Green values are compatible with traditional culture

Green values are compatible with traditional culture
Taoist devotees burn joss sticks
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Chinese traditions are closely linked to cultural beliefs constructed upon the "three pillars of Chinese culture," made up of the teachings of Confucianism, the philosophy of Buddhism, and the ideas of Taoism.

Aside from following these ideals, Chinese has also incorporated religious worship to establish a supernaturally based cultural tradition today.

While different Chinese regions observe small details of this cultural/religious system differently, the universal practice requires everyone to burn joss sticks and paper money on festivals and days of memorial.

However, instead of concentrating burning of such materials in one area, offerings are usually burned in large quantities by many people on different days.

The practice tends to generate a huge amount of smoke and ash.

As such the most obvious downside to Chinese traditions is air pollution.

Molecules that are the byproduct of burning in bulk have been scientifically proven to be harmful to the planet's atmosphere.

In recent years, scientific research has discovered that the air in certain popular temple areas of Taiwan contains high counts of a fine particulate matter known as PM2.5.

The matter is an air pollutant that generates a haze and is hazardous to human health when highly concentrated.

The undeniably dangerous air pollution around Taiwan temples leads to an obvious conclusion, that a new form of cultural practice must be adopted by all Chinese cultures around the world for the sake of the environment.

It is an encouraging phenomenon to observe that Taiwan has taken the initiative to advocate the observation of ancient traditions in an environmentally friendly way.

Progress took its first big step when the late Taiwanese actress Aunt Wun Ying became the spokeswoman for change.

As a figurehead of the older and more traditional generation, the actress had great success in getting through to the population, urging people to adopt community burning, where paper money and joss sticks are burned in moderation by a smaller group of representatives.

Though the actress' unfortunate passing soon after the launch of the programme lessened the potential impact of the idea, recent efforts by the capital's symbolic religious hub Xingtian Temple and the 275-year-old Mengjia Longshan Temple are now becoming examples that aim to lead the nation into becoming a greener Chinese country, albeit not without criticism.

Causing anguish for joss sticks vendors and believers alike, Xingtian Temple announced the removal of all incense burners and altars for offerings last year for environmental protection purposes. The temple instead encourages templegoers to pray using their hands.

Likewise, Longshan Temple also retired four of its seven incense burners last week, in response to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je's concerns and lobbying from medical experts.

Though most had assumed progress toward reforming traditional Chinese culture would be at a sluggish pace, the quick accumulation of local temples that are willing to consider answering the call to action in one form or another has been positive to observe.

What is both motivating and ironic however, is the fact that as one of, if not the most traditionally Chinese country in the world, Taiwan would not be considered a likely pioneer for eco-friendly religious practices.

One would most logically assume that the first Chinese countries to respond to scientific suggestions would be places like Hong Kong, a country that has experienced heavy Western influence, or perhaps a Southeast Asian country that has undergone ethnic integration.

Let's hope that with the first steps taken by temples in Taiwan, all Chinese temples and shrines around the world will soon follow suit and reform the culture into one that is at once traditional and eco-friendly.

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