Watching the Tree: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Tradition, and Spiritual Wisdom

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9780767904100: Watching the Tree: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Tradition, and Spiritual Wisdom

From the bestselling author of Falling Leaves, a remarkable book of wisdom and spirit.
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. Conveying a wealth of insight and experience, Adeline illuminates major aspects of Chinese customs and culture while weaving in stories of personal struggle triumph throughout her life.

Taking a step beyond her previous book, Falling Leaves, a powerful memoir set against the backdrop of political and cultural upheaval in China, Adeline explores the centuries-old Chinese traditions and their legacy in modern-day China and the West. With Adeline’s 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 you might find at a Chinese grocery store—to the larger questions in life surrounding true happiness, health, and spirituality. Bridging the cultural divide between the East and West, these stories reveal the strength and peace of mind that comes from opening one’s heart and mind to the wisdom and experience of our combined histories.

For anyone looking for a clearer understanding of Chinese culture and for inspiring personal stories that embody a life lived in the wake of Chinese tradition, Watching the Tree opens the door into a world of calm reflection, knowledge, and spirituality.

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Review:

Adeline Yen Mah scored a big hit with her autobiography Falling Leaves. Now she follows up by filling in some of the details of Chinese thought and culture that have been important in her life. Commenting on the language, philosophies, customs, and food of China, Mah fleshes out the Chinese mind. Short essays are arranged around chapter themes and incorporate episodes from Mah's life as well as colorful sayings and historical information. She is at her best when speaking from personal experience and expertise, as in her piece on Chinese food and nutrition. But she can also come off as didactic, and she tends to wander aimlessly from topic to topic. The reader often feels that in order to justify the value of Chinese culture to herself and others she has tried to pack in every interesting thing she knows, or has read, about Chinese civilization, but without a guiding narrative. For these tidbits, the wading is often worth it, though much of her historical information can be found in the same books where she found them. One wishes she had the style of a Jonathan Spence or the humor of a Lin Yutang to make the reading about such a fascinating culture an uncommon pleasure. --Brian Bruya

From the Author:

After the publication of Falling Leaves, I received many letters from readers throughout the country and around the world. Taken together, they were a collective expression of empathy from across the globe intermingled with questions about my personal beliefs. Again and again, I was asked, "Is there a God after all and how do I find him?" At first, I tried to answer individually by long-hand but gradually fell behind. Watching the Tree is my letter of reply to the world.

In this book you will encounter many of the same characters you met initially in my memoir, Falling Leaves. As the youngest step-daughter in a Chinese family of seven children, I knew that I was unwanted and considered the lowest of the low. My misery was real and deep and I could see no way out. When I was ten, my stepmother separated me from my Aunt Baba, whom I dearly loved, and placed me in a succession of boarding schools. During that time, I had nobody but my grandfather, Ye Ye. And because I was allowed to go home on only three separate occasions, I treasured those brief visits. I did not know then how vital these visits were to my emotional and spiritual development.

The Swedish psychologist Eric Ericson wrote of a sense of basic trust which is instilled in a child by "somebody who cares," without which the child cannot live and therefore dies mentally. This basic trust was what my grandfather Ye Ye gave to me at that crucial juncture. Deep inside, I knew that he believed in me.

Watching the Tree is comprised of many stories from my youthful experiences, struggling to come into my own as a child and as an adult, which form the foundation of my own spiritual beliefs. The great German philosopher Martin Heidegger once wrote, "Whatever and however we may try to think, we think within the sphere of tradition." But what if I were to introduce to Western readers a new and entirely different tradition? Will their thoughts, then, become transformed and undergo fresh and radical change?

Everywhere in the world, there is a real hunger to find meaning in our lives and to understand who we are and why we are here. Philosophy begins in wonder and knowledge is power. Aristotle said, "All men by nature desire to know." Indeed, Chinese and Westerners alike are all searching for rational and intelligent answers.

This book is designed to give you an intimate glimpse into a Chinese mind. Divided into twelve short chapters, each is headed by a proverb and starts off with a true story from my past to lead you into the main theme. You will learn the basis of my personal philosophy and the reason why I think the way I do.

Somewhere it is written that every Chinese wears a Confucian thinking-cap, Taoist robe and Buddhist sandals. In Falling Leaves, I tried to paint a truthful portrait of my life and family relationships. In Watching the Tree, I'm attempting to relate what I have learned from my past, as a daughter of China. Both are autobiographical and deeply personal.

Enjoy! I wish you happiness!

ADELINE YEN MAH

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