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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Mon 23rd May

Crouching tiger, Hidden dragon

The popular film 'Crouching tiger, hidden dragon' tells the tale of martial art prowess in the 19th century. The title is a popular proverb Cáng lóng wò hǔ meaning there are people of great talent amongst us. The term 'hidden dragon' is also used in Feng Shui to describe the topology of hills that is very auspicious and a great place to build a city - Nanjing is such a city. In Feng Shui there are four guardians - the Green Dragon is on the left while the White Tiger is on the right.
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Sun 22nd May

World's highest railway

To provide fast and easy access to China's rather remote province of Tibet a railway was built over the high plateau through Qinghai province. The altitude is so high that oxygen is made available to passengers. It was opened in 2006 and links Lanzhou, Xining and Golmud with Lhasa the Tibetan provincial capital.
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Sat 21st May

Mastermind of first Chinese nation

Although the first Qin Emperor Shihuangdi is widely presumed to instigated many of the far reaching reforms that built the new nation of China, but it was his chief minister Lǐ sī who was probably the mastermind behind them. On the first emperor's death Li Si became involved in a bloody struggle to control the succession. He and his entire family were exterminated.
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On this day

1086 Wang Anshi died 1086 (936 years ago)
Fri 20th May

Mastermind of first Chinese nation

Although the first Qin Emperor Shihuangdi is widely presumed to instigated many of the far reaching reforms that built the new nation of China, but it was his chief minister Lǐ sī who was probably the mastermind behind them. On the first emperor's death Li Si became involved in a bloody struggle to control the succession. He and his entire family were exterminated.
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On this day

1062 Bao Zheng died 1062 (960 years ago)
1948 Chiang Kaishek became President Republic of China 1948 (74 years ago)
Thu 19th May

Bells and Drums

At the center of cities in ancient times in China were two towers, a Bell tower and Drum tower. They were responsible for keeping time for the whole city before personal watches were available. The Bell tower would mark the hours during the day while the Drum tower the hours of the night. In Beijing struck the bell 108 times at 5am and the drum 108 times at 7pm.
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Wed 18th May

Giant Panda

The emblematic Giant Panda is restricted to remote mountainous terrain in central Sichuan; Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. They are thinly spread over large areas and so unlikely to be seen in the wild. They slowly digest through 50 pounds [23 kgs] of bamboo each day. China now leases out pandas to foreign zoos for a cool $1 million a year. If a visiting panda happens to give birth, by contract the new cub belongs to China not the zoo.
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Tue 17th May

Elephant Game

Chinese chess is called 象棋 literally 'elephant game'. One of the types of piece is an elephant which is defensive as it can only move two places at a time and only on the home side of the board. As well as meaning 'elephant', 'xiang' can also mean shape or image and it may be that the game is to do with the 'shapes' or constellations in the sky. Another 'Xiang' means 'think' which is appropriate for such a cerebral game.
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Mon 16th May

Battle of Talas

During the Tang dynasty the extent of Chinese ruled territory spread west through Central Asia. The decisive battle at Talas in 751 with the Arab Abbasid Caliphate led to the defeat of Gao Xianzhi and the end of Chinese western expansion.
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On this day

1981 Song Qingling became President PRC 1981 (41 years ago)
Sun 15th May

Battle of Talas

During the Tang dynasty the extent of Chinese ruled territory spread west through Central Asia. The decisive battle at Talas in 751 with the Arab Abbasid Caliphate led to the defeat of Gao Xianzhi and the end of Chinese western expansion.
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Sat 14th May

Arabian seizure

When Arabian power was at its peak the coast of China was not immune to attack. Back in 758CE a combined Arab and Persian fleet ransacked the port of Guangzhou (Canton). However in 878 the rebel Huang Chao had revenge and murdered up to 200,000 people in the 'Guangzhou massacre'.
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Fri 13th May

Tang poems

The Tang dynasty is considered the Golden Age of classic Chinese poetry. Considering the Tang dynasty (618-907) was over a thousand years ago this is quite an achievement. They pre-date the earliest Old English poems but the most extra-ordinary fact about Tang poems is that about 48,000 survive. The great poets Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu lived during this time and a considerable amount is known about them and their lives.
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Thu 12th May

Flowers and fruit

Flowers and fruit are used in Chinese art to give a symbolic meaning. Quite often this is the obvious one of grace and beauty as with orchids, plums, azaleas and magnolias. In other cases the symbolism comes from words that sound the same in Chinese, so maple means 'appointment'; orange 'good wishes'; cinnamon 'valuable' and jujube 'early'. Some have a sexual connotation so have to be used with care if used as a gift.
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On this day

907 Tang dynasty ended 907 (1,115 years ago)
Wed 11th May

Measuring up

China had its own system of weights and measures that were scaled in units of ten long before the French adopted the metric system under Napoleon. When the Republic of China was declared in 1912 the Chinese authorities aligned the traditional Chinese measures to the Metric system. The traditional measure of distance the 'li' is now defined as 500meters (or 547 yards).
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On this day

868 Printing of Diamond Sutra 868 (1,154 years ago)
1610 Matteo Ricci SJ died 1610 (412 years ago)
1610 Matteo Ricci died 1610 (412 years ago)
Tue 10th May

100 Names

An old name for China is the 'Hundred Names' reflecting the fact that the Han Chinese have very few family names. Of these ‘Li’ is the most common worldwide (92 million in China). In China ‘Wang’ may be slightly more common (93 million). Traditionally a man could not marry a woman with the same family name as it was assumed they must be related.
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Mon 9th May

Tibet's name

Even the name used for Tibet is contentious. The name used in the west - 'Tibet' probably comes from the Arabic 'Tibat' meaning 'the summits'. In China it is known as 西藏 xī zàng meaning 'Western treasury of Buddhist scriptures'. It is the strength of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet that has set it apart from China. The Tibetans themselves use the name Bod or in Sanskrit བོད for their country.
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On this day

1421 Lightning strike destroys Forbidden City 1421 (601 years ago)
Sun 8th May

Clapping

The tradition of clapping to show appreciation is a European tradition. In China clapping was used mainly to drive out evil spirits. This is a clear example of how different cultures can develop different traditions. Similarly shaking hands as a greeting is European, in China a greeting was made with a bow.
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Sat 7th May

Well field

An early form of tithe system was used in China to provide income for the state. Land was divided into nine equal portions in a 3x3 grid. One portion, the central one, was harvested and the produce given to the state. Wang Mang re-introduced this form of taxation in the middle of the Han dynasty.
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Fri 6th May

Farming Calendar

In China there were two calendars in use, one based on the orbit of the moon and one for the sun. The lunar calendar was the important one and gives the dates for Chinese New Year and other festivals. However, farmers needed a calendar based on the sun so crops are sown and harvested at the correct time. The Lichun or farmers calendar splits the year into 24 intervals of 15 or 16 days synchronized with the solar orbit, each with a jieqi name such as 'Grain in Ear' or 'Severe Cold'. The Qing Ming festival in early April is one festival that follows the sun rather than the moon.
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Thu 5th May

Yijiangshan Islands

The Battle of the Yijiangshan Islands took place on January 18th to 20th 1955 and marked the very end of armed Civil War between the Republic of China under Chiang Kaishek and the People's Republic under Mao Zedong. A tiny cluster of islands off Taizhou Bay, Fujian was the battleground. The mainland forces won and the nationalists gave up a number of indefensible islands off the coast.
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On this day

1260 Kublai Khan became ruler 1260 (762 years ago)
Wed 4th May

Wu language

After the mandarin spoken language most people will know only of Cantonese as another Chinese language. In Jiangsu province and Shanghai it is the 'Wu' language that is an important language that is little understood elsewhere in China. It is spoken by 85 million people so is a significant language in its own right.
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On this day

1421 Burning of Imperial Palace 1421 (601 years ago)
1654 Emperor Kangxi born 1654 (368 years ago)
1919 May 4th Movement founded 1919 (103 years ago)
Tue 3rd May

Ming Mexican trade

During the 17th and 18th century most of the trade with Europe was not across the Indian ocean to Europe but over the Pacific t o Mexico. The Spaniards ran the lucrative sea trade from Manilla to Acapulco. From Mexico many goods were carried over land to then take the Atlantic route to Europe.
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Mon 2nd May

Round houses

One of the scenic delights of Fujian provinces are the Tulou houses of the Hakka people. They are round with a large inner courtyard and house a whole village of up to 800 people. They were built for defense and at several stories high would be hard to overcome by force. They are found in mountainous tea-growing areas of inland Fujian province.
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On this day

1360 Emperor Yongle born 1360 (662 years ago)
Sun 1st May

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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Sat 30th Apr

Zheng He's voyages

The voyages of Zheng He in the early Ming dynasty marked the peak of Chinese exploration of the World. His fleet had 27,870 men in 63 huge ships; they traveled as far as Eastern and South Africa and maybe South America.
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Fri 29th Apr

Owl of ill omen

The owl in Chinese tradition is considered a bird of ill omen. Its large, all-seeing eyes and scary call gave it a bad reputation. The bird was sometimes used as a talisman to ward off evil.
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Thu 28th Apr

The Song sisters

The three famous Song (or Soong) sisters all married important Chinese leaders. Song Ailing married H. H. Kung one of the richest men in the world; Song Qingling married Sun Yatsen and Song Meiling married Chiang Kaishek. They were born in Shanghai but the ancestral family home is on Hainan island.
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On this day

1897 Ye Jianying born 1897 (125 years ago)
1959 Liu Shaoqi became Chairman Peoples Republic of China 1959 (63 years ago)
Wed 27th Apr

Russia's revolutionary help

Ever since the foundation of the USSR under Communist control in 1917, Russians helped Chinese install a Communist government. Initially their support went to the Guomindang (GMD) under Chiang Kaishek who was attempting to build a republican government. The Russians also backed the Chinese Communist party (CCP) who were allied with the GMD until 1927. During the annihilation campaigns against the CCP Russia was still backing the GMD. However when Chiang's true intentions were discovered, support moved to the CCP. It was Russian agent Otto Braun (given Li De as Chinese name) who accompanied Mao on the Long March. During the march the control by Russian controlled Comintern was shaken off and their commands ignored.
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On this day

1959 Mao Zedong no longer Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1959 (63 years ago)
1959 Mao Zedong no longer Chairman Peoples Republic of China 1959 (63 years ago)
Tue 26th Apr

Hidden cities

Because Chinese towns and cities came under frequent attack through much of their long history each city would have a high wall built around it. Only one or two high buildings would be visible from outside the wall. The city gates would be locked at night. To provide an adequate defense to northern barbarian raiders cities would have walls 18 meters [60 feet] high.
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On this day

1997 Peng Zhen died 1997 (25 years ago)
Mon 25th Apr

The name of Confucius

The name in Chinese is 孔子 Kǒngzǐ or 孔夫子 Kǒngfūzǐ meaning “Master Kong” as Kong is the surname. His descendents, now in the 83rd generation still live at his birthplace Qufu, Shandong. Confucius is the Wade-Giles approximation of the name in English.
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On this day

1644 Ming dynasty ended 1644 (378 years ago)
Anhui, Huangshan, mountains
Stone Monkey' gazing over view from Huangshan (Yellow) Mountains in Anhui Province