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Way to Wealth, Longevity, Green Well-Being Explored in Paris

Official Beijing still prefers Mao to Tao. Only one item (of 250) in “Tao -- Another Way of Being,” a huge exhibition of Chinese art at the Grand Palais in Paris, comes from mainland China.

The show, the first of its kind in Europe, is an attempt to visualize Taoism, the mix of philosophy, religion and popular superstition that has influenced life in China for more than 2,000 years.

In the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government did its best to suppress Taoism and other religions. At the same time, young Westerners, disenchanted with the Christian churches, discovered the concept of soft power, the “three jewels” of kindness, simplicity and modesty, and the view that the body, as a microcosm, needs to be balanced with the macrocosm of the universe.

The interest in Taoism goes hand in hand with today’s “green” movement, itself not free of religious overtones. It’s not surprising that the curators pride themselves on using material that can be recycled 10 times and a lighting system that consumes 22 times less energy than regular lamps.

You don’t have to know the esoteric, often obscure details of Taoist philosophy to enjoy the exhibition. Most of the objects on display -- scroll paintings, sculptures, ceramics, bronzes, textiles -- come from the Musee Guimet in Paris, one of the richest collections of Asian art. Others are on loan from Taiwanese, European and U.S. museums.

Photographer: Thierry Ollivier/Grand Palais via Bloomberg

"The Ruler of the Purple Regions With a Spirit." The Ming Dynasty (1600) work is part of the exhibition "Tao -- Another Way of Being" at the Grand Palais, Paris, running through July 5. Close

"The Ruler of the Purple Regions With a Spirit." The Ming Dynasty (1600) work is part... Read More

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Photographer: Thierry Ollivier/Grand Palais via Bloomberg

"The Ruler of the Purple Regions With a Spirit." The Ming Dynasty (1600) work is part of the exhibition "Tao -- Another Way of Being" at the Grand Palais, Paris, running through July 5.

Divided Circle

Wisely, the organizers have opted for a thematic approach. In the first part, you meet Yin and Yang, the two complementary forces that are supposed to govern the universe; they are symbolized by a tiger and a dragon, later by a divided circle.

The second part introduces Laozi, who may or may not have lived in the 6th century B.C. and who is traditionally held to have written the Tao Te Ching, the bible of Taoism. In 166 A.D., he was deified by imperial decree.

The great variety of gods is the subject of the following section. Mirroring the elaborate bureaucracy of the imperial court, the heavenly hierarchy is meticulously organized.

There’s a small club of born gods and a much greater number of mortals who, because of their exemplary lives, have been promoted to divine rank after their death. Like the saints of the Catholic church, they are venerated as patrons of various constituencies and appear with insignia -- a fan, a lotus flower or a sword to fend off demons, to name but a few.

For the believer, Taoism has substantial advantages. It’s the safest “way” -- that’s what the word Tao means -- to longevity, well-being and wealth.

Sexual Hygiene

By the 7th century A.D., a complex system of practices developed including diets, baths, sex hygiene, physical exercises, breath control and the use of charms. Cereals, believed to be the favorite food of demons, were shunned in the early days. They are now recommended.

These rules not only influenced Zen, the Japanese school of Buddhism. They also appealed to the disciples of New Age cults, who happily stirred them into their amalgam of Eastern religions, nostalgia for a pre-industrial paradise, organic food and alternative medicine.

The last part of the show deals with Taoist rites. Here you find clerical robes, ceremonial swords, talismans, incense burners and recipes of what the immortals have for dinner.

“Tao -- Another Way of Being” runs through July 5. For details, go to , they are venerated as patrons of various constituencies and appear with insignia -- a fan, a lotus flower or a sword to fend off demons, to name but a few.

For the believer, Taoism has substantial advantages. It’s the safest “way” -- that’s what the word Tao means -- to longevity, well-being and wealth.

Sexual Hygiene

By the 7th century A.D., a complex system of practices developed including diets, baths, sex hygiene, physical exercises, breath control and the use of charms. Cereals, believed to be the favorite food of demons, were shunned in the early days. They are now recommended.

These rules not only influenced Zen, the Japanese school of Buddhism. They also appealed to the disciples of New Age cults, who happily stirred them into their amalgam of Eastern religions, nostalgia for a pre-industrial paradise, organic food and alternative medicine.

The last part of the show deals with Taoist rites. Here you find clerical robes, ceremonial swords, talismans, incense burners and recipes of what the immortals have for dinner.

“Tao -- Another Way of Being” runs through July 5. For details, call +33-1-4413-1717; http://www.rmn.fr

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Jorg von Uthmann in Paris at uthmann@wanadoo.fr.

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