Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Culture of Chinese Doorsill

       Coming from a handicap/disability sensitive country, I was shocked at the general lack of public accessibility in China. I already posted photos of the pyramid stairways leading to many businesses in Jinan in an early China Talk blog entry. My visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing came soon after an Oral English class on American Halloween vs Chinese ghost traditions, so I was more aware of such things while touring the palace complex. Every single main entrance doorway had an obstacle. You must step over a large, 6-12" high doorsill. In all my travels I don't recall ever seeing a such a significant obstacle at the entrance-way to a home or castle. Naturally, I asked about this feature and was told that it kept spirits out because they couldn't negotiate over the high doorsill with their old, creaky knees. HUH?!   My students were bemused by my questions, observations and humor concerning spirits and doorsills when I returned from Beijing. Spirits have bum knees? Can't spirits just float through the door? I settled down by the time Jane gave her presentation and was impressed with her wisdom as she reflected on this tradition.

            Do your remember last semester professor Kuzmich asked us why our old Chinese architecture had such a high doorsill? Today, I want to provide a more specific answer.

        When China was not unified, Chinese people already had common view on building doorsills. Even the doorsill built day was chosen in advance, and its color must suited the gate well. Se we can see the importance of the doorsill for ancient Chinese.


        Why the doorsill was treated so seriously? There are reason in two aspects.
        First of all, in the practical aspects. The doorsill worked in keeping off the rainwater, strong winds, small animals, such as mice. Also it helped to shut the door tightly. What's more, the ancient people were mostly in loose clothes. So when they strides the doorsill, they had to hold their legs high, and the hidden weapon (if there was one) would be seen.

        However, the cultural meanings of doorsill also plays an important part. Firstly, it's a symbol of boundary, making a distinction between your own home and the outside world. Secondly, it represented the owner's class and status; the higher status you were in, the higher doorsill it was. Thirdly, the doorsill symbolized a wall, maybe it's a bit difficult for professor Kuzmich to understand, while, you can comprehend it as western "magic," though, I prefer to regard it as a wish or will. Whatever, at the time, it really meant keeping off the dirt and ghost, hoping to keep the whole family safe and healthy. Fourthly, it's said that when people died, his soul might jump out of his house to be a ghost. In case of that, people built the high doorsill, to keep the soul in, for the soul couldn't jump so high.

        There are also some interesting things about the doorsill. For instance, we can't step on it, for in human's life, it symbolized the master's back or neck; in another word, it is 'dignity.' And in Buddhism, stepping the doorsill meant you might wander on the bound of Yin and Yang when you died. Also, men should step his left foot first; women was opposite.

        We can see something about Chinese him conception from the culture of doorsill which includes privacy space, sense of safe, and best wishes to family members. Chinese architecture is not like western ones, which is open to the outsiders. While, in modes society, we hardly have doorsills any more, maybe which can be regarded as a positive attitude to open and absorb.

        In our modern life, we prefer to regard the doorsill as an obstacle. There are "doorsills" in education, political reform, social conscience, and so forth. We are overcoming them actively. It is the same with our tradition, just like the saying goes: discard the dross and take the essence.  Only in this way can our Chinese culture get more and more prosperous.

        

        

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cultural differences between North and South area in China

           Most Chinese folks I met considered six-million-strong Jinan in northern China a back-water, blue-collar city, but I am grateful that we were not assigned to teach at a university in southern China. Why? The food in south of China is routinely spicy hot. I would have died of starvation. Jinan is famous for it garlic and fish; and students often complained that the food was salty. Salty is world's better than spicy to my palette; but I think my students overstated the saltiness. Jinan food was divinely suited to my taste.
         I liked Joey's sometimes rambling presentation, for her natural attempt to express her opinions rather than just copy 'n past something from the Internet, and her interesting views on the percieved differences between north and south citizens of China.


We all know that north area is different from south area mostly as a result of the weather no matter what country it is. Northern people are more straight-forward while southern people are very reserved.  Culture differences in China can be divided into 5 aspects, which are Characters, Foods, Art, Builds, and New Findings of Life.

1.  Character. In northern area, people struggled with the nature for living, which formed the characters of being straight-forward and out-going. They are tall and strong, especially the males. 




While the souther people live in a better environment than northern people, they pay more attention to the art, as a result that they are mild and soft.

2.  Foods.  Northeastern area in China is very famous for its rice. Besides, northern people are more accustomed to food made from wheat, especially for staple. Southern people like to eat rice.  


People in northern area like to eat and drink in big mouthfuls, coz they care less about this kind of things. Southern people tend to enjoy the food very slowly to feel the test, for example, drinking tea.  
Northern people eat peppers to be warm and try to keep away from the cold feelings inside. However, southern people eat peppers to avoid the wet air outside and inside.

3.  Art.  Just as Beijing Opera in Beijing,there are many kins of opera in China varying from North to South. In north area, take Shanxi Opera for example, it is famous for roaring the dialogues which are always very tragic and heroic reflecting the history of ancient Emperors and heroes.   

While southern people have Huangmeixi Opera, which is very mild and talks about the love story between a wit and a beauty.



4.  Buildings.  In south area, the houses and the roads are often very tortuous for the winds being able to flow into. While it's commonplace in north area that the design of buildings are more plain and regular. They are often located in North and face to South. And in northeastern area, the direction isn't always that clear.

5.  Funny things which are newly found of Life. [Well, this is the most interesting part of my speech.] These are things you can never know in America or any other country in the world. If you live your lifelong time in only north or south area, you will not experience these things either.

        Bathing towel…This kind of bather towel is used to clean our body when we are having a bath. It's commonplace to be seen in north China, while southern people have never seen it. Northern people use it first to rub the dirt on our body, and then use bath liquid to make our body smooth and fragrant. However, southern people only use bath liquid. What's more, they have baths nearly every day because of the weather, while we northern people usually have baths every three or four days a week.

        Tofu jelly…This kind of food is often eaten in the morning. It's salty in north wile sweet in fourth. Mostly we can't accept the other taste of it.

        Tomatoes and eggs… It's a kind of famous food in China. Northern people put sugar into it while southern people don't.

        Soybean milk… It's  little confusing that there is hardly regulation of it. In northeastern area and most cities in southern area, people often make soybean milk very sweet. 

On the contrary,as far as I'm concerned, several cities in Shandong Province tend to put salt in it.








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!!!