How I found the philosophy of nature and gained a sense of community from reading
Published: Aug 03, 2023 06:30 PM
Editor's Note:

"Read ten thousand books, and your pen will be guided as if by the gods" is an ancient Chinese idiom that can be seen in students' textbooks. China's Ministry of Education has published an action plan to further promote reading among students across the nation. With new and diverse book recommendations, the reading scene is expected to be revived not only at schools, but also across society. 

To contribute to this endeavor, the Global Times launched "My Reading Life" essay contest for middle school students.

Please pick up a pen and share your stories with us at



From a very early age, perhaps the age of 4 or 5, I began my journey with books. I've read all kind of books, which, like all ordinary kids in my generation, have ranged from picture books, the encyclopedia, children's literature and classic works. Toward all of these, I have only cursory muddles left. Indeed, these remnants have long ago brought about lively visions of myself and nature: playing in the back garden of my elementary school where golden flowers bathe in the sunshine of spring; rushing toward the railroad station to catch the train leaving for Kunming, on which indigenous people peddle blewit and taro along the narrow aisle; soaking myself in freezing meltwater, surrounded by endless rolling dunes in 35 C plus temperatures… These scenes, positioned in the center of my mind, are a private world in which I could seek solace no matter what frustration I met in life. Not the classics. Not the reading.    

However, things all changed when the fount of my happiness, nature itself, became the reason for my frustration. I was in a museum, staring at the artwork, Wheatfield - A Confrontation, for which Agnes Denes planted a 2-acre wheat field on a landfill in lower Manhattan two blocks from Wall Street. The powerful irony constituted by her choice to turn a patch of $4.5-billion land into a wheatfield stimulated a wriggling worm of conscience in me. I instinctively imagined that she was me, and realized that all my past interaction with nature were just like Agnes, who is surrounded by civilization, modern technology and full protection. The ideology of nature which I had was potentially in direct conflict with the true nature that any indigenous people who live their life depending on nature would have known. The absurd truths had thrown me into the wilderness of the soul, where all happiness goes to die. 

Starving in the barren land of spirit, I was suddenly handed food for thought, a book called The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. Reading in despair, I felt a similar despair expressed by the author at the beginning of the book. The disappointing realization of how we are incredibly fragile in front of true nature and how nature has been incredibly transformed by human beings is clearly stated in Anna's book. For the first time in my life, I resonated with an author so much that the pain in my heart became the pain of the author and through millions of copies, became the pain of millions of people. Suddenly, my burden had been immensely relieved, as countless strangers shared this burden together with me. My worries transformed into all readers' collective worries, and further stimulated our collective strength and actions.

It was then I realized that, reading, as a usual and yet unfamiliar thing I do in daily life, has the power of connecting people who do not know each other into a real supportive community, in which we relieve burdens, share viewpoints, and generate action. Reading a book is like moving into a community. We settle in, relieve stress and burdens, and start to recollect our thoughts, ideas, and views that have come together to become who we are. If we can stop bearing our own cross and start carrying the cross with each other; if we can stop being alone in the wilderness and start joining a community that is supportive, then we can be more dexterous at the unending task of living happily and satisfyingly in the world.

The author is a student at the Experimental High School Attached to Beijing Normal University