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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Sat 4th Feb

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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On this day

960 Song dynasty began 960 (1,063 years ago)
960 Emperor Taizu became ruler 960 (1,063 years ago)
1976 Hua Guofeng became Premier PRC 1976 (47 years ago)
Fri 3rd Feb

Three color porcelain

One of the most prized ceramics are the Three Color ceramics of the Tang dynasty. The three colors in question are green, brown and cream - at the time a permanent blue glaze was very expensive. As the Tang rulers loved anything to do with horses a popular subject were life-like ornaments of horses.
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Thu 2nd Feb

Outer and Inner

The separation of Mongolia into Inner and Outer regions is now nearly a century old. After the fall of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty in 1912 Outer Mongolia declared itself independent from China. Then came the Russian Communist revolution of 1917 and the Russians supported revolution in Outer Mongolia and it became a Communist state in 1924. Inner Mongolia contains the fringes of Mongolia and there are Mongolians in China than the separate Mongolian state.
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On this day

1421 Opening of Imperial Palace 1421 (602 years ago)
Wed 1st Feb

Mandarin as the International language

There are many that think China's rise will have far reaching repercussions. One of these is that the most important international language will change from English to Mandarin Chinese. There are already twice as many people who speak Mandarin as their first or second language compared to English. The growth of Mandarin is in Eastern Asia, and it is fast becoming the 'lingua franca' of this region.
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Tue 31st Jan

Military might

China has by far the largest number of people engaged in military service 2,285,000 in 2012. However due to China's huge population this works out to a very modest proportion of expenditure, in fact below the world average. This is estimated as about $100 per person in China per year, the U.S. spends about $2,000 per person. China is moving to move to high tech military equipment and away from a huge number of personnel.
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Mon 30th Jan

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 Jan

Noon day gun

One of the many traditions that have survived the hand-over of Hong Kong from the U.K. to China is the firing of the noon day gun. It is mentioned in Noel Coward's well known song 'Mad dogs and Englishmen'. The tradition started in the 1860s and still attracts tourists to see the ceremony each day. Whether the Chinese government will be happy for this echo of colonialism to live on for much longer is hard to say.
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On this day

757 An Lushan died 757 (1,266 years ago)
Sat 28th Jan

The color of cats

Deng Xiaoping, leader of China 1978-1992 became the acceptable face of Chinese Communism, pragmatic rather than dogmatic. His most famous saying underlies this view ?It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice?. In other words, following Marxist-Leninist theory is only one means to achieve an end, improving the lot of ordinary Chinese people is the only important end result. This was the background to the unleashing of capitalism and the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that transformed China.
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On this day

598 Emperor Taizong born 598 (1,425 years ago)
Fri 27th Jan

Chinese planets

The traditional names for the planets in China associate the five planets visible to the naked eye to the five elements of traditional Chinese science. So Mercury is the water star; Venus the metal star; Mars the fire star; Jupiter the wood star and Saturn the earth star.
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On this day

1890 Song Qingling born 1890 (133 years ago)
Thu 26th Jan

Crows

Careful observation of the behavior of crows long ago in China showed that young crows helped their parents bring up the next brood of chicks. This devotion to family has led the crow to be a metaphor for the highly regarded Confucian duty to the family, particularly of son to father.
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Wed 25th Jan

Birds nest soup

A well-known Chinese delicacy is bird's nest soup. The bird in question is a swallow or swift that builds a nest out of mud and saliva. The nests are harvested and warmed in water to separate out the mud particles. It is the bird saliva that gives a gelatinous consistency to the soup and a mild flavor. It is believed to have very good medicinal properties.
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Tue 24th Jan

Spitting

There have been many campaigns to reduce the amount of spitting that goes on. This age old custom was based on the false belief that swallowing spit was bad for you. This led to very unpleasant walking in trains and public areas and has been banned but it is something that you will see much more frequently than in the West.
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Mon 23rd Jan

Writing in stone

A more permanent record of writing than paper was to inscribe characters on stone. In the west such inscriptions are limited to memorial stones but in China whole books were inscribed. These stone 'steles' can be rubbed with wax over paper and so an indefinite number of copies can be made. The forest of stone tablets at the former capital of Luoyang took five years to inscribe with classic texts with hundreds and thousands of characters.
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On this day

1368 Ming dynasty began 1368 (655 years ago)
1368 Emperor Hongwu became ruler 1368 (655 years ago)
1556 Huaxian earthquake 1556 (467 years ago)
Sun 22nd Jan

Gaokao

The Gaokao 'high exam' is the tough examination that Chinese students take in their last year of high school. Their career rests on the result. Good grades are needed to get into a top university and students are put under huge pressure to do well. There is criticism that the Gaokao suffers from the same problems of the Imperial examinations - they require learning by rote without any imagination and so test factual recall and not creativity.
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Sat 21st Jan

Shanghai clique

Under President Jiang Zemin a number of senior leaders came to power with roots in Shanghai. The group included: Wu Bangguo Huang Ju, Zeng Qinghong, Jia Qinglin, Chen Liangyu, Chen Zhili and Jia Ting'an. Shanghai at this time was becoming a rapidly developing economic center rivaling Beijing. The post of mayor of Shanghai remains a stepping stone to high national office. The Shanghai clique's grip on power came to an end after Jiang's retirement in 2006.
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On this day

1949 Chiang Kaishek no longer President Republic of China 1949 (74 years ago)
Fri 20th Jan

Chinese Dark Age

Historians like to see parallels when comparing world history. The Qin-Han dynasties from 221BCE to 220CE is contemporary with the Roman Empire 27BCE to 284CE and the fall of the Han like the fall of Rome brought in a long period of chaos and disunity. In Europe the Dark Ages were longer and deeper than in China. Chinese language and traditions hung on in patches and knowledge was never completely lost. China quickly found its own strength again on re-unification under the Sui dynasty 581CE. So in China the Dark Ages lasted 360 years, in Europe they are considered to have lasted over 500 years.
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On this day

1955 Battle of Yijiangshan Islands 1955 (68 years ago)
Thu 19th Jan

Rhinoceros horn

The main reason that rhinoceroses are being hunted to extinction is the belief in China that the horn gives immunity to poison and impotence. Cups made of rhino horn were said to detect any poison in their contents. Poachers still hunt wild rhinos because its horn fetches its weight in gold in Vietnam and China.
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Wed 18th Jan

Tianjin Massacre

A flash point in China's relations with foreign powers was at Tianjin in 1870. A group of French nuns thought they were doing good by offering money for starving children so they could be adequately cared for. The locals believed the foreign devils were using the children for witchcraft and 20 people were killed when the local Chinese stormed the compound of the 'Sisters of Mercy'. Similar attacks took place in the Boxer Rebellion thirty years later.
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On this day

1955 Battle of Yijiangshan Islands 1955 (68 years ago)
Tue 17th Jan

Mongolian Hero

Considering the facts about Genghiz Khan and the Mongol conquest it is perhaps surprising that he is regarded as a hero by Mongolian people with many statues of him here and there. The speed and ferocity of the Mongol conquest is unparalleled, they represent the most terrifying danger the world had ever seen. Whole peoples and their cultures were annihilated. About 25 million people died (same as World War 1 with a much lower world population)
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On this day

2005 Zhao Ziyang died 2005 (18 years ago)
Mon 16th Jan

Life long learning

We are used to study and examinations coming to an end at 18, 21 or if going for a PhD by the age of 25. But in dynastic China up until 1912 it was quite normal for someone to keep on taking the examinations for years and years, there was no age limit. This led to some continuing into old age, in 1889 as many as 35 candidates were over 80 years old. Sometimes grandfather, father and son would all take the same examination at the same time.
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On this day

1987 Zhao Ziyang became General Secretary Communist Party 1987 (36 years ago)
Sun 15th Jan

The oldest administrative system

China had a rigid administrative system for thousands of years that remained pretty constant up until 1911. The cornerstone was that appointments were based on scholastic merit and not patronage. A well paid, sedentary job as an official was a greatly prized aim in life and millions of Chinese people studied hard to pass the entrance examinations. Over the centuries the system became very complicated with 98 identified grades of official. Officials did not remain in one post for their working life, they and their family were moved every few years to different places and/or different departments. A separate division of government checked performance and recommended moves and promotions. Only very few made it to the highest grades with access to the Emperor and became fabulously rich.
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On this day

1987 Hu Yaobang no longer General Secretary Communist Party 1987 (36 years ago)
Sat 14th Jan

Hohhot

The provincial capital of Inner Mongolia is referred to by a variety of names. Hohhot is from the Mongolian name meaning 'blue city'. It is only in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia that cities are still mainly referred to by their local ethnic name. In pinyin it rendered as Hūhéhàotè.
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Fri 13th Jan

Elizabethan envoy

Britain attempted to open trade links with China long before the Opium Wars in 1839-60. Way back in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the first mission to open trade (at that time wool was the main British export) was sent out in 1579. John Newbery made three unsuccessful attempts to reach China (1579, 1581 and 1583) and died on the final journey. The Portuguese had already established a monopoly in 1557 and were keen to prevent any other European state from trading directly with China.
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Thu 12th Jan

Wooden collar

For relatively minor crimes for example petty theft the culprit would be fitted with a wooden board around the neck. The board was large enough to make everyday life a torment as the person was unable to feed themselves or sleep comfortably. It was called a cangue and was used widely. It was a bit like mobile form of the 'stocks' used in Europe and had the advantage that the offender could move around.
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Wed 11th Jan

Elizabethan envoy

Britain attempted to open trade links with China long before the Opium Wars in 1839-60. Way back in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the first mission to open trade (at that time wool was the main British export) was sent out in 1579. John Newbery made three unsuccessful attempts to reach China (1579, 1581 and 1583) and died on the final journey. The Portuguese had already established a monopoly in 1557 and were keen to prevent any other European state from trading directly with China.
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Tue 10th Jan

Wooden collar

For relatively minor crimes for example petty theft the culprit would be fitted with a wooden board around the neck. The board was large enough to make everyday life a torment as the person was unable to feed themselves or sleep comfortably. It was called a cangue and was used widely. It was a bit like mobile form of the 'stocks' used in Europe and had the advantage that the offender could move around.
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Mon 9th Jan

Secret of porcelain

For centuries China managed to keep the secret of porcelain manufacture. Nowhere else in the world could anyone make ceramics that were so strong, translucent and light-weight - despite many attempts. Some thought porcelain must have been made from crushed bones rather than clay. The secret was that the Chinese mixed finely sieved kaolin (named after the village of Gaoling) and porcelain stone. It was fired at a high temperature to produce a material closer to glass than earthenware.
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Sun 8th Jan

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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On this day

1324 Marco Polo died 1324 (699 years ago)
1976 Zhou Enlai died 1976 (47 years ago)
1976 Zhou Enlai no longer Premier PRC 1976 (47 years ago)
Sat 7th Jan

Yangzi bridges

It was not until 1957 (just over 55 years ago) that the very first bridge was built over the lower Yangzi. The river had proved too wide and dangerous a river for ancient bridge technology. Up until 1957 everything had to be ferried across in boats, even trains, which had to be unhitched and re-assembled on the other side. The first bridge was at Wuhan. There may soon be as many as a hundred bridges over the lower Yangzi.
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Ming dynasty, pagoda
Ming dynasty Linlong pagoda detail