"Songhe is spending the 2010-2011 academic year at Hendrix, thanks to an education partnership between Hendrix and Heilongjiang University in Harbin, a city of 5 million people in northern China near the Russian border.
Though her home institution has more than 30,000 students, the adjustment has not been significant, she insists. She arrived at Hendrix in August and quickly immersed herself in campus life, attending lectures by visiting scholars, sitting in on other Hendrix classes, going to concerts and other campus activities. Off campus, she has visited a jazz bar in Little Rock and toured Eureka Springs in northwest Arkansas.
“The only problem is time,” she said. “I want to have as much contact as possible with students and local people.”
“Hendrix, to me, is not a new place,” she said. “Hendrix is like a second home.”
Since her arrival this fall on campus, she has kept very busy, visiting with Hendrix faculty members, such as Jane Harris, Ian King, and Wayne Oudekerk, who have become friends over the years, as well as current Hendrix students who have studied at Heilongjiang.
This fall, she helped teach a course in Chinese history, and she will teach a course in Chinese culture this spring.
Songhe has seized every opportunity to get closer to students and faculty, to learn more about their culture and share with them what a brilliant culture her country has.
“Most people know very little about us,” she said.
Shortly after arriving at Hendrix, Songhe got to know a group of Hendrix students from Rwanda. She believes the cultures of Africa and China are very close in origin and history.
“We are brothers and sisters,” she said. “With more contact and more understanding, we hope times of conflict will be less and less.”
Wang has also shared her culture with the local community, performing traditional Chinese operas for residents at the Trillium Park retirement community and Taichi dance for students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School near campus.
“If we have more contact, we understand each other,” she said.
- Hendrix College, Dec. 9, 2010
Essays by Songhe Wang
in partnership with Jay McDaniel and Patricia Adams Farmer
A Bejewelled World
Songhe Wang and Patricia Adams Farmer
Jewels as Insects, Snow, People Songhe Wang
NOT LONG AGO I listened to a lecture by the well-known teacher Chenguo in Fudan University in China. In the lecture, she described her interesting experience: One day she visited a painter friend, and he showed her a book of photos named “Jewelry.” She went through the book page by page, but to her surprise, there was no one piece of jewelry there. The book is full of insects. So she said to herself that there must have been a mistake in naming the book, and instead of “Jewelry,” the book of photos should have been named “Insects.” Then she gave the name a second thought; suddenly she realized something unusual and marvelous there.
“Yes,” she said to herself, “insects are jewelry carved and polished by nature. If you look carefully at them, each of them is unique and beautiful in their own way: the patterns and colors on their bodies, the way they move, etc. Because of these natural jewels, designers get inspiration. For example, Chanel has white camellia as its trade mark; the Beetle car …”
If the insects are jewelry in the world, what I want to say is that we human beings are jewels, too, and shine in our own way. We are a piece of dust in the endless universe. However, the mind in the tiny piece of dust thinks and explores the vast universe and tries to discover its secrets one by one.
I live in Harbin, northeast China. It is one of the coldest places in China. In other words, we have a lot of snow and ice in winter time. We make a crystal world each year with the natural jewels of snow and ice, since 1985. This crystal world is called Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. Seeing the ice-lanterns and snow sculptures is one of the main activities during the Spring Festival. They make our life colorful and full of fun. Thus, it draws tens of thousands of foreign tourists as well. We add meaning to the snow and ice, giving life to them by putting our dreams or imagination in them. For example, we once made an ice rocket, an ice Great Wall, Snow Laughing Buddha…
The natural jewels—snow and ice— decorate and beautify our life; and our dreams and imaginations about the mysterious world embellish the whole universe. As the poet Blake says:
To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.
Indra's Net of Jewels Patricia Adams Farmer
JEWELS ARE PRECIOUS not only because they are beautiful, but because their beauty refuses to be self-contained. Jewels draw us into them; they dazzle unapologetically; they move us to poetry. They reveal the truth about the world: everything reflects. Everything connects.
Songhe Wang tells a story about how everything connects, how snow and ice are jewels, and people and insects, too--all reflecting each other’s beauty and belongingness.
There is an ancient story about jewels called “Indra’s Jewels” or “Indra’s Net.”
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering "like" stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring. (told by Francis Harold Cook)
This “infinite reflecting process” not only describes the philosophy of ancient India and and Mahayana Buddhism, but of Whiteheadian thought, too. For Whitehead ‘s Process and Reality describes the world as an organic web of lively interconnections, forever reflecting and penetrating and co-creating one another. Whitehead's world is a beautiful world, a bejeweled world where everything reflects and everything connects.
Songhe’s story about insects as jewels lures me back to Mary Oliver’s famous poem, "The Summer Day," where she speaks of the grasshopper "who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—/ who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes."
The poet is lured into another world through the eyes of the grasshopper. Those “enormous and complicated eyes” reflect the world like jewels, beckoning us to understand Indra’s cosmic net which, at every single “ eye,” holds a jewel that reflects all other jewels.
Everything reflects; everything connects. We live in a bejeweled world with enormous, complicated eyes that ask of us:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?
“知音”(zhī yīn) and Musical Friendship Gaining wisdom from Chinese characters
Songhe Wang, Harbin, China
Do you have a best friend? If you do, what word will you use to describe this person? Is this person your bosom buddy? Does this person understand the music of your heart and mind? Can you share your deepest feelings with this friend? And do you know this friend's feelings, too?
In China, we use the Chinese characters “知音”(zhī yīn) to name this kind of friend. “知”means knowing or understanding and “音”means sound, voice, and music. ”The term “知音” comes from a touching story in Spring and Autumn Period, about 2600 years ago.
俞伯牙（ Yu Boya） was an intelligent boy interested in music very much. He learned playing Guqin (a traditional Chinese musical instrument) from a well-known musician.
Three years later, Yu Boya became famous for his music. However, he still wanted to learn. His teacher said to him:” I have nothing to teach you any more, but I can get you to know my teacher, and you can learn from him.”
One day, they started off in a boat. When they got to a very beautiful place called Peng Laige, his teacher said: “You wait here; I am going to find my teacher.” But it turned out his teacher never came back. First he was sad. He looked up at the blue sky, and then he looked at the vast sea around him. He heard the sounds of the waves and the singing of the birds in the forest; he felt the gentle touch of the breeze on his face. Then he suddenly understood why he was left alone in nature. His teacher wanted him to learn from the great teacher: nature.
After that, he practiced music every day in the open air. One day, while he was practicing, the strings of his instrument trembled. He knew at once someone nearby understood his music. He saw a man gathering woods for making a fire on the bank. He invited the man onto his boat and listen to his music. The man understood his music and appreciated his music very much. Yu Boya said you were my “知音”. From then on, “知音” came to mean best friend.
I hope your life will be sweet with music. I hope all the more that your life will be full of sunshine with your “知音”. In this website we are encouraging people all over the world to walk in the ways of wisdom, compassion, and creativity. We find some of the ideas in Whitehead’s philosophy helpful for this walk. Several of them are in the story.
One is that nature is musical, too, and that we can listen to nature’s voices as one way of finding our way into the wisdom we seek for our lives. If poetics means “seeking wisdom for daily life,” then we are interested in ecopoetics: finding wisdom from nature. We have a section in the website called Friends, Families, and Mentors. We believe the natural world can be a mentor, too.
Another is that our experience consists not only of thinking about things with our minds, but feeling things with our senses. Yu Boya felt the breeze and heard the singing. In the language of Whitehead, he prehended them with subjective forms of gratitude and appreciation. There is no need to use these technical terms, but for those interested in Whitehead’s philosophy it is important to note that, for him, the other beings in the natural world have prehensions and subjective forms, too. As the birds sang, they prehended their environments with subjective forms as well. Perhaps they were establishing territory, or seeking mates. But perhaps they were singing because they, too, have a sense of beauty, too. This is what Whitehead thinks. He thinks that birds sing, in part, because they enjoy singing. They have their own senses of harmony and intensity, of rhythm.
Still another is that we can feel the feelings of other people, and that in this feeling of their feelings, we come to understand them. In Whitehead’s language, we prehend their prehensions. In this knowing we do not simply know about them, we know with them. We have a sense of their way of being in the world, emotionally as well as intellectually. This is the way it is with your best friend. He or she knows you from the inside. If you are walking through life, she is walking too.
And still another is that that every person has a musical quality to him or her. Like the birds in the sky, every person is singing, too: his or her life is her song. The song is not static, it is dynamic and unfolding over time, with a future as well as a past. It is song that is not yet finished. When we are with our bosom buddies, we feel close to them for who they are, and also for who they are becoming and can become. We respect the fact that they are in process, along with the rest of the natural world and all other humans. Yu Boya’s teacher saw that Yu Boya had a future, too. In the language of Whitehead, he felt what was actual in Yu Boya, and also what is possible.
There is one final lesson to be learned from the story. Or at least an idea to consider. It is that the Guqin was a teacher, too. When we play musical instruments, they become our friends and mentors. At first the relationship can be strained, because we do not know how to be with them. We must stretch our fingers in certain ways that seem awkward or clumsy if it is a stringed instrument; we must use our breath in special ways if it is a wind instrument. But gradually we become friends, and they help us make music. Through them we discover our own possibilities for becoming. We may not be gifted like Yu Boya, but we are gifted in our own ways. Guqin can be a friend in the process of wisdom-seeking. A friend in the way of poetics.
聪明 as Multiple Intelligence Gaining Wisdom from Chinese Characters
Songhe Wang (Harbin, China) and Jay McDaniel (USA)
In the twentieth century in the West, the poet Ezra Pound developed the idea that poems could combine Chinese characters and the English language, and he suspected that there was a philosophy contained in each character. In the language of Whitehead, each character contains multiple proposals for how we might see the world, multiple lures for feeling. In this respect each character is itself a very short poem: an invitation to look at the world and feel the world in a certain way. At least this is what Ezra Pound believed. He was a pioneer in cross-cultural poetics.
Later in the century, the avante garde and postmodern poet, Charles Olson, proposed that Whitehead’s philosophy offers a new cosmology for poetry and, equally important, for life itself, because it sees things in terms of events and connections, rather than static, isolated substances. His own poetry concretized, articulated, and embodied Whitehead’s idea that life unfolds in moments and occasions, episodes and events.
We stand indebted to these two traditions: the Ezra Pound “cross-cultural” tradition and the Charles Olson “Whiteheadian postmodern” tradition. We want to explore the possibility that particular Chinese characters contain with themselves philosophical ideas which articulate and interpret certain themes in Whitehead’s philosophy. We call it learning Whiteheadian poetics through characters. The characters become the teachers.
By poetics, we do not mean the activity of reflecting on poetry. Rather we mean the activity of seeking wisdom in daily life. We mean something like 诗意 (shi yi). If you are not a Whiteheadian philosopher, please do not worry. The wisdom offered by characters transcends Whitehead, and reflects the wisdom of Chinese tradition, as it has evolved for several thousands of years. Today people in many parts of the world can partake of this wisdom.
We begin with characters often translated as Intelligence. We propose that the characters invite us to consider the possibility that there are multiple forms of intelligence and that they can work together to provide a wisdom which might be lacking if the forms are separated.
The characters are 聪明. The first character is聪 (cōng ). It is composed of four parts. 耳means ear; 眼means two eyes; 口means mouth and 心means heart. The second character is composed of two parts: 日means the sun, and月means the moon.
In this character, sun and moon mean something like light. When we have the sun or the moon, something is illuminated so that we can see clearly. Think of the English language phrase “shed light on something.” It is as if the sun and moon were shining on something, so that we can see clearly.
Where, then, can light be found? The character for intelligence tells us that our lives are illuminated – that we find truths to live by – when we use our ears to listen; our eyes to see and observe; our mouth to talk or communicate; and our hearts to feel. Intelligence does not come from logical thinking and rational inference alone; it comes from the whole person as he or she is engaged with the world with her senses, her listening, her eyes, her dialogues with others, and of course her feeling.
The idea that intelligence is an activity of the whole person is something that was very important to Whitehead. Recall his idea of concrescence, which is the idea that at every moment of our lives we are experiencing the world through various kinds of prehensions: intellectual, emotional, recollective, anticipatory, and sensory. These prehensions are acts of taking into account other things: the feelings of others, memories, future possibilities, and material objects in the world.
These prehensions are like multi-colored ribbons flowing out from a person into the world and also flowing into a person from the world. They are gathered together into that momentary yet living whole which is a person’s life at that moment. Concrescence is the activity of the ribbons coming together: an activity of 耳 and 眼 and 心.
Imagine someone shopping for vegetables at a market. She sees the tomatoes, she touches the tomatoes, she talks to the person selling them, and all the while she anticipates going home to use them in a dish she will make and enjoy with her family. Eventually she may also taste the tomatoes. She has intelligence. She has 聪明.
Howard Gardner at Harvard University proposes that there are many forms of intelligence: spatial, linguistic, mathematical, bodily, musical, interpersonal, introspective, intuitive, and the intelligence of knowing about the natural world. All are important. The Chinese character聪明 is an invitation to seek wisdom in all of these forms, using our eyes and ears and hearts, in dialogue with others who are also seeking wisdom. Indeed this character captures the spirit of poetics. Do we not all seek wisdom with our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our minds? The whole idea that the "mind" is divorced from feeling and intuition, from hopes and dreams, from seeing and hearing is a figment of the abstract imagination, rightly corrected by the wisdom of 聪明.
Songhe Wang (Heilonjiang University, Harbin, China) and Jay McDaniel (Hendrix College, USA)
My Partner: The English Language
Songhe Wang, Harbin, China
Yesterday, as I was reading an English excerpt of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and listening to the song Dancing Barefoot in English for the first time, an idea occurred to me: what would my world be like if I had not learned English in my childhood?
The late 1970s was an especially difficult period in China. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) had ended. Schools, which had been dismissed during that time, came back, and courses once banned were restored as well, including English language education. I was a lucky girl, as I had chance of meeting one of the most charming languages in the world: English.
My English teacher, who had been a factory worker, had been chosen to be in a training class for those who would work as English teachers. In other words, my teacher and some others spent a few months learning English. Then they began to teach us English. You can easily imagine what my English class was like. Looking back, I would call the English taught in my class Chinese –style English. By Chinese–style, I mean my teacher’s pronunciation was far beyond correct or understandable. (It was not her fault. She just learned English for a few months. In today’s words, she was like an instant noodle/fast food.); By Chinese-style, I also mean the content of what I learned. For example: Long long live Chairman Mao, Red Star village, comrade, worker, peasant, soldier…
Even so, the English education I received opened a door for me to see the world. In 1984, I passed the national exams for college, and good luck struck me again---my major was English language and literature. During my four-year year college life, my English competence improved greatly.
What’s more, I had opportunities to meet great people in the world and could have dialogues with them in their own language, directly. For instance, I met Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc. Their works not only improved my English language, but also broadened my vision of the world and of human beings. I, as a human being, was improved inwardly. Take Mark Twain for example. I like his humor very much: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”; “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” I also like what Emerson said: “People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
Since graduation from college, I have been teaching English and working as an English editor. Through English I have made friends with people in Australia, Canada, Britain, America, Israel…Sometimes I count my friends instead of money. I have developed a habit of reading some English every day in my spare time for fun and health. It is believed that reading can maintain as well as promote mental health. And I often listen to English songs. I like Amazing Grace, Music of the Night, The Rose, What a wonderful World…So when I say English is my partner, I don’t think you will think I am exaggerating.
I like this: The test of a modern society capable of meeting change with accelerated evolution instead of revolution does not lie in asking, “Is everybody happy?”, but rather, “Is everyone learning?” To be learning is not only a condition for survival; it is also the basis for being richly alive. My English learning experiences have improved that. Sure, without English, I could still live and work, but I dare say that my life would be less colorful and rich. In a word, I owe part of my open and cheerful personality to my nice partner, English language.