The Art of Chinese Living – A conversation with Ms Xiang Yao
By Harsha Dass （Spouse of Representative, India-Taipei Association）
It was a wonderful online event organized by the WTIC where they brought us together for an exciting talk by the author of the series, The Art of Chinese Living. Published in Mandarin in two different editions for Taiwan and China, it has now been translated into English and made available to a wider audience worldwide. A Japanese translation is forthcoming.
Ms Xiang Yao walked us through not only the book but in answer to the several questions that were asked, she was kind enough to share also the process of writing the book. She explained how the idea came to her when she spent time with her daughter when they were both driving to her university to start a new phase of her life . As an expat Chinese, she felt that her children should have a kind of ready reckoner for everything that summed up being Chinese – food, traditions, festivals, clothes, art and everything else. For a civilization as ancient as China, that was a huge challenge. She likes to put it as a book born out of a mother’s love and her desire to share herself with her family. She set about collecting material, and in the process also had several items specifically designed for the book. One glance through the book and you will appreciate the publishers dilemma in categorizing the book. It is divided into four books, one for each season. Summer winter autumn and spring. Each one has a different color and a different theme, the attention to detail is mind boggling. For instance, the section on food not only has details of food but includes recipes, pictures pots and pans and her experiences from her own garden. The section on family has her own genealogy. Thus at one level the book is universal but as you get immersed in it you understand how personal it is . To give you just one example of how the book is organized, it describes a popular festival, gives recipes of snacks made during the festival and proceeds to tell you all the major authors across time, who wrote on the theme of that festival- love- and ends by describing the author’s own experiences of reading them as a little girl.
It took seven years for the book to take this shape and Ms Yao involved gerself with the photographs, the selections, even the colors. Not only is the book packed with information, it is a visual treat as much attention has been paid to the composition, the printing and the texture.It is a testament to what can be achieved with a mother’s love and strength. She also suggested that others should take a cue from her book and use the same arrangement to put together something like this for their own cultures. My personal favorites are the folded pullouts showing a wealth of detail on the topic in a manner that brings together the philosophy of holistic living clearly to those not familiar with this part of the world.
It was great to hear all this and more from her. The two hours just flew by. I couldn’t have asked for a better keepsake for my Taiwan stay.Thankyou WTIC for this wonderful opportunity to be a part of her journey.