Tong Sing: The Know Everything Book Based on the Ancient Chinese Almanac
by Dr. Charles Windridge
Published by Three Rivers Press
256 pages, 2000
Buy it online
The Secret to Knowing Everything
Reviewed by Adrian Marks
Imagine a book -- a single volume -- that held the information you needed to conduct all aspects of your life. A book that could instruct you on your health, your business, the food you ate and even your future. Imagine that this book had been started in ancient days -- practically since time out of mind -- was added to every year and aspired to include everything you needed to know to live your life successfully.
Would you be surprised to learn that the book described above exists? That it has been in continuous publication since around 2250 B.C. Called the Chinese Almanac by some, in Hong Kong it is known as the Tong Sing which translates roughly to "Know All Things Book."
Charles Windridge's Tong Sing is a slightly different animal based on the same genotype. The book came about when, while taking up space in his wife's Chinese restaurant, customers would come up with questions about Chinese culture that the restaurateur simply had no time to answer. "My wife," writes Windridge in his introduction, "who is Chinese, has no eloquent command of English and is, an any case, far too busy to enter into lengthy discourse. So the task of answering the constant barrage of questions has fallen largely to me."
The questions, says Windridge, "tended to cover the same subjects over and over again." To simplify matters, he prepared a series of leaflets, complete with his own illustrations, providing answers. "It occurred to me that this information might be of interest to people other than those who frequented my wife's restaurant, and this book is the outcome."
This humble genesis is what provides Windridge's Tong Sing with its accessible tone and workable format. Unlike the original and actual Tong Sing which, because of its ancient format is filled with equally ancient -- and sometimes archaic -- information, (and which is, of course and in any case, written in Chinese ideograms) Windridge's book is a sprightly and entertaining peek at a venerable culture. Windridge notes that, "Although this book contains many sections which appear in the original Tong Sing, it is essentially my own work and is neither a faithful reproduction or a plagiarized version." Instead, it is an entirely workable and modern approach to scratching the surface of understanding the Chinese culture.
Tong Sing begins at the beginning with a point form explanation of the languages of China. And so:
1. We may speak of the Chinese language, but there are over a hundred languages and dialects in China.
And so on, breaking what is actually a very complicated subject into bite-sized chunks. Chinese geography, history, art, literature and even the development of chopsticks all get a similarly simple treatment. Not facile, but definitely intended to be understandable to the most China-ignorant among his readers.
The various components of the original Chinese Almanac are demystified for western readers. And thus a section on "Chinese Wisdom" includes explanations and descriptions of important festivals, traditions, ancient wisdom, Chinese achievements, Taoism, the importance of the seasons, Chinese astrology and so on. A brief section supplies New Year recipes: what to serve to celebrate the Year of the Snake (this year!), the Year of the Ox and on through the calendar. A beefy section covers "Horoscopes and Prophecies" that includes how to implement The Yellow Emperor's Poem (if you don't know what that is, you can still use it), as well as sections on casting your horoscope, immortality, the I Ching, lottery numbers, fortune sticks, the study of dreams, palmistry and a great deal more. It may be an error that this section on prophecies also includes several entries for food, including recipes, but it's still great stuff. The section on "Health and Medicine" covers all the basic bases from Chinese health foods to dietary remedies, "The Secret of Youth" and more. Finally, a lifestyle section, entitled "The Chinese Way of Life" includes entries on sex, baby care, peace of mind, weapons, communication etiquette and more.
Charles Windridge's Tong Sing can not be the exhaustive work that the original represents. After all, between 2250 B.C. and now there has been time for many, many, many additions not to mention the accompanying fine tuning. However, Windridge's book provides an excellent window which the neophyte may use to view this fascinating culture. | January 2001
Adrian Marks is an author and journalist.