Friday, 17 November 2017

FTY-1: Understanding Yangsheng

Yangsheng is actually a quite ambiguous if not really confusing or misleading term even in and among Chinese. Ever since it was developed by Laozi and Zhuangzi (the two great founding fathers of Daoism) more than 23 centuries ago, this term has been interpreted traditionally in at least three different ways.

1/ To the vast majority of ordinary people, yangsheng simply means to 'preserve health' or 'keep fit'. Probably because they usually do not know the true value of sound health until they lose it, or because they do not have enough resources, they care or know little about yangsheng although the term is familiar to them. This is particularly true of youths and those living a poor and hard life.

2/ To certain groups of people,  yangsheng means to 'nurture life' in order to attain longevity. This interpretation is popular among high class or rich people as well as Daoist priests/practitioners and TCM doctors. For them, 'yangsheng' is basically a means to an end.

3/ To some yangsheng practitioners, yangsheng means to 'nurture both the body and the mind' for the purpose of attaining longevity. For them, yangsheng is still a means, but to achieve longevity, it is no less important to 'cultivate the mind and improve one's character' (修心养性).

All the above-mentioned interpretations are, as I see it, more or less problematic, although the third theoretical approach seems much more 'satisfactory' than the other two, and far closer to what Laozi and Zhuangzi may have had in mind when they first introduced the concept.

How should we understand yangsheng then?