Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Monday, 31 October 2011

2009年11月,從匈牙利來台45年的趙德恕神父過世了!這位被歷屆法文系學生稱之為「趙爸爸」的趙神父,在輔大培育出一批批的法文人才,將其一生獻給台灣杏壇。在追思彌撒中,同學們紛紛表達無盡的感恩與懷念。

 

全台最大的BBS站PTT,註冊人數超過一百五十萬,尖峰時段可匯集十四萬以上的人。這些人自稱鄉民,擁有自己的律法制度,他們在其中交換訊息、討論形形色色的事物,最後甚至攻占媒體版面,反過頭來影響真實的社會……

 

台灣的農業政策與產銷方式對農民造成的影響,不是一句「無米樂」就能概括承受。社會企業,強調收益的正向循環,而不以營利為最終目的;這種嶄新型態,可望為農民、農產及消費者創造出一條友善的連結通路。

 

Between the years of 2006-2007 I engaged in an ethnographic research about players of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft (WoW). Ever since then, I have had the impression that a lot of what has been said and written about the internet is in fact, hot air. Let us have a quick look at the two sides of the raging debate about the internet.

On the blue corner are the custodians of the 'old ways'. Much has been made of the internet censorship laws in China. Chinese authorities defend their measures by arguing that an unregulated internet would turn into a means of spreading rumours and propaganda. Similarly legislation in countries like Turkey and Iran limit content access on the internet on the grounds that it damages their 'moral fibre'. The 'affluent west' has it's own brand of conservatives, who unscrupulously use clinical language to describe the relationship between man and the internet. We see a new industry emerging around the 'curing' of 'internet addiction'. The problems with this approach to the internet are too obvious and hence, offer scant intellectual delight.

On the red corner, we have the champions of 'enlightenment'. Here are the bookie's favourite. The self appointed crusaders of progress are a very mixed bunch. In the Chinese context for instance we have the brave men and women of Google who have valiantly turned their failed investment in China, into a PR spectacle featuring themselves on the lead role as the stout hearted warriors waving the banner for freedom of speech in the land of the uncivilized heathens. In the western front the same battle is waged by groups like 'Anonymous' or 'Lulzsec' with varying degrees of success. There is far more intellectual flesh here for the enthusiastic polemicist to get their critical teeth into. Although crushing the dreams of stary eyed digital utopians provides a sense of immediate gratification of a predatory nature, it is scarcely productive nor satisfying in the long run.

Homo sapiens for good or ill, has a tendency to pick sides on issues that vary from the utterly trivial to existentially critical. Families can break up over potato salad recipes, just as generations can slaughter each other in the name of religion.

"What is your bloody point?" I hear you cry impatient reader. My point is that polarisation of the debate about the internet unfortunately misses some interesting things that are actually going on. We are struggling with the inevitability of change on one hand and the necessity to protect what we hold dear as a society. The assumption that both sides have in common is that the internet presents a massive rupture in human existence. An alternative is to look at the internet through the lens of continuity.

For instance during his aforementioned research your humble author has discovered that WoW players tend to model their social organisation on conventional organisational structures they have familiarised with outside the context of the internet. Also, contrary to the common belief that the particular form of anonymous interaction forged over MMO platforms dissolve sexual identity, I have observed that young boys and girls actually learn to perform their sexual identity through their interactions with the rest of the community.

What I am trying to get across here is that if we had spilled as much ink describing the effects of the internet as we have over the question of whether the Internet is a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing', we would have by now reached a state where we can accurately evaluate the direction that we want the internet to take. But where is the fun in that?

(Detail of a drawing by Bendu)

Monday, 31 October 2011 16:43

中國的網路與「公民社會」

中國的網路環境儘管受到嚴密的管制,但一般民眾、公民團體仍可突破種種限制,以之作為發聲的實驗性平台;人們在其中激盪出各種論辯和參與,雖然還不能視為一種民主,卻已具備「公民社會」的條件了。

引領當代數位商品風潮的史帝夫.賈伯斯(Steve Jobs)在十月初離世,一時之間,全球的網路、媒體、民眾紛表悼念哀傷;人們盛讚他的創意,稱他是時代先驅,更是生活的改革者。但是,賈伯斯帶給這個世界的,真如人們想的那般美好嗎?

Sina Weibo is big in China right now. Essentially a microblogging service, it has elements of Facebook and Twitter, both of which (along with YouTube) are banned on the Mainland. With over 400 million users1, Sina Weibo is definitely a hit, and is likely to remain so as long as it does not become a vehicle for dissent and upset or threaten the government. Like all social media, Sina Weibo is overflowing with minutiae. Triumphs and tragedies, love and loathing, it is there for all to see. I enjoyed reading one of my Chinese namesakes wax lyrical about his newly rounded eyes (via eyelid cosmetic surgery). Body modification aside, the communication possibilities that Sina Weibo has generated are proving attractive to many in China, including those in the religious and spiritual spheres.

As I have written before, religion is a constantly evolving and fascinating phenomenon2, even in China where regulations continue to be more restrictive than in other countries in the region3. Here I will profile some of the various characters taking advantage of the enormous opportunity to promote their personalities, organisations and messages through Sina Weibo.

Taiwan’s Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) is a large Buddhist organisation that uses its Sina Weibo account4 to share quotations of spiritual inspiration and considered reflection - “What is self?” and “Success is a beautiful result, failure is a beautiful experience” are two recent thought provoking and decidedly non-menacing examples.

Xing Yun (星云) is a monk who fled China decades ago and has built a massive international Buddhist organisation based at Foguangshan (佛光山) in southern Taiwan. On Sina Weibo he has garnered an impressive 327,593 followers5. Like Dharma Drum Mountain, Xing Yun reaches out to his followers with a stream of short and poignant pieces of Buddhist wisdom. For many years Xing Yun and the late founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, Sheng-yen (聖嚴), would have dreamed about having such direct access to Buddhists in the land of their birth. Sina Weibo now gives them unprecedented reach. However, it is in the less orthodox bloggers that we can find even more innovative examples.

Terry Hu (胡茵夢) is a Taiwanese movie star turned author6. Her works are spiritual in nature, and include a translation of the biography of the 20th century Indian philosopher Krishnamurti. Currently promoting her autobiography, Hu is tapping into her network of Sina Weibo followers to drum up publicity by holding competitions. Those who forward details of her book onto three friends have the opportunity to win more books and the writers of the five most outstanding comments will also win a book. Several hundred bloggers have participated in this marketing ploy.

Another Taiwanese author writing and translating in the ‘body, mind, spirit’ genre (身心靈) is Tiffany Chang (張德芬)7 . Prior to her career as a spiritual figure, Chang was a news anchor on Taiwan’s TTV channel. Aside from writing her own books (Meeting the Unknown Self) and translating popular foreign authors, such as Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth), Chang has produced a short series of videos where she reviews books8 and has assisted Taipei’s Huan-ting zen in Taiwan and China. Demonstrating considerable web savvy, Chang operates a China-based body, mind, spirit website called ‘Inner Space’9. She uses her Sina Weibo account to distribute news of updates on Inner Space to her followers, who number just under 100,000.

Perhaps the most interesting religious figure using Sina Weibo is the young Buddhist monk, Shi Daoxin (釋道心)10. Having accumulated over 189,000 followers, he uses Sina Weibo in a way that some might more associate with a self-absorbed and self-promoting youth. I have never seen a monk demonstrate such fashion sense; Shi Daoxin has a knack for matching his robes with his (often gaudily coloured) glasses. Even if you don’t understand Chinese, scroll down his blog and you will see a fantastic variety of photos.

Shi Daoxin pouting. Shi Daoxin posing wistfully outside a temple. Shi Daoxin rendered as a cartoon. Shi Daoxin meditating. Shi Daoxin meditating next to a naked babe.

The photo of Shi Daoxin meditating behind a penitent-looking female nude is particularly interesting. Apparently the winner of the Virginia Photo Exhibition in the USA, this photo is titled “Mind without obscuration” (心無罣礙) and is re-blogged with a quote from the Heart Sutra: “form is emptiness” (色即是空).

Besides his own manifold images, Shi Daoxin also uses Sina Weibo to disseminate Buddhist teachings, including videos from more established teachers, such as Xing Yun. He has also circulated several of his music videos, including one karaoke-friendly ditty where he sings a Buddhist song while wandering around a temple garden and market. The suitably devout chorus is “Amitabha Buddha, please protect me” (阿彌陀佛,呵護著我). Shi Daoxin has achieved some degree of celebrity, having participated in the TV dating show “The Whole City is Madly in Love” (全城熱戀) and was interviewed on China’s top daytime TV talk show “A Date with Luyu” (魯豫有約).

If there is one thing that this brief survey shows, it is that each of these bloggers is attempting to make religious ideas relevant to life in contemporary China. Methods vary greatly—orthodox or radical, commercial or benevolent—but the bloggers are linked by the common goal of seeking to share a spiritual message with the widest possible audience. Doing so via Sina Weibo does not necessarily dilute the potency of their messages. Writing on religious innovation in contemporary China, the Cambridge anthropologist Adam Yuet Chau recently wrote that

Modern technologies and other non-traditional elements can often be effortlessly incorporated into the framework of traditional idioms and practices, which in turn reveals the dynamic innovability of the traditions themselves11.

Sina Weibo is an ideal example of this innovability. Even the more ‘traditional’ bloggers discussed here, such as Dharma Drum Mountain and Xing Yun, have made a concerted effort over many decades to revitalise Buddhism so it is more relevant to life in the contemporary world. Microblogs are just another stage in the evolution of this process. Not surprisingly, Shi Daoxin also claims to be a disseminator of modern Buddhist culture and art, albeit in his own unique way. For the time being, Shi Daoxin et al will continue to be able to encourage, inspire, question and interact with their followers through Sina Weibo. And when Sina Weibo loses its lustre or is blocked, then I’m sure they will be among the early adopters of the next web platform, whatever it may be.

(Photo courtesy of www.weibo.com/shidaoxin)

 


 

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8851585/China-fights-to-silence-the-social-network.html

2.http://bit.ly/rC0vpY

3. http://bit.ly/uVZTtH

4. http://weibo.com/ddmbascc

5. http://weibo.com/1861268640

6. http://weibo.com/1243683297

7. http://weibo.com/1759168351

8. http://www.youtube.com/user/BOOKLIFE1313

9. http://www.innerspace.com.cn/f/index

10. http://weibo.com/shidaoxin

11. Adam Yuet Chau. Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation, Taylor and Francis, 2011, page 20.

 

 

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