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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Fri 17th Sep

Cairo Taiwan pledge

At the Cairo conference in 1943 UK leader Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Roosevelt pledged to return the island of Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) to Chinese rule. The island had been ruled by Japan since 1895. Because Chinese leader Chiang Kaishek led the Republic of China from Taiwan the 'return' of the island was a debatable action and remains a moot point to this day. The US continues to offer military aid to Taiwan and so the pledge to return it is a matter of great sensitivity.
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Thu 16th Sep

Yarrow stick divination

The traditional way to cast a Yi Jing (I Ching) consultation is a lengthy process using 50 yarrow sticks. The reason that yarrow is chosen it that it was used medicinally to both staunch bleeding and cause nose bleeding giving it a powerful association with life. In Asia a simple method of divination was to insert the foliage in the nose and the answer was determined by whether or not the nose started to bleed. The reason for the Western botanical name 'Achillea' was chosen because Achilles used it to staunch the bleeding of his troops.
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On this day

1859 Yuan Shikai born 1859 (162 years ago)
Wed 15th Sep

Chrysanthemum

Although the Japanese throne is called the 'Chrysanthemum' throne it is in China that this flower of late summer and autumn has been valued for longest. It is the emblem of autumn - and as such it is one of the four season tiles in Mahjong. In art it symbolizes joy and harmony. It can withstand frost and so exemplifies stoicism in the face of disappointment.
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On this day

1942 Wen Jiabao born 1942 (79 years ago)
Tue 14th Sep

Han name

The important Han dynasty is named after the fiefdom of the first Han emperor Liu Bang who initially controlled lands on the headwaters of the Han river to the south of Xi'an. The Han river flows south-east to join the Yangzi river at Wuhan.
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On this day

1368 Mongol dynasty ended 1368 (653 years ago)
1998 Yang Shangkun died 1998 (23 years ago)
Mon 13th Sep

New dynasty

The Xin or 'new' dynasty 新朝 was not all that 'new' as it reigned from 9 to 23CE and lasted all of 14 years. It was the creation of Wang Mang whose reign marks the division of the Han dynasty into Western and Eastern parts.
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Sun 12th Sep

Earthquake-proof buildings

China has been subject to many severe earthquakes, it holds the sad record for the most people killed by them. Buildings that can withstand the enormous forces have therefore been a key design element. For this reason stone walls have been avoided in preference to heavy roofs supported on many solid wooden pillars which rest on a solid platform. This design allows some flexing to withstand the violent shaking.
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Sat 11th Sep

The end of treaty ports

The Cairo conference of 1943 President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Chiang Kaishek made an important agreement that brought China on the side of the Allies against Germany and Japan. Support for Chiang Kaishek would have the decisive effect of tying down large number of Japanese troops in China. In return the Allied powers agreed that the treaty ports would be returned to Chinese rule. Since the foundation of the Republic in 1912 the rationale for separate administration had all but disappeared anyway because the new Republic moved China away from the Imperial tax and law systems that had made the need for foreign enclaves within China seem sensible.
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On this day

1982 Hu Yaobang no longer Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1982 (39 years ago)
1982 Hu Yaobang became General Secretary Communist Party 1982 (39 years ago)
Fri 10th Sep

Singing Kites

The Chinese word for a kite is 风筝 fēngzheng which translates as 'wind instrument'. Zheng is a type of musical instrument, a kind of zither also known as guzheng. Kites often have bamboo strips attached to them so that they whistle in the wind. Chinese armies have used kites to generate unearthly whistles in the air to frighten their enemies.
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On this day

210BCE Emperor Qin Shihuangdi no longer ruler 210BCE (2,232 years ago)
1980 Hua Guofeng no longer Premier PRC 1980 (41 years ago)
1980 Zhao Ziyang became Premier PRC 1980 (41 years ago)
Thu 9th Sep

Official women

Only men could take the Imperial examinations and hope to hold a post of power and influence. For women their best but slim chance of wielding power was as someone close to the Emperor. The Imperial Palace banned men, only eunuchs and women could serve the Emperor. There were 19 official categories of female servants in the Palace by the Tang dynasty which carried out the extensive domestic services: food preparation, needlework and make-up.
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On this day

1945 Wang Jingwei Regime ended 1945 (76 years ago)
1976 Mao Zedong died 1976 (45 years ago)
1976 Mao Zedong no longer Paramount Leader 1976 (45 years ago)
1976 Hua Guofeng became Paramount Leader 1976 (45 years ago)
Wed 8th Sep

Pearl of wisdom

The quality of a pearl is somewhat like the moon. It appear cool and translucent for this reason the moon can be referred to as the 'night shining pearl'. It is often shown with dragons chasing it, representing the legendary connection of dragons chasing the moon to cause eclipses and phases of the moon.
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On this day

685 Emperor Xuanzong born 685 (1,336 years ago)
712 Emperor Xuanzong became ruler 712 (1,309 years ago)
Tue 7th Sep

Green Ming

Following the system of Chinese elements each dynasty in China was allotted a dynastic color. The Ming dynasty for example was associated with the color green - the color of the Wood element. The color was used in Imperial robes and ornaments. The Qing dynasty that followed used the color yellow as seen in the 'yellow dragon' that was the Imperial emblem on flags.
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On this day

1901 Boxer Rebellion ended 1901 (120 years ago)
Mon 6th Sep

Chongqing

The province of Chongqing is a recent creation; it was split away for Sichuan in 1997. Chongqing on the mighty Yangzi is the natural gateway into Sichuan, the ancient kingdom of Shu. The reason for the split was that Sichuan had a way above average population and area compared to other provinces.
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Sun 5th Sep

Earliest printed book

One of the most important inventions that China can lay claim to is printing. The oldest printed book is the Diamond Sutra, printed in 868CE and now held at the British Library, London. It is a large book of Buddhist scripture. It was produced from hand produced wooden blocks that were inked to produce copies on paper.
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Sat 4th Sep

Lost civilization

The Mongol invasion under Genghiz Khan is thought of as brutal, but many will not realize quite how brutal it was. One the kingdoms that stood up against him was the Western Xia kingdom (Xixia) in north-western China. The whole kingdom was annihilated by the Mongols with all people (men, women and children) put to the sword. Only about 1% of the population survived. As a consequence very little is known about them, even their language was lost.
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Fri 3rd Sep

Sparrow game

Mahjong or Sparrow game has its origins in China, but exactly when is still open to debate. It is a game of chance where you build up sets of related tiles (circles, characters and bamboos 'suits') a bit like the card game rummy, but there are also special tiles and the scoring is fiendishly complicated. A standard set has 144 tiles. It became a great worldwide craze after the 1920s. The four flower tiles Plum, Orchid, Bamboo and Chrysanthemum represent the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and autumn).
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Thu 2nd Sep

Land of Dinosaurs

One of the best places in the world to see dinosaur fossils. The city of Erenhot (Er Lian) has a huge gateway in the form of two kissing dinosaurs.
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Wed 1st Sep

Pearl River

Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau all stand around the estuary of the Pearl or Yu River. Although shorter than the Yellow and Yangzi rivers its basin drains areas with high rainfall and so has a high flow rate.
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Tue 31st Aug

Changes and transformations

The very ancient Yi Jing (I Ching) is one the great classics of Chinese literature. Its meaning has been pondered upon for thousands of years. For much of China's dynastic history it was all pervasive, deciding when and who did things. In the full version the method produces two outcomes the 'current' and the 'future' and hence the name 'Book of Changes' as one transforms to the other. There are 64 possible outcomes arranged as six yin or yang lines. The laborious but satisfying traditional method uses fifty yarrow sticks, but for a thousand years three coins can also be used to give a more speedy answer.
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Mon 30th Aug

Chinese Prometheus

Many cultures have a legend about how mankind learned about fire. The Greeks gave us the legend of the Titan Prometheus who was punished for giving mankind the secret of fire. In China one of the legends about the birth of mankind is of Fuxi and Nuwa (sometimes a couple sometimes brother and sister). It was Fuxi that developed fire and taught mankind basic skills such as fishing and cooking.
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Sun 29th Aug

Luding bridge

The taking of the Luding bridge on May 25th 1935 was portrayed as the most heroic event of the Communist Long March under Mao Zedong through Western China. The propaganda of the 1950s and 60s showed dozens of fearless troops grasping the chains above the surging Li River under machine gun fire. The Communist Army was trapped on one bank of the river and faced annihilation if they stayed put. However the event was probably not as dramatic as it was portrayed; the resistance on the other bank of the river seems to have been fairly minimal.
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On this day

1842 Treaty of Nanjing 1842 (179 years ago)
1842 Signing of Treaty of Nanjing 1842 (179 years ago)
1842 First Opium War 1842 (179 years ago)
Sat 28th Aug

Why is China China?

The name we use for the country of China was not chosen by the Chinese people (who use Zhongguo) instead the name was used by travelers many centuries ago. Visitors from overland would first have come across the westernmost kingdom of Qin and it is believed this is the origin of the name used - from over 2,500 years ago.
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Fri 27th Aug

Dim sum

Dim sum is a light meal of various tasty morsels wrapped in thin dough often served with Chinese green tea. It is mostly found in the Guangdong area of China. The name alludes to the fact it is only a light snack (a mere tough to the stomach).
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On this day

1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk 1689 (332 years ago)
Thu 26th Aug

Zhou Enlai

Premier Zhou Enlai is widely considered the most popular of the early leaders of the Peoples Republic. While Chairman Mao Zedong (and Liu Shaoqi) dictated policies it was Zhou Enlai's job as Premier to implement them. So it was Zhou's job to soften the impact of some of the harshest initiatives. He was seen as a very able diplomat and genuinely compassionate. During the Cultural Revolution he intervened to save people and cultural treasures. It was Zhou who set up the pivotal rapprochement with US President Nixon that started the slow process of opening up China after years of isolation.
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Wed 25th Aug

Many bamboos

There is not just one species of bamboo but about 500 different ones in China. Each has its particular properties and usage. Species vary in height from a few inches up to 100 feet and some require a tropical climate while others will tolerate frost. Some grow in mountains and others in lowlands it is a very diverse genus of plants.
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Tue 24th Aug

Isles of the Blessed

Many cultures have ancient legends of lands where people live long lives (if not immortal) in peace and harmony. In China the 'Isles of the Blessed' were believed to lie to the East of China and may have been based on the limited early contacts with inhabitants of Japan.
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On this day

1624 Guoxingye born 1624 (397 years ago)
2008 Beijing Olympic Games ended 2008 (13 years ago)
Mon 23rd Aug

Chinese swastikas

It can be a bit disconcerting for a westerner to see swastikas when visiting China. The controversial symbol was taken up by the German national socialists centuries after it had been widely used in China. It has Buddhist associations from India where it represent the flow of blood in Buddha's heart. It is a good luck symbol for long life.
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On this day

551BCE Confucius born 551BCE (2,573 years ago)
Sun 22nd Aug

Mencius

Just as Socrates required a Plato to popularize his master's work, Mencius was a key figure in the establishment of Confucianism in China. However Mencius was born just over a hundred years after Confucius so the relationship is not quite the same. He did however study with Confucius' grandson and at that time (c. 350BCE) Confucius was still a very obscure figure. He traveled through northern China offering his unique philosophy to the many small states that then existed. His message was somewhat more compassionate than Confucius' but he still maintained the scholar was far superior to the worker.
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On this day

1904 Deng Xiaoping born at Guang'an Sichuan 1904 (117 years ago)
Sat 21st Aug

Leshan giant Buddha

The tallest sculpture of the Buddha in the world is at Leshan, Sichuan. It was built between 713CE and 803CE. It is 233 feet [71 meters] high and carved into the side of a cliff overlooking the Dadu river. Each toenail is sufficiently large to act as a seat for an adult. Like many early Buddhist carvings it shows strong Indian influence in design.
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Fri 20th Aug

Queen Mother of the West

One of the many mythical deities in China is the Queen Mother of the West (Xī wáng mǔ 西)of which there are many stories. Most seem to fix her habitation as the Kunlun mountains in Xinjiang. It was from Kunlun that precious jade came from so it has always had importance. She lives in a great palace and the peaches of immortality grow in her garden.
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On this day

2008 Hua Guofeng died 2008 (13 years ago)
Jilin, autumn
Autumn in Jilin