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Grandstanding Taoist Forum Opens
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An international forum on Daodejing
, the hailed Taoist classic, opened in Xi'an of Shaanxi Province yesterday with officials predicting that the event would help bolster efforts to create a harmonious society through the wisdom of Taoism.

A dazzling opening ceremony lit up the city's Nanmen Square last night through a magnificent art performance titled "Limitless Tao." The show blended together elements of song and dance, opera and kung fu as well as Taoist choirs and the angelic voice of folk soprano Tan Jing. Thousands in the audience absorbed the atmosphere, including senior officials, top Taoist scholars and guests from 17 countries. 

Liu Yandong, vice chairwoman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), addressed the crowd during the opening ceremony, saying that "the wisdom of Daodejing transcends time, space, ideologies and countries, and is as fresh as ever today."

She said that the path to a harmonious society lay "in the guidance of a concept and culture of harmony. As globalization and modernization become ever more present, we must as always promote the fine traditions of the Chinese nations, including tapping the full extent of the Daodejing. We must display its full relevance to the modern world, its pursuit of the law, its advocating of friendship and self-discipline. In this way, this cultural classic, passed down the ages across religious and national boundaries, will play a new role in the new era."

Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee Jia Qinglin sent a congratulatory message to the forum, which read, "Daodejing is part of the critical canon in Chinese traditional culture. The rich contents, broad philosophy and concepts enshrined therein, have captured the attention of the nation for over 2,000 years."

"It gives a clear moral compass for the concerns of life, society and the environment. It will surely reveal its importance as we move toward a harmonious society and further to a harmonious world."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and Buckingham Palace's Prince Philip all sent messages of congratulations, praising it for its efforts to bring about "world harmony and peace."

Zhang Jiyu, vice chairman of China Taoism Association, exclusively told yesterday afternoon, that widespread misconceptions about Taoism had prevented it from being truly and correctly understood. He dismissed the claims that Taoism was simply a matter of fortune-telling, exorcisms and other mystical matters. The Daodejing was chosen as the forum's central topic since it would allow Taoists to spread the book's philosophy in a way to positively influence popular opinion on Taoism.

"Its culture belongs to the entire world," he said. "We should be proud of Daodejing and Taoism since it can increase our own cultural self-confidence as a nation."

Qi Xiaofei, vice president of China's Religious Culture Communication Association and deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, agreed but argued that the Daodejing stretched back further even than Taoism. The Daodejing's focus is to enable the celebration of a central philosophy that has impacted on a plethora of old Chinese schools of thought over many centuries.

However, as a religion native to China, Taoism must still develop further. Experts have pointed out the growing number of political and economic forums in China such as the recently-concluded Boao Forum for Asia, but decried the lack of cultural and religious equivalents.

Zhang Jiyu confessed that difficulties remain, but said that Taoism was enjoying its most prosperous time since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The Daodejing's value was first brought to the Western world in the 16th century with German philosopher Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel hailing it as revealing "the fundamental principle that the Chinese people recognize is reason, or the Way (Tao). It is the foundation of heaven and earth, the source of all things. Chinese people respect all methods that praise Tao as the most advanced scholarship. In particular, the Daodejing by Laozi has earned the highest esteem."

The forum, jointly sponsored by the Chinese Taoism Association and the China Religious Culture Communication Association, will run from April 22 to 27 in Xi'an and Hong Kong, the first such event organized in China for 50 years.

( by staff reporter Zhang Rui, April 23, 2007)

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