In the Eyes of the Culturati
For most of his life, Dr. Fong Yun Wah has followed in the footsteps of Mr. Tan Kag Kee in promoting education. He has set up foundations in both Hong Kong and mainland China, helping the poor and cultivating their talents for the improvement of society. He has devoted himself to education, not for recognition but for its own sake. His contributions to education have earned him the honours of "Scholar of Helping the Poor". "Honorary Doctor", "Honorary Citizen", "Award for Contributions to Education" and the privilege of naming the planet 5198 "the Fong Yun Wah Star". Dr. Fong's keen support for promoting education certainly gains our respect.
"The promotion of education is a long term undertaking. My work today is like the sowing of seeds for the future. The impact of education is not confined to the existing generation, but never-ending." (Y.W. Fong)
Walking into Dr. Fong's conference room, my attention was immediately drawn to the numerous award certificates and honours on display. These represent recognition for his efforts in helping the poor and building schools in the past decades. His passion and persistence are unforgettable. He told me of the beliefs driving him forward. "Our family has set up two foundations, the Fong Shu Fook Tong Foundation and Fong's Family Foundation. Both are mainly intended for the purpose of furthering education. This has a lot to do with my background. My father did not have the chance to complete secondary school. I also had to leave school after junior secondary due to the war. Thus my father and I share the dream of helping children with their education and bringing them success."
Although Dr. Fong did not finish school, he deeply believes in the importance of education, and has a clear plan for its promotion. "Our family business is based in Hong Kong. To give something back to society, our Foundations will consider sponsorship of educational institutes in Hong Kong ahead of those in mainland China. However, living standards in the mainland are lower than those in Hong Kong, and the need for educational facilities is particularly acute in the poor areas in the northwest region. Since our resources are limited, we must proceed step by step. Firstly, by donating to the "Project of Hope", we are emphasizing primary education. In the next two years we will then expand to cover secondary schools and nurseries. Education must be made accessible. To achieve an overall improvement in the quality of education we must begin at the grass roots level."
The Fong Shu Fook Tong Foundation and Fong's Family Foundation have sponsored schools throughout more than 30 provinces in mainland China. Dr. Fong Yun Wah keeps in close contact with officials and educators in the mainland . He believes the mainland needs to particularly strengthen its nursery education. China has adopted the One Child Policy for more than a decade now, and children have grown up under at times excessive parental love and care. Quality fundamental education is thus especially important. It is the key to the future of the country. As for tertiary education, Dr. Fong lists the development of science and technology as his major concern. He has already sponsored the building of a computer centre to cope with the expected future development of information technology.
Is his devotion to education due to passionate love for our country? Dr. Fong said, modestly but firmly, "It is indeed for the love of my country, but I have also considered thoroughly the right way in which to help. I want to contribute my efforts, however small, to do what is necessary. My generation has grown in hard times, so I want the next generation to have a better environment and a better education. I want them to be the cornerstone of the society and give back to our country. Economic and political development depends on high quality human resources. The people in the northwest region are particularly impoverished, so I focus on promoting education there.' His words tell of his hopes for the youth of today and of his deep concern for the poor.
The setting up of the Fong Shu Fook Tong Foundation and Fong's Family Foundation represents a long term commitment to the development of education. As Dr. Fong said, "Our business transfers 10% of all profits to the Foundations. This money belongs to the Foundations, which cannot be used for any other purpose. The Foundations will exist in perpetuity to provide funds specifically for educational undertakings. I hope my children and grandchildren will hold the same vision, so that we can carry on, generation, with the persistence of Yugong removing the mountain."
Dr. Fong has now half-retired from his business, which enables him to devote more time and effort to the Foundations. He is in daily contact with schools in the mainland. He does everything by himself, which reflects his passion and devotion. All this is never done for recognition. He smiles in satisfaction when he mentions the bundles of letters he has received from students in the mainland. Nothing encourages him more than seeing the success of students he has helped.
"The Principal of Beijing University, Chen Jia-er, was sponsored by our Foundation to further his education in the United States more than ten years ago. He still visits me often. Principals of many local and overseas universities also keep in contact with me, and we exchange our views on education. These things are so uplifting." Dr. Fong turned the pages of the thick photo album to show me new school buildings funded by the Foundations. There were also photos of the innocent and happy faces of the students. I began to understand and shared his feelings of joy and satisfaction.
Besides the building of schools, Dr. Fong Yun Wah is also enthusiastic about individual growth and Chinese culture. He himself has edited pamphlets and publications promoting the message of a positive and healthy life. The principles of his own life are there for us to follow. Dr. Fong grew up in hard times, and owes his success to much hard work and persistence. The more he begins to understand life, the more concern he shows for the young and the poor. Today his contributions are widely recognized, but he is still a low-key and humble person involved with doing what he regards as being meaningful. "Since I now have money and time to spare, and can devote myself wholeheartedly to fulfilling my dream, I am already satisfied.'
Travelling along the central route of the Silk Road
The middle section of the ancient Silk Road, traversing different landscapes, is tough and obstinate. Southwest from Turpan, the Silk Road forked into the northern, central and southern routes according to the landscape. The central route starts form the southern foothill of Tianshan, bypasses the Pamirs and arrives at Central Asia and Persian Gulf. The route passes through the famous cities of Korla, Kucha (Kuqa) and Kashgar (Kashi). Each city has their own attraction, while all play an important role in the development of the Silk Road culture.
Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves
The Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves, 75 kilometres northwest of Kucha, is one of the most valuable Buddhist art treasure trove in China. It is one of the four largest caves in China, being cut a century earlier than the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang. The caves were cut layer by layer upon the cliffs making it difficult ot access. There are now 236 caves remain, in which contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in Central Asia. Caves served different functions: some were for worshipping, some were for teaching sutra, some were living quarters and some were burial places. Such comprehensive architectural structure is seldom seen in the world's other centers of Buddhism. The Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves has preserved over ten thousand square metres of murals, showing Buddhist figures as Buddha, Bodhisattva, Arhat, Flying apsaras and different illustrations of Buddhist fables. Among different kinds of paintings, the Cave contains the largest number of illustrations of Buddhist fables: about the spreading of Buddhism; about causes and results; and about the story of Buddha. They are rich in content with superb quality that ranked the Cave among the top in this subject.
Kashgar was the capital of the Shule Kingdom in the Western Region. It has a history of over 2,000 years. Kashgar's importance derives from its geographic location at the foot of the Pamir Mountains and west end of the Taklamakan Desert. Travellers taking the route westward and crossing the Pamirs could reach India in the south and Rouzhi and Persia in the west. Kashgar was an important post on the Silk Road and has a quite developed culture since ancient times, especially noted for artcrafts, folk singing and dancing.
Trade and commercial activities in Kashgar have a long history. The trade caravans plodding west on the northern and southern routes met up at Kashgar, a stop for refreshing and exchanging goods before conveying the journey. The bazaar of Kashgar was the earliest international market in the western region. It once gathered merchants from inland China, India, Persia and Rome, with all sorts of treasures and floods of transport. Today Kashgar still has the largest bazaar in Xinjiang with a capacity for tens of thousands people. The bazaar is very brisk and prosperous with abundant supplies: the embroidered caps, knives from Yengisar, silk fabrics, wool for carpet, sheep skins, herbal medicine, pottery, musical instruments, crops and fruits, livestock - almost everything you can think of. Not only for trade exchange, the bazaar is also the center of cultural and news exchanges. Apart from the chaotic bargains on the bazaar, there are also various folk performance, circus shows, folk music and dances revealing the ethnic lifestyles and customs.
Id Kah Mosque
Kashgar is the city where Islam was first disseminated in China. Islam came to China firstly with Arab and Persian merchants who built mosques and held religious services. In the first half of the eighth century AD, the Arab army marched on to Central Asia, converted the territories they defeated to Islam. In tenth century AD, the Kalahan Kingdom started the "Saint war" in Kashgar and launched a series of crusades against surrounding regions. By the sixteenth century AD, Islam became the prevailing religion in the region.
The Id Kah Mosque in the downtown of Kashgar is the largest mosque in China. It was constructed in 1798 with a gross area of 16,800 sq.m. Its grand architecture can house 8,000 worshippers. The Mosque that conceived of Islamic architectural design complements a strong religious appeal to its surroundings.
Kumarajiva - the renowned prolific translator of Buddhist manuscript
Kumarajiva (344-413) was a famous monk, a linguist and scholar in the period of the Sixteen Kingdoms. He together with Xuanzuang, Zhendi, Bukong are regarded as the Four Great Translators of Buddhist manuscripts in history.
Kumarajiva's father was Kashmiri, and his mother was the sister of the King of Qiuci. He started to practise Buddhism at the age of seven. At the age of twelve, he already traveled around to the Buddhist kingdoms in the Western Region. He became so famous for his depth of knowledge in Buddhism that his name was spreaded to inland China. In 383 A.D., Kumarajiva was taken to Liangzhou (Wuwei) in Gansu Province by General Lu Kuang, who had subdued the kingdoms of the Tarim Basin. There he stayed for 17 years, studying Sutras and Chinese, and engaged in translation of Buddhist manuscripts from Sanskrit into Chinese. He guided more than 800 students, translated 74 Sutras and 384 chapters, leaving a glorious page in the history of Chinese Buddhism.
Fragrant Pear of Korla
Korla is the capital of the Bayinguoleng Mongolian Prefecture, the largest prefecture in all of China. It has a population of 150,000 majority of whom are Han Chinese. Korla lies at the northern border of the Tarim Basin. It is shielded from the cold northern wind by Tianshan and the sandstorm form the south by the natural forest west of River Tarim. With warm climate, adequate water supply and fertile soil, Korla is a place ideal for agriculture. It grows a lot of fruits such as apricot, cherry, plum and honey melon, and Korla is especially famous for its fragrant pear. This sweet, thin-skinned pear which shaped like a weaving measurer, is among the best in China. In fact, Korla produced no pears until the second century. The pears was introduced to Xinjiang form China via the Silk Road.
Bayanbulak Swan Preservation Area
Northwest from Korla and at the heart of Tianshan lies the Bayanbulak Grassland, which is the second largest grassland in China. The word "Bayanbulak" in Mongol language means "the spring of wealth". Snow mountains with humid and cool climate surround the undulating grassland, giving it a unique landscape scattered with rivers and swamps where abundant seaweed and fishes are found. The land hence became a natural habitat for swans. In April each year, tens of thousands swans from the north build their nests here. Rare kinds of birds, snow leopards and yaks are also found. The Bayanbulak Swan Preservation Area is one of the greatest bird preservation area in the country where scientific research on the wildlife are conducted. The area has significant research value and is highly regarded internationally.
Not only the heaven for swans; the Bayanbulak grassland has the largest ranch in Xinjiang. It rears abundant cattle, horses, sheep and camels, contributing much to the economic development in the northwest region.
The ancient city of Qiuci
Qiuci, today's Kucha was the largest state among the 36 kingdoms in the Western Regions. In the second century BC, Zhang Qian passed through on his way west. In 60 B.C. the western Han regime put Qiuci under the suzerainty of the Han government. In Tang Dynasty, as China stared to expand its control to Central Asia, Qiuci became a political and military center.
Qiuci was an important center for Central Asian trade and Indo-European culture. Trade routes running north to the Junggar Basin and south to Hotan across the Taklamakan intersected with the Silk Road at Qiuci (Kucha). Qiuci was also famous for its music and dances. Qiuci music heavily influenced Chinese music. In the Sui and Tang dynasties, Qiuci music was played among the common people as well as in court. Their musical instruments (lutes, pipa, paixiao pipes) and notation were being adopted. Today the city is still influential on the art and culture of Xinjiang and its surrounding areas.
The extensive ruins lie at the eastern suburb of today's Kucha was the Ancient City of Qiuci during the Han and Tang dynasty. Apart from vestiges of the ancient city wall, almost all the dwellings were destroyed. Still it left abundant relics to mark the city's history.
Xinjiang Carpets and Aytilis Silk - the heritage of Uygur traditional art
The technique of carpet weaving has been developed in Xinjiang 2000 years ago. It is especially prosperous in Hotan. There are folklore saying that "The many colours of clouds in Tianshan, the many patterns of carpets in Hotan'. The craftsmanship and designs of these carpets provide us with clues to the ancient civilization. With its cultural significance, the Xinjiang carpets have earned a place in the "Oriental carpets".
The carpets have been an essential piece of decorative, practical and portable furniture for the tribes on the Silk Road. They are made for use on the floors and walls of tents, houses and mosques and as bedding covers; most are made for family and personal uses. Their refined quality is the result from the delicate traditional hand weaving technique. Moreover, the domestication and selective breeding of the sheep provide Xinjiang the finest wool for weaving. The simplicity of the carpet patterns reflect the closest ties with tribal weaving, yet the brightful colours displaying on the carpets express the passionate character of the Uygurs.
The motifs and designs found on the carpets of Xinjiang are hybrids representing the mutual exchange of skills and knowledge of the East and West. Floral depictions such as rose and rose buds on weaving come under the influence of Egyptian art. The "mountain" outlined on the Xinjiang carpets owe very much to the traditional motif from Turkey, Caucasus and Iran. Some of the designs are apparently adapted form the Chineses patterns. The Chinese character such as "million" and "life" (longevity) that represents happiness and eternity; the peony that represents wealth and the phoenix that symbolizes prosperity and beauty, are all weave into variegated patterns. Xinjiang carpets also contains religious and symbolic figurative images. Examples include the cross from Christianity, lotus from Buddhism and longevity tree from Islam.
The sericulture in Xinjiang has a long history. Silk weaving in Hotan, Kashgar and Aksu are among the best. Hotan is known as "Silk Capital in the West". In the ancient days, silk was not only valuable, but also as gift for friendship to far away countries. Reference showed that early in the fourth century BC, Chinese silk was transported to Greece and Rome and was being sewn into exquisite gowns for noblewomen. The Silk Road hence got its name from its importance in transporting silk to the west.
The Uygurs weaved the silk into different textiles, which were called "Hujin" or "Xijin" (brocade from the west). Aytilis silk which means tie-dyed silk in Uygur language, is a traditional dyeing technique to produce distinctively artistic effect on fabrics. The Aytillis silk is soft, with bright colours and novel patterns, created particular style of its own. It is said that the Uygur ladies wearing clothes mode from Aytilis silk are walking in a movement of wind breeze. The Aytilis silk are mainly produced from two places: one from Kashgar and Shache, with variegated colours and complex patterns; the other from Hotan and Luopu, with simple colour and patterns. Such contrast reflects the aesthetics of different places.