a leisurely mood that we can feel the beauty of life, the beauty of Nature, and the beauty of all things.

  Marx once said that for man to have plenty of free time is to give him vast space so that he can give free rein to all his hobbies, interests, talents, and strengths.? It is then when the individual can achieve full development in art and science, and his full development, in turn, will be the greatest productive force to react upon labor as a productive force.

  When we try to seek the value of traditional forms of leisure in a transient society, it certainly is not simply to review them, nor simply a return to or an imitation of such forms.? Today, if we have leisure, that means we will have a leisurely and calm attitude toward life, a space for our thoughts to soar, a source of creative inspiration, and the ability to be free, to appreciate, to experience, and to create.

  If we have leisure, that means our lifestyles and life's practice will become richer and more colorful, and that human beings will be able to enrich the intension and expand the extension of leisure in terms of humanistic spirit and concerns, such as participation in volunteer activities, donation, philanthropy, charitable activities, social work, simple life, environmental protection, vegetarianism, animal-loving, plant-loving, anti-war and pro-peace activities, and so on.? People will be encouraged to relate their own development to the shouldering of social responsibilities, in such a way as to help create a warm and friendly atmosphere for human life.

  If we have leisure, that means we will be able to resist greed.? That way, people will be able to make time for the experiencing of life, the appreciation of beauty, and the enjoyment of solitude.? Neither will we forget to serve God or even discard the gift of leisure which can make human beings upright and great just because we are fettered by our own desires.

  In the 19th-century, Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."? This is his description of a society which was about to go through the French Revolution, but also a realistic picture of any society in transition that is apt to display in abundance both good things and bad things.

  Being in the midst of drastic social transformation today, maybe we should have a pause from time to time to look back at the path we have travelled and ponder for a little while where we have had "the spring full of hope" and where we have had "the winter of despair".? If we can learn to make good use of leisure, this gift from God will sure bring us a surprise!

 

 

References:

Contributed to "The First International Conference on Leisure"Barcelona, Spain, September 5-8, 2008.

The Hanyu Da Cidian editorial board, Hanyu Da Cidian (The Great Chinese Dictionary), vol. 1 (Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994), p.1169.

Zhang Yushu, et al., Kangxi Zidian (Beijing Teachers' University Press, 1997), p.18.

A famous anthology of literature compiled by Xiao Tong in the 6th century A.D.

The Hanyu Da Cidian editorial board, Hanyu Da Cidian (The Great Chinese Dictionary), vol. 12 (Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994), p.1174.

The "six arts" refers to six categories of basic skills the pupils were required to master in the Confucian trandition, including rites, music, calligraphy, arithmetics, archery, and chariot-driving.? This is found in the "Baoshi" chapter of Zhou Rites: "Sons of the aristocratic families are to be brought up in the Dao and taught the six arts: first are the five rites (wuli), second are the six kinds of musical skills(liuyue), third are the five skills for archery (wushe), fourth are the five skills for chariot-driving (wuyu), fifth are the six skills for calligraphy (liushu), and sixth are the nine arithmetic skills (jiushu)."? Li is associated with noble breeding, yue represents music and a joyful mood, she means archery and similar sports, yu means skills for chariot-driving and similar sports, shu means reading and calligraphy, and shu means knowledge of arithmetics and natural sciences.

Zhou Yongsheng, "What Indeed Is Xiuxian?", private communication with the first author of this paper.

quyi曲艺: Chinese folk art forms including ballad singing, story telling, comic dialogues, clapper talks, cross talks, etc.

Starting from October 1999, there were to be three 7-day vacations each year, for the Spring Festival, the May Day, and the National Day (October 1), respectively.

Quoted from Agence France Presse, carried by Cankao Xiaoxi 12/29/2005.

Pieper, Josef. 1963. Leisure: The Basis of Culture. New York: New American Library. p.21.

Pieper, Josef. 1963. Leisure: The Basis of Culture. New York: New American Library. p.41-43.

Ken Roberts, The Leisure Industries, PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2004, P 2.

 

 

 
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