Honor the past, live in the present

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-01-04 07:40:53

Honor the past, live in the present
Gray skies, black humor
Honor the past, live in the present
Who's being taken for a ride? 
Honor the past, live in the present
Nation worked up over days off 
I never heard my father lament the vanishing of his favorite calculating tool. Elegant as it was, there was no chance it could compete with the electronic version. There's only so much the abacus can do. For one thing, I cannot imagine manipulating a large spreadsheet on an abacus.

Whatever glow it gets from authorities, the abacus is not going to be revived on a large scale or in a serious manner. There are reasons it has been washed away by modern gadgets. The UN listing acts to alert us to the glory of our ancestors, of which we should be rightly proud. But we should not be carried away to the point of believing that we can still live in old times, say the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when the abacus made an appearance on the counter of an apothecary's store in the famous long scroll Along the River During the Qingming Festival.  

The abacus is not the only thing on our heritage list. In the past three decades, many things we took for granted gave way to modern replacements. When I was a kid, we used to sit on wooden benches and now we have chairs and sofas. (We had simple chairs then, but sofas did not come into ordinary households until the reform and opening-up, at least in my hometown.)

For heating our bed, we used to have bottles filled with hot water or even bronze containers with half-burnt charcoal, which could be dangerous if you inadvertently overturned it in your sleep. Now we can electronically heat the blankets, or better, heat the entire room with various convenient, but expensive, technologies. We used to turn to thermos bottles for hot water, and now - well, we still do, at least in addition to water coolers with the heating function ...

Honestly, when the old stuff was first gone, we almost had a feeling of good riddance. It was only much later that we gradually realized the value - aesthetic and cultural, if no longer functional - of the things that used to be part of our lives.

Our cultural identity is made up of many things, most of which will evolve beyond our control. We used to live in single-story courtyard homes, but rapid urbanization necessitates higher density. It has become simply impractical for everyone to have old-style residences.

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