ICCS Newsletter Spring 2010



1. Programme
2. Tao Kiang's last talk
3. The Story of Silk
4. AUGUSTINE HENRY: a Botanical Pioneer in China
6. December Table Quiz
7. Year of the Tiger
9. Information for Members by Email
10. Reminder -- Subscriptions

1. Programme

For information on our programme, click HERE.   

Please note our meeting venue,

United Arts Club,
3 Fitzwilliam Street,

(just off Baggot Street,)
Dublin 2,

and meeting days,

the FOURTH WEDNESDAY (mostly!) of each month.

2. March 2009: Tao Kiang's Last Talk

It is customary for a brief summary of our monthly talks to appear in our Newsletter. However, in view of the special circumstances, an attempt is made here to give as complete a reconstruction as possible of this entire talk. Tao would undoubtedly have changed many things were he preparing the material for publication: but as this cannot be, it is felt that this mixture of personal reminiscences, insights, and the fruits of deep reflection should be made available “as is”, rather than lost forever.


The last photo of Tao,
taken while he was giving this talk.

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China took first place (gold medals) or second place (total medals) - the distinction is trivial: the essential is the symbol of the dramatic rise of China. In the 1984 Olympics, China came fourth in the medals table; before that, China had never won a single gold medal.

In 1984, as a guest at the National Day Parade to mark the 35th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, Tao witnessed two remarkable phenomena. One was the big-character greeting in a parade car, "Xiaoping, nin hao" - "Xiaoping, how are you?". Deng Xiaoping was at that time the de facto leader of China, so why should we be surprised at this greeting? The reason is that it marked a break with a tradition of over two thousand years of reverence for names, and in particular the taboo on the use of the given name of a superior or elder.

As an example, consider the great Tang dynasty poet Du Fu. His father's given name was Xian (leisure), his mother's was Haitang (flowering crab apple). In not a single one of his poems, about 1500 in number, do either of these common words appear. Again, the given name of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang was "zheng": to avoid appearing to use this name, the pronunciation of "zheng" in the term for January, "zheng yue", had to be changed (to 1st tone, from the Emperor’s 4th tone), a usage which persists to this day.

The Emperor's and the Emperor's father's names are taboo. The name of the father of your immediate boss is taboo. Even, the name of the father of the person you are talking to is taboo in polite society! (A parallel might be the Jewish sensitivity about the name of God.) Tao recalled his own instinctive shock when his grandchildren addressed him by his given name - he never called his father by his given name. Hu Shi (about whom more later) wrote that "The Chinese do have a religion, the religion of name worship". For example, when a child was born, many attributes were thought to be determined astrologically by the date (year, month, day, hour): but it was believed that an appropriate choice of name could balance elements that were deficient. Again, at Chinese New Year, the character for "fu", happiness, is hung upside-down, because the word "dao", upside-down, has the same sound as "dao", arrives. And yet again, a bland-tasting moss called "facai" is highly prized, and priced, as a vegetable simply because its name sounds the same as "fa cai", get rich. Hu Shi said that the Chinese were seriously fooling themselves by their preoccupation with names.

So "Xiaoping, nin hao" was one break with tradition at the 1984 parade. A second was the appearance, alongside the customary pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, of the portrait of Dr Sun Yat-Sen. This betokened a change from dogmatic Communism towards "Socialism with Chinese characteristics".
Indeed, Deng Xiaoping was the great architect of the change that has led to today’s China. For him, everything had to be geared to economic regeneration. "We must walk our own way, adapting Marxism-Leninism to Chinese reality". Essentials were to "Liberate thought, Reform and Open Up". The reforms started in 1978-79. (As an aside, Tao mentioned that when the first 4-star hotel was built in Guangzhou, it was felt necessary to protect it with anti-aircraft guns!) The creation of the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen, and the development, with foreign investment, of port cities such as Guangzhou, Xiamen, Shanghai and Ningbo, were major steps in the "opening up". The fruits of the resulting great economic progress are to be seen everywhere. When Tao was a boy, the widest street in Yangzhou, his home town, was known as East Gate Great Street, "Great", because it allowed two rickshaws to pass fairly easily. Now there are broad avenues, lined with trees or even gardens, and a museum which rivals the best in Switzerland.

Lu Xun
Tao singled out two writers, Lu Xun and Hu Shi (mentioned above), who, long before Deng, played crucial roles in helping China to rise up from the abject state it had reached around 1900. Hu Shi first called in 1917 for the use of Baihuawen (Plain Chinese): that is, to write Chinese as it is actually spoken, and break away from traditional literary cant, impenetrable for the masses. They both wrote, explicitly in essays or implicitly in stories, of the necessity, since the Opium War, of a frank admission of the superiorities of the Western civilization and Japan, and of the sick state of the Chinese mind. Hu Shi wrote that "the real shame ... is not to feel shame at the defeats China suffered, but to go on pretending that we're better than the victors" - the attitude shown up in Lu Xun's "The True Story of Ah Q". Hu Shi left the mainland after the Communist victory in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 he was (posthumously) vilified as a reactionary. He has recently been "rehabilitated", and his complete works have been published in the PRC. Hu ShiS.jpg
Hu Shi

As a reminiscence, Tao mentioned that he had visited China in 1964 and in 1978, just two years before and two years after the Cultural Revolution. One day in Shanghai, he and his mother went to an exhibition in a pedicab. They were already on the first floor when an agitated young man ran in. It turned out that he was the cab driver; his mother had left her purse in the cab; so he took it upon himself to find her and hand back the purse. His mother told Tao "this sort of thing happens all the time now". That was the China of 1964. 14 years and a cultural revolution later, all was changed. As he stepped off the plane, his brother said, "Be very careful with your wallet and things; only yesterday I was robbed of 300 dollars".

He also recalled a conversation overheard on a bus in1964. Two high school girls were talking. "What are you going to do after graduation"? "Of course, I would like to be a film actress, but if they won't accept me, I wouldn't really mind. I would go to the Great Northern Wasteland. My cousin told me in a letter that the place is not bad at all: after a bit of hard work, you pick up potatoes from the ground just like that". Nowadays, no young person in China would talk like that; idealism has given way to cynicism in the hearts of the young - a legacy of the Cultural Revolution.

The language reforms started by Hu Shi and Lu Xun have made great strides. Schools started teaching Baihua in the 1920’s: the Constitution of the PRC is written in it, and it is now universal. Hu Shi had hoped that the Chinese Classics might be taught in schools through Baihua in perhaps 30 years – it has taken over 60, but, since 1990, translations into Plain Chinese of the Confucian and other Classics (including the Book of Poems, the Chinese Iliad and Odyssey in written form) have been appearing.

(Confucianism has been vilified because of its stultifying and even demoralising effect on the state, that opened the door to foreign interventions and invasion. But the state religion that was Confucianism is a travesty of Confucius' original ideas. Tao would describe Confucius as a passionate intellectual who never forgot his humanity.)

Not only the written language has been reformed, but the adoption of Putonghua (Mandarin) as the official spoken common language, taught in schools throughout China, means that there is now a lingua franca for communication among people from all regions of this huge country – a contrast to his schooldays, when he could only understand Northerners and Westerners with great difficulty, and Southerners not at all. Its success was helped by its use in I.T., on TV and on radio. (It is good to recall that Confucius used the “putonghua”, the common language, of his day!)

Turning to more general issues, Tao said that the prescription “Economy before politics equals success” is born out by recent history: witness Germany after WW2, Japan after WW2, Taiwan after 1949, South Korea after the Korean War, EEC leading to EU, China after Deng Xiaoping.

But any national “success” must face the spectre of Malthus: Population Will Always Outstrip Food Supply. What can nations do? Following Toynbee, he gave three different answers from classical Greece, with latter-day examples:







S Africa,
Latin America
Nazi Germany,
Japan 1895-1945
British Empire

The bottom line gives objections to each solution for today. So what now?

Some new answers to Malthus: first, China’s one-child family policy shows that population growth CAN be limited. Though totally against traditional thinking ("Many sons and many grandsons" the wish of every household for generations), it has succeeded. However, "Policies from above, Counter-policies from below": You don't allow me to have more than one child, and I want a son above all, so if I give birth to a daughter, I just abandon it, knowing that it will be taken care of by Society, and so I have another stab at getting a son. As it has turned out, many of these abandoned girls have found loving, doting parents in the West, and the Chinese State isn't doing badly out of this, either. However, let’s think what will happen in 20 years time. There will be a surplus of women (many of Chinese origin) in the west, and a surplus of men in China (Like Australia or Xinjiang at some times in history). The pressure of finding a wife will be tremendous. Assuming monogamy will still be the norm, and given the approaching economic equality between China and the West, a further increase in mixed marriages between Chinese men and Western women (including some of Chinese origin) will be inevitable.

Second, there is the tantalising prospect that Einstein’s formula E = mc2 may be harnessed technologically, allowing the conversion of matter into essentially unlimited amounts of energy. This would help food production enormously, along with everything else.

But NO solution is going to work if human greed remains the powerful and destructive force it so often is today. Is greed an in eradicable part of human nature? No: it is possible to learn to realise when one has enough – a concept singled out by Hu Shi and termed “holding back”. So the Chinese folk wisdom, “One should Know When One has Enough”, may be the ultimate salvation.

As a separate addendum, Tao spoke of the Darwin – Huxley “ Survival of the fittest” be- ing misread as the “survival of the STRONGEST individual(s)” – used as a justification for Nazi eugenics (and, perhaps, for an unbridled market economy). The correct reading is: “the survival of the SPECIES that best FITS its ENVIRONMENT”.

And finally, while totally agreeing with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Tao pointed out two important ways in which Man differs from other species: First, uniquely, Mankind changes its own environment; and second, again uniquely, Man has values other than survival, e.g. music.

3. The September 2009 talk: "The Story of Silk" by Deborah Wilson

Deborah Wilson is one of the best needlepersons in the country, having mastered in China the art of Chinese Silk Embroidery. In this Talk she concentrated on a study of silk from the eggs of the Bombax moth to the skein of silk for stitching.

In this, the first Talk of the Autumn Season Debbie enthralled ICCS members and visitors with her account of the history of silk and the silk worm (actually a moth larva) Bombax Mori. Though recent research indicated that the use of silk threads may be much older than 2,700 BC , according to legend in about 2,700 BC in a Royal Chinese garden a lovely young Empress resting there looked up into a Mulberry tree and noticed a “worm” spinning a fine strand and wrapping it round itself to make a cocoon. She dropped the cocoon into her teacup and when the cocoon had softened she carefully unwound it. At her request the Emperor gave her a whole grove of Mulberry trees. She devoted hours to looking after the silkworms and finally had enough silk thread to weave. The Empress was Si Ling Shi , and “si” is the Chinese word for silk.

For more than 1000 years only the Chinese knew how to create silk. The secret was guarded carefully and anyone who was caught trying to steal the “worms” or eggs was put to death. Two Persian monks who had been in China about AD 550 told of the eggs, worms and silk and the Emperor Justinian (in Constantinople) sent the monks back to China to acquire some eggs which they did and smuggled them out in hollow Bamboo staffs. Thus the West - Spain, Italy and France - learned the art of “Sericulture”.


What is different about Silk? It is a natural product, extraordinarily strong and smooth, does not attract dirt and can be woven into very fine or very heavy fabrics.

Anyone fortunate enough to visit Suzchou to day can visit a silk “factory” to observe the various stages from egg to thread. In Summer the female moth lays perhaps several hundred eggs which are kept in cold storage until the following Spring when the first green leaves of the White Mulberry appear. The eggs hatch into tiny white worms and eat mulberry steadily for five weeks after which time each worm will be about three inches long. It is


now ready to spin out the fluid which will become fibre and must be provided with “quarters “ for spinning its cocoon. The worm inside the cocoon would ruin the silk thread if allowed to bore its way out so the cocoon is steamed or oven heated to destroy the pupa. The silk thread is so fine it would take about 1000 miles of it to make a pound weight of raw silk so thread ends (four or five) would be gathered together and wound on a reel. Threads need to be washed (scoured) to rid them of “gumminess” and to prepare them for dyeing. To give woven fab- ric body, the fibres may need to have chemicals added (tin, lead, iron). Heavily “weighted” fabric may rustle and be prone to cracking or tearing. Different finishes may produce silk for a variety of fabric qualities-all of silk from underwear to heavy upholstery fabric and for all types of needlework from crochet and knitting to embroidery.

By Jane Almqvist

4. The October talk: "Augustine Henry: a Botanical Pioneer in China" by Dr Matthew Jebb

For our October talk we were treated to a wonderfully entertaining and informative talk by Dr Matthew Jebb, Curator of the Herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. An expert on the taxonomy of plants and trees, he has travelled extensively throughout the world on botanical expeditions and has written many books and articles on matters botanical.


Dr Matthew Jebb

The subject of his fascinating talk was Dr Augustine Henry who, after taking a degree in Natural Science in Queen’s College, Galway, went for further study to Queen’s College, Belfast. While there Henry caught the the eye of Sir Robert Hart who was on a recruitment drive for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service of which he was in charge. To fit himself the better for a post in the hinterland, Henry studied medicine and the Chinese language, mastering both in a two-year period.

He was sent to Ichang (today’s Yichang), a prosperous amd busy international port on the Yangtze in Hubei at the start of the Three Gorges rapids. Sichuan was the source of a huge trade in medicinal plants which contributed a major part of the port’s traffic. Augustine Henry spent 18 years there and from there made many forays into little-known areas of Sichuan where he discovered many plants not known in the Western world.


Lilium Henryi

He became a regular supplier of these plants and leaves each of which he despatched to Kew Gardens and five other major botanical gardens, including Glasnevin. In all he discovered 160,000 new species and 50-60 new genera, which were named by Kew and others, enabling him to compile a magnum opus listing and numbering each with its new Latin name, its Chinese name, its precise source and the date on which he had discovered it. Examples illustrated by Matthew included the Handkerchief tree, the Varnish tree (a bit like the Sumac) and a major source of lacquer, the Tulip tree, Witch Hazel and Magnolia. Also, interestingly he sourced what is now known as the kiwi fruit and grown largely in New Zealand.

Next Henry was sent to a more remote posting in Yunnan where he continued his botanical explorations and listings until 1900 when he returned to Britain and Ireland and, with Henry Elwes, professor of Forestry at Cambridge, wrote the monumental Trees of Great Britain and Ireland.

Dr Henry went on to become Professor of Forestry in the Dublin Royal College of Science. He continued working and writing up to his death in 1930. His second wife, Elsie, organised his many papers and presented them with his large library, along with his vast herbarium to the National Botanic Gardens .

Dr Jebb interspersed his well-illustrated talk with many accounts of historical events occurring during Henry’s time in China, such as the Opium Wars, the Treaty of Nanking, the Taiping Rebellion and the beginning of Boxer Rebellion. It was a night to remember.


On one of the few beautifully sunny Sundays of the Summer about 40 members, children and friends gathered at Leeson Park for our Annual Barbecue.


ICCS President Norman O’Galligan on duty

The cuisine, hot and cold, was wonderfully mouth- watering and varied, with the barbecues being ably manned by Denis Mullen and Norman O’Galligan.

Jason Yang played three lovely pieces on the recorder. All present really enjoyed the afternoon. The Chinese Embassy was charmingly represented by Counsellor Lan Heping accompanied by First Secretary Wang Xiusheng. Once again our thanks for the venue are due to Yanyi Blake and the Methodist Centenary Church.

6. Table Quiz, December 2009


Quiz Master David Judge was not in fact lynched, but let off with a bottle of wine.

7. The Year of the Tiger



Year of the Metal Tiger

Rash, impulsive and dynamic, tigers don’t know how to sit still or calculate odds. They are bold, reckless and extremely foolish, and take risks that leave most of us gasping. But if you need a hero then a tiger will do fine. They like to take on the cause of the underdog and will fight against any injustice imaginable.
Tigers are invariably charming and persuasive. The reason they are born leaders is not that they have any natural leading abilities, it’s just that they can talk anyone into following them – no matter how ill-advised the project may be.


For expressing opinions this roaring tiger is the worst (or best) of them all. Very ambitious, it can be a bit ruthless when it comes to its career. Don’t stand in the way of a metal tiger and never invest in any of its schemes. This is a tiger for whom the word diplomacy” simply doesn’t exist.

The tiger is one of the most tenacious characters in the Chinese Zodiac and very little will daunt tigers – or keep them down for long – they will always bounce back. They are not invulnerable, however, and need lots of emotional support, as they are basically insecure and can feel unloved.

Tigers have infinite resources of energy and imagination and will inevitably tire any lover they tangle with. They are promiscuous, adulterous and have absolutely no moral sense whatsoever and have no compunction about finding new excitement once the current relationship has begun to fade. They are great romantics, though, and fall in love easily and often. They do have a great capacity for very deep, intense relationships and are simply devastated when these fall apart, even if they are the cause. A tiger in love can be a rogue or simply perfect – and you’ll never know which sort you’re getting until it’s too late.

Tigers are loners with few really good friends, but those they do have they keep for life. They make good parents; not because they set good examples, but because children just adore these exciting and charismatic personalities. They can be very strict and demanding, and do tend to expect a lot of their offspring.
Suitable Careers

Film Star
Army Officer
Celebs born in the Year of the Tiger

Victoria Beckham,
Sir Richard Branson,
Oscar Wilde,
Mel Brooks,
H. G. Wells,
Agatha Christie,
Demi Moore

8. Tiger Compatibilty Chart

Tiger with:

Rat: As neither of these two knows how to comprise, this combination will create sparks and the relationship will be stormy.
Ox: unless the tiger allows the ox to be in control and set the rules, this combination can’t work. As tigers don't give in easily, expect fireworks.
Tiger: Expect a lot of heat—the heat of passion and ferocious lust. These two will fight and reconcile, laugh and love—a lot.
Rabbit: the rabbit makes a good meal for the tiger unless it learns to move fast to stay out of trouble. Although not a good combination, it can work.
Dragon: Excitement and fun all the way. Dramatic and vola- tile. A super –charged dynamic team who together can move the earth.
Snake: The snake thinks the tiger is over emotional, while the tiger distrusts the snake’s secretive ways. This relationship is bound to end in disaster.
Horse: a good combination. The tiger will respect the horse’s loyalty and the horse will love the tiger’s impulsiveness.
Goat: could be good together in bed, but there is not a lot else going for them. This partnership is not recommended for business.
Monkey: As neither will give an inch, this is not a good combination. Both suffer ego problems and neither will understand the other at all.
Rooster: In spite of the fact that these two will bicker and quarrel, criticize and argue, this match is quite a good one.
Dog: The dog is clever enough to handle the tiger, so these two will do extremely well together.
Pig: These two blame each other when things go wrong and aren’t really suited.

9. Information for Members by Email

The ICCS would like to set up an email data base of its members to keep them up to date on events which are happening in between issues of this newsletter. If you would like to get such information from the society would you kindly E-mail me at the address below and mark your reference ICCS E-mail data base.
This information will neither be shared with any other organisation nor passed on to any other external source.

E-mail: iccs@oceanfree.net

Colm Coleman

10. Subscriptions

The Subscription Year for the Society coincides with the Calendar Year, 1st January to 31st December. The Treasurer wishes to remind any members who have not yet paid their subscription for 2010 to do so now.

The annual subscription is €30.00 (covering two people living at the same mailing address),
with a reduced student rate of €10,
and a lifetime subscription of €300.

Subscriptions to be sent to:

Denis Mullen, Hon. Treasurer,
130 Mount Merrion Avenue,
Blackrock, Co.Dublin.

Cheques to be made payable to:
"Irish-Chinese Cultural Society".

This Newsletter is published by the Irish-Chinese Cultural Society.
Views expressed by individual contributors do not represent any official policy of the Irish-Chinese Cultural Society.
We would be delighted to receive articles, photos and stories for our newsletter.
The Editor welcomes all submissions, but cannot absolutely guarantee the return of any photos or documents supplied, and reserves the right to shorten or modify any letter or material submitted.
Please send to the Editor
Colm Coleman, 3 Pacelli Ave., Sutton, Dublin 13.
E-mail: iccs@oceanfree.net