By James Miller
I was very interested to read this article, published on the UN website, on Daoism as the “Way” for climate change action in China. The article was written by Olav Kyorven, an assistant secretary general of the UN Development Program. In the article he reports enthusiastically on a recent conference of Daoist leaders in Nanjing to agree on a seven year action plan for climate change. Measures include retrofitting Daoist temples with solar panels, managing local environmental projects, and educational programs.
Kyorven is right when he states that Daoism “probably has more on offer to the environmental cause in today’s China than any other major, organized religion.” The problem is that Daoism has not wielded significant political force in China since the end of Ming dynasty in 1644. The subsequent Qing dynasty generally favoured Buddhism and expelled the Daoist Celestial Master (the supreme leader of the Daoist priestly order) from the imperial court. Now Daoist leaders, it seems, are key to recover a strong position within Chinese society and assert their relevance for 21st century society.
Daoism is also important from the perspective of its significance in Chinese culture. Daoist concepts of yin and yang, and the virtues of balance, harmony, naturalness (ziran) and effortless action (wuwei) are key values that are widely extolled in Chinese poetry, art and philosophy, and they are relevant now more than ever for fostering an ecological consciousness within Chinese culture.