Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tai Chi

During the last decade of my otherwise clueless life, I became aware of a slow-motion meditation-type, boring-looking exercise routine called Tai Chi. Whilst on walkabouts in China I saw individuals and groups of people engaging in Tai Chi all over the place. But then something happened. I began to observe small Tai Chi groups holding swords while doing their slow-motion routines and the light dawned. This otherwise innocuous, meditative routine is a martial art of warrior thrusts-jabs-n-stabs for  practice for battles, spiritual or worldly. Yikes! Then I saw Tai Chiers using poles and whips. Double Yikes! I'll never observe Tai Chi in the same, limited, western view again. Preparing for war, mentally or physically, is systemic to this art and culture. I paid closer attention to Lucy's presentation.

Tai Ji Quan is a major division of Chinese martial art. Tai Ji Quan means "supreme ultimate fist." Tai means "supreme'… Ji means "ultimate"… Quan mean "fist."

There have been different sayings about the origin of Tai Chi. The traditional legend goes that the wise man, Zhang Sanfeng, of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) created Tai Chi after he had witnessed a fight between a sparrow and a snake; while most people agreed that the modern Tai Chi originated from Chen style Tai Chi, which first appeared during the 19th century in the Daoguang Reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Tai Chi has its philosophical roots in Taoism and is considered as an internal martial art, utilizing the internal energy, or Qi, and following the simple principle of "subduing the vigorous by the soft." Taoism is the oldest philosophy of CHina which is represented by the famous symbol of the Yin and Yang which expresses the continuous flow of Qi in a circular motion that generates two opposite forces, plus and minus, which interact and balance with each others to bring existence to the physical and metaphysical world.

The most famous forms of Tai Chi practiced today are the Chen, Yang, We, Woo and Sun styles. All the five styles can be traced back to Chen style Tai Chi. According to historical records, Tai Chi was founded by Chen Wangting (1597-1664), who lived in Chen Village, in today's Henan Province in China. Based on the Chen style and created by Tang Luchan, a Hebei native of the Qing Dynasty, the Yang style is now the most popular style worldwide. The Woo Style is based on the Chen and Yang styles and created by Woo Yuxing. 

The Sun style is derived from Chen and Woo styles and created by Sun Lutang. The Sun style is a combination of the more famous internal Chinese martial art forms of Ba Gua, Xing Yi and Tai Ji. The We style is based on Chen and Yang styles, and it was created by Wu Jianquan.

Nowadays, when most people talk about Tai Chi, they are usually referring to the Yang style, which has already spread throughout the world and is practiced by millions or people.

Tai Chi is not only a martial art, but has also been widely acknowledged as being an effective health exercise. Whether Tai Chi is practiced for health, as athletic sport or martial art it takes time, patience and qualitative practice to develop Tai Chi's internal properties. To achieve a high standard in Tai Chi training is a highly complex process.

In conclusion, no matter you are young or aged, male or female, no matter strong or weak, slim or plump, you can choose Tai Chi as your ideal physical exercise. Just as a Chinese saying goes, "As a man sows, so he shall reap." Once you decide to practice it, Tai Chi - the world of Yin and Yang, the world of the nature and relaxation will become a whole, new life style in the future for you.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Copyright - A big problem in China

The repeated phrase we heard from students justifying infringement of copyright was:
Copy and Improve.
So, as long as you improve what you snatch in China, you are not violating copyright law.
Jules has another point to make on this issue in China. Think Napster.

One of my friends once complained to me about the complexity when she downloaded some software to her her newly bought iPhone5 through iTunes. When first enter into it, she has to register a new name and have to tick all the rules that Apple Company had given to her. Sometimes, when she wants to download something, a credit card and bank account numbers are necessary and irresistible. It's true that many chinese Apple owners are bored by this problem, since they have already used got used to enjoy the endless and fruitful resources on the Internet and some certain software which can not only save time and money but also can get the achievement without their own thinking. 

This behavior is viewed as a kind of cheat and desperately unrespectable to the copyright of the owner. Although it's still common in China and perhaps becoming seriously in the era, this phenomenon increasingly bring negative effect to social regulation and the enthusiastic in creativity which alarm the authority and related law departments to regulate the legislation as soon as possible.

Hence, some famous online music website like Baidu, have to change its formal free-of-charge system into a pay-as-you-download one. This reformation arouse a heatedly debate. For some of the music lovers couldn't accept that their mania had now become a burden to the cost of living and actually become a tragedy when download music. They cannot get back that sense of easiness and excitement when staring at their octet money fly away on the online-paid webpage. Apparently, the vice of the opponent outweighs the proponent which lead to this new-born law quickly nips in the bud.

We should deeply think about this deadlock. It's a tug of war between the government and the public, but if you carefully inspect this phenomenon through the veil you can easily find out that the sticking point is the contradiction of profit.

China still has a long way to go on this side. But since China is developing rapidly at a high speed, we feel confident that the consciousness of the copyright and the protection of the private property would increase gradually.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chinese Dragon

Over time I discovered the general symbol for males is the dragon and for females the phoenix. Lex gave a very short, pithy presentation on the male symbol. No one ever bothered to give a female symbol presentation.

Today, the world belongs to many different nationalities and races. Different races have different cultures and totems. For example, we all know that the bear stands for Russia and the eagle can be used to describe the America. But what is the totem of China? Well, that my topic today, the Chinese dragon.

The Chinese dragon is a mythical creature in East Asian culture with a Chinese origin. It is visualized as a long, scaled, snake-like creature with four legs and five claws on each (though it does not always have five claws). In contrast to the dragon of western culture which stands on four or two legs and which is usually portrayed as evil, the Chinese dragon has long been a symbol of auspicious power in Chinese folklore and art. The Chinese dragon is traditionally also the embodiment of the concept of male and associated with the rain and water. Its female counterpart is the Fenghuang (usually translated as phoenix).
The dragon is an important part of Chinese culture. And Chinese usually call ourselves the descendants of the dragon. Because in the ancient China, there were a lot of tribes at first. Then a great leader, who's name was Huang Di, unified all of them. The problem was, as a united tribe, they didn't have one same totem. Every tribe had their own totem. Some used the bear, some used the fish, while the others used the snake or something else. To solve this problem and make an agreement, Huang Di created a new totem. It has the long snake-like body, lion-like head, fish scales, buckhorn, the claw of eagle and so one. It was called the Dragon.

But, nowadays, in European-influenced cultures, the dragon is aggressive, warlike that the Chinese government wishes to avoid. It is for this reason that the giant panda is far more often used as a national emblem than the dragon. 

A large number of Chinese proverbs and idioms feature references to the dragon, for example: Hoping one's son will become a dragon.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mongolian Nationality

Candy is a no-nonsense gal from Mongolia. She was the only student who watched & listened to me on the edge of her seat. That wasn't necessarily a good thing. She wasn't inclined to buy everything I was 'selling.' Turns out that's part of her Mongolian nature. She's Mongolian through-&-through which kept me on my toes ready to defend her several challenges. Her searching eyes and ready smile left a lasting impression. When she gave her presentation she wore her beautiful native costume.
I was struck by similarities I saw between the Mongolian culture and some of the Native American and Central American cultures I'm familiar with.

The Mongolians live mostly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. While some Mongolians have become urban dwellers, most still live in the countryside. Many engage in animal husbandry, while other are farmers. Diet consists of mutton and dairy products. And milk is often made into yoghurt and milk wine. The Mongolians enjoy music and poetry, and much of their culture relates to their past martial glory. During the annual Nadamu Fair, they compete in horse racing, archery, wrestling, as well as song and dance.

Dress

The caftan, hat, sash and boots form the indispensables of the Mongolian attire. The caftans come in various materials, ranging from leather to drapery. The caftan can also serve as a makeshift tent, a blanket, or a screen while its long and wide sleeves can be rolled down to protect from the sun, wind or rain. Women's sash is generally shorter and narrower than men's. In some places, married women war an embroidered silk vest instead of a sash. Men's sash is longer, folded into a broad band and is tightly tied around the waist. The sash also serves to stash the Mongolian knife and attach pouches. The hat has always been the most special item on a mongolian's attire. It is typically adorned with whatever trickiest the owner valued, or with pearls or even precious stones, if one could afford them, and with long, colorful tassels streaming down. A hat is worn when meeting or greeting non-family members, entering a ger (though one may be invited to remove the hat once inside), or when in the street. It is considered indecorous to go bareheaded.

Architectural Style

For Mongolians on the pasture, their typical house is the ger (yurt), a domed round tent. the ger is of wooden lattice frame erected into a circle and secured with strips of rope, forming a head-high self-supporting cylinder. A door frame, roof poles and a canvas outer covering complete the set. For additional stability, a heavy weight is suspended from the center roof pole. Inside the ger is very spacious and well-ventilated. It is quickly dismantled, packed away and then transported by yak or camel to the next destination.

Religion

In the 16th century the Mongolians believe in Shamanism but turned to Lamaism in the Yuan Dynasty.

Festival

The Naadam Grassland Festival of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is Mongolian's most magnificent yearly entertainment event in China, combining the traditional "Three Manly Games" of Naadam: wrestling, horse racing, and archery, with cultural exhibits and even a livestock fair. It means "entertainment" in the mind of the typical Mongolian. The Naadam Grasslands Festival has a history that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD). The Festival is held on the 4th day of the sixth month of the Chinese calendar (between July and August in the Gregorian calendar), when the harvest season reaches culmination. The Festival can last 3 to 10 days, depending on the scale of competitions of shooting, wrestling, and horse-riding.

Custom

The Mongolians are unconstrained and warm-hearted people as they treat others warmly and politely. They greet everyone they meet during their travels even they do not know each other. Hada, a Tibetan word, is a strip of silk used as a greeting gift among both Tibetans and Mongolians. It is presented under very specific circumstances only: when welcoming unfamiliar guests in one's home or when encountering a stranger on the steppe with whom a cordial relationship has developed. Hada is usually made from either silk or cotton. Mongolian Hada is generally white in color, but shades like light blue and light yellow occur as well. WHen one is lucky enough to be presented a Hada, one should grasp it gently in both hands while bowing slightly, and the presenter will also bow in return. The giving and receiving of Hada, including the act of bowing to each other, is a outward sign of mutual respect. When visitors go to a Mongolian's home, they will be treated very well by being given wine. But they must fully respect their host's customs such as: they will not step on the threshold, sit beside the niche of Buddha, or touch children's heads, etc. They admire fire and water so guests should not dry their feet or boots on the stove, nor should they wash or bathe in the river, as it is holy and clean in their eyes. In the Mongolian culture, colors are significant. At a Mongolian funeral, red and white should be avoided, whereas curing their festival, black and yellow should not be used. Passing the snuffbox is an old tradition in Mongolian culture, and is the most common exchange of amenities when people meet. When one is a guest in a Mongolian home, the host will take out his snuffbox, open it (its contents generally being try aromatic and consisting of a blend of tobacco and/or herbs) and pass it to the guest. One is expected to pass the snuffbox under one's nose in order to better appreciate the tobacco's aroma. To be polite, one should nod one's head or give another sign of appreciation. This shows respect and can serve as the basis for future amicable relations. The snuffbox contains a small spoon made other of gold, silver, copper, ivory or camel bone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Varieties of Chinese

       I've heard a phrase used to define a country: Culture -  Language - Borders. The potpourri of cultures and languages in China is impressive. Repression has been a remarkable tool in up building China, both ancient and modern. But a new reality has set in. Tourism and social media has had an affect. While Mandarin is the official language of the country and the teaching English is so widespread making it a common thread among the elite and rising middle class, there are still areas of China where the local dialect renders the people almost unintelligible foreigners.   There are still  Chinese who have to rely on translators to understand what leaders in Beijing are speaking, but they can read what they said after-the-fact…if they can read. Kind of explains why China is governed/ruled the way it is. Quite a feat.
       A fellow English teacher who spoke Chinese very well told me that when some of his students who came from a distant province became aware that he could understand what they were saying whilst they spoke Chinese among themselves, they immediately began to speak in their local dialect rendering his Chinese useless. So much for inclusion.

       Note how Taiwan is referred to as a province by Chinese sources as opposed to a country as recognized by other nations in the world.

Anny did pretty good on her complicated presentation in Oral English class.

Linguists identify between seven to fourteen subgroups in the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.  Traditional classification of seven of the groups include:
Gan       (Jiangxinese)
Guan     (Mandarin or Beifanghau)
Kejia     (Hakka)
Min       (including the Hokkien & Taiwanese variants)
Wu        (including the Shanghainese variant)
Xiang    (Hunanese)
Yue      (including the Cantonese and Taishanese variants) 

In addition to the standard, accepted languages and dialects in China, it is customary to speak informally of dialects within each proving, e.g. Sichuan dialect, Hainan dialect. These designations do not generally correspond to classifications used by linguists, but each nevertheless has characteristics of its own. 

The question of whether the various varieties of Chinese should be called dialects or languages in their own right is contentious. There are two principal uses of the word dialect. If varieties are consider dialects of a single language when they are mutually intelligible, and separate languages otherwise, then the principal branches of Chinese, and even some of the subbranches, are distance languages. If, on the other hand, Dialect is used in its other meaning of a variety that is socially subordinate to a standardized or otherwise prestigious variety, perhaps one that share a common written language and literature with the prestige form, then they are all dialects of a single Chinese language, though Cantonese and to a lesser extent Shanhainese and Taiwanese are local prestige forms with use in the media and a nascent literature.

Whew! That's a mouthful!

The following is a brief overview of today's Chinese dialects:
1.  NORTHERN DIALECT (also called Mandarin)….
The official tongue of China, mainly based on Beijing dialect.
2.  JIANGSU DIALECT (also called Wu Dialect)….
Mainly based on Suzhou dialect, which in a way is closer to the Song Mandarin than that of the Northern Dialect. Song Dynasty (960-1279) is the most economical, culturally and intellectually developed period of Chinese history with vast volume of written materials produced during that time. Jiangsu Dialect again branches into many different sub-dialects, and Shanghai dialect is one of them.


3.  ANHUI DIALECT (also called Hui Dialect)….
Mainly use by people of Anhui province.
4.  JIANGXI DIALECT (also called Gang Dialect)…
Mainly used by people of Jianxi Province.
5.  HUAN DIALECT (also called Xiang Dialect)….
Mainly used by people in Huanan Province.
6.  Gujian Dialect (also called Minnan Dialect)…
Mainly sued by people inFujian and Taiwan Provinces.
7.  KEJIA DIALECT ….
Mainly ethically based (by Kejia ethnic people) who speak this particular form of dialect and can be found in Fujian, Taiwan and other southern provinces.
8.  CANTONESES ….
Mainly used by people in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.

This only just begins to scratch the surface of the complexity of Chinese languages & dialects. There is also Guan (Mandarin) with eight main dialect areas of Mandarin in Mainland China, Min with eight more dialect areas, Wu with six dialect area, Yue  with nine dialect areas, among others.

In addition to the varieties within the Sinitic branch of Sino-Tibetan, a number of MIXED LANGUAGES also exist that comprise elements of one or more Chinese languages and and dialects, plus OTHER languages.   YIKES!!!






Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chinese Characters

       We learned that more Chinese students study English than there are English speakers in all of America. While that unfortunately does not translate to very much English speaking fluency in China, it is always a good experience for anyone to study something of another language. It enriches knowledge and appreciation of one's primary language. Jane proved to be a good example of this with her presentation.
       We never saw a yellow #2 pencil in China. Students use .5 or .7 fine tip pens or mechanical pencils. Why? Because whether writing Chinese characters or English letters, all their writing is incredibly tiny…and because most written Chinese characters are much more complicated that English alphabet letters. The thickness of a #2 wood pencil would blur the words/characters and besides, there are no pencil sharpeners to be found which would need to be used every few minutes, anyway.  
       Is it any wonder that illiteracy was common for centuries in China? It's a wonder to see Chinese students today reading and writing in two or more languages of such divergent complexities.
      Because Jane used so many Chinese characters to illustrate her points, her presentation had to be posted at a photograph so you can see all her examples. Zoom In for more comfortable reading. Reading it as is….is more like our experience reading their Written English assignments; by electrical moonlight ( the only light in our Chinese apartment ).




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ancient Chinese Jade Culture

The Chinese fascination with Jade puzzled me. One of my most intelligent students spoke with glowing conviction of the power of Jade to heal. I listened to her with polite amazement. She wasn't the first of my college-educated students to swear by the medicinal value of jade. Copper bracelets have nothing on jade in China. Serious bio-feedback. It is said in China: Gold is valuable, Jade is precious. In fact, the written Chinese character for jade is similar to the character for imperial power. Go figure.

        "The ancient Chinese dictionary, Xu Shen's Explanation of Words and Phrases published during the Eastern Han Dynasty, defined jade as the "most beautiful stone with five characters"….hardness, subtle color, musical quality, the smooth fracture and transparency. The 5 characters were respectively equal to man's courage, benevolence, wisdom, self-discipline and fidelity.

        "Jade symbolized a man of noble character. Confucian endowed jade with eleven virtues, such as courtesy, wisdom, benevolence, fidelity, sincerity and so on. It is clear that jade had been personified. It was not just a piece of jewelry, but a part of one's being. The ancient Book of Songs noted that "a gentleman would never discard his jade ornaments without any reason, and the way he thought and spoke should be as mild and gentle as jade." Ancient Chinese also thought a man should treat himself as a piece of jade needing to be carved.


        "The ancient Chinese also believe jade can stave off evil spirits and create safety. According to Taoism, jade collecting the essence of the earth and heaven, could keep one immortal physically. In Zhou Dynasty people began to sew thousands of jade pieces into burial suits for rulers, so that their corpse would not vanish.  The custom developed further in Han Dynasty. The tombs of Prince Jing of Wester Han Dynasty and his wife were excavated and two jade suits were found. People do not make the burial suits any longer; however, still believe its protective powers and buy jade wares.

        "Jade also represents the imperial powers. We can get the idea from the way our ancestors created the character "yu" which means the jade. The character was gotten from the character "wang" meaning 'the king' or 'emperor.' Three horiztonal line of the "wang" implied the earth, the man's world and the heaven, and the vertical lines suggest the man who can understand the three worlds. When people wanted to wear a jade, they would drill hole with it, so the added spot of the "yu" character implied the hole and distinguished difference between the two characters. Jade also had an impact on other Chinese characters. Many emperors also preferred to used jade to make imperial seal. For instance, the imperial seal of the Qin Dynasty, the first feudal society in China, was made of jade.

        "All above, jade is beyond the definition of ornaments for Chinese. That is the reason why jade culture never died away, although China is not the main origin."