Bill Porter returns to Taiwan to find his Zen roots | Taiwan News

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Bill Porter, also known as “Hongsong”, is 80 years old and has achieved a brilliant career as a travel writer and translator of Chinese classics such as Laozi Tao Te Ching and Song Ci. cause. Cold Mountain’s. “

“I don’t expect to live very long, I’ve had so much good luck in my life,” Porter said. He has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a PEN America Literary Award, and even a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In his travelogue, Porter visits overlooked historical sites and serves as a reminder of China’s 5,000-year history. His travelogue was originally published in English, but the Chinese translation has been well-received and outsold his original book by a ratio of 12 to 1.

On June 14, 2023, it won the “2023 China Special Book Award” issued by the General Administration of Press and Publication of China to foreign translators, writers, and publishers.

Bill Porter reflects on his life as a translator and writer. (Taiwan News Photo)

from another century

Potter is cheerful, bright-eyed, and curious by nature. He likes to greet acquaintances with well-thought-out Confucian quotes.

Porter’s road to China began with the awakening of religious scholar Alan Watts’ “Zen Tao”. He dropped out of a four-year graduate fellowship at Columbia University and moved to Taiwan.

His interest in meditation led him to initially pursue the monastic life and seek out the rapidly growing Buddhist community at Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung. However, this pursuit did not materialize, as monks here were often more interested in ritual and cultivating an active lay community than in inner peace.

Porter later transferred to Ming Hai Temple near Taipei, where he studied under Shi Wuming, Chiang Kai-shek’s spiritual advisor and president of the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China. Porter studied under Wuming for three years in Minghai Temple, practiced meditation and started translation work.

Porter was later warned that his Chinese skills would be limited by living in the monastery because “the monks couldn’t speak”. This led him to leave the monastery in 1975 to begin full-time studies at the Chinese Culture University. Porter later joined ICRT, an English-language radio station in Taiwan, leading a new program called “Questions and Perspectives,” which was funded by the CIA. Support the Asia Foundation.

While doing programs for ICRT and frequently translating news, Wang Wenyang, chairman of Formosa Plastics Group, gave him $9,000 to find hermits living in remote mountainous areas. This research later became the basis for his first book, The Road to Paradise: Encounters with a Chinese Hermit (1993).

According to Porter, the book’s success led to more interest in his reporting skills, and soon Metro News, a Hong Kong radio station, commissioned him to produce 1,000 two-minute radio spots.

He began to travel six weeks at a time, producing radio shows in rapid succession each time he returned to Hong Kong: three in the morning and three in the evening. Porter’s popular radio station is full of observations about the unintentional intersection or conflict of ancient Chinese and modern life.


“I was obsessed with the experience of translating,” Porter said. Others translated works such as Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, but Porter took pains to add additional commentary.

Porter even studied the “Cold Mountain Poetry.” Burton Watson of Columbia University translated 100 of Cold Mountain’s poems, but Potter felt compelled to translate the complete canon, which has 300 poems. Cold Mountain was revered by the Beat Generation, and Jack Kerouac included many of these poems in The Dharma Bum.

Potter’s first published translation wasPoo’s “Cow Pictures and Poems” was sold primarily in Port Townsend, Wash., where an acquaintance from Taipei helped distribute the book.

“I like the Abbey because I’m drawn to solitude, but every now and then I also like to socialize,” Porter said. In the early 1980s, Porter said, there was a community of about 30 to 40 expats in Taipei who met monthly and were keen to help each other financially or through job referrals.

“There are always people asking you to do some English teaching in their company, and eventually that leads to a more important role like quality control and then assisting foreign buyers,” he said. Potter loves the interactions, but transportation to and from the Abbey can be difficult.

Furthermore, the Buddhist community in Taiwan has only just begun to take shape. “I spent about a year with Shi Hsing-yun. He was the first person to bring non-monastic practice to Taiwan. He was the one who really developed the sangha,” Porter said.

The term “Sangha” refers to a group of people who share the pursuit of Dharma. It can refer to monks, nuns, lay practitioners, and even those who assist in such religious activities.

Porter said that the nebula is an infinite source of energy, ideas and fascination. “He would convince a lot of laypeople to join his organization with the promise that 5-6 years later it would lead to better results,” he said.

Before Fo Guang Shan, many temples and monasteries prohibited lay people from entering. “Hsing Yun was different. He encouraged an open community. They were appalled that he adopted what is now called Humanistic Buddhism,” Porter said.

Humanistic Buddhism encourages practical, compassionate actions in everyday life, such as donating money, helping others, and cleaning the environment.

As for Porter’s mission, it is to translate Chinese spiritual works and poetic works, which usually takes about two years for each piece. When he finds the will or the resources to travel, he will happily follow the path wherever it takes him.

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