News stories about China

update https://www.chinasage.info/news.xml Here are some news stories we have found that we think tell you much about what is going on in China. We avoid stories on politics and economics as these are adequately covered on news web sites. These News stories are available as a news-feed so you can receive notifications of these automatically in your browser. Click on the RSS button to add it to your browser or copy and paste the link.

Wed 18th May

An unusual blue, silver and gold vase has sold for nearly ?1.5 million ($1.8 million). Another of those amazing stories of an overlooked treasure originally bought for about $500 found in Berkshire, UK. The vase was made for the Emperor Qianlong's court and includes symbols for longevity (crane), luck (clouds) and good fortune (bat).

Qianling vase
©Photo by the auctioneers Deweatts
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Tue 12th Apr

An exhibition celebrating the famous book 'Dream of the Red Chamber' has opened in The Hague, Netherlands. The exhibition brings together calligraphy, painting and translations of this epic story written mostly by Cao Xueqin in the mid 18th century

novel, Dream of the Red Chamber
These are from an exhibition outside Beijing showing different scenes from the classic Chinese novel 'The Dream of the Red Chamber'. Image by Klariti available under a Creative Commons License

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Tue 5th Apr

Today (April 5th) is the Qing Ming festival in China. It is an ancient festival tied with sweeping and tidying the ancestral tombs as Spring gets under way.

Also associated with Qing Ming is China’s most famous painting called ‘Along The River During the Qingming Festival’ Qīng míng shàng hé tú sometimes dubbed the Chinese ‘Mona Lisa’ but this painting is older and far more interesting. It is an amazingly meticulous painting of teeming life of all sorts in the then capital of China Kaifeng in around 1117 - it's incredible that it is 900 years old. The detail and naturalism is amazing and perspective is drawn accurately. Compare this with the comparatively crude Bayeux tapestry of around the same date. It was painted as a long scroll 10 inches [25 cms] by 17 feet [5 meters] with details of the bustling everyday life of the people - rich and poor. It is a valuable document of life at that time showing people eating and shopping. Very little is known about the artist Zhang Zeduan. All seems peace and opulence yet within ten years the capital city fell to Jurchen invaders and Kaifeng never again recovered its former splendor.

Qing Ming river festival
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Thu 31st Mar

On the third day of the third lunar month the Shangsi festival (or Double Third) is held in China. In 2022 it falls on Sunday 3rd April. This is an ancient festival that has faded over the centuries. It goes back over 2,000 years and is believed to have been based on an annual ritual bathing in rivers. This cleared away the grime accumulated over winter and ritually cleared away evil to make a clean start to the year. In modern times some people go out by water and collect orchid petals.

There are several legends associated with the festival. It may mark the birthday of the founding Yellow Emperor and the birthday of the important Daoist goddess The Queen Mother of the West. There is a traditional saying to celebrate the day 轩辕 Sān yuè sān Xuān Yuán shēng 'third month, third day, Huangdi born' (轩辕 is the personal name of the Yellow Emperor).

In 2018 there was a move to re-badge the festival as 'Chinese National Costume Day' where people of the many ethnic minorities of China are encouraged to wear their traditional costumes.

The following day is another rather obscure festival - Monday 4th April will be the ‘Cold Food Festival.’ In this case it is more straightforward to explain. The day was traditionally when the fires were put out that heated the house and cooked the food. The ashes were cleared out and everything cleaned. As there was no fire all the food was cold.

But the following day this year (this does not occur every year) is a much more important festival ‘Qing Ming’ on Tuesday 5th April when people pay respect to their ancestors. It is associated with ritually cleaning the graves and graveyards and making offerings to the departed. It is also the time to sow and plant crops and so is anchored to the solar year rather than the lunar year; this makes it falls between April 4th and April 6th. It is a public holiday.

Qingming, tomb, ancestor veneration
Making offerings at the family tomb, Qingming festival Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 3rd Mar

It is now fifty years since the historic visit of President Nixon to China where he met Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. After a long break in any formal contact since 1949 it marked a major shift in both US and Chinese policy that began the opening up process. Nixon was accompanied by Henry Kissinger (as United States National Security Adviser) who is still going strong at the age of 98. This CNN article looks back at US-China relations in general and considers how ground-breaking this visit actually was.

nixon, usa, zhou enlai
US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toast, February 25, 1972. Image by White House Photographer available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 9th Feb

A competition to find the best photographs about everyday life in China has released its results. The Global SinoPhoto Awards has found some very evocative images of China.

The overall winner shows a girl twirling on a bed in front of her grandmother was made by photographer Li Huaifeng’s “The Dancing Dreams of a Mountain Girl”. Follow the link to see more of the award winning photographs.

Award winner
©Li Huaifeng
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Thu 27th Jan

The new Tiger Chinese New Year is ushered in on 1st February 2022 - the start of Chinese year 4720 in the traditional calendar.

This year the celebrations will be even more widespread because the Beijing Winter Olympics begin during the holiday on 4th February. In Chinese astrology the tiger holds a position of honor as it is considered an animal of power and courage. People born in a year of the tiger are thoughtful, competitive and charming and may be destined for high office.

As in the last two years covid restrictions may make the annual migration of millions of Chinese to visit their families more difficult or impossible. Noted anniversaries in 2022 include the death of Confucius in 479BCE (2,500 years ago), and the celebrated visit of President Richard Nixon to China on February 21st 1972 (50 years ago).

Tiger Year 2022
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Fri 21st Jan

In the west feel-good films aimed at children are released for Christmas. In China this happens in time for the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). This year it falls on 1st February just ahead of the opening of the Beijing winter Olympics on the 4th.

This year the big successful film is Xióng shī shào nián with the English title ‘I am what I am’ but actually ‘young male lion’ is more like a translation. This animated film tells the tale of a boy dreaming of becoming a leading lion dance performer against all odds (somewhat similar to Billy Elliot in plot). The lion dance tradition is something that has faded in recent years and it is hoped the film will encourage more youngsters to take it up.

Here is a link to the official film trailer video .

I am what I am

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Thu 23rd Dec 2021

Edinburgh Zoo has negotiated a deal with China to keep its two giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian for another two years. The zoo has been paying about $1,000,000 a year to keep the pandas but with Covid19 visitor numbers at the zoo have tumbled and so the cost will by about $500,000 a year. It was hoped that Yáng guāng meaning ‘sunshine’ and 甜甜 Tián tián meaning ‘sweetie’ would mate and produce a rare cub outside China but in spite of encouraging signs several times they have had no success. Even with artificial insemination Tiantian has not had a full term pregnancy. They were both born in 2003. With the success of the captive breeding program in Sichuan China the pandas are no longer classed as threatened with extinction.

You can watch the pandas on a live webcam .

This will be the last post for 2021. Christmas is now widely celebrated in the Chinese cities so we wish everyone Shèng dàn kuài lè ‘Merry Christmas’ and a happy 2022.

Edinburgh zoo pandas
Yang Guang and Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo. Photo courtesy Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Edinburgh Zoo.
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Fri 17th Dec 2021

China is using the virtue of centralized planning to prepare for the inevitable consequences of the switch to battery powered cars. Electrical vehicles already make up 12.7% of car sales in China with over 3 million sold this year. The expensive lithium powered batteries only last about five years so there will soon be huge numbers needing disposal or recycling. It is planned that batteries can be refurbished and used for other purposes - such as storage of electrical power in large arrays. If they can not be reused they will be dismantled and the valuable metals extracted for construction of new batteries in an environmentally friendly way.

Mercedes Benz electric F 015 concept car
Mercedes-Benz electric F 015 concept car, Shanghai auto show 2015. Available on Creative Commons license .
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Wed 1st Dec 2021

A new film made in China ‘The Battle at Lake Changjin’ has already made an amazing US$890 million (made with a budget of $200 million). It tells the story of the Korean War when thousands of Chinese 'volunteers' helped North Koreans hold back an invasion led by American, British and Commonwealth troops in November/December 1950. The push by the South Koreans, backed by Allies, had pushed north nearly to the Chinese border - the Yalu River, Zhou Enlai then warned that China would not allow its border to be threatened. The Battle at Lake Changjin (or Chosin Reservoir) was a key moment of the ensuing war. The supremacy of the larger and better armed ‘UN’ forces produced many more casualties on the Chinese side (about 48,000) compared to 17,000 and is full of tales of heroism. The battle reached a stalemate with the Chinese and North Koreans holding the key area. It ended the 'UN' plan to unify the whole of Korean peninsular under effective American control. The film is one of many Chinese produced films that are dominating the cinemas in China, gone are the days that top American films seemed to be guaranteed high placement.

The Battle at Lake Changjin&rsquo,

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Tue 23rd Nov 2021

On 18th November power station workers were surprised to find clear images of snow leopards exploring the interior of their workplace on their surveillance cameras. The snow leopards are a rare and highly protected species that range over the western mountains of China: Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. The encounter happened at a hydro-electric plant in the Qilian mountains of Gansu on the border with Qinghai. The workers at first thought they might be foxes before noticing their much larger size.

snow leopard, chinese wildlife
Portrait of a male snow leopard (Panthera uncia) of the Rheintal zoo. Modifications made by Niabot . Image by Tambako available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 5th Nov 2021

In a rather curious posting, Tesla CEO Elon Musk quoted from one of the oldest Chinese classics - the Book of Odes. This is an assorted collection of song lyrics up to about 600BCE from a variety of sources. The topics covered include love, marriage, victory celebrations, sacrifices and hunts. Elon Musk chose a fairly obscure poem:

Beanstalks are ignited to boil beans
The beans in the pot cry out
We are born of the same root
Why should we incinerate each other with such impatience?

The reason for the choice is not obvious. It seems a call for mutual tolerance and understanding with due note for sacrifice. The specific meaning could possibly have something to do with Musk's support for a new crypto-currency the 'dogecoin'.

Shaanxi, calligraphy, rubbing
Taking a rubbing of famous calligraphy at Xian Beilin museum, Shaanxi Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 28th Oct 2021

You would think that having a distinct bands of opposite colors would make you stand out and put you in danger from predators. However recent research is giving a different story. Just like the zebra's stripes it is not obvious as to the purpose of the coloration. The surprising conclusion of a report by scientists from Britain, China, Finland and the United States is that the bands serve as camouflage. In the remote mountainous home terrain of the panda the black and white merges into light and dark shadows of rocks and trees to make them hard to make out from a distance. This is at odds with previous suggestions that the coloration was to aid pandas find each other at long distances.

giant panda, wildlife
Giant Panda bear

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Thu 21st Oct 2021

As part of the huge Belt and Road Initiative China has been building improved travel links to neighboring countries.

A new railway links China with neighboring Laos. Because the border is short and the terrain mountainous there has been limited contact between the countries over the centuries. Laos remains a relatively poor landlocked country. The 621 miles [1,000 kms] long link will become fully operational by December and has required long tunnels to traverse the steep mountains and valleys . It is expected that Chinese tourists seeking the warmer climate of Laos will be the main beneficiaries of the link.

laos, temple, buddhism
Buddhist temple at Luang Prabang, Laos. Image by NipponNewfie available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 8th Oct 2021

It used to be common in the early morning, less so now, to see groups of people gathering in public parks to dance together. Although tai chi is done in silence the dance groups perform to the loud blare of amplified music. All the noise does cause problems at times and rival groups sometimes try to out compete each other by tweaking the volume still higher. The up to 100 million 'dancing grannies' are formidable opponents if you complain about the noise. Some groups have taken to wearing airpods but others have refused to turn down the music. Technology may now have a solution, a special gizmo can be pointed at the offending loudspeaker from over 164 feet [50 meters] away to silence it. The dance steps keep the participants fit and healthy and maybe the new quieter atmosphere will encourage younger people to take up the custom.

dancer, dance
Street dancer at the shore of Xihu (West Lake) on Sangongyuan (Three Parks) - Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, 22.11.2014. Image by Hermann Luyken available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 30th Sep 2021

A major water diversion project has been opened in Gansu province, north-west China. The project was started as early as 1958 but soon stalled before restarting again in 2006. It will bring 550 million cubic meters of water every year from a tributary of the Yellow River to the parched lands of southern Gansu. It will allow agriculture to flourish to a region that been constantly hit by periods of drought. It is one of China's poorest regions with limited access to tap water. The project forms part of several ambitious projects to redirect rainwater from the wet south to the dry north.

Gansu, lake, desert
The famous crescent lake near Dunhuang, Gansu

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Sun 19th Sep 2021

This year the annual celebration of the start of autumn chill is on the same day as the equinox 21st September.

The Autumn Moon Festival takes place at full moon in the 8th lunar month (15th day), it marks the end of harvest. Lanterns are lit and round moon cakes are cooked and consumed in large numbers - these are usually filled with soybean paste, lotus seeds and egg yolk and covered in pastry. As there is a tradition that a rabbit lived on the moon, rabbits are a popular image. Another tradition is to layout peaches, melon or grapes in a circle of thirteen as there are 13 lunar months in a year. Ancient pagodas were decorated with lanterns to shine at night. It celebrates Chang'e, the goddess of the moon, and particularly the romance with the archer god Houyi. Traditionally, spirits of the dead came forth to feast on the fruits of summer harvest. People would climb hills and mountains to watch the rising of the full moon with the greeting Kàn yuè liang ‘Look at the bright moon!’.

Ivory figure of Chang 'E

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Fri 10th Sep 2021
Saihanba, park, Hebei
18 July 2005. Image by available under a Creative Commons License

The effects of long term soil degradation by inappropriate farming and tree felling had turned the Saihanba area in northernmost Hebei into a desert of dust of little value to anyone.

Efforts to keep back the Gobi desert in north China began as early as 1962 with the planting of trees as a shelter belt. The efforts of nearly 60 years of continuous management are now bearing fruit. It has become national forest park and nature reserve and received an international ‘Champions of the Earth’ award in 2017. It is the world's largest planted forest and absorbs over 860,000 tons of CO2 each year.

The foresters have developed skills in nurturing tree seedlings and claim a 98.9% survival rate compared to about 8% in the early years. Trees are still being planted and by 2030 should cover over 309 sq miles [800 sq kms]. As well as trees the park is home to 610 species of plants and 261 species of animals. The park should have a noticeable effect on the air quality as far away as Beijing.


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Thu 2nd Sep 2021

Universal Studios makers of such films as Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Transformers, Minions, The Great Wall and Warcraft have chosen Beijing for their fifth theme park.

It has 37 different rides including the popular Harry Potter rides found elsewhere in the

world but also new ones like ‘Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness’.

It is jointly run by Beijing International Resort Co. and Universal Parks and Resorts and cost about $7.7 billion to build. It is located 20 miles east from the city center but does have its own subway station at the end of the Batong line.

Universal Studios Park

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Fri 20th Aug 2021

China has announced completion of a new railway link to Russia. The traditional route of the Trans-Siberian railway has a link into China through Ulan Bator in Mongolia and also links through Harbin in Heilongjiang province. The new bridge over the mighty Heilongjian/Amur river is further east linking Tongjiang and Nizhneleninskoye. The link joins the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok at Birobidzhan. The bridge is 7,267 feet [2,215 meters] long and has taken seven years to build. It was financed as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Tongjiang-Nizhneleninskoye bridge

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Wed 11th Aug 2021

This year Chinese valentine's day falls on Saturday 14th August - precisely six months after the western version.

In China the festival is a moveable festival as it falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month [Qīxìjié means seventh night festival]. It commemorates the love between a Zhinu, weaver and the cowherd Niulang. The gods separated them and they were only allowed to meet on one night each year. The husband and wife are represented by the stars Vega and Altair and a bridge of magpies is made over the Milky Way which runs between them in the sky to allow them to meet. The magpies will only come if it was dry so she earnestly prayed for rain to keep away on this day.

It has now become a day for lovers to have a romantic evening and exchange gifts.

couple,romance
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Thu 1st Jul 2021

Analysis of a partial skull is changing people’s ideas of human evolution, The discovery of Peking Man back in 1926 caused a stir as the conventional view was that humans evolved in Africa and moved north into Europe before spreading out. Over the last hundred years it is clear that there were several species of humans and it is certainly not a case of simply following back to an original ‘Adam and Eve’. The new skull, although discovered in 1933 has only recently been studied and suggests a new species of humans from Asia which adds further complexity to the story of human evolution. The new ‘species’ has been called Homo longi, because ( lóng) represents the Chinese dragon. It gives further evidence that ancient Chinese culture developed independently from the rest of the world.

dragon man
A reconstruction of the whole human from the skull fragment.
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Thu 17th Jun 2021

A group of migrating elephants are being closely followed on Chinese social media. They set off from the nature reserve at Xishuangbanna in the remote south-western part of Yunnan province. They have traveled about 311 miles [500 kms] and are now quite close to Kunming, the provincial capital. One 'rogue' male has broken away from the group and is 10 miles [16 kms] away.

China used to have elephants roaming over a good deal of the country, for a long time there was an elephant stable at the Forbidden City Beijing as they were used for ceremonial parades, but the Asian elephants rapidly reduced in numbers and by the 1970s there were only 193 of them restricted to the far south-west. They are rarer in China than the Giant Panda and have been given top protection status. Numbers have risen to just 300 so this group of 15 have been given aid to prevent as much interaction with humans as possible. Roads are blocked and the animals receive daily food drops to encourage them to keep away, not always successfully, from farmer's crops.

It is hoped that the group can eventually be enticed back to their original home at Xishuangbanna but many followers on social media may like to see them set up a new home elsewhere.

sleeping elephants
Drone footage of the elephant group sleeping. Courtesy China Central Television (CCTV)
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Thu 10th Jun 2021

A Qing dynasty hard painted scroll has set a new record at auction. It's a long scroll measuring 61 feet [19 meters] long and was painted by Imperial court painter Xu Yang in the 1750s. The scroll commemorates Emperor Qianlong's military campaigns in Myanmar / Western China to try to capture jade mines as he had a major fixation with this semi-precious stone. It fetched $65million (414 million yuan) at a Beijing auction. Other examples of Xu Yang's work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

scroll, Emperor Qianlong, auction, Xu Yang
A detail from the scroll. Photograph: Courtesy of Poly Auction. Available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 28th May 2021

A local entrepreneur has turned his love for chocolate into a thriving business. Mo Xuefeng from Jiaxing (conveniently halfway between Shanghai and Hangzhou) became a huge fan as a boy and has been able to create a chocolate themed village; it attracted 50,000 visitors on the May 1st holiday. China imports most of its chocolate few people having the expertise to create a local chocolate industry.

chocolate cake
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Fri 14th May 2021

A CNN report describes how a local area in Jiangsu (south-eastern China) has become famous for its double yolk duck eggs. A double yolk is quite rare normally but this particular county has ducks laying double yolk eggs one in twenty times. Over many generations ducks have been selected that are more likely to produce the double form. The double yolk commands a much higher price and many are preserved in salt water and eaten as a delicacy. The famous county is Gāo yóu near Yangzhou. Local salt has been produced for many centuries making a wealthy area.

double yolk,eggs
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Fri 7th May 2021

The first commercial driver-less taxi service has been launched in China by Baidu. Although no-one sits in the driver's seat currently there is a ‘safety monitor’ in the front passenger seat. It is running within Shouqing Park, Beijing which will be a venue for the winter Olympics next year and is not part of the main road network.

A robotaxi can be summoned by an app called ‘Apollo Go’ and costs around $5 a trip. Many people are fascinated by the novelty of the robotaxi service and so it is having to frequently stop as people get a little bit too close to take a a good look at the driver-less vehicles.

robot taxi,robotaxi
Image copyright Baidu Apollo.
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Sat 1st May 2021

An unusual Guinness world record has been set. In the south of Hainan Island, the southernmost inhabited land in China, a group of 110 divers have dressed as merpeople to set the record. Swimming with only a tail rather than two legs requires new skills to be mastered. You can see a video here. It was held at the Atlantis Sanya resort. Diving has recently become a very popular sport.

mermaid swimmers
Image copyright CGTN.
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Fri 23rd Apr 2021

The latest data show that the move of Chinese people to the cities continues. There are now 93 cities with populations over 1,000,000. This represents about 60% urbanization, not so long ago it was the other way with around 60% in rural villages and small towns. Of China's 30 provinces two have more than ten cities with over 1 million people. There are now ten cities with over 10 million inhabitants, that's a lot of people!

The big growth area is a long way from Beijing, in the mega-cities of Guangdong in the far south and also Jiangsu in the south-east.

Tiananmen Square, crowd
2004 PRC National Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. What a crowd! Image by pfctdayelise available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 15th Apr 2021

The pet of the future is now available. A robot dog will offer many advantages, no food, no mess, no kennel fees and if a nuisance it can just be switched off. The developers of AlphaDog at the Weilan workshop may be on to a winning design, it is already selling well. The latest model is using A.I. to give a more convincing dog-like behavior and will soon be given a 'bark'. It can be taken out for walkies but currently will struggle with stairs. They cost about $2,500 at present which is expensive but much lower than the cost of keeping a real dog. In future the dog could be used for all sorts of uses including as guide dogs.

alpha robot dog
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Thu 8th Apr 2021

This year there has been a great deal of wind blown sand from the Gobi desert that has afflicted all north-eastern China. In Beijing the annual tree planting day on 12th March has seen over a million residents take part in activities. Nearly a million trees have been planted and the existing 6 million trees in the city have been given a check-over. There are plans to add over 10,000 hectares of forest and 400 hectares of green spaces. These should all help improve the look of the city and well-being of the citizens. Trees are considered to emit auspicious 'qi' particularly in the morning.

PKChina-26, Summer Palace, beijing, forest
View of Beijing from the Summer Palace. September 2019. Image by Paul Kerswill

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Fri 26th Mar 2021

Although it is getting close to April’s fool day this is a genuine news story. Over the centuries the Daoist (Taoist) tradition has had many ‘masters’ who have claimed extraordinary magical powers.

This year a man (actual name unknown) from Hubei area has claimed the power to enlarge breasts. He does this not by laying on hands but by psychic energy. He claims to be a Guhao master (a Daoist sect) of Zhuyoushu. Women have claimed the ‘treatment’ has gained them at least one inch of breast enlargement. He also claims to be able to make people taller, treat tumors and increase IQ. For each ‘treatment’ he has devised a scale of exorbitant charges.

Now the authorities are catching up with this charlatan (he of course lacks any formal Daoist accreditation) to answer allegations of fraud.

enlargement
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Wed 17th Mar 2021

The flowering of cherry blossom is a welcome sign of a return to normal in Wuhan. After a year which began with a very tight lockdown of 52 days some medical workers are returning to admire the cherry blossom lining the streets and parks. More than 42,000 nurses and doctors from all over China answered the call to come to Wuhan to join in the fight against Covid-19 Grateful residents are now offering free tours and performances to the workers and their families in the cherry blossom season.

Cherry blossom
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Thu 4th Mar 2021

A new package of regulations has been brought in to help protect the fragile ecosystem along the Yangzi (Yangtze) river. The world's third longest river and the world's second in relation to water flow has had mounting pollution problems. The new laws hopes to co-ordinate controls of development and protect wildlife among the nine provinces through which the mighty river flows. Fishing will now be banned in some areas so the delicate ecological system can regenerate.

Yangzi River, river, boat
Barge on the Yangzi river near the Three Gorges dam

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Thu 25th Feb 2021

The Lantern Festival on 26th February this year marks the final end to the traditional fortnight of Spring Festival celebrations. However most people have been back at work for some days already.

The ancient roots of this important festival is that the lanterns light the way for the ancestral spirits to go home to their tombs after joining the family for the festivities. Many bright, colorful lanterns are made of lucky red paper and some have riddles painted on them to entertain everyone and dragon dances are frequently performed. The most common form is hexagonal in design.

A long time ago the rich made lanterns the size of a brightly lit room where the host would entertain his guests.

lantern festival, festival, fujian
Lantern Festival, Daoist parade of gods (Ngi?ng-s?ng) in Luoyuan, Fuzhou. Image by LuHungnguong available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 19th Feb 2021

‘Miss grandma’ and her sister have been making a new painting in the traditional Chinese style every day for many years. In a number of short Tiktok videos you can see how the 108 year old paints a variety of subjects with great skill.

In one quick video she paints a picture of plum blossom - a common motif at the continuing Spring Festival. Although many workers will return to work after a week of muted celebrations due to Covid, the traditional festival lasts two weeks, ending on the Lantern Festival on Friday 26th February.

Painting of plum blossom
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Wed 10th Feb 2021
Good Fortune for the year of the Ox

Everywhere in China the characters for Good Fortune fú and the Ox niú will be seen during the next week to welcome in the Chinese New Year of the Ox on February 12th.

Just in time for the celebration has been the news that China’s Mars explorer Tiān wén-1 (‘Astronomy-1’) has successfully entered orbit and will hope to send a lander to the surface in the summer.

Less seriously some students have been turning robots into service to help celebrate the Spring Festival. Tianjin University staff and students have programmed a robot to paint the character for good fortune based just on the eye movements of the operators.


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Thu 4th Feb 2021

After an eventful year of the Rat, let us hope that the Spring Festival on 12th February brings us all a better new year. The Ox is by tradition quiet and easy-going as well as practical and self-assured.

With the incidence of Covid-19 in China still at a very low level, everyone is concerned that the annual mass migration to be with family for the new year festivities may cause a resurgence, and so the advice this year is to keep travel to a minimum.

We've dusted off our Chinese New Year quiz with new fiendishly difficult questions. For a very comprehensive guide to everything about the most important traditional festival see our guide.

Wishing everyone xīn nián kuài lè A happy and prosperous new year.

Year of the Ox
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Thu 28th Jan 2021

China provides a little known, specialist service for foreign travelers.

It is a helpline with the easy to remember number '12345'. It is run from China Unicom buildings in Beijing and aims to answer visitor's queries in English or other languages. It is a 24x7 service aimed to answer a wide range of queries. At present explanations of the current Covid-19 restrictions are high on the list of common questions. The operators are trained to quickly redirect to the appropriate language speaker. They have built up a set of responses for the frequently asked questions.

The national emergency numbers 110 and 119 are a separate mandarin service and you may be able to be understood in English on these lines. The 12345 service is for non-urgent queries. The service is being beefed up ready for the increased number of expected visitors for the Winter Olympics 2022 to be held in Beijing.

Macau, city wall, people
Old streets of Macau at night Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Wed 20th Jan 2021

Chinese people have surprisingly few family names. One of the classics of Chinese literature is called the Hundred Family Names Bǎi jiā xìng which lists all the common ones from 1,500 years ago. It was one of the first set of characters that children would learn by heart. One colloquial way to refer to the Chinese people is as the Lǎo bǎi xìng ‘Venerable hundred surnames’ or just Bǎi xìng ‘Hundred names’. The term refers to the ‘ordinary working people’ not the government or rulers.

Some of the family names are used by millions of people. The most common one is ‘Wang’ which means ‘monarch, king, ruler’ and is shared by over 93 million people. However some families with only a few descendents have kept alive some very ancient names. This now causes a problem in the digital age because the character used for the family name are very rare and not in the standard fonts used by computers. So these families are being encouraged to change their name to a more common one. Because of China's huge population this affects a lot of people - about 60 million. The standard character set have now been extended from the basic 8,000 to 70,000 to accommodate many of these rare names but some people are still being left out. Their old written form is fine, it just can't be used digitally.

Wang Zhideng seal
The personal seal of Wang Zhideng

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Thu 14th Jan 2021

A continuing archeological dig has pushed back the history of Chinese palaces by another 1,000 years. Not so long ago it was considered that a complex settled civilization in China only went back about 3,000 years. The latest discoveries at Shuanghuaishu in Henan province, it is just to the north of Zhengzhou near the Yellow River. The remains found are hard to spot as they are mainly made of rammed earth, any stones would have been taken away and used in later buildings. A courtyard covering 8,611 sq feet [800 sq meters] has been found from over 5,000 years ago. which would have been in front of a royal palace. These remains predate the Xia dynasty (c.2100 - 1600BCE) and even before the birth of the Yellow Emperor (born c. 2718BCE)

Shuanghuaishu Dig
Archeological dig at Shuanghuaishu, Zhengzhou, photo credit China Daily .

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Wed 6th Jan 2021

The scales of the rare armored animal, the pangolin, are highly prized in China for their use in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). The Chinese species is a scaly ant-eater (Manis pentadactyla) somewhat like the American armadillo. The Chinese government is taking strong action against illegal imports. The dried scales were once believed to be effective against fevers and nervous diseases. Yesterday 17 smugglers were sentenced to between 12 an 14 years in jail for trafficking 23 tons of scales into China worth a probable $28 million. The pangolin is very rare in China but a related species (Smutsia gigantea) is more common in West Africa from where these scales were illegally smuggled.

pangolin, wildlife
Photograph of a pangolin. From Lucile and William Mann's participation in the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. Image by Lucile and William Mann available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 30th Dec 2020

The famous Shaolin Temple has now launched, jointly with Henan University, degree courses in Chinese Kung Fu. Bachelor, master and doctorate courses are available for international students. Many of the successful students will return home to teach Kung Fu at teaching centers. The Shaolin Quan Wushu technique dates back around 1,500 years. Kung fu Gōng fu can be translated as ‘fighting competition’ which describes the many competitive fights between the contending schools of martial art.

Henan, Shaolin , martial arts
Shaolin martial arts display Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 24th Dec 2020

In recent years the Western celebration of Christmas on 25th December has had increasing observance. This is chiefly an excuse to go out shopping and buy presents for children in the cities - only about 3% of Chinese people are Christians. ‘Shengdan Laoren’ is a transliteration of ‘Santa’ as ‘sheng:’ saintly ‘dan:’ birth followed by ‘laoren:’ old man. As Santa is dressed in lucky red this greatly adds to his appeal. To wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’ you can say shèng dàn kuài lè. It is not a public holiday in China.

Christmas in China
Christmas decorations in China, photo credit University of Maine .

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Thu 17th Dec 2020

On Thursday 17th December the Chang'E 5 completed its mission to bring back samples from the surface of the moon. This makes China only the third nation to achieve this feat. The successful mission, named after 嫦娥 Cháng É the Chinese goddess of the Moon, is one more significant step in the Chinese space missions that should eventually put people on the planet of Mars.

The samples come from an unexplored region of the moon called "Ocean of Storms" and should provide crucial information about how and when it was formed. It's 48 years since the last lunar rock samples were brought back to Earth.

surface of moon
The surface of the moon as photographed by Chang'E 5. Photo courtesy of Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP).

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Wed 9th Dec 2020

China is extending its control of the rain over a huge area of land. It has long been known that you can seed clouds with a type of salt (silver iodide) that causes it to rain or snow. In order to bring rains to drought prone regions China is extending its weather control to 5.5 million sq. kms by 2025 (an area the size of India) on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. The salt is dispensed by either airplanes or anti-aircraft guns.

It's hard to be sure of the effectiveness the seeding of the clouds because if it rains it maybe would have done that regardless.

threatening cloud

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Wed 2nd Dec 2020

Quite a number of artworks that were stolen or looted many years ago are being bought up and returned back to China. The latest example is a bronze horse's head that was looted from the Old Summer Palace, Beijing at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860. A combined Anglo-French looted and burned down the Emperor's great pleasure garden. Many artworks were taken away. A magnificent set of sculptured heads of each of the astrological animals designed by the Jesuit missionaries to China was made into a huge water clock. The horse's head was modeled by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione . Macau billionaire Stanley Ho (who died in May) bought back the artwork at auction in 2007 and donated it to the Chinese state in 2019. Only seven of the twelve original sculptures have been found and returned.

bronze,horse
Bronze horse head. Image credit: China News Service

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Wed 25th Nov 2020

A long time collector of historic photographs of China wants to find a buyer. Stephan Loewentheil has accumulated over 20,000 photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1920 over the last few decades.

It is a unique collection with many very rare images of life in China from this tumultuous period. He is keen to sell it to an institution or individual in China so that the collection at last goes home. There are many images by the largely unknown Chinese pioneers of photography: Lai Fong, Liang Shitai, Pun Lun Studio and Tung Hing Studio.

Guofen launch,satellite
A traditional weaver at work (1870) by William Saunders. Image credit: Stephan Loewentheil Photography of China Collection

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Wed 18th Nov 2020

In these dark days of approaching winter (in the northern hemisphere) now might be a good time to explore one of China's great cultural gems. As travel into China is very restricted at present it is good that it is now possible to make the trip with your computer. At the Mogao caves near Dunhuang, Gansu province there was a treasure trove of ancient paintings and writings preserved in the dry desert for up to 1,600 years. Western explorers in the early 19th century bought up many of these items so about 40,000 items are now spread between more than ten countries including the UK, France, Russia and Japan. The UNESCO world heritage site is located near the junction of the old Silk Road route to China, where traders in exotic goods chose the long desert road either to India or towards the Middle East and Europe. The 'Digital Dunhuang' project aims to reunite these lost items in the virtual world.

You can already visit and appreciate the beauty of the 30 richly decorated caves using the web site Digital Dunhuang and the fascinating artwork within them.

Gansu, Dunhuang, Buddhism
The Mogao Caves with magnificent Buddhist paintings and sculpture at Dunhuang, Gansu

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Chengdu, Sichuan, bridge
Anshun bridge at Chengdu, Sichuan