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« Precious: A Confucian Nightmare | Main | Back up in China »

January 07, 2010


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I think the underlying message is less directly Taoist and more explicitly Gaian although I take your point. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the Gaia Theory with Tao. I think Lynn Margulis could speak to it but I'm not sure about James Lovelock. I know that Ursula K LeGuin, who has published her own version of the _Tao Te Ching_, would be up to the task.

Im planning on doing a philosophy project on the philosophy of avatar. This article that you have written helps a large amount. Any other philosophical thoughts?

to the minorities, especially to the Uighers and the Tibetans this movie clearly resemble close to reality, the way their land has been taken away by the more powerful neighbors through brute force, all the natural resources are extracted, the numerous resources that have been tapped away - oil, gold, uranium, old growth forests, you name it.. now even the water is being diverted into the mainland... all in all, it would be interesting to get reactions from the minorities in China who've seen this movie... but then again, no one would want to risk their lives going to jail simply because making a honest comment or the "truth".

"The Tao of Avatar - and why this sort of movie cannot be made in the PRC at this point in time..."

Really? I thought you would reach the opposite conclusion from your Taoism theme. A traditional people relying on Taoist Qi Gong practices, fighting against modern armies equipped with artillery and machine guns...isn't that the Boxer Rebellion?

"The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was one of the defining moments in the history of Chinese nationalism, and the first major rebellion in that country against imperialist powers, including the English and the Japanese, involving issues of international tension that resonate to the present day.

The bloody peasant revolt was led by members of a group known as the Yi Ho T'uan, or the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, a centuries-old secret society in China whose members practiced a form of shadow boxing that they believed gave them supernatural powers. The Boxers, as they were called in English, had a belief system that drew from Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist strands and also opposed the influences of foreigners. The ranks of the Yi Ho T'uan swelled after flood and drought struck the country in 1898 and 1899, exacerbating the poverty and foreign aggression that already plagued the country. The Boxers were further provoked by Christian missionaries and converts who often disrespected Chinese traditions.

The secret group allied themselves with anti-foreign members of their government and in the summer of 1900, bands of Boxers freely roamed the countryside around Peking looking to destroy all things foreign. They burned houses, missions and schools, and slaughtered hundreds of Chinese Christians, missionaries and practically anyone else that they believed supported foreign ways. The Chinese dowager empress, Tz'u His, supported the rebels and declared war on the foreign powers.

The rebellion only ended after an armed force of 20,000 from eight nations crushed it. The Manchu government signed an agreement with the foreign invaders in which the Chinese agreed to execute some of the leaders of the rebellion, destroy its forts, and pay $330 million in damages and reparations. In large part because of the humiliating conclusion to the rebellion, the Ch'ing dynasty collapsed little more than a decade later, leading to the establishment of China as a republic.

The Chinese Communists, who came into power in 1949 under the revolutionary leadership of Mao Zedong, have stressed the strong nationalist strains that were part of the rebellion. Former Chinese Premier Chou En-lai went so far as to call the Boxer Rebellion 'one of the cornerstones of the Chinese Revolution.' "


But unlike the Na'vi, there was no happy ending for the Boxers.

Clearly James Cameron was conspiring on using his movie to strike at the heart of China's political issues! These not-so-subtle allusions to forced evictions, ethnic strife, are no more than futile attempts by evil white blond anglo-saxon foreign racist colonial chauvinistic imperialists to split the great Harmonious Han Nation.

I agree with your assessment Sam and thought the Taoist references were strong and at times very purposeful.

Why China even need to make "this sort of movie"? One Hollowood not enough for this world?

Even from the Taoist point of view, didn't the old man say something about provoking the senses?
The five colors blind the eyes of man;
The five musical notes deafen the ears of man;
The five flavors dull the taste of man;
Horse-racing, hunting and chasing madden the minds of man;
Rare, valuable goods keep their owners awake at night.

Therefore the Sage:
Provides for the belly and not the eye.



But in another sense, one needs to give devil his due. During the last depression, Hollowood made a lot of money by providing the masses with an illusion to escape reality. It is doing the same thing right now. I guess the show business is going to be the next growth industry.( Don't count on it as an investment tip)

Let's China keep on producing gargets rather than fairy tales …

@erinhcao: I'm not sure what the intent of that comment is. If anything, this film is meant to *criticize* imperialism, not promote it.

... this film is meant to *criticize* imperialism, not promote it...

... first kills them all, then makes the victim nations into a legend and mass marketing the legend and rake in the money from the next target ... that kind of "criticize" is smart to the extreme. More than a hundred years' ago, a guy see through these games:




I got Christian themes from the movie m'self. The hero is fully both "Sky People" and "Na'vi" and through self-sacrifice (not his own mortal life, granted, but it did involved the exclusion of everything and everyone he knew) prevented the seemingly irrational rage of the Sky People from entirely obliterating all of the Na'vi.

That sounds a lot like Protestant Christianity to me!

Heck, there was even a scene that featured an "open coffin"! And it happened just before the Sky People were prevented from killing all the Na'vi.

Just dawn on me:

The Tao of Avatar = the Weapon of Mass Distraction and very successfully deployed, just like bread and circus scheme used to be deployed by the Roman emperors. Hollowood, NFL, NBA, etc… the whole nine yards.

Oh, my reply is gone. :-(

Hi Sam,

I wrote and posted a long reply and it disappeared. So, here's a few points I made.

I can see a parallel with the Chinese notions of Qi, but I think this notion occurs in many aboriginal cultures, including the Native American cultures. Same with the ancestral cult we have in the movie. In fact, the movie really reminded me of Native American culture, and Cameron has conceded influences from movies like Dances With Wolves. I can also see some resemblance of Dao and Eywa, but not too much. Eywa does take sides, which, perhaps many religious Daoists may accept. But not my idea of the Dao and its workings. The floating mountains were largely based on mountains in China.

The Wikipedia article on the movie has a lot of information and links to interviews with james cameron, where I learned a whole lot:

Quotes of Cameron:

"[Avatar] certainly it is about imperialism in the sense that the way human history has always worked is that people with more military or technological might tend to supplant or destroy people who are weaker, usually for their resources ... So there's a conscience within the film, but it's not boldly stated. It's kind of there if you want it to be there; it's not there if you don't want it to be there. It can be as classic a story of fighting back against cruel might as 'Star Wars.' You can take it back to the origins of America in a fight of rebels against an imperial dominating force. You can interpret it many, many different ways. The bad guys could be America in this movie, or the good guys could be America in this movie," he says, laughing. "Depending on your perspective."

"War and the consequences to the soldier is a theme in my movies. Terminator has a scarred soldier character. We have to face the consequences of setting our people off to do our bidding in a foreign land. But it's not a major undercurrent of the story. I'm not trying to make some anti-Bush statement."

Although Ben Hoyle of The Australian tries to argue the movie "contains heavy implicit criticism of America's conduct in the War on Terror," Cameron repeatedly says it's not.
"That's not what the movie's about - that's only a minor part of it. For me it feels consistent only in a very generalised theme of us looking at ourselves as human beings in a technical society with all its skills, part of which is the ability to do mechanised warfare, part of which is the ability to do warfare at a distance, at a remove, which seems to make it morally easier to deal with, but its not."

"The film is definitely not anti-American. It’s not anti-human either. My perception of the film is that the N’avi represent that sort of aspirational part of ourselves that wants to be better, that wants to respect nature. And the humans in the movie represent the more venal versions of ourselves, the banality of evil that comes with corporate decisions that are made out of remove of the consequences."

Oh, just found this interesting article about Avatar and panentheism:

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