In September I had a unique opportunity to visit China. First I visited Guangzhou, then the Waldorf teacher seminar in Beijing. Here are a few impressions from what I lectured on and experienced on this China visit.
From the Opium Wars to the most modern form of Taoism
In Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, I spoke at first about the fatal Opium Wars, which broke out in this city. I had brought sketches with me which Laurence Oliphant had made at the location. It was fortunate that a European lecturer could connect to the history of the city which became a part of world history, although tragically. I spoke before an audience of parents and teachers at the Waldorf School then about the Tao and its original connection to the Anthroposophy of R. Steiner, which is, as it were, the ripest fruit on the tree of Taoism, as I wrote in my little book about the Tao thirty years ago now.1
The 4-day conference was very well-organised, and the lecturers – the doctor Dr. Daphné von Boch spoke after me; she had prompted my own visit – were looked after in a most conscientious and friendly manner by two ladies, Vicky and Yejia.
This was followed by an ‘intermezzo’ in Hongkong, which was taken from the Chinese after the First Opium War. The city was being battered by the giant typhoon “Mangkhut” which had already devastated the Philippines, so I left for Beijing a day earlier than planned.
Cosmological character of the temples in Beijing
I made use of the day gained to visit the great temple sites in the city, first the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of the Earth, both strictly aligned to the spring and autumn equinoxes. The essential commentaries by my guide Martin Barkhoff, a former chief editor of the weekly, “Das Goetheanum”, were a kind of intensive course in Chinese cultural history. I learned especially about the cosmological background of the sites, which was entirely in harmony with the impulse of the Tao.
The next four days at the Waldorf Teachers’ Seminar in Beijing passed very fruitfully and were expertly organised by Martin Barkhoff, one of the leaders of this one-year seminar training. Here I spoke again about the theme of the Tao and its further ramifications. Once again, the audience was most attentive.
The dramatic expansion of the Waldorf movement
The Waldorf movement in China has boomed these last ten years – with more than 80 schools and 400 kindergartens across the country – but it is faced with enormous challenges: in Beijing I learned for the first time how sensitive the issue of the spread of the Waldorf and the Anthroposophical movement actually is in China at the moment. For it has to be firmly avoided that the schools and spiritual science have about them the whiff of a religious movement or a sect. Otherwise, a similar fate to that of the Falun Gong sect might befall them.
The Falun Gong sect as a warning
Founded in the 1980s, the Falun Gong movement, with its physical and meditative practices, and also its Taoist character, grew rapidly over a short period. By the end of the 1990s, its membership had reached almost 100 million. When it came to demonstrations with political demands, the Communist Party literally saw red: in April 1999 10,000 Falun Gong supporters demonstrated in front of the central government area in Beijing. A severe wave of arrests followed. In October of that year Falun Gong was branded a “heretical organisation” by the government and the movement was banned. Persecutions followed. Numerous members are supposed to have been killed, others tortured.
The rapid growth of the Waldorf movement in the last ten years is therefore not only extremely welcome; it also calls for the utmost caution if it is to be spared a fate similar to that of the Falun Gong sect. It must not come under suspicion of being a religious movement, for the Party’s view is that such movements can easily become political.
In reality Anthroposophy is, of course, neither a religion nor a political movement but a spiritual scientific path to develop insight into spiritual realities, just as natural science has researched the natural realities of the sense world.
In the spiritual field of tension
The population are under strict surveillance with the most advanced technology. The ahrimanic character of the great cities, but also that of Chinese military might is not to be underestimated – next to the Beijing Waldorf School I visited is a military barracks; shots can be heard periodically from the shooting range.
As China was once the stage for the incarnation of Lucifer, this traveller always had the question how Ahriman, in this time of his present incarnation, will seek to connect to the effects of the incarnation of his brother Lucifer precisely here in China – not least also through the promotion of escapist spiritual movements like Falun Gong, movements which, like that of the Dalai Lama, have a certain spiritual power precisely because they are forbidden.
In view of this spiritual double constellation, the spread of the Waldorf movement and of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science plays a very decisive role that can heal this polarity.
1 German ed. 1988. English ed.: Clairvoyance and Consciousness – The Tao Impulse in Evolution, London, 1991.