1999 Student-Faculty Fellows: St. Olaf College, Team 2

China: Determining Buddhism’s Capacity as an Ecological Influence in Hong Kong

Mentor: Barbara E. Reed, Religion and Asian Studies
Student: Eric Buenz, ’99, Biology/Chemistry


Eric Buenz

In order to determine in what capacity Buddhism has the capacity to influence the environmental movement in Hong Kong we needed to be able to establish an unbiased basis to begin our study. In order to establish this basis we tried to gain an understanding of the different mentalities surrounding the environmental movement in Hong Kong. To facilitate this understanding we established connections within the community and from these relationships determined the environmental values that people supported. To see the incredible change in opportunities that occurred simply by being able to associate our work with an organization was astounding. I had studied and thought I had experienced and understood the concept of face and importance to belonging to a group in Asian societies. However, actually experiencing trying to schedule an interview with an individual and having their schedule full, then dropping off a business card and having them postpone the making of a documentary to meet with us was truly an enlightening experience. The understanding of the necessity of a connection between what people are learning and their life is an issue at came to light while I was in Asia. When individuals do not have the connection and do not care how, it cannot be expected that the community as a whole can be concerned.

Prof. Barbara Reed

My role as faculty mentor was primarily as a sounding board. Eric Buenz had traveled to Asia before and was able to work independently. I followed his own work on the relationship between value systems and environmentalism in Hong Kong with great interest. I also spent time visiting Buddhist and Taoist temples as part of my own research and preparation for teaching. I have gone to Asian several times to do research or to lead St. Olaf College study programs. My experience this past summer was unique because I was able to talk to a student one-on-one about not only his research but also his long-term personal and professional goals. I gained a greater sense of how my teaching fits into the decisions and paths that students take when they leave our colleges. I saw the way in which personality as well as skills and knowledge influence the approaches students take to their work and their career choices.

Research Findings

Economy truly drives the society in Hong Kong; in turn financial gains are the primary goals of most all individuals. The environmental situation in Hong Kong is more of a necessity rather than an understanding. The reason for saving the land is to stop the erosion, which was leading to spoiled fresh water sources. The government determined that it was more economically favorable to preserve the land than develop the land and construct the necessary hardware to return the water to a usable state. The long-term is not ever a consideration in Hong Kong; long-term is looked at as numerous short-term gains stacked end to end, rather than a single entity. This mentality poses a problem for the environmental movement; the environment is never a short- term gain. As for the second aspect of the project Buddhism proper did not have any direct influence on the environmental movement. The foundation of the movement does indeed include basic Buddhist beliefs, but we did not find any individuals on the environmental front that had strong ties to Buddhism. However with Hong Kong emerging as a permanent home for residents it is possible that people will look for a way to channel the concern and turn to Buddhism.