Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週日, 27 八月 2006
週一, 28 八月 2006 02:38

Culture and Sustainable Development

The following just wants to stress the fact that "sustainable development’ is not a mere technical concept, and that when reflecting on different models of "sustainable development" cultural sensitivity is an issue that remains often overlooked.

The concept is now well known - to the extent that it risks to loose its original appeal: “Sustainable development” is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainable development is also defined as maintaining a delicate balance between the human need to improve lifestyles and feeling of well-being on one hand, and preserving natural resources and ecosystems, on which we and future generations depend.

As everywhere in the world, but more acutely than elsewhere maybe, ustainable development is now a key issue in China and Taiwan, as environmental concerns, long-term economic and political models and increasing social gap are becoming hotly debated topics.

(June 2006)

As to “culture”, it can be defined as a set of resources that helps to stabilize and to change, according to circumstances, the model of human development specific to a community. The value system, the technical know-how developed by preceding generations, the sense of identity and solidarity developed within a nation can all be used for fostering debate and reflection on how to live together in such a way as to enhance our sense of evolving as a meaningful and ethical national community.

Reflecting on the relationship between culture and sustainability, some basic questions come to mind:
- In which ways does the value system in China and Taiwan enhance or impede awareness of sustainability issues?
- How can cultural resources be mobilized so as to foster a debate on long-term social, environmental and economic models?
- How can cultural institutions be used so as to foster a country’s long-term sustainability?

Culture, value system and development

Cultural development is to be conceived as a dynamic endeavor, an endeavor based on will and desire. The first task of a person or of a collectivity trying to humanize itself and to humanize its environment is to ask oneself: what do I really want, what do we really want? What do I, what do we desire? We do not wish and desire abstractedly. The universe in which human willpower has to develop its impetus is a universe that is already structured:
- It is first structured by rules. Rules can be described as ways of doing and proceeding that are not invented by the subject itself. For instances, there are rules for producing and marketing agricultural products.
- Second, the moral universe is structured by norms, i.e. by social references that indicate what is acceptable and what is not. For instance, there are norms defining legal and ethical behavior when doing business.
- Third, the moral universe is structured by purposes. Earning money can be a purpose, healing sick people can be another one (thus defining what will be the mission of a hospital) or, for the media, giving accurate and honest information can also constitute a purpose.
- Finally, values are defined as the basis on which concrete decision will be taken once the subject has integrated rules, norms and purposes into his/her knowledge and analysis.

The progressive refinement and universalization of values testifies to the ongoing humanization of humankind, that is to say, it testifies to the inventiveness we demonstrate in dealing with concrete situations in ways that personal as well as communal fulfillment. Values, ultimately, are what makes us able to take decision in a way that educates and fulfills our will, our deeper desire, rather than just by obeying circumstances. Values are the way through which we can discover humanizing solution in a world that is always threatened to be more and more deshumanized.

Each time we analyze a concrete situation (be it about familial life, economics, politics, health care), one sees that we cannot choose abstractedly a given value as we would choose a skirt or trousers in a shop. We analyze and confront a situation because we are obliged to take a decision. How shall we solve this familial crisis, how shall we salvage this business from bankruptcy, how shall we proceed for easing the conflict between Taiwan and China? Each time we are obliged to confront an issue like this, we start from a technical analysis, we proceed through consultation and expertise, and we ask ourselves where our deeper desires or purposes lie. In a familial or political conflict for instance, we can feel torn between the desire for truth and the desire for harmony and accommodation. In the end, there will be an array of possible decisions, and the final choice is to be made with caution, wisdom and a sense of the relativity of any decision.

China has become more and more conscious of its own diversity – diversity of cultures, values and options. However, this diversity must not give way to a mere relativism. We must be conscious that the first skills we have to develop are the skills necessary for taking decisions. Reflecting on the relationships between culture and sustainable development enables us to think about the way our cultural resources help us to analyze the direction we want to give to our collective future.

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週一, 28 八月 2006 01:53

Tobacco in China...

While the government is getting huge tax profits from the smoking habit of Chinese people, it is also worried about the exploding healthcare costs of tobacco. A few figures show the amplitude of the problem: 1 of every 3 cigarettes consumed worldwide is smoked in China. There are more than 300 million Chinese smokers. About 3,000 people die every day in China due to smoking. Smoking will kill about 33 percent of young Chinese within the next thirty years. Presently, 67 percent of men smoke, and 4 percent of women do. What will happen if women, like in other countries, also take up the habit?

China’s prospects remain... smoky!

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週一, 28 八月 2006 01:51

Towards Social Harmony?...

The National Popular Assembly session that took place in March 2006 has illustrated a trend that has become more and more apparent since a few months: China is entering a debate on its social model. Journalists and experts all agree on the fact that social discontent and movements have increased on a much larger scale than previously reported, not only in the countryside but also on the poorer parts of the cities (notably in Beijing). The main reasons for discontentare well identified:
- land expropriation
- extent of pollution due to dissemination of polluting industries, especially of water pollution, with health effects beyond control
- anxieties of poor people about costs of education and health
This increase in social problems, exemplified by consecutive grave occurrences of rivers’ accidental pollution, coincides with a much more active role of NGOs and civil society in general. This increased role has been prepared by the government itself in so far as it has relied in the last years on NGOs for the care of some portions of society (sick people in poorer parts of the country for instance). In the last year, membership in associations caring for women, orphans, AIDS patient or environmental problems has grown very markedly. Also, information is disseminated more rapidly and quickly than before.

After an initial stage of anxious ocntrol of the debate on these issues (September-October 2005), the government has taken the risk to open up the discussion in order to show its concern for peasantry. The government also tries to reassert its grasp on civil society, especially through the revival of mass organizations (women or youth organizations) which allow it to reach out to segments of the population that it is in danger to lose. This governmental concern also has gone with quicker implementation of reforms on health and education. The debate on the 11th plan having taken place during the NPA session has been more open and lively than could have been expected in the last months. However, the turn towards “sustainable and harmonious development” proves to be very hard to take place. Topics for discussion include:
- What does the shift towards “socialist new countryside” imply?
- Who is going to pay for the large investments to be done on education and health care for the poor as well as for environmental protection? Will the richer provinces really accept to pay for the poorer ones?
- Did economic reforms go to far? Many observers point to the emergence of a ”new left” geared by a younger generation. Older people, still remembering the sufferings of the Maoist past, stick to a liberal, capitalist-like reform agenda.
- Can the shift towards a more “harmonious society” occur while the Party is still resisting political reform?

The debate is still going on...
See Renlai’s Observer article on China’s path of development

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週日, 27 八月 2006 23:49

A New Path of Development?

In March 2006, the Chinese National Popular Assembly ratified the documents of the eleventh plan. This was a turning point that had been in preparation for at least the past three years : China intends to take the path of sustainable development. The Chinese government still fosters and foresees a high growth rate between 2006 and 2010 – it is talking about around seven percent per year. However, it is focusing its attention on the nature of the projected growth: from now on, in theory, the revenues of the poorest should increase faster than those of the richest ; basic consumption, and no longer investment, should draw growth. An extra share of national wealth needs to be devoted to making social services accessible to all. Industrial recycling, investments in the fields of waste management and water cleaning, the raising of environment protection standards should receive special attention. All public policies must concur towards the creation of a « harmonious society » that is more concerned with the poorest populations, underdeveloped areas and future generations. Measures have already been taken or announced which coincide with the general orientation . However, it is obvious that such a policy change will demand a lot of time and will include many risks.

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週日, 27 八月 2006 23:31

Plagues and Governance

The risk of pandemics raises not only technical issues but cultural and political concerns as well…

In the past centuries, the spreading of the plague was decimating entire towns and countries. Till today, lepers are met with defiance and fear by the communities where they live. In Africa especially, some well-known illnesses such as malaria or tuberculosis are major public health risks. Even more important, new viruses, new pandemics have been creating human disasters, widespread alarm and new barriers among people and nations. In the last 25 years, Aids has been the foremost international public health concern. SARS, avian flu and new viruses have also entered the public debate.

Rapidly, pressing questions are emerging: is the world well-prepared to confront the new pandemics that threaten to spread along accrued globalization and environmental changes? What are the challenges to be urgently confronted? Are new viruses likely to spread soon, and how will this affect us? Is scientific research funded enough and directed towards the real threats? Are pharmaceutical laboratories and firms playing the game of the general interest? Are public policies and international cooperation up to the task that might be ours in the near future?

Illness and viruses are not only a question for doctors and researchers. It has to do with our cultural background, our political system and the way we foster international cooperation.

Originally published in Renlai, December 2005

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週日, 27 八月 2006 23:13

Desertification in China

Planting trees is a national priority in China. In Hubei, some peasants are specifically employed for this sole purpose. In certain areas of Sichuan and Yunnan, tree cutting is now strictly forbidden. In Gansu, the authorities try to plant thousand of trees along the sand dunes that border the highway. Beijing wants to erect a “green Great Wall” for protecting itself against sand storms.
Most cities suffer very heavily from pollution, and the “green label” that many of these cities would like to get is still a far-away dream… The situation is actually degrading. The millions of trees that are planted each year, mostly along the roads, are not enough for stopping the progression of erosion and desertification. Basically, older forests are still disappearing (740,000 hectares of forest have disappeared in 2004) and the quality of newly planted surfaces is far inferior to that of older forests. In China the wooded area per inhabitant is four times inferior to world average. Since the quality of Chinese forests is very weak, the ratio of wood quantity per inhabitant is even weaker: only one sixth of world average.
National regulations are still often disregarded, and the rise of paper consumption makes things worse. China is nowadays the first world importer of wood and imports from countries that manage very badly their own wood resources (Burma, Cambodia, Congo, Eastern Russia.) In other words, China is exporting its wood problem. Not only it is a ecologically devastated country but its crisis is starting to reverberate on the world’s ecology.

April 2005

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週日, 27 八月 2006 20:36

Swimmers need only apply

Words and photographs by Moeun Nhean
IPS Mekong Fellowship 2005-06

Early each morning, a group of children leaves their home in a small boat and rows from house to house collecting friends. They’re on their way to the local floating school on the other side of Kompong Loung village. The village is divided in two and sits on the banks of the mighty Tonle Sap Lake in Pursat province, about 170km northwest of Phnom Penh. Floating schools operate differently from their counterparts on the mainland, and for very legitimate reasons.

Kompong Loung primary school principal Ban Son, 55, says that according to the Cambodian Government, every child must attend school until the 9th grade.

"It is a very different reality for Kompong Loung children. More than 50 percent of my students leave school at the end of the 6th grade … The local secondary school is very far from here, it’s about 15km away," Ban says. "Most of the students’ families can’t afford the one spare means of transportation they have for their children to go to secondary school; girls especially are excluded."

"But compared with a decade ago, there are now more children attending primary school, they’re just not able to move on to higher levels," he says. "Now we have four classes as a floating school and the big mainland school has seven classes."

Floating schools have two prerequisites for attendance: first, the children must be six or over, and secondly, they must be able to swim.

"This second condition is a very serious matter for our school, because we’re afraid that if children fall into the water and cannot swim, they may drown," Ban says.

Kompong Khlaing is a densely populated floating commune on the northwestern edge of the Tonle Sap, in Siem Reap province. Prinicipal of the local primary school, Sar Bun Chamrong, says the school term on the lake is very different from that set by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

"We begin our school term in August, at the start of the rainy season, as most of the children who attend school have to help their families fish. During the dry season, at the beginning of February when the term ends, the villagers move their homes closer to the lower level of the lake," Sar says. "This has been the tradition since the school opened in 1938. Normally people living here move their houses at least three times per year, sometimes up to a distance of 5km.

"About 70 percent of school-age children in this commune attend primary school, but more than half of that number drops out before secondary school."

"In Koh Chi Vaing commune, Battambang, only 60 percent of the village children go to school; that’s 1,938 students who go to primary school. But only 54 students attend secondary school and just 10 students are studying at high school," local newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily said. It went on to say that the reason why fewer students in Koh Chi Vaing are going to school is because their families are very poor, and that rather than send their children to class every day, parents need them to assist with farming or fishing.

Deputy Secretary of State for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports Nat Bun Roeun agrees: "... We know the children living in seven remote regions, including the floating villages, have a low rate of school attendance."

One young villager, 13-year-old Ouch Chhay says: "I do not know anything. I only know how to row a boat and go fishing with my parents."

Kompong Khlaing primary school principal Sar Bun Chamrong says families in the region are completely reliant upon the lake for their livelihood and for this reason children are unable to attend school. "Because they are fishermen … they are totally dependent on the water-level of the lake. Many children living in this commune do not go to school because their family situation is so difficult."

There are nine floating schools in Cambodia, all of which are found on the Tonle Sap Lake. They are Chnok Troo, Kompong Chhnang; Kompong Loung and Raing Thil in Pursat; Koh Chi Vaing, Battambang; Chong Khneas, Kompong Phluk and Kompong Khlaing in Siem Reap; and Peam Bang and Phat Sanday in Kompong Thom.

The situation for thousands of children living on floating villages around the Great Tonle Sap lake and along the Mekong in Cambodia is not so different from that in the floating villages of Vietnam.

Tran Van Than lives on the Mekong River, just behind a section of late-night bars in Vinh Long town. All of the people here including the children of their father Tran Van Thanh are fishermen.

Tran Bé,18, is Tran Van’s second eldest son. "I do not know anything. I just know how to go fishing with my father and brother. I don’t even know what the school does," Tran Bé says. His father sobs while his son speaks.

"Even if I have a chance to change my life, how can I change it if I don’t even know how to ride a bicycle? I never even go for a walk on the road side. Everything I’m doing here is because I want to help my parents," Tran Bé says. "I know cars, motorbikes and bicycles when I see them driving across the bridge above us, but I don’t know about television and radio."

The youngest son is almost 12. He is walking with his dog on the river beach when he suddenly leaps on to the boat, looking bewildered at the sight of a journalist with camera and microphone. Like his older brother, he doesn’t know what the school, or learning, is about. When asked: "Did you go to school to learn how to read?" He just shrugs and says, "I don’t know."

Tran Van’s daughter, 16-year-old Tran Thi My Loan is shy and hides her face on the other side of the boat. She is uncomfortable with the newcomer and says that she just wants to live on the mainland like the "shore people" do.

Tran Van Luc, the oldest brother is 23. "In living here we lack everything we need to change and improve our lives," Van Luc says. "The only way I can change is because I am a man; I can work as a laborer. I have good health and hope that people on the mainland can hire me to do something with my energy."

Doan Thi Hao, 38, lives on a boat on a small channel that links the Tien River east of Vinh Long town. She says: "... When I sent our kids to go to school we had to accompany them, because we were scared of the traffic. But now we can’t send them anymore because we are very poor and need to spend the time concentrating on working to feed ourselves."

Doan has two daughters, the first, 16, left school in the 5th grade, and the second, 14, is now studying in the 7th grade. Doan’s family gets some work on the mainland as lottery ticket sellers, also washing laundry for mainlanders so she can send her children to school. Her family earns approximately $2 per day.

Most Vietnamese people who live in floating villages do not have an identity card of Vietnamese nationality. At Vinh Long province, they are no different from those in Chov Dok of Ang Yang province where many people also do not have an identity card.

They’re all Vietnamese, but seemingly they do not have the same rights as those on the mainland.

What these families have in common on both sides of this watery border is their simple wish for betterment—an education for their children and a future.

--END—


PHOTO CAPTION:

File: Banka-TempleXXX.jpg
Caption: Mr. Moeun Nhean, Publisher of The Cambodian Scene on first right seating in front of the dragon head of Bakan temple (Preah Khan Kampong Svay temple).

File: KompongLoung1.jpg
Caption: More than 50% of Kompong Loung’s students leave school at the end of 5th grade.

File: KampongLoung4.jpg
Caption: The lucky ones students in Kompong Khlaing return home after school.

File: KompongLoung3.jpf
Caption: The student of Koh Chivaing commune collect them friend, then they go to school.
Link to "The Cambodian Scene"

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週日, 27 八月 2006 19:45

Wisdom for Today

What is wisdom? The answer might partly differ according to times, religions and cultures. But there is a core understanding of what wisdom means for humankind. Wisdom is a capacity to act in a way that respects and develops one’s nature without harming oneself nor the other. Wisdom is not a theoretical body of knowledge; it is a practice as well as a meditation on this practice. It is a set of principles and attitudes that helps one to be fully human and to live one’s life with inner peace and rectitude.

Human wisdom has been expressed in many ways throughout the ages. However, a specific moment has had a particular significance: Indian, Greek, Chinese and Jewish cultures all developed a remarkable body of texts and practices on wisdom around 2,500 years ago. This period was a turning point for all humankind. Since then, the writings and examples of the Great Sages have influenced the course of human history.

We might be at another turning point: scientific and technological developments, the acceleration of human history, the coming of globalization raise serious challenges for traditional wisdoms. They may have been relevant for traditional, agrarian societies, but do Confucius, Laozi, Socrates or the author of the Bible’s “Book of Wisdom’ have something to tell us today? We still want to live a meaningful, peaceful and humane life, but where are we going to find our inspiration and references? Are ancient examples and principles outdated, or do they just need to be understood in a new light?

The quest for wisdom is at the same time personal and collective. E-Renlai wishes its readers to find their own road towards greater wisdom…


週日, 27 八月 2006 19:29

Ten questions for growing wiser…

1) Do I have a tendency to act impulsively or I am able to sit down before taking a decision, weighting in my minds the reasons for and against such or such course of action?

2) Am I prone to act and decide when I am sad and agitated or I am able to wait till I feel more peaceful?

3) Am I able to express in one single sentence what is the main goal of my life, what I am trying to achieve and the kind of person I wish to be?

4) Are there some wise men or women of the past whose examples have always impressed and inspired me?

5) And are there some living people, known or unknown, who are for me models of wisdom in their life conduct? What do I especially admire in them?

6) Are there some classic sentences of wisdom, proverbs, sayings that I remember and that sometimes come as a help when I am trying to find a direction in my life?

7) Am I able to integrate my mind with my body? Do I practice some kind of respiratory technique or other bodily exercise that helps me to pacify the mind?

8) Do I practice examination of conscience during the day? Am I able to see serenely what I did wrong during the day and what I feel grateful for?

9) Am I at a loss in today’s society, do I see it as being crazy, or I am able to distinguish people and movements that give more meaning to our common existence? Am I basically pessimistic or optimistic about the direction of the world?

10) When I die, what image of me would I like people to remember?

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