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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Tue 4th Oct

Empress Wu Zetian

The only woman to have ruled China in her own right was Empress Wu Zetian. Other Empresses rose to great power but they tended to do that from 'behind the curtain'. The dangerous precedent of an Empress caused her life and achievements to be somewhat distorted by later historians. As far as can be gathered she seemed to have ruled wisely if autocratically. Her downfall was due to infatuation with two young men who rose to great power and influence.
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Mon 3rd Oct

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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Sun 2nd Oct

Shangrila

If you have ever wondered where to find 'Shangrila' the fabled place of peace and tranquility then you need to go to Yunnan province. A Chinese town lays claim to be the genuine location and so Zhongdian has been renamed as Shangrila. However the most likely location is further up in the mountains, near the Buddhist holy mountain of Kawagarbo.
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Sat 1st Oct

Bo Xilai

Every so often in modern Chinese history a local leader builds up a powerful power-base that begins to challenge the national government. The governor of the rapidly expanding city of Chongqing Bo Xilai is a prime example. Once earmarked to go even higher in the party hierarchy he was accused of corruption and fell from grace in 2012. He had begun to build up a Maoist cult to revive the ideas of the Mao era. His downfall is linked with the mysterious death of Neil Heywood who apparently threatened to reveal corruption. The full truth is yet to be discovered but the career of Bo Xilai demonstrates some of the weaknesses of the Communist state.
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On this day

1949 People's Republic of China began 1949 (73 years ago)
1949 Zhou Enlai became Premier PRC 1949 (73 years ago)
1949 Mao Zedong became Paramount Leader 1949 (73 years ago)
Fri 30th Sep

Mental agility

Although the Chinese abacus has been abandoned in favor of the digital calculator there are still many Chinese children still learning how to use the abacus at night classes. This is because the mental skills required to use an abacus are important in developing mental arithmetic. A recent competition to find the fastest brain for computing a sum was won by people who had learned the abacus. Once the skill is gained it is fairly easy to compute complex sums by imagining carrying it out on an abacus. This could be seen by noting how the winner's fingers twitch while they are imagining doing the computation on the abacus.
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On this day

1949 Republic of China ended 1949 (73 years ago)
Thu 29th Sep

Ghostly vision

A Cat in mandarin is pronounced rather like a meow: māo. One attribute in China given to cats is the ability to see ghosts, so if a cat takes alarm at something you can not see - beware! The arrival of a strange cat at a house bodes ill as it was thought that the cat could sense that misfortune will fall and the house will become dilapidated and soon home to only rats and mice.
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Wed 28th Sep

Ghostly vision

A Cat in mandarin is pronounced rather like a meow: māo. One attribute in China given to cats is the ability to see ghosts, so if a cat takes alarm at something you can not see - beware! The arrival of a strange cat at a house bodes ill as it was thought that the cat could sense that misfortune will fall and the house will become dilapidated and soon home to only rats and mice.
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Tue 27th Sep

Chinese villain

If you ask a Chinese person the name of a villain you may well be told 'Cao Cao' as the embodiment of evil and Machiavellian deviousness. As in many cases of villainy, this is mainly because he was on the losing side and the victors wrote the 'accepted' history of events. He is charged with massacring innocent people but there is little evidence for this. Luo Guanzhong in his book 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms' used Cao Cao as the loathed enemy figure to all unite against. Yet Cao Cao was given the rare honorific of 'xiaolian 孝廉' by the Han Emperor for his selfless loyalty and incorruptibility. This is a bit like Napoleon being seen as an evil man in England.
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On this day

1954 Mao Zedong became Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1954 (68 years ago)
1954 Mao Zedong became Chairman Peoples Republic of China 1954 (68 years ago)
Mon 26th Sep

Modern Chinese navy

During the Opium wars it was the modern metal clad ships that ran on steam power that proved decisive. They did not need the wind to power them and they had a shallow draft allowing them to penetrate into narrow rivers and creeks. When the Qing dynasty forces were fighting in the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) they decided they needed this type of ship and turned to Britain to supply them. It did not proceed as planned China ended up without a credible modern navy until after the 1950s.
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Sun 25th Sep

China's Armed Services

The active armed services of China numbered 2.3 million in 2016, the largest force in the world, but due to China's huge population it is only 114th on a per capita basis well behind most industrialized nations.
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On this day

1711 Emperor Qianlong born 1711 (311 years ago)
1881 Lu Xun born at Shaoxing Zhejiang 1881 (141 years ago)
Sat 24th Sep

Buddha jumps over the Wall

This is the strange name given to a tasty form of shark's fin soup that is a best known in Fujian province. The story is that a Buddhist monk jumped over a wall (although he was a vegetarian) because he found the smell of the dish so alluring.
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Fri 23rd Sep

Flying horse

In 1969 the famous sculpture of a flying horse was discovered at Wuwei in Gansu. It is in bronze and about 2,200 years old. The stance gives a clear idea of a galloping horse. It is called 'flying' because the sculptor cleverly used the figure of a swallow as the stabilizing base giving the impression it must be traveling through the air.
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On this day

1215 Kublai Khan born 1215 (807 years ago)
Thu 22nd Sep

Yellow Emperor

The founding father of China is the legendary Yellow Emperor [2718 BCE - 2598 BCE] of pre-history. He is credited with many innovations and inventions. The official year number in China starts at the year of his birth.
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Wed 21st Sep

British Rebels

During the Taiping Rebellion both sides of the Civil War received support from British mercenaries. Augustus Lindley helped the Taiping cause and wrote a book of his experiences 'The History of the Ti-ping Revolution'. On the other side General Charles Gordon helped the Qing forces, and he was ultimately successful in helping to beat the Taipings.
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On this day

690 Empress Wu Zetian becomes Emperor 690 (1,332 years ago)
Tue 20th Sep

Earliest bronze coins

The earliest bronze round coins in the world were made in China during the Warring States period (476 - 221 BCE). The same design of coinage lasted 2,000 years and China was the first country to introduce paper money.
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Mon 19th Sep

A True Story

The writer Lu Xun [1881-1936] revolutionized Chinese literature. He brought reading and writing to the masses, traditionally literature had been elitist, restricted to the educated few. He wrote many short stories and the best known and most influential is 'A true story of Ah Q' in 1921. The story satirizes the snobbery and superstitions of the time.
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Sun 18th Sep

A True Story

The writer Lu Xun [1881-1936] revolutionized Chinese literature. He brought reading and writing to the masses, traditionally literature had been elitist, restricted to the educated few. He wrote many short stories and the best known and most influential is 'A true story of Ah Q' in 1921. The story satirizes the snobbery and superstitions of the time.
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On this day

1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria 1931 (91 years ago)
Sat 17th Sep

The Ming encyclopedia

The Ming Emperor Yongle set his scholars on a mighty task - to record all human knowledge in one vast encyclopedia. This 'Wikipedia of its day' was in 11,095 volumes and occupied 2,180 scholars for six years. The vast work was consulted by scholars for nearly 400 years until an even larger encyclopedia superseded it.
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Fri 16th Sep

Pears as gifts

The Chinese have used symbolism for many centuries. Particular objects in a painting have a symbolic meaning, for example a pine tree symbolizes long life. When giving gifts it is important to avoid things with an unfortunate meaning. Pears are a case in point, as 'li' sounds the same as 'li' separate and divorce. Umbrellas, clocks and belts are similarly problematic.
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On this day

1859 Yuan Shikai born 1859 (163 years ago)
Thu 15th Sep

Cathay

A strange name you sometimes see for China is 'Cathay'. This needs a little explaining, it is not self evident just like the name 'China' itself. The name Cathay is mainly used in Russia and Central Asia. This is because the name is derived from the northern Chinese tribe of Khitan or Qidan. The Qidan people formed the Northern Jin dynasty just before the Mongol dynasty. It may have been the Mongol conquest that spread the name ‘Cathay’.
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On this day

1942 Wen Jiabao born 1942 (80 years ago)
Wed 14th Sep

Binding fashion

The tradition of binding girls feet so that they could barely walk started in Imperial circles and soon spread to the whole country except the poor who needed women to carry out manual labor. At its peak 50% of women would have their feet bound, it was a badge of affluence and the procedure was carried out by mothers on their daughters starting at the age of four.
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On this day

1368 Mongol dynasty ended 1368 (654 years ago)
1998 Yang Shangkun died 1998 (24 years ago)
Tue 13th Sep

Loess

The fine calcareous sand called 'loess' is both a boon and a curse. It is spread over northern China through Ningxia, northern Shaanxi; eastern Gansu and southern Shanxi. It is a fertile soil an accumulation of wind-blown dust over millions of years. It is very easy eroded bu flash floods. The Yellow River flows through the deposit picking up a vast load of loess and coloring it yellow. The flooding of the yellow river has led to millions of deaths over the centuries.
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Mon 12th Sep

Lushan

Lushan in northern Jiangxi is just south of the Yangzi. It is a high mountain at 4,836 feet [1,474 meters] where many visitors over the centuries have admired the misty views over Poyang Lake. In colonial times foreigners sought refuge here from the fierce heat of summer. Chairman Mao held some important strategy meetings on its commanding slopes.
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Sun 11th Sep

Essence of tiger

The orange/red transparent gemstone amber has fascinated people for thousands of years. It is a fossilized form of pine resin. One of its strange properties is that it is an excellent electrical insulator and so 'collects' static electricity. Perhaps its color alone has made a link with tigers. Amber was considered the essence of a tiger on their death, this has led to amber being used widely in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
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On this day

1982 Hu Yaobang no longer Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1982 (40 years ago)
1982 Hu Yaobang became General Secretary Communist Party 1982 (40 years ago)
Sat 10th Sep

North and South Korea

When asked why there are separate states of North and South Korea, most people think it is the result of a Civil War long ago. The true reason however is much less comforting. The division of the ancient kingdom of Korea was a stitch-up between Russia and the U.S. during the Second World War. Basically both countries wanted it and neither could agree to the other having it, so the worst possible compromise for the people of Korea, took place - it was split in two with North Korea under Russian control and South Korea under American control.
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On this day

210BCE Emperor Qin Shihuangdi no longer ruler 210BCE (2,233 years ago)
1980 Hua Guofeng no longer Premier PRC 1980 (42 years ago)
1980 Zhao Ziyang became Premier PRC 1980 (42 years ago)
Fri 9th Sep

Birth stars

There was a traditional Chinese belief that everyone had an associated birth star. Almanacs would list which particular star is associated with a particular birthday. Everyone would learn to locate and venerate their star in the heavens.
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On this day

1945 Wang Jingwei Regime ended 1945 (77 years ago)
1976 Mao Zedong died 1976 (46 years ago)
1976 Mao Zedong no longer Paramount Leader 1976 (46 years ago)
1976 Hua Guofeng became Paramount Leader 1976 (46 years ago)
Thu 8th Sep

World upside down

When the Chinese invented the compass they chose south rather than north as the primary direction. In China it is called 指南针 'point south needle'. Compasses pointed south and for this reason maps showed south at the top rather than north. South was more important than north as it is the direction of the sun and hence all warmth and light. This convention has the advantage that the compass direction can be confirmed by the position of the sun at midday.
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On this day

685 Emperor Xuanzong born 685 (1,337 years ago)
712 Emperor Xuanzong became ruler 712 (1,310 years ago)
Wed 7th Sep

Porcelain stone

It's widely known that china is made from china clay; what is less well-known is that the second, equally important ingredient of porcelain is 'petuntse'/porcelain stone. While china clay provides the plastic part, porcelain stone gives it solidity (bone). Both ingredients, by-products of the weathering of granite, are found in large quantities near Jingdezhen, the Chinese center of porcelain manufacture.
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On this day

1901 Boxer Rebellion ended 1901 (121 years ago)
Tue 6th Sep

Porcelain stone

It's widely known that china is made from china clay; what is less well-known is that the second, equally important ingredient of porcelain is 'petuntse'/porcelain stone. While china clay provides the plastic part, porcelain stone gives it solidity (bone). Both ingredients, by-products of the weathering of granite, are found in large quantities near Jingdezhen, the Chinese center of porcelain manufacture.
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Hainan, tropical plants, coast
Tropical garden on Hainan island