Archive for October, 2009

China 8: place-settings and plans

October 30, 2009

lead red lanterns at Qufu

John Wyver writes: Early Friday evening (China time), and we’re back in Tai’an after a further morning in the Confucius Temple and another hair-raising drive. (I’m not sure if the worst moment was the near-collision with two police cars or the crossing over into the oncoming traffic to overtake in what became for a moment the fifth lane of a four-lane highway.) Time for a further clutch of random reflections. Read the rest of this entry »


China 7: Confucius, we say…

October 29, 2009

Ian and John climbing Mt TaiThoughts from John McCarthy below, but first John Wyver writes:
John M’s vivid verbal snapshot of our trip up Mt Tai needs little elaboration. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims make the journey each day, at a cost of around £30 if they take the bus and cable car, but it still seems like something of an adventure. We were lucky with the weather and only disappointed that the Daoist monk who we had hoped might tell John’s fortune instructed us that this ritual was strictly one-to-one and could be observed by neither a film crew nor an interpreter. A little reluctantly we gave up on the idea.The clusters of temples right across the top of the mountain make the place very special, as do the inscriptions left on the rocks by eminent visitors including Song, Tang and Ming dynasty emperors. Read the rest of this entry »

China 4: now arriving from Ulan Bator

October 26, 2009

Sunday carpet

Yesterday was Sunday. I know that because the carpets in the Chengde hotel lifts boldly declare each day of the week. This morning they tell a different story. Apparently announcing weekdays beneath your feet is traditional across China. So if it’s Monday we have a travel day, driving first to Beijing and then taking the fast train to Taishan. Even then, that latter part of the journey will take five hours. Before which we have the joys (and I use the word without irony) of Beijing East Station. Railway stations invariably have a romance entirely lacking in airports — and Beijing East is no exception. Read the rest of this entry »

Stranger and stranger

October 25, 2009
Buddha at Puning Temple, Chengde

Buddha at Puning Temple, Chengde

We’ve arrived in China — and I’ve started blogging the trip. But not, as you may have noticed, here. When I first tried to log in, the link kept timing out. Which was very puzzling until I discovered that, sporadically at least, access to WordPress blogs is blocked from China. So I began by blogging at the Illuminations site, where we’ve posted three times so far:

China 1: not in Kansas anymore

China 2: dentistry in Beijing + Beirut

China 3: prayers at Puning

Now I’ve found that if I go into this blog via the main WordPress site (and not try to access it directly) then I can get to these posting pages. Hence this new post — and my uncertainty about quite what to do next…

Anyway, we’ll definitely continue the production diary, and we’ll keep cross-linking between the blogs.

‘Study the past if you would define the future’

October 21, 2009

John Wyver writes: Another of our destinations in China next week is the Temple of Confucius at the philosopher’s birthplace in Qufu. He was born in the sixth century BCE and his ideas, encapsulated in the collection of aphorisms known as the Analects,  were widely adopted during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.). The Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci introduced his thought to Europe in the late sixteenth century.

Confucius_temple_1912 [WikiC]

There is an excellent Confucius entry in the online Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and also good Wikipedia entries for Confucius and Confucianism. A translation of the Analects is available from the Internet Classic Archive.

The splendid image is a detail from a plan of the Temple of Confucius at Qufu. The historical image comes from Madrolle’s Guide Books: Northern China, The Valley of the Blue River, Korea which was published in 1912, and is used via Wikipedia Commons. The full image is here.

The beauty of bento

October 21, 2009


While it might seem off-topic, this fascinating debate in the New York Times is core to the interests of this blog: Japanese culture, aesthetics — and food. In a discussion of the beauty of bento lunch boxes, the forum asks why such value is placed on aesthetics in everyday life in Japan. The suggested answers, especially in dozens of readers’ comments, are enlightening.

Looking forward to Longmen

October 20, 2009

Longmen [WikiC license]

John Wyver writes: One of the destinations on our imminent filming trip in China is Luoyang where we’ll film at the Longmen Grottoes with their magnificent groups of Buddhist statues. According to the UNESCO World Heritage site for the caves, the sculptures here ‘represent the high point of Chinese stone carving’. The caves were created during the sixth and seventh centuries CE — and there’s more information and additional pictures at a V&A web page about the caves. Another good description, with more images, is at Asian Historical Architecture.

After visiting the V&A at the weekend I happened upon in a bookshop nearby a remaindered catalogue of the exhibition held in Antwerp in 2002, The Buddha in the Dragon Gate: Buddhist sculpture of the 5th-9th centuries from Longmen, China, edited by Jan van Alphen. This draws together, for a bargain £.9.99, as much as we could ever wish to know about the subject. Such are the pleasing serendipities of research.

The great image of the Longmen Caves at Luoyang is from a Flickr photostream by Yoshimai, used here under a Creative Commons attribution-share alike license.

Buddhist glories in South Ken

October 19, 2009

John Wyver writes: Although I’m off to China on Friday to film Buddhist and Daoist temples for the new series — more details of the itinerary later in the week — you don’t of course have to go halfway around the world to see glorious examples of Buddhist art. Both the British Museum and the V&A have exceptional collections — and over the coming weeks I want to highlight some of their artworks, and also some of the online and gallery elements with which they and other institutions provide context for them.

V&A Sculpture Buddha head [A.98-1927]

Read the rest of this entry »

Mix and match religions

October 14, 2009

Linda writes: We saved the best until last – a bullet train journey from Himeji (where the local speciality is a particular crab version of the famed Japanese pancake, though it’s more like an omelette than a pancake), arriving in Hiroshima an hour later, followed by a ferry to Miyajimi Island that takes us to the Itsukushima shrine.

IMG_0981The landmark Tori gate with Mount Misen behind is one of the ‘three views of Japan‘ and a popular tourist destination. Because of its staggering natural beauty, the island was thought to be holy and it’s only relatively recently that people have lived here. There is just a small strip of land for a few hotels, shops and cafes. The rest of the island is wild and mountainous. People flock here to visit the shrine and to see the 50ft high Tori gate which appears to float at high tide. At low tide it’s possible to walk out to it. At night it’s illuminated. Read the rest of this entry »

Tadao Ando’s minimalist temple

October 9, 2009

Linda writes: A couple of hours car journey crossing the vast connurbation that is Osaka/Kobe on the raised freeway and over the sea to Awajishima island just off the mainland gets us to our next location. Here local boy Tadao Ando, Japan’s most celebrated living architect, has built a sublimely minimalist Buddhist temple replacing an earlier building that had fallen into an advanced a state of disrepair. Much of the funding came from Sanyo. A senior executive lived nearby and also knew Ando.

Water temple [IMG_3106]

Mai has filmed with Ando before now. Contrary to what one’s expectations might be, Ando is a former boxer and entirely self taught. His blunt language is legendary and yet he is by all accounts hugely charismatic  and charming. Read the rest of this entry »