Taoist Studies Institute Trip to China – October 2007
By Matthew P. Sieradski
Harrison Moretz and Shoko Zama took seventeen students on a two-week trip to China during the last two weeks of October 2007. We visited Beijing and Qing Cheng Mountain, outside of Chengdu. While the second trip of its kind-Harrison had organized the first TSI China visit four years earlier-the journey provided a unique opportunity for participants to immerse themselves in regular practice, train with Grandmaster Feng and some of his senior students (including, of course, our very own Harrison), and visit numerous Taoist shrines and other Chinese cultural sites.
Early on, the trip was marked by an unprecedented and auspicious event. Prior to the arrival of the majority of the participants, five of Harrison’s students were formally accepted as his disciples in the Hunyuan Taiji lineage. This event was commemorated by a discipleship ceremony at Feng Zhiqiang’s Hunyuan Taiji Academy in Beijing. Present were Grandmaster Feng, his wife, and two of their daughters-Feng Xiufang and Feng Xui-as well as Chen Xiang and several other of Grandmaster Feng’s disciples. Shoko kindly introduced us to the Chinese delegation and assisted Harrison in standing and sitting as required throughout the bowing ceremony. Those of us honored as new disciples were, in order of seniority by age: Bill McMillin, Pau King Hung, Brian Dempsey, Nate Summers, and Matt Sieradski. Present as TSI representative and staff photographer was TSI Board President Jill Bader.
With the arrival of the rest of the trip participants, the tone of the group took on a festive tone. During the first week, our hosts-Feng Xiufang and Feng Xiu-put us up in a very modern and upscale hotel where we were treated to all the amenities: warm running water with polished-clean bathrooms, bottled water for drinking delivered daily with fresh fruit or biscuits, breakfast buffets with everything from pork buns to spaghetti, and the use of a computer with
internet access–albeit at a crawling connection speed. After a few days we had the good fortune to learn of a nearby Chinese therapeutic massage (tuina) clinic, just one and a half city blocks away. Soon we became regular customers, taking advantage of the exchange rate to partake of one-hour skilled massage treatments for only $8.00–for many of us, every evening.
Daily training emphasized Hunyuan Gong, Chansi Gong, and the Hunyuan Taiji 24-form, with plenty of push-hands practice as well. When the weather was good, we practiced in Ditan Park, just two city blocks from our Hotel. There we were treated to the unique Chinese cultural experience of practicing Taiji alongside other martial artists practicing their own forms, as well as other forms of movement, including the Chinese version of outdoor Jazzercise, an ecstatic clapping/positive affirmation circle, and the occasional backwards-walking elderly person. One morning we met up with Grandmaster Feng in the park and practiced Qigong and push-hands. It was delightful to see how sprightly and playful Feng Laoshi remains at the age of eighty. More amazing, however, was his demonstration of his qi-field to each of us. Words fail here, I’m afraid, but suffice it to say that we all felt encouraged to keep practicing.
When the weather was poor, we traveled by chartered bus to Feng Zhiqiang’s Hunyuan Taiji Academy, a two-story training facility complete with weapons rack and mirrors. It was there one morning that we were introduced to one of Grandmaster Feng’s senior disciples, Liu Laoshi, whose impressive demonstration preceded a push-hands class that sent many of us flying through the air… repeatedly. In my case, I felt pressed to admonish my push-hands partner to hurry up and get the technique correct so that I wouldn’t have to be employed for its demonstration any longer.
The second week took us, via another airplane ride, to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, and thence by chartered bus to Qing Cheng Mountain. We stayed near the foot of the mountain in the Qing Cheng Taoist Studies Institute Hotel. We shared our accommodations with many Taoist neophytes–bearing
robes and top-knots–who kept a schedule of morning devotions which we would often hear off in the distance during our morning practice. Grandmaster Feng’s senior disciple Chen Xiang accompanied us and led our practice sessions. As always, Chen Xiang was remarkable to train with and everyone learned a great deal from both his instruction and his presence.
The highlight of the trip perhaps was the summiting of Qing Cheng Mountain, a World Heritage Cultural Site and legendary cultivation place of the founder of religious Taoism, Zhang Daoling. The weather was misty and almost mystical the day we climbed the ancient stone steps through countless gates and shrines to reach the lofty summit and three-story pagoda shrine to Laozi on his ox. To be fair, a portion of the trip up was facilitated by a very modern chair lift, although we walked the entire way back down.
Many of the participants agreed that Qing Cheng was the most remarkable place they had ever been. The age of the place–nearly 1800 years of continual Taoist use. Our group with the president of the Qing Cheng Shan Taoist Association at the gate of the Jian Fu Temple combined with the sense of it–a purpose for every building, every shrine, and each constructed so as to flow in harmony with the natural environment–created an experience for the visitor completely unique to traditional Chinese culture. Harrison himself remarked that of all the Taoist mountains he has visited he has a special fondness for Qing Cheng Mountain. We felt very lucky to be able to visit this holy site with him.
The trip concluded back in Beijing with a whirl-wind last day as participants recovered from the fatigue induced by the busy schedule and our airplane flight from Chengdu which was delayed well past midnight due to poor weather. Throughout our time in Beijing, we were well taken care of by Feng Xiufang and Feng Xiu, who made sure that we ate at only the best restaurants. Having fended for ourselves at Qing Cheng, we were truly grateful to realize just how well taken care of we had been in Beijing. Our last evening was no different and we dined at an enormous multi-level traditional Beijing-style restaurant and then relaxed at a traditional Beijing-style teahouse where we were entertained by a variety show. Having had a truly fulfilling journey, we were ready to return home.