This is a guest post by our commenter Xilin.
Charity with Chinese Characteristics: Nourishing Africa’s Indigenous Culture?
The Amitofo Care Centre (ACC) is a charity working in association with a number of other organisations in Taiwan and South Africa. It was founded by Master Hui Li after he visited Africa in 1992 and witnessed firsthand the suffering caused by AIDs and the plight of the orphans it had left behind. Among other activities, the ACC has built and run a number of orphanages in Africa.
The following is taken from the ACC’s website:
The main principles of ACC are based on local African culture, Chinese culture and Buddhist philosophy which are given to the orphans in need. This is considered a unique and remarkable characteristic of ACC although it must be stressed that none of the orphans have taken refuge to Buddhism, as we respect their religious freedom and will allow them to choose their own religions as they enter adulthood.
Now here is a translation of a section from a speech given by Master Hui Li in Malaysia, the original of which is available here on the ACC website:
And we all deeply agree that the obvious benefits from the orphanages in the three countries of Malawi, Swaziland, and Lesotho, are that they have helped raise over three thousand orphans, and besides providing basic food, accommodation and education, have passed on Buddhism and Chinese culture to the children, allowing the bodhi seeds of Buddhism and the spiritual civilization of Chinese culture to shine in Africa. We look forward to raising a new generation of Africans, and lighting the heart light of benevolence, wisdom, the power of vow, and gratitude in them and then from this foundation we can start a virtuous circle and change the bitter fate of Africa’s needy, war, savagery and disease.
Giving details of the education and care of the children, the following is a translation of part of a newspaper article, the original of which is available here on the ACC website:
They receive a trilingual education here. Everyday, besides their mother tongue (Nyanja) and English, they also have two hours of Chinese classes. Master Huili himself teaches ‘Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child’ [弟子規] , ‘The Three Character Classic’ [三字經] [both Qing dynasty Confucian works], poems from the Tang and Song dynasties, and other Chinese culture. He wants to use ancient and broad Chinese culture to nourish Africa’s indigenous culture. He has even invited an wushu coach from China to pass on to the children orthodox Shaolin wushu in order to train the children’s bodies so that they all have strong physiques and vigorous spirits.
If you are interested in seeing the results of ACCs work in Africa, you can check out one of their videos on youtube. In it, you can see the children learning Chinese, meditating, reciting Buddhist scriptures, eating a vegetarian diet (which includes eggs and milk), using chopsticks and practicing Shaolin wushu.
The ACC’s mission to help these orphans is commendable, but what of the cultural and religious elements of ACC’s work? Is it right, or even necessary, to try and ‘use Chinese culture to nourish Africa’s indigenous culture’ (‘中華文化去滋養非洲的本土文化’).
Finally, here is a translation of Master Hui Li’s own thoughts on what Chinese culture can offer the world:
And only by carrying forward Chinese culture can we bring genuine peace for humanity and for the world and get rid of the disasters of confrontation, division, and of all humanity set against each other, caused by five hundred years of white supremacist-lead European colonialism, might, and Euro-American pride, discrimination and plunder.
The translations above are all my own. If you have any questions about certain words or how I have translated them, please post a comment.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.