A journey of self-discovery

by Yang Feiyue and Yang Jun in Guiyang (China Daily) | 2023-04-05


The front gate of the Yangming Academy in Xiuwen county. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Approximately 500 years ago, preeminent Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) philosophical thinker and politician, Wang Yangming, was exiled to Longchang town, Xiuwen county, after stepping on the toes of a powerful eunuch by speaking up and defending upright officials in Beijing.

His sudden change of fortunes, from a court official in the country's bustling capital to a man on the lowest rung of the political ladder in an underdeveloped region, didn't cause him too much mental consternation. Instead, during his stay in Xiuwen, in what is today's Guiyang, capital of Southwest China's Guizhou province, he buried himself in his thoughts and developed the key concepts of his doctrines.

Wang's philosophy, based on Confucian tradition, is composed of these now well-known doctrines, which espouse the mind as principle, the unity of knowledge and action, and the extension of good conscience. These views have been discussed in detail by scholars around the world.

During his two-year stay in Guizhou, Wang's enlightenment became a starting point that led him to develop the "school of mind" philosophy, which emphasizes the cultivation of the "heart-mind" and self-awareness as the key to moral development and social harmony.

It has been considered by scholars and experts as a remarkable contribution to Confucianism, a philosophical and ethical system that emphasizes the importance of personal and social morality.


The stone memorial archway at the same park. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Wang Yangming left more than 600 poems throughout his life, one-sixth of which were written in Guizhou," says Xie Nian, a senior official with Guizhou's provincial publicity department.

"Guizhou is, therefore, known as the 'holy land of Wang Yangming's learning'", Xie adds.

Local authorities have planned to stage a themed reading and culture event on this year's Teachers' Day on Sept 10.

"During the process of event-planning, we discovered that Wang Yangming had not only sown the seeds of his philosophy in Guizhou, but also left behind many touching stories," Xie says.

For instance, Wang had left his mark on the area, such as those in a small limestone cave he moved in, which he dubbed wanyiwo, or "den for the Book of Changes". The name indicates that was where he read and researched the Book of Changes, one of the traditional Chinese classics.

"A large amount of relics pertaining to Wang have been preserved well in Guizhou," Xie says, adding that an ancestral hall and a cultural park offer an intact and detailed explanation of Wang's life and the essence of his thinking.

"These cultural treasures complement the stunning natural landscapes of Guizhou, making it a very appealing destination," he adds.

As the country has urged a focus on culture and tourism integration, the Guizhou authorities consider it a great opportunity to develop tourism products based on the life of Wang Yangming.


A view of the Longgang Academy in Xiuwen county, Guizhou province, that features classes on Wang Yangming's wisdom and a collection of books. [Photo provided to China Daily]

People with the knowledge of Wang's ideas and tourism planning have conducted field investigations, and found 12 sites across Guizhou which carry traces of Wang's spirit, Xie says.

Those sites have been pieced together into a classic learning route, along which travelers can enjoy a dialogue with the ancient thinker.

Li Xiaolong, head of the Guizhou Longchang Wang Yangming Research Institute, believes the value of each of the 12 sites is different, but their connection is very close.

"Wang Yangming came to Longchang with a heavy heart, but was light-hearted and full of hope when he left," Li says, adding that the 12 sites have preserved elements reflecting the changes Wang went through.

"When visiting each point, it is important to quieten your mind, truly enter into the thinker's inner world, and carefully appreciate and reflect upon the historical background and his life experiences. Only then can you gain something meaningful from the journey," Li says.

Zhang Lubin has been working at the Yangming Culture Park at Longchang, one of the sites, for seven years.

It was where Wang gained his philosophical insight, which was named the "Longchang enlightenment".

"I have given group tours thousands of times now, hosting probably 60 or 70 tours during the busiest months," Zhang says.


An imposing statue of Wang Yangming in the Yangming Culture Park, in Longchang town. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhang says it is very fulfilling to share traditional culture with tourists, while learning a lot at work. "Many scholars have come here to give lectures and share their academic views, and they can delve into Wang's philosophy in an easy-to-understand way," Zhang says.

"Some tourists can also inspire me through our exchanges."

Over the years, Zhang has witnessed the infrastructure upgrade in the neighborhood.

"A new riverside landscape sightseeing belt has been built, where visitors can take a walk and tour around," Zhang says.

Classes have been staged at the Longgang Academy regularly, and archery, stone rubbings and boat races have been staged during traditional celebrations, such as at Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Yangming Culture Park falls into the category of humanistic landscape. It is recommended that visitors find a guide when visiting, Zhang says.

"You can learn the stories behind each stone here and each piece of his writing," he explains.

Yuan Jiali, a tour guide, suggests visitors should not miss out the Yangming Memorial Hall and the cave he used to live in.

Visitors need to climb a small hill for a few minutes to reach the cave, while the memorial hall itself is a magnificent green-gray structure that holds valuable items to help visitors better understand Wang's life and wisdom, says Yuan, who has been working at the site for a year.

"The stories of the philosopher have been very helpful, teaching me how to better regulate my daily habits and improve my moral cultivation," Yuan says.

She believes through studying Wang's thoughts, visitors can also establish good values and become more positive toward life.

Chou Junlin was impressed by the Yangming Cave during his trip to Guizhou in February.

The tourist from Guangdong province has an interest in history and traditional culture and made it a point to visit the site, where a lecture about the ancient thinker's wisdom was also held.

"I feel it's important, especially for us, young people, to better understand Wang's ideas, so we can fare better in life," Chou says.

When Wang put forward the last term in his three-pillar philosophical system: zhiliangzhi, or the "extension of good conscience", his doctrines reached a new height. It is the kernel of Wang's thought and represents the most salient features of his interpretation of Confucianism, researchers say.


A limestone cave which Wang used to live for enlightenment, also at the park. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Wang spent his life practicing the beliefs himself, either in governance, during military operations or offering education.

He once led an army and crushed rebellions. After leaving the position, he focused his attention on getting to the root of the reason for the insurgency and implemented follow-up administrative measures to ensure a secure life for those residents affected by the rebellions.

Wang was among the few ancient officials in civil service who were granted their titles of nobility based on their military exploits. Also, he lectured around the country, disseminating his doctrines and attracting throngs of followers.

In the century after he left Guizhou, more than 40 academies were built in the province in memory of him and his school of thought, says He Dan, a researcher at the International Documentation and Research Center for Yangming Culture, in Guiyang.

"The 'Longchang enlightenment' has left a cultural treasure for Guizhou, China and the world," she says.

Xie believes that the new tourism route will help attract more travelers, especially those with an interest in history, to Guizhou.

"Tourists can embark on a journey exploring the roots of Wang's theory, a journey of integrating knowledge and action, and a journey of self-discovery and the unity of heaven and people," Xie says.

The new route will also take people to the sites and tourist spots related to the revolutionary course of modern China.

"People are able to fully experience the significant transformations and advancements that have taken place throughout history, from ancient times to the present day," Xie says.

Local authorities will also come up with a systematic plan to deepen the development of publications and brick-and-mortar facilities related to Wang, with the aim of creating a study tour that closely integrates reading classic works with the exploration of ancient sites.

"We will strive to provide a new platform for everyone to get close to our country's landscapes and mountains, and appreciate the nation's traditional culture," Xie says.

© The Guiyang Municipal People's Government. All Rights Reserved.
Presented by China Daily.
© The Guiyang Municipal People's Government.
All Rights Reserved.
Presented by China Daily.