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Hehe culture in Taizhou: Why a coastal city’s harmony-centered philosophy can resonate beyond China

Guoqing Temple in Taizhou's Tiantai County

Chinese people highly advocate peace and harmony.

This is probably the biggest impression many foreigners have of the Chinese social philosophy. It is true that the Chinese people have always promoted peaceful coexistence, which is the centerpiece of China’s diplomacy.

Besides harmony, in an era of increasing globalization, China is also promoting integrated development, and “pursuing common development in harmony”.

The term is made up by two Chinese characters with the same pronunciation “He”, but their meanings differ. The former refers to harmony, peace, neutralization, etc., emphasizing the harmony and coexistence among many elements. The latter means convergence, integration, union, etc., pointing to the cooperation and integration between individuals. In short, the Hehe culture means seeking common ground while reserving differences, harmonious coexistence and coordinated development.

Hehe, a term that shines brilliantly in contemporary times, is not a new idea after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. In fact, it has a history of thousands of years, and one of its important birthplaces is Taizhou, a coastal city in eastern China.

In Taizhou’s Tiantai Mountain, surrounded by mountains on three sides and facing the sea on one side, three different philosophical schools, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, have learned from and blended with each other since ancient times, forming a unique scene of cultural harmony.

The representative figures of Hehe culture lived in Taizhou. In Tiantai County, one can easily spot the picture of the Hehe Gods, which includes a person holding lotus flowers and another with a treasure box. The picture showcases the cherished friendship of mutual respect and love as well as harmonious coexistence.

The archetypes of Hehe gods are Han Shanzi, a hermit poet who lived in seclusion on Tiantai Mountain in the Tang Dynasty, and Shi De, a monk from Guoqing Temple. More than 1,200 years ago, the two men developed brotherly friendship with many touching poems and legends. During the reign of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty, they were named Hehe Gods, which later became the symbol of the Hehe culture.

Hehe culture’s presence in Taizhou is not only about a long history and a famous legend, but also could be found in nearly every aspect of this eastern coastal city’s economic, social and ecological governance. Hehe culture is the underlying secret recipe for Taizhou’s development achievements.

In addition to the hometown of Chinese Hehe culture, Taizhou is also widely known as the birthplace of China’s joint-stock cooperative system.

Thanks to Taizhou’s inclusive business environment, private firms from all walks of life are blossoming here. They co-exist and thrive together, and seek deeper integration with the international market.

Taizhou’s enterprises have the top market share in 307 product segments at home and abroad, creating 21 industrial clusters with output value exceeding 10 billion yuan, such as automobile manufacturing, medicine and health, sewing equipment, plastic molds, pumps and motors.

Taizhou boasts a beautiful scenery. The Hehe-culture-based ecological development philosophy of promoting harmony between humankind and nature and “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets” goes deep into the city’s urban construction and sustainable development.

The city has rolled out the country’s first urban green building special plan, which includes green buildings as a rigid requirement in land transfer, project approval, real estate sales and other links of urban development.

By uniting with neighboring cities, Taizhou has established the rural tourism development alliance, which includes 264 villages on city and county borders and 34 island villages. The alliance seeks to achieve common prosperity through co-developing rural tourism.

It is precisely because of its vibrant economy, beautiful and livable ecological environment and harmonious and simple social customs that Taizhou has been rated as one of the happiest cities in China six times.

Hehe culture has become a pillar philosophy in guiding Taizhou’s development. It serves to help locals to achieve common prosperity, coordinate material and cultural-ethical advancement, facilitate harmony between humanity and nature, and nurture a peaceful and harmonious society.

In recent years, Taizhou has increased the international exchanges of Hehe culture. In the past three years, the city has carried out more than 20 official cultural exchanges with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Canada and other countries. The Canada Hehe Culture Research Association has been established in Canada, and international centers on Hehe culture have been set up in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and Japan’s Tokyo.

The second Global Forum on Hehe Culture is being held in Tiantai County from November 28 to 30 with a theme on Hehe culture and global common development. Building on last year’s attempt in this field, the forum once again discusses how Hehe culture can provide ideas and enlightenment for the common development of the world facing the new situation.

“Men ask the way to Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail.” These lines are from a poem by Han Shanzi, one of the two Hehe Gods. Amazingly, they appeared in U.S. writer Charles Frazier’s famous novel Cold Mountain published in 1997, over a thousand years later.

In fact, Han Shanzi, living as a recluse in the Tiantai Mountain of Taizhou, inspired the cultural movements in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, and was honored as the “Great Zen poet” in Japan, whose poems were later spread to Europe.

Likewise, Hehe culture, also once nurtured on the Tiantai Mountain, is expected to find its way into more countries and regions, with its life rich in Chinese wisdom resonating widely.

Source: Global Communication Center of Hehe Culture