Category Archives: Chinese Culture

Three Painful Modes of Communication

Much of classic Chinese thought holds that human nature is originally good.  For example, take the first line from the “Three Character Classic,” a text which summarizes the teachings of Confucianism for children: 人之初,性本善 (People at birth are naturally good).

But if we’re so good, why are there so many ‘bad’ people out there?  The next line gives us a hint: 性相近,习相远 (Our natures are similar, but our habits make us different).  In this post, I want to talk about some of our habitual modes of communication which tend to take us away from our natural state of ‘goodness’ and bring us ever more pain and suffering.

The following three commonly used forms of communication are highly likely to lead to defensiveness and resistance from anyone (including yourself), making it more difficult to get in touch with our natural state of benevolence described by ancient Chinese wisdom.

1. Moralistic Judgments

“He’s such a jerk.” “You’re not cut out for this.” “I’m so stupid!”  Labels, criticism, insults are all forms of judgment.  On a theoretical level, all labels are inherently inaccurate because they don’t take things like relativity and constant change into consideration (this is why our Daily Zen program focuses on observing rather than judging or labeling).

But on a practical level, judgments can take

ve, which will make it ever more difficult to come to a mutually beneficial outcome.

2. Making Comparisons

It's all apples and oranges (and bananas)

It’s all apples and oranges (and bananas)

“I wish my Tai Chi form looked as cool as his.” “I’m way prettier than she is.”  ”I liked my old boss better.” Comparisons are another form of judgment.  If you’d like to experience the negative power of making comparisons, try out the following exercise:

  • At age 29, Mark Zuckerberg had a net worth of over $25 billion.  How much were you worth at that age?  Ponder on the difference
  • Ate age 12, Jet Li won his first National Wushu Championship, where he competed against the best athletes from all over China.  How were your martial skills at age 12?  Compare them with Jet’s.
  • At age 8, Mozart composed his first symphony, which I’ve embedded below.  Listen to the song and think about your proudest achievement at the same age.

After trying this exercise, how are you feeling?  Let that feeling guide your future decisions about making comparisons.

3. Denial of Responsibility

We are responsible for all our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but much of our language attempts in vain to free us from that responsibility.  One of the biggest perpetrators of this kind of language is statements involving the phrase “have to.”  For example, “I have to go to work,” “You have to do your homework.”

When we speak this way to ourselves or others, whoever we’re speaking to only has two choices: to submit or rebel.  If that person rebels, they won’t do the thing they ‘have to’ do.  If they submit, they’ll do it, but with an energy of negativity and resentment.

 In summary, if you’d like to be happy, you might be better off leaving moralistic judgments, comparisons, and language that denies responsibility out of your vocabulary.

Admittedly, it’s hard to do a don’t.  I’ll write another post soon on some alternatives to these negativity inducing forms of communication.

What has been your experience with communication like this?  Do you enjoy being judged, compared, or blamed?  Tell us your stories in the comments section.

Experiencing Real Kung Fu: Chen Village

Before I started working at Taiji Zen, I was at my office in Beijing and received a phone call from my Sifu: “Eric, are you free tomorrow?”

“Well, I guess,” I answered.  Being an actor in China, I’ve found that my schedule is only knowable in hindsight.  “What’s up?”

“We’re going to Chen Village to film a documentary about Taijiquan; I need you to be one of the hosts.”  And just like that, with no experience whatsoever, my career in Chinese journalism began.  I was going to be the co-host of the CCTV 4 serial documentary Experiencing Real Kung Fu.

Chen Village is one of the Meccas of Taijiquan, and many people claim it’s where the style originated.  We arrived there the next morning, and the crew dropped me off at the hotel, instructing me to rest.  As I’m quite competent at resting, I promptly shifted into nap mode.  Not long after, I got a call from the director.

“Eric.  There’s a car outside to pick you up.  We need you here immediately.”

Having no idea what they needed me for, I headed downstairs and got driven to the Taijiquan school of Grandmaster Wang Xi’an (who is the father of Wang Zhanhai, one of Taiji Zen’s master instructors).  When I arrived, everyone was standing in a circle around one of Grandmaster Wang’s top students, Zhang Baozhong.

“Eric,” said my Sifu*, “Fight Mr. Zhang.”

Facing off against Zhang Baozhong.  I'm about to enter a world of pain.

Facing off against Zhang Baozhong. I’m about to enter a world of pain.

Up until this point, I had never seen fighting applications of Taijiquan.  I’d practiced in the parks in Beijing with some grammas and grampas, but that was the extent of my experience.  My world was about to get flipped upside down.

More specifically, I was about to get flipped upside down.  Repeatedly.  Although I’ve got some martial arts experience, I was no match for Zhang Baozhong.  The only difficulty Mr. Zhang faced was not injuring me.

While we were trying to figure out what would look best on screen, Grandmaster Wang would occasionally offer some guidance.  “Try to punch me like you just tried to punch Baozhong,” he said.

With a great deal of reluctance, I threw a right cross at the Grandmaster.  The technique he used was simple, but the way he executed was like nothing I’d ever experienced.  It felt like punching a cloud.  Except somehow, that cloud body slammed me.  There was also an elbow stopped about two millimeters in front of my nose.

We spent the next few days exploring Chen Village and learning about Taijiquan.  As a prerequisite, they bought me an all-white Taiji suit, which was a big hit in the gramma and grampa crowd.

While there was no shortage of elderly practitioners in the Chen Village, I was surprised to witness a side of Taiji I’d never seen before.  A side that could really be used for fighting.  At Wang Xi’an’s school, some of the training looked more like Cross Fit than the slow graceful combinations I was used to.

Kids of all ages were circuit training, alternating between sprints, weight lifting, and many strange exercises I’d never seen.  “Are they practicing Taiji Quan?” I asked Grandmaster Wang.  “Of course,” he said, “These are all my students.”

Over the next couple days, I got slapped around by a few more of Grandmaster Wang’s students, and came to understand that Taijiquan might seem very relaxing and gentle, but hidden within those graceful moves are some lethal techniques.

Have any of our readers heard any stories about Chen village?  Or gotten beat up by 70 year olds?  Share your experience in the comments section below!

Editor’s note: “Sifu” is Cantonese for master.  Due to the popularity of Kung Fu movies in the West (which originated mostly in the Cantonese speaking Hong Kong), the Cantonese version is more commonly known than the Mandarin (Shīfu 师傅)

Happy Spring Festival! 春节快乐!

Happy new year (again)!  In China, the solar new year (January 1st) seems significantly less important than the lunar new year, known in Chinese as Spring Festival (春节 - Chūnjié).  Spring Festival begins two new moons after the winter solstice (and sometimes three), so the date is different every year.  This year, it’s on January 31st.  2014 is the year of the horse.


For those of you who haven’t had a chance to experience Chinese New Year, I wanted to share some of my observations.

In China, Spring Festival is undoubtedly the most important holiday of the year, and is a time for families to come together.  During the festivities, most people in China return to their hometown, causing a phenomenon called Chūnyùn (春运).  Chūn means Spring and Yùn literally means to transport, so Chūnyùn is a word that describes the travel season during the lunar new year.  As a foreigner, travel in China always seems hectic to me.  But if you ever try to travel in China during Spring Festival, you will come to understand the true meaning of chaos.

In Beijing, all this travel means a relatively empty capital,  as most Beijing residents are not Beijing natives.  But an empty capital does not necessarily mean a quiet capital.  For those of us who stick around, fireworks vendors spring up on every corner, as the entire country embraces their inner pyromaniac.  The most explosive day is Chūshiwǔ (初十五 – the 15th day of the Chinese New Year), after which the ban on fireworks is reinstated.  Having fireworks during any other time of the year is illegal in central Beijing, so everything must go boom on this eventful day.

My favorite part about Spring Festival is the food.  And the king of Spring Festival food is the dumpling.  If you’re lucky enough to spend the New Year with Chinese friends and family, you’ll spend a good amount of time hand making the dumplings.  For me, this usually means a couple hours of frustration and humiliation as my Chinese friends make fun of my ability (or lack there of) to make dumplings.  I greatly prefer eating the dumplings to making them.

For those of you who do celebrate the lunar new year, what are your favorite parts?  Share your experiences in the comments section!