What do walking backward, water calligraphy, and belting out popular songs in public have in common? All of them can be conceived as techniques for cultivating life, or yangsheng, and they are all featured in Judith Farquhar and Qicheng Zhang’s wonderful new book.
Ten Thousand Things: Nurturing Life in Contemporary Beijing (Zone Books, 2012) explores life as a process through an ethnographic and philosophical study of everyday life activism in contemporary Beijing. It is a remarkably wide-ranging book in its conception and methodologies, exploring forms of modern self-help (or self-health) via discussions that range from the changing nature of long underwear to the meaning of life, from popular health literature to the films of Ning Ying, from urban politics leading up to the 2008 Olympics to the circulation of common sense. Farquhar and Zhang bring the reader along for morning and evening walks through the public spaces of West City District of Beijing, and into the private spaces of yangsheng practitioners in their homes, inviting us to listen in on a dinner conversation that concludes the study. It is a marvelous, creative, and inspiring book that manages to balance careful analysis of philosophical texts with humor and liveliness.