Chinasage Diary

Your daily snippet of information about China. Our diary has a daily fact, proverb and a reminder of upcoming festivals and holidays in China.
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Sun 16th May

China

The Chinese name for their own country is zhōng guó meaning central country or middle kingdom based on the ancient belief that China was geographically and culturally the center of the known world.
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On this day

1981 Song Qingling became President PRC 1981 (40 years ago)
Sat 15th May

Wok cooking

The Chinese tradition of cooking with a wok harks back to making best use of meager resources. Cutting meat and vegetables into thin strips allows food to be cooked rapidly with the minimum need for precious heating fuel.
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Fri 14th May

Fitness by breathing

Most people's vision of martial arts are athletic, aggressive moves but it is a very broad category and there are many types. At the most graceful end of the spectrum is Qigong where fitness is achieved standing still. It has its roots in Daoist belief where the breath of life 'qi' is fundamental. By carefully controlling breathing and holding a pose not only are muscles toned but the body relaxed.
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Thu 13th May

Ancient Chinese origin of Computers

When the great European philosopher Gottfried Leibniz discovered binary arithmetic - the basis of all modern day computers - he was convinced he was building his theory on Chinese traditions. Leibniz had discovered a great deal from China by studying the vast amount of information the Jesuits had written about. Support for his '0' and '1' binary arithmetic he believed came from the ancient Yi Jing (I Ching) system that has binary 'split' and 'whole' lines in a complete system of all 64 possible combinations. In this he was probably mistaken, the Yi Jing goes back so far it is lost in the mists of time but it is interesting that all modern computing was a product of mergers of Eastern and Western ideas.
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Wed 12th May

Medicinal writing

The discovery of the ancient writing of the Shang dynasty was quite by chance. The scholar Wang Yirong bought some bones for medicinal purposes in 1899 at a Beijing shop. He noted that the bones had markings on them and he began investigating into them. Eventually 100,000 inscribed bones have been unearthed and these have been decoded as early Chinese characters from over 3,000 years ago. Around 2,000 modern characters can be traced back to the old oracle bone form.
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On this day

907 Tang dynasty ended 907 (1,114 years ago)
Tue 11th May

Cultural destruction

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) there were many victims. One great sadness was the loss of many buildings and items of historical and cultural value. Many temples were destroyed as all religion was suppressed. The campaign against the four olds: ?old culture, old customs, old habits and old thinking? led to the destruction of many people's treasured heirlooms. In Beijing 72% of the cataloged relics were smashed to dust and 37% of historic sites flattened.
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On this day

868 Printing of Diamond Sutra 868 (1,153 years ago)
1610 died 1610 (411 years ago)
1610 Matteo Ricci died 1610 (411 years ago)
Mon 10th May

One child policy

The policy of only permitting one child per family is considered the most hated in China since the formation of the P.R.C.. It was introduced in 1980 after warnings of the dangers of over population had gone unheeded for twenty years. Mass starvation was considered the likely result. The fact that China's population has stabilized and is on track to fall slightly is a vindication of the policy despite the personal hardship and heartbreak that it undoubtedly caused. The policy has now been relaxed to llow for two children per couple. With sustainability of the world at risk one obvious way to relieve pressure is to reduce demand on food and resources.
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Sun 9th May

Sun Yatsen's mausoleum

Sun Yatsen and Mao Zedong are regarded as the two founders of modern China; on National day (1st October) both their portraits are paraded in Tiananmen Square. Sun Yatsen's power-base was in southern China. The Republican government sat at Nanjing not Beijing in 1912. So it is near to Nanjing that Sun Yatsen has his grand mausoleum. Close by on the Purple Mountains is the mausoleum of Emperor Hongwu founder of the Ming dynasty.
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On this day

1421 Lightning strike destroys Forbidden City 1421 (600 years ago)
Sat 8th May

Tao Te Ching

Now written in pinyin as Dao De Jing, this small book is the best known ancient Chinese classic outside China. It is a set of philosophical aphorisms and riddles from the Daoist tradition. Within China the book is less well known, many Chinese would first mention the I Ching (Yi Jing) as the premier ancient classic.
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Fri 7th May

Who pays for a meal?

If you go out to a restaurant with Chinese friends you will become aware of different cultural attitudes to paying the bill. While westerners will either split the bill equally between everyone or else work out individual bills of exactly what has been eaten. In China, with the emphasis on sharing dishes, there is strong competition to be the one to pay the whole bill for everyone. It is very hard for a guest to get to pay the bill.
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Thu 6th May

Civil war of succession

Following the pattern of many other dynasties the Ming dynasty began with a strong leader who united the country but on his death the country fell into a brutal was of succession between Emperor Hongwu's nominated heir Zhu Yunwen and Zhu Di. Zhu Di eventually won to become Emperor Yongle and he consolidated Ming rule in China.
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Wed 5th May

Landscape Pagodas

The Chinese landscape still has many pagodas but far fewer than there used to be. Care was taken to place them appropriately in the landscape. Pagodas act as storehouses of sacred relics (usually Buddhist) or commemorate a sacred place and always have an odd number of stories - often nine or seven.
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On this day

1260 Kublai Khan became ruler 1260 (761 years ago)
Tue 4th May

Scholarly accomplishments

A scholar aspiring to be a government official was expected to excel at scholarly accomplishments, the main four were Chinese chess (Xiangqi), Literature, Painting and Playing the lute (guqin).
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On this day

1421 Burning of Imperial Palace 1421 (600 years ago)
1654 Emperor Kangxi born 1654 (367 years ago)
1919 May 4th Movement founded 1919 (102 years ago)
Mon 3rd May

The Chinese violin - Erhu

Most people judge that the traditional Chinese instrument, the Erhu, is the one that is most emblematic of China. It is a small instrument with two strings attached at the bottom to a small sounding box. Between the strings is threaded the bow and so it is almost impossible to move the bow without making a sound. The sound made is somewhat more shrill than western string instruments and has a melancholic timbre. The Erhu is often played by buskers in towns and cities in China but it is also used as part of a traditional Chinese orchestra in place of violins.
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Sun 2nd May

Eastern and Western tombs

Even though the Manchu rulers during the Qing dynasty were not Han Chinese they took to many Chinese customs. One particular belief system is that tombs must be located according to Feng Shui rules. Unfortunately Feng shui masters could not agree on the best site for the location of the tombs and the Emperors after Yongzheng hedged their bets by alternating between the Eastern and Western tombs. The Eastern were built first and are 78 miles NE of Beijing while the Western are 87 miles SE of Beijing.
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On this day

1360 Emperor Yongle born 1360 (661 years ago)
Sat 1st May

The Chinese Trinity

One of the most common sculptures you will see in shops, restaurants and homes is a set of three figures. These are the good luck gods of the Daoist tradition Fu, Lou (or Lu) and Shou representing respectively wishes for happiness, prosperity and long life.
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Fri 30th Apr

Hundred Schools

Over 2,000 years ago the conflicting Chinese philosophies were codified and vigorously debated, a few have survived little changed to the present day. This flourishing of philosophy is somewhat similar to the situation in Ancient Greece and occurred about the same time. The Hundred Schools of Thought was the time of Laozi and Kongzi (Confucius).
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Thu 29th Apr

100 Days of Reform

In the late Qing dynasty there was a last glimmer of reform. After centuries of domination by conservative forces who rejected any structural change it was Emperor Guangxu for was persuaded by leading intellectual Kang Youwei that a radical swathe of reforms were needed. In June 1898 the reforms abandoned the age-old examination system to bring in Western technology and science; commerce and engineering were promoted. Conservative forces led by his aunt Dowager Empress Cixi blocked the reforms and they were abandoned after just 100 days. It is one of the great 'what ifs' of Chinese history. If the reforms had succeeded China could have been a modern state much earlier under the same model as that of Japan.
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Wed 28th Apr

Qinghai

The province of Qinghai is named after the lake that stands on its eastern edge. It is the largest lake in China and is at a high altitude of 10,500 feet [3,200 meters]. Its name means blue-green lake. The salty waters of the lake (it has no outflow) is home to many birds.
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On this day

1897 Ye Jianying born 1897 (124 years ago)
1959 Liu Shaoqi became Chairman Peoples Republic of China 1959 (62 years ago)
Tue 27th Apr

China's flag

The four smaller stars on the flag of the People's Republic represent the four classes of people: working class; peasantry; petit bourgeoisie and patriotic capitalists.
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On this day

1959 Mao Zedong no longer Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1959 (62 years ago)
1959 Mao Zedong no longer Chairman Peoples Republic of China 1959 (62 years ago)
Mon 26th Apr

Paddyfields

Rice has been grown in China for thousands of years. However there is a common misconception that is grown and eaten all over the vast country. In fact northern China is just too cold to grow rice and so wheat and other grains are grown instead. Rice likes as hot and humid a climate as it can get, so actually much of China's rice is now imported from countries further south. Another misconception is that rice needs to be grown in water - the familiar paddy-field. In fact the fields are flooded to control weeds as only rice will grow in standing water.
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On this day

1997 Peng Zhen died 1997 (24 years ago)
Sun 25th Apr

Li River

The Li River scenery between Guilin and Yangshao has been considered the most beautiful in China for hundreds of years. The limestone has been worn away by the waters to leave strange towering pinnacles covered in lush vegetation.
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On this day

1644 Ming dynasty ended 1644 (377 years ago)
Sat 24th Apr

Keeping the seal

The seal of office of a government official was a thing of great value. Documents were not valid if they did not bear the appropriate marks of the seal. If a seal was stolen it could be used to create legal-looking edicts covering everything from land ownership to death sentences. The safe-keeping of the seal was often the responsibility of the official's wife. Should it be lost the official was typically demoted or dismissed from office.
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Fri 23rd Apr

Panthay rebellion

One of the bloodiest rebellions in Chinese history took place 1853-73. The Muslims of north-western China rose up in revolt and it was brutally suppressed by the Qing government. About 2 million people (Chinese and Muslims) met their death. It would be better known if the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64) had not taken place with its about 40 million deaths. The rebellion is one reason why the current Chinese government is ruling the Muslim dominated Xinjiang province with such firmness.
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Thu 22nd Apr

Overseas Aid

The Chinese diaspora have made an important cultural and financial contribution to the building of modern China. Overseas communities in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia have often become rich and send back money to their families or invest in new enterprises within China.
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Wed 21st Apr

Qufu

The town of Qufu, Shandong was the home of Confucius ( Kǒngfūzǐ ) and descendents now in the 83rd generation still live there. The size and grandeur of the buildings rival that of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
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Tue 20th Apr

Internet wars

China has put many defenses to prevent material on the internet being seen by its citizens. Although it is fairly easy to circumvent the Great Firewall of China most do not. Many sensitive topics are blocked including strange items like 'Pooh Bear', this last one is because President Xi has been unfavorably compared to this children's character. To maintain vigilance there are estimated to be 100,000 people employed to monitor and block certain web sites and pages in China. It began as early as 1997.
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Mon 19th Apr

Decimal system

China has used a mainly decimal system for weights and measures for 3,000 years. Long before Napoleon imposed a decimal system in his European empire the Chinese were using a system based on units of ten. For a long time this also applied to days - the week was ten days rather than seven days long. When the metric system was adopted in 1912 the conversion of units in China was straightforward.
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Sun 18th Apr

Decimal system

China has used a mainly decimal system for weights and measures for 3,000 years. Long before Napoleon imposed a decimal system in his European empire the Chinese were using a system based on units of ten. For a long time this also applied to days - the week was ten days rather than seven days long. When the metric system was adopted in 1912 the conversion of units in China was straightforward.
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Temple of Heaven, Beijing, PKChina-19
Temple of Heaven, Beijing. September 2019. Image by Paul Kerswill