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Watching The Tree: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Traditions, and Spiritual Wisdom Paperback – June 18, 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Somewhere it is written that every Chinese wears a Confucian thinking cap, a Taoist robe, and Buddhist sandals. In Watching the Tree, Adeline Yen Mah brings together the many influences on her life as a child of the East and as a student and adult in the West. Taking a step beyond her previous book, Falling Leaves, Adeline explores the centuries-old Chinese traditions and their legacy in modern-day China and the West. With her provocative essays on Buddhism, the I Ching, Tao, Confucius, and their role in shaping Chinese thought, Watching the Tree inspires as it uplifts the soul, giving readers an unusual glimpse inside a culture that remains mysterious and often misunderstood.

In her sharp observations on Chinese food and medicine, yin and yang, Zen, and feng shui, Adeline enlightens readers with the mundane?an approach to healing an illness with items you might find at a Chinese grocery store?to the larger questions in life surrounding true happiness, health, and spirituality. Her stories reveal the strength and peace of mind that come from opening one?s heart and mind to the wisdom and experience of our combined histories.

About the Author

Adeline Yen Mah is a physician and writer. She divides her time among London, Hong Kong, and her home in Huntington Beach, California.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway (June 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767904117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767904117
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,634,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Celia Redmore on June 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Watching the Tree" is a meditation on the philosophies that have shaped Chinese thought over the millenia. The West has its Judeo-Christian traditions and Puritan work ethic: China has Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. There's a saying that only the fish doesn't know water: we have to leave our surroundings to understand them. Adeline Yen Mah left French-occupied Shanghai and British-administered Hong Kong to earn a medical degree in England from Oxford University, and then worked in the US as a doctor for thirty years. Now she's on a mission to explain to us what makes the other one fourth of the world's population 'tick'.
This isn't a textbook, and it isn't an autobiography, although the author draws heavily from her experience of living with her adored Buddhist grandfather. It's a meandering walk through Chinese history (all 8,000 or more years of it) and Chinese foods, medicine, language and writing. We learn how Confucius (Kong Fu Zi) strove to rid China of its cruel mandarin ruling class and replace it with an educated meritocracy -- and left a long-term legacy of a stultifying bureaucracy and contempt for feminine intellect. We learn how Taoism was subverted into a set of kitschy superstitions. And how Buddhism merged with Chinese thought to become Zen.
The book is beautifully presented. The paper is fine quality and the text clear and well laid out. Dr Yen often gives the traditional Chinese ideograms for Chinese words and explains their derivation. What we write and what we say is what we think. No wonder the Chinese government has difficulty with the concepts of 'human rights' and 'privacy' when they have no words for them. And we have no words for tao or li or qi. We have a lot to learn.
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Format: Paperback
Despite that Adeline has since written many novels, examples used to illustrate her points are all derived from her personal life, which is depicted in her first outing, Falling Leaves. Therefore, it's tiring to read through the same old stories again & again. Having said that, credit goes to Adeline for bringing up issues such as Tao-ism, Zen, Confucianism & discussing about old Chinese proverbs. It certainly broadens horizons of the Western readers & affirming Eastern readers's knowledge towards their culture. The book is patchy as it juggles with this issue & that. The book is devoid of humour & it doesn't have beautiful prose that Amy Tan uses to her full advantage. One can say that this novel is rather rigid in its expression & should readers want to find out more about issues discussed in this novel, they can read other books recommended by Adeline at the end of the novel. Please do read it as a matter of interest. In terms of reading it for reading's sake, there are better novels around.
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Dr Yen wrote this highly readable reflection from her own experience on happiness, tradition and spiritual wisdom. Her eleven chapters guided reader to the different aspects on Chinese culture so that non-Chinese have a simple better understanding and comprehension.
However, her allegation on the absence of a Chinese Shakespeare or Jane Austin in Imperial China was a western viewpoint as westerners could not read original Chinese classics - The Romance of Three Kingdom, Water Margin, The Journey to the West, Dream of Red Chamber and others such as Peony Pavilion, The Butterfly Lovers, The West Chamber Story and Gold Vase Plum. . . On the role of woman, she put bias against woman as Confucius teaching, specially foot-binding, a false connection. On P.73, she said "the emphasis a family values deteriorated into selfishness and a lack of social consciousness". Such conclusion overlooked the heroes in Chinese history who made the sacrifice for the country such as Man Tien Cheng, Yue Fei and others. On P.171, she showed Chinese had no zero till it was imported from Hindu-Arabic. However, reading the book "Writing on China" by Gottfried Leibniz will give an otherwise answer. On P.199, she said of no Chinese individual human rights. However, readers are advised to read The Commonwealth State from the Confucian Book of Rite for answer.
She wrote beautifully in this book. It was her family feud leading her to write this book on her yin and yang. It is a good introduction for understanding ancient and current China for a better world.
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Despite having grandparents who were Taoist/Buddhist, I never knew much about these religions. Watching The Tree uses various anecdotes from Mah's life as she discusses everything from language to food to Confucianism (which seems to be given a bit of a hostile treatment). I did have some issues with the hanyu pinyin (a kind of romanised transcription of the Chinese characters), which were a bit wanting - and in one case completely wrong. A decent read for those wanting a little bit of insight into Chinese culture.
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[...]

As I became politically aware in the early 1970's, China became and has remained a part of my personal world view. From Richard Nixon's visit in 1972 to the return of Hong Kong by the British, I have been fascinated by how a country with roughly a third of the world population could have fallen into the moral turpitude of state worship and female infanticide. Adeline Yen Mah has written eleven interwoven essays on the great gifts that China has given the world through the ages and has written them from the unique perspective of a Chinese daughter educated in the West. She brings to us in language that is meaningful for our society the mysteries of the I Ching, the Tao, and Confucianism as well as the philosophies of harmony in our space, our bodies, and our spirits. Mah traces the history and the gaps (such as the lack of a zero in Chinese numbers) that contributed to the erosion of the world power of the great dynasties. The writing reflects her personal perspective and her research. Mah writes for the layman without insulting our intelligence, rather she assumes our intelligence. A refreshing approach.

Mah begins each essay with a brief story from her own life experience with Chinese philosophies and traditions. The stories are unapologetic and uncomplaining. Mah shares her personal revelations as examples of how we may consider broadening our horizons while offering us an opportunity to bridge the cultural gap and examine a new way of approaching and resolving life's challenges. The breadth and depth of Mah's knowledge is evident as she weaves the influence the East has had in the development of Western science, psychology, and metaphysics throughout her essays.
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