By Wan Lixin
BEIJING, April. 9 -- For about six months, I was
awakened every morning well before my usual hour of rising by a racket outside.
The noise came from a group of migrants workers
camped just in front of my home.
They were sent there to widen the narrow neighborhood
roads to allow for more cars and to give the buildings a face-lift in
anticipation of the World Expo the next year.
These former peasants are, by definition, urbanized,
but still cling to their rustic habits of early rising and early retiring.
Like most urbanites, I thought their daily regimen no
more than a giveaway of their rustic origins.
But now that they have decamped and stopped the
noise, I have time for more balanced reflections, and begin to wonder who has
more sense: the migrants whose daily agenda is still somewhat in tune with
nature, or I whose life has long been thrown out of joint by artificial
While some people are compelled to work night shifts,
I can offer no justification for burning the midnight oil and not taking
advantage of the natural morning light.
Energy saving is just one of many considerations.
I was taught in my childhood that early rising is the
source of sturdy health and longevity.
Nearly every life of virtue begins with early rising.
Zhu Bolu was a scholar in the Ming Dynasty
(1368-1644) known for his Household Maxim, which begins: "Rise at dawn! Sweep
your house clean within and without."
Most old-style academies maintain the ritual of
consecrating an early morning meeting to reflect on how to give new meaning to
the new day.
Remarks made by scholar Liang Shumin in such meetings
during 1931-1934 were later published as a book titled "Zhaohua" ("Morning
"In winter, when the first glow of the dawn is on the
horizon, we are gathered on a platform, with a sprinkling of stars and a fading
moon high above us and all universe immersed in a silence interrupted only by
crows of the roosters. We feel inspired, excited ..." Liang wrote.
Unfortunately, most of us urbanites have lost our
sensibility not only to the changes of seasons, but also to the changes of day
The over-illuminated nighttime sky over a metropolis
is mostly empty of stars, and one has to be particularly alert to find signs of
spring in a city.
For a couple of months, some Shanghai reporters have
been pestering meteorologists as to whether spring has come already. They do not
know that spring is not worked out by computers, but made of flowers.
We also have difficulty telling night from a day, as
office buildings (both interior and exterior), homes and streets are bathed in
glorious artificial lighting much more fascinating than that offered by the sun.
We have obviously forgotten that we humans are
originally diurnal animals that have long adapted psychologically and
cognitively to the natural succession of day and night.
Our sensitivity becomes an integral part of culture,
and finds its expression in our calendar, mythology and religion.
But we are losing this ability as our cities are
turned into nebula of light.
On March 28 some Chinese cities joined in Earth Hour,
a global event calling on households and businesses to turn off their
non-essential lights and other electrical appliances for one hour to draw
attention to climate change.
Ironically, after the one-hour vigil it is business
as usual: numerous highrises and streets continue to be awash in dazzling
Considering the money being burned, the energy
consumed, and how simple the remedy is - just switch off - the message emanating
from this symbolic move is rather grim: How unwilling we are to reduce the
unnecessary glare around us.
After reading about a vaunted 2.1-million-yuan
(307,000 U.S. dollars) "moonlight town" project in Shaanxi (Shanghai Daily,
April 8), I regret to say that such sins of illumination are still being
committed with complacency.
When I was studying in Hangzhou, much of the West
Lake at night was still shrouded in darkness.
Later authorities started a project aimed at filling
the lake with light to attract more tourists.
One of the first songs my son learned is "Twinkle,
Twinkle Little Star," but I wonder whether he ever actually saw a star twinkle
in this city swamped by light.
Light pollution, defined in the broad sense, refers
to any nighttime artificial light that shines where it's not needed. It has a
disturbing impact on the migration, feeding and reproduction of other animals,
but humans are victims too.
Living in this self-inflicted glare, we are out of
sync with the succession of day and night, and forget our place in the universe.
Our obsession with artificial illumination stems from
our tendency to see a well-lit city as a sign of modernity and prosperity.
And this tendency stems from our hubris, in our
inclination to see nature as needing of improvement.
Chinese culture is essentially a culture that had
been highly adapted to agricultural life that is tightly coupled to the pulse of
Unfortunately, this life has been portrayed as
backward and market forces are forcing peasants to turn their back on
Increasingly we tend to measure our "progress" by the
degree to which we are insulated from nature.
I have heard that although sweaters are generally
useless in Hong Kong winters, office ladies there have to resort to them in
summer in their freezing-cold offices if they do not want to suffer arthritis.
Most office clerks in big cities today probably spend
most of their time in mid-air, in highrises, far removed from the "genius of the
Surrounded by so much noise, we have forgotten how to
listen to the voice of nature.
(Source: Shanghai Daily)