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by Adeline Yen Mah (Author)

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299789,647 (3.25)13
From the author of the bestselling Falling Leaves come a new book of Chinese wisdom and proverbs, drawn from the author's experiences and stories of living in both Eastern and Western cultures. Line drawings throughout.
Authors:Adeline Yen Mah (Author)
Info:Harper Collins (2000)
Collections:Your library

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Watching the Tree: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Tradition, and Spiritual Wisdom by Adeline Yen Mah (2000)


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Part memoir, part philosophy and part history of the Chinese culture. Unfortunately, only a 2-star for me. Not that it was badly written, but for the fact that I didn’t understand a lot of it. I've always admired and loved learning about certain things of the Chinese culture, but a lot of her writing was way over my head. Her memoir "Falling Leaves", which is on my TBR list, will probably be more up my alley.

Adeline, a Chinese, was the youngest of seven in their family. At age 10 (a later page says she was 11) her step-mother, who didn't like her, sent her to a boarding school until she was 13 years old. Her step-mother then told her she could no longer attend school because Adeline's father couldn't afford it and she had to go get a job. At age 14 she left China. Adeline had won a writing competition, which allowed her father to send her to England to study. She is now an American Chinese and was a Physician in California. She quit that job to pursue her passion: writing. Today, she would be about 83 years old. You can Duck Duck Go Adeline Yen Mah images to see photos of her.

She notes that more and more Chinese have immigrated to America looking for education, freedom, prosperity and happiness. Adeline introduces us to Eastern thought. This is a book of her personal memories as examples that introduce some of the philosophies of life obtained from two of the oldest Chinese classic books today, "I Ching" (pronounced: ye jing and means Book of Changes) and "Tao Te Ching". Also, Confucianism, Taoism and Zen Buddhism play dominant roles in how the Chinese think and live. She goes into the history of how all of this came about, while inserting little pieces of memories of her life that are relevant to each part.
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  MissysBookshelf | Aug 27, 2023 |
This was just awful in so many ways. Written at about the millennium by a Chinese woman who was living in America and in her 60s (I think) it manages to be incredibly condescending and glib. It starts the introduction by saying that in order to translate between languages it is important to understand both cultures, and yet it feels that she then doesn't really do this herself. She shows a lack of understanding of science more than once, relating Heisenberg's uncertainty to the phrase "Those who know don;t speak, those who speak don't know" by which she puts herself firmly in the second bracket. I just didn't understand her, or her behaviours on multiple occasions. She had one item of her grandfather, a book of the I Ching. And yet having referred to it only once in her life she gives to book to her lecturer, with whom she was engaged on a (probably abusive) affair. I simply don't get it. She clearly has significant issues with the way in which her father and step mother treated her as a child and throughout her life. I once read a quote "You can't blame you parents for anything after the age of 25". She is still, in the final third of her life (her own statement) bearing a grudge that she seems not to have worked through, despite having written a book about that very subject. That is at odds with her characterisation of the Chinese as generally accepting and able to let things go.
The book also lacked a coherent structure. In each chapter there were passages of general interpretation versus personal experience, and they used different fonts to distinguish between. the problem was that the general were too generic and broad brush, while the personal experience didn't necessarily seem to come to any conclusion. they also included entire paragraphs that were in quotes as if quoting speech from her relatives. Yet these conversations would have been at least 40 years ago, and I don't believe anyone can quote verbatim after that time. Each chapter was supposed to be based around a Chinese saying or aphorism, and yet I'm not sure that each chapter did anything to explain how that translates, certainly not in any meaningful sense.
This annoyed me excessively. I'm really not sure why I finished this, apart from right now giving up on things doesn't feel like the right thing to be doing. ( )
  Helenliz | Apr 1, 2020 |
Adeline Yen Mah, whose autobiography ‘Falling Leaves’ is an international bestseller, here interweaves her own experiences with her views on Chinese thought and wisdom to create an illuminating and highly personal guide for Western readers.

Adeline Yen Mah was born in Tianjin, and through the conversations and wisdom of her grandfather and aunt learnt a great deal of traditional Chinese thought, history and religion. Through her father’s second marriage to a Eurasian woman, and their subsequent move to Hong Kong, she learnt more about the Chinese attitudes to business and to family, and the strength of the Chinese in exile.

Since living in London and California, Adeline Yen Mah has studied Chinese thought, looking at both the strengths and weaknesses which it gives those who follow it and now, in ‘Watching the Tree’, she takes us on a journey through the Chinese language, religions and history, using both Chinese proverbs and her own experiences, to bring to us an understanding of the richness of China and the ways that we can take and use some of the wisdom for ourselves in the West.
  PSZC | May 22, 2019 |
Despite having grandparents who were Taoist/Buddhist, I never knew much about these religions. Watching The Tree uses various anecdotes from Mah’s life as she discusses everything from language to food to Confucianism (which seems to be given a bit of a hostile treatment). I did have some issues with the hanyu pinyin (a kind of romanised transcription of the Chinese characters), which were a bit wanting – and in one case completely wrong. A decent enough read for those wanting a little bit of insight into this aspect of Chinese culture. ( )
  RealLifeReading | Jan 19, 2016 |
Parts of this book are interesting, charting the history of Chinese thought and philosophy. However, the overall tone comes across as somewhat patronising, and unfortunately she insists on trying to use physics as justification for philosophy, which just doesn't work - just because on an atomic or cosmic level, something is true, that doesn't mean it's necessarily useful philosophically in real life. There were plentiful anecdotes which were meant as illustrations but I often found them alienating rather than illuminating. These problems, coupled with the oddly arrogant tone, meant I didn't really get on with this book ultimately.
1 vote frithuswith | Dec 11, 2010 |
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Dedicated to my grandfather Yen Qian Li (1878-1952)
To my husband and best friend Bob, to our mentor Mason Wang, to our daughter Ann Mah and to Zhang Qing-Ying.
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The older I get, the more I appreciate the importance of attitude on our understanding and enjoyment of life. From time to time, bad things happen to all of us. We can’t change that. However, we certainly can control our attitude in dealing with life’s misfortunes.
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From the author of the bestselling Falling Leaves come a new book of Chinese wisdom and proverbs, drawn from the author's experiences and stories of living in both Eastern and Western cultures. Line drawings throughout.

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She starts with ancient Chinese texts. In the I Ching and Tao Te Ching her spiritual journey uncovers (among some superstitions which she dismisses) many correlations between centuries-old Chinese teaching and modern science. The 64 hexagrams upon which the I Ching is based, for example, are a version of binary mathematics, such as Gottfried von Leibniz used in 17th-century Germany to develop the calculus and which eventually formed the basis of computer science. Leibniz described the I Ching, as "the oldest monument of scholarship".

Explaining that Confucian thought--family unity, parental respect and emphasis on education--arches over every faith and philosophy extant among Chinese people wherever they are in the world, Yen Mah draws examples from her own troubled past. When disinherited by her stepmother and conspired against by her siblings, it was deep conditioning with Confucian thought that made detaching herself so difficult. She goes on to write interestingly of a wide range of aspects of Chinese thought and culture. The cultural role of Chinese food, for instance. She quotes the old saying Yi Shi Wei Liao, which means "let food be medicine". Traditionally a Chinese doctor didn't prescribe pills or powders. He ordered that health-restoring ingredients be cooked into a healing broth and fed to the patient. As a retired, British-trained doctor who practised in anaesthesia for 30 years in California, she is well placed to discuss the health-giving properties of tofu, green tea and Chinese vegetables. The scope of the book is such that she also considers the grammar of the Chinese language--so different from European notions of grammar that Chinese can seem grammar-free to Westerners. The "shape" of the language colours speakers' thinking because, as Yen Mah's beloved grandfather taught her: "Ours is a pictorial language and every word is a picture of an image or an idea expressed on paper". Each symbol carries its own logic, history, meaning and several contrasting or complementary ideas. Not for the Chinese any single answer to anything.
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