Religions of the World and Ecology home


Thomas H. Hahn received his M.A. at the University of Frankfurt in Main, Germany in 1984. His thesis topic was Lu Dongbin and his commentaries on the Lao Tzu. From 1984 to 1987 he conducted research to investigate present day Taoism in China (Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing). From 1988 to 1990 he was at the University of Marburg where he was a researcher in Chinese religion and traditional Chinese education. He received librarian's training (1990-1998) at the University of Heidelberg. He completed his Ph.D. thesis in 1997 on "Chinese Mountains and their gazetteers." In May 1998 he has become an academic librarian at Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is working on a book project on Zhang Xiangwen, China's leading 20th century geographer.

 

Abstract of paper given at Taoism and Ecology conference
Wild Thoughts: On Taoist Notions of Wilderness

Chinese religions, and especially Taoism, have many terms for "nature." To nourish one's nature meant to strive for longevity and immortality. Longevity usually meant sustaining oneself in a secular world via highly sophisticated dietetic measures built into daily routines. Immortality, on the other hand, meant "living" in an environment that functioned itself as an agent for perpetual bliss and readily available nourishment. Chinese notions of paradise -- and their Taoist versions thereof -- do have rather specific attributes. The highest values being that of order and vertical social stability, of pureness and tranquility, this realm is the antipode to an environment that is beset with wild animals, polluted waters, sudden landslides and other, generally uncontrollable natural elements of hostile wilderness. However, wilderness as a physical territory in historic China underwent various qualitative definitions (symbolic, metaphorical, political, cosmological) of spatiality. My proposal concerns the questions: 1) Did anything like specifically Taoist methods of interpreting disaster, natural calamities or the appropriation and taming of potentially "dangerous" spaces proposed to the state and the people (lao bai xing) exist at all? 2) Why is it that evidently the positivistic attitude of Taoists to nourish "one's own nature" did not necessarily lead towards an attitude concerning the "outer" nature that in modern terms can be dubbed "ecologically conscious" on any significant scale? 3) Which corpora of ancient (or modern!) Chinese texts would we have to scan to come up with a scripture written along the lines of the Sand County Almanac (by Aldo Leopold)? And finally: would we label this (or these) texts as "Taoist"?

Back to Taoism and Ecology conference participants