I have just returned from my third teaching trip to mainland China in as many years, and am full of vivid memories and impressions.
Interest in Waldorf education (and, by extension, Eurythmy) is keen in China, as evidenced by the fact that there are some 500 Waldorf kindergartens and grade school initiatives there.
My travels have taken my to four of the larger centers for Waldorf education: Chengdu, Beijing, Xi’an and Guangzhou. There I teach Foundations of Anthroposophy and Eurythmy, two themes that enliven and enrich each other richly.
This year I concentrated my work on Chengdu, which is home to the only government-recognized Waldorf school. The school there has classes from Kindergarten through 9th grade, and is striving to create the first Waldorf high school in mainland China as soon as possible. (Taiwan has had large, fully-enrolled Waldorf schools for many years already.) I taught for 9 days straight, four sessions a day. We began with considering the comparative mythologies of the East and the West through history, to prepare the foundation for the core question: what does this mean to be a human being? From there we covered the threefold and the fourfold human being, life before birth and after death, reincarnation and karma, inner work practices, angels and abortions. Every step way carefully crafted, to be certain that the students could follow the steps with me and not merely accept them as some dogmatic assertion.
There is a keen need for quality teachers from the West to bring topics in Anthroposophy, and there seem to be several hundred teachers such as myself visiting the different centers throughout the year, offering workshops and courses. We hail from the US and Canada, Germany, England, Australia and New Zealand, and probably from other countries as well. There are teachers in Waldorf education, Eurythmy, Biodynamics, drawing, painting, music, rhythmical massage, anthroposophical medicine, biography work, threefolding and administration models, drama, puppetry, and much, much more.
My experiences in China are profound. Each time I embark on a trip there, I bring with me deep questions, questions which I hope are shared by the other teachers who travel there. I wrestle with the question of how to appreciate and honor the deep wisdom traditions that live in that great culture, and how to avoid being a “cultural imperialist.” How can I be sensitive to their history, their points of view, their needs? Can I dare to speak of the “great modern spiritual path of anthroposophy” there, where the roots of Taoism are still alive, where the choice of every food and every drink, the placement of furniture in a home, are all guided by the teachings of the polarities of yin and yang?
One of the deepest tenets of anthroposophical thinking is that the each human being is striving towards spiritual awakening, a turning of individual consciousness wherein there lies the root of human freedom. In our evolution towards this freedom in the West, we struggle mightily with the sting of egotism. What does this mean for the person of the East, whose cultural imperative is so different? What does this mean for those who live in a society in which the community norms are more highly valued than individual accomplishments?
And thus my first lectures are always tentative and careful, as I perceive what kind of questions are living in the public who have come to learn from me. This time, however, we were able to go amazingly deeply into some of the deepest issues of life. In the course of nine days, we moved from studying the evolution of consciousness through mythology and ancient wisdom traditions, through considerations of life before birth and after death, karma and reincarnation, and even angels and abortions. Through it all, we focused on the question most fundamental to anthroposophy and Waldorf education –indeed most fundamental to life itself: “What is a human being? And what is our right relationship to the earth and the cosmos?”
I found that these conversations cut through all cultural differences, and we were able to communicate on very deep and profound levels. The modern language of anthroposophy and eurythmy, when taught well and with sensitivity, can cut across all cultural differences and help us all participate in the great turning taking place on our planet at this time.
Back in the 1970s, I traveled around the world for two years on a shoestring budget, immersing myself in the various cultures of East and West. At that time, however, it wasn’t possibly to enter mainland China. The new China is bold, bright and vigorous. Many of the cities are huge (6 cities have more than 10 million inhabitants), and the architecture is inspiring and futuristic. In contrast, the old China can still be experienced in the remote cities of the countryside, where rice is still planted by hand in a primitive agriculture. The students I teach are mostly in their 20s and 30s, the first and second generations following the Cultural Revolution. To me it seems that many of the old cultural norms for which China used to be known have been lost: the emerging middle class is tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, and motivated to make large purchased and get ahead in the material world. Yet at the same time, there is an enormous movement towards spiritual investigations, as long as they are not “religious” and are not perceived as such by the government censors. Many of the quasi-occult movements of the contemporary western world can be found in the larger cities as the emerging frontier of the next generation.
I am, therefore, constantly puzzled and intrigued by the students I work with. What paradigms are they basing their world views on? What are their innate questions? In many cases I perceive that the people I am talking to are really “world citizens,” or perhaps human beings who have not necessarily been embodied in China in a previous lifetime.
As a new China arises in these decades. I am grateful to be able to take part in the journey. I am glad to make my contributions towards laying a deep foundation for an understanding of Anthroposophy in China, and hope to help assure that the Waldorf movement and other endeavors that arise there will be able to be grounded in a sound epistemology and not spring up as purely financially lucrative business opportunities.