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Great review for Sacred Mountains in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post

September 10, 2014:

Sacred Mountains: How the Revival of Daoism is Turning China's Ecological Recovery Around
by Allerd Stikker
Bene Factum, 2014


Reviewed in the South China Morning Post

Cities are draped in smog for ever-longer periods and rivers are turning black, red and yellow as waste is dumped in. Meanwhile, algae merrily sprout, writes green business guru Allerd Stikker in his spiritually slanted assessment of China's pollution crisis.

The solution, he writes, is a riddle-rich faith with roots stretching deep into Chinese culture: Daoism (or Taoism), the ancient religious philosophy. "You could argue that the [Taoists] are the pioneers of nature conservation. In an entirely natural way, they are the very first protectors of nature."

Previously responsible for two other ecological tracts, Stikker was converted to the green cause by business trips to Taiwan at the end of the 1970s. Back then, he ran RSV, a Dutch shipbuilding company that produced naval kit. Taiwan introduced him to Taoism and severe pollution.

"At that time, the country was known as the Economic Miracle of the Far East. But I felt it was turning into the Ecological Disaster of the Far East," he writes, mentioning smog that forced people to wear masks. Economic growth and a rising living standard left little space for ecological niceties, it seemed, although eventually the Taiwanese government addressed the mess, persuaded by public protests.

In turn, Stikker hopes Beijing will clean up the mainland, spurred by Taoism. Despite Mao Zedong's stabs at quashing the faith, it is rebounding, especially popular among the younger generation born after the Cultural Revolution. Do not dismiss Taoism as a backward superstition, Stikker says.

"It has proven to be just as solid and unyielding as the rocks of the sacred mountains, a traditional [Taoist] symbol of the link between heaven, earth and humanity since time immemorial," he writes.

Fabulous illustrations by Rosa Vitalie
His argument is peppered with sharp, tangential observations that reflect his business background. For instance he cannily refers to the Confucian practice of giving clients and superiors desirable rather than realistic answers - a point Westerners doing business on the mainland should remember.

Stikker's business-slanted take on ecology and spirituality is intriguing but the question remains of whether Taoism has the heft to resolve China's environmental crisis. The faith's emphasis on working with rather than against nature seems smart, but at its heart, it is contradictory - as even its founder Lao Tzu admitted. "The truth is that the truth is often a paradox," he wrote in his meditation the Tao Te Ching.

Some may see the scriptures as mumbo jumbo. Worse, given all the faith-based wars unfolding now - not least the Shia-Sunni conflict - religion generally seems suspect.

Yet it is hard to fault Stikker's premise: in the dialogue between ecology and the economy, the former has played second fiddle for too long. China's pea-soup smog, filth-ridden rivers, and cancer villages prove that.


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