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China's modern problems find ancient solutions: Daoism's remarkable new story

Jun 10, 2014:

When Dutch businessman Allerd Stikker found himself seated beside an unknown Englishman at a dinner in Utrecht in 2002 there was little to suggest it was a fateful moment, still less that a 1,000 year old Chinese goddess was about to trigger a lifelong friendship. But Allerd had become increasingly concerned about the environment while learning more about the wisdom of Daoism and his dinner companion was Martin Palmer, also an environmentalist with an expertise in Chinese religion and culture. Both men had become fascinated by Guan Yin, the Daoist goddess of compassion, and by the time dessert was served it was evident that their common enthusiasms were going to be the basis for an exciting collaboration.

Quite what an amazing journey began that evening is told in Sacred Mountains, Allerd’s highly personal eyewitness account of his involvement with ARC (the religious conservation NGO of which Martin Palmer was Secretary General) in the movement to support the revitalisation of Daoism in China firstly through restoration of the temples and sacred mountains and secondly by promoting the religion’s values and wisdom as a much-needed response to modern China’s increasing environmental problems.

Allerd Stikker
It was to be an inevitably fraught process, as the book describes, but also an amazingly successful one: less than a decade after that dinner in Utrecht the Third International Daoist Forum was held in Heng Shan, Hunan Province. It was attended by government officials, business people and academics together with Daoists from China and beyond. The question being addressed was how the wisdom of Daoism could be deployed to solve the social and ecological problems currently facing China. For Allerd Stikker this moment of official recognition for a once reviled religion represented an almost unbelievable milestone in his 20-year involvement with Daoism.

At the same time as charting the remarkable progress of Daoism towards the Heng Shan conference the book also recounts the author’s personal journey, as his sympathetic exploration of Daoist wisdom has led him to an ever greater involvement with the religion. For Allerd, as for Daoism and even China itself, Sacred Mountains tells a story of ancient truths speaking to contemporary problems that is still unfolding.

One of Rosa Vitalie's many striking illustrations from the book.
And with the planet’s well-being at stake it’s a story that must affect us all.

Useful links

HRH Prince Philip discusses Sacred Mountains with Martin Palmer at Buckingham Palace
Bene Factum Publishing

Ecological Management Foundation (EMF) (the organisation set up by Allerd Stikker to promote clean and safe water supplies worldwide)

Article published in China Dialogue by ARC Secretary General Martin Palmer about the role of religions in Chinese environmentalism.

Notes to editor

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Bene Factum Publishing

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