Monday, March 10, 2014

Chinese Hairpin

        One of the things that catches a western visitor's attention is all the heads of jet black, straight hair. My own curly brown locks bring never-ending stares among Han Chinese students. The hair of students from ethnic minorities sometimes have a little wave or curls. Hair dressings such as hairpins, bows, bands and bling are popular across all Chinese cultures and throughout Chinese history. Ann, an oral English student, gave an interesting presentation that I will share with you here. Then I'll add something I was told about how hairpins changed history.

        "Hairpin is very common ornament in the ancient China. In recent years, the retro stuffs like clothes and ornaments are very popular among Chinese women. If you travel to some CHinese cities, you will find that some women use hairpin to bind their hair which looks beautiful.
        "Way back in the Neolithic Age, women began to use jewelries like hairpins. In the feudal society, wearing a hairpin would symbolize a girl's coming of age. And a hair-pinning ceremony would e held to mark the occasion. In ancient times, a hairpin was also a symbol of personal dignity. Criminals were not allowed to wear hairpins. Hairpins and his clasps were basically similar to each other, but a hairpin was a one-strand fastener while a hair clasp was a two-strand one.
        "In ancient China, the use of hairpins was a important part of the life of a girl in her life. There would commonly be a rite of passage when any girl reached fifteen years of age. Before fifteen they were just girls or children but at fifteen years old they could be treated as adults. This was called the Hairpin Initiation. Before the age of fifteen, girls did not use hairpins but rather wore their hair in braids. When they were over fifteen years old they were considered women and comes their hair into a bun, secured by hairpins. The symbolic meaning of this was that she could now enter into marriage. This is much earlier than the males in that who underwent a Hat Ceremony. Thus, hairpins played an important role in the rite of passage from child to woman. They were also connected closely with marriage. Hair has always been important in Chinese psychology. The Chinese had special name for a married couple which means the relationship between husband and wife is just like they tie their hair together. Clearly, the matrimonial ceremony always focused a great deal on the hair of the two sexes and hairpins played a very important role in the lives of women in classical Chinese society.
        "Hairpins were often fashioned into flower shaped of gold, silver and jade, with two or more pins to attach them to the hair."

Here is a link showing remarkable examples of Chinese hairpin culture:

One of the stories students tell is how chopsticks came to be. Anciently, and even today in many cultures, the Chinese ate food directly with their fingers sans utensils of any kind. Legend tells that an ancient Chinese Emperor was impatient to eat his meal because it was so steaming hot. His quick-thinking Empress took 2 hairpins from her coif and gave them to him so he could eat his very hot food without burning his fingers. The rest is history….and a challenge to western diners today in China. Because I was pretty good using chopsticks to eat, I was occasionally asked how long I had been in China; since this skill takes quite a while to master. They assumed that my mastery meant I had been in China for a long time. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring Festival Gala

The only time we could watch TV in China was in our hotel room when we traveled. The Tube in our apartment…dead. Fine. Too much else to do than watch it anyway. But while we were traveling in Viet Nam during the high holy days of Spring Festival, every Chinese TV channel was carrying the same super variety show; of which I knew nothing until one of my students gave an information presentation. Folks, this is the biggest…I mean BIGGEST TV production on planet Earth with the largest viewing audience on the planet, as well. CCTV goes to the mat for this baby. I included a link to a review of the 2014 Gala, but you can find any number of links to see the glitz 'n glamor. The Oscar's got nothing on these folks.

Here is my student's presentation:

     The first CCTV New Year's Gala was held in 1982, with performers in the arts, drama, dance, and song from all over the country. Research commissioned by China Television Research (CTR) in 2007 indicated that an estimated 93.3% of Chinese families watched the Gala on television. 
     It is an evening gala of the drama, dance, and song, which is broadcast on the eve of Chinese New Year; live on CCTV-1 by satellite on CCTV-4, CCTV-E and CCTV-F and more recently on CCTV-HD. Because it is viewed by an estimated 700 million people on New Year's Eve every year, the Spring Festival Gala has become a cultural phenomenon beginning in the early 1980s in mainland China, and since then has become a necessity of New Year's nights.
     Harmony and reunion are the two themes of the Gala. With a cheerful atmosphere, laughter and applause permeate from start to finish. The Gala usually starts at 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve and lasts about four hours. The program's TV ratings have ranked first among China's variety show programs over the past two decades.
     Its importance has reached over to political, economic, and ethnic areas. As the Eve of Chinese New Year is a time where the family gathers, the typical situation involves a large 3-generation family gathered in front of their TV set while making dumplings for the first New Year's meal. The Gala adds a mood of celebration in the house as people laugh, discuss and enjoy the performance. It has become an ingrained tradition on Mainland CHina to watch the New Year's Gala on New Year's Eve. But it is difficult to cater to all audience's tastes. Each year the gala hope to incorporate new ideas and surprise people. Both director and performers rack their brains during writing and rehearsals.  It has become a big challenge for CCTV and its creative staff.