Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chinese Kite

One of my favorite day trips was to the International Kite Festival in Weifang, an hour train ride west of Jinan on a windy April day. I learned about this festival from Cookie's oral English presentation.  Kite flying is a ubiquitous hobby among older men who sit on tiny stools in the crowded square controlling high-flying kites with ease. This always mystified me because I'd always assumed one needed an open field with lots of room to run and launch a kite. Not in China. They just lift the kite into the wind and away she flies.   Our May 19 2013 China Talk post is full of photos from our trip to the festival in Weifang and shows the 3 interesting kite contests. We found it was truly an "international" festival where we met fascinating kite hobbyists from all over the world.   Here is what Cookie taught us about the Chinese kite:

        "Kite is a symbol of the Chinese handicraft. Flying a kite is a very popular activity in all generations in China. Flying a kite is a very popular activity in all generations in China. It is easy to find the scene that when in the holidays, there are large numbers of people gathering to the squares and holding lines to control beautiful kites in the blue sky. 
soft wings
     "Chinese invested the first kite.
     "In ancient time, kite was called sparrow hawk and was also well known as glede in northern region of China.
hard - wings
     "In the Spring and Autumn Period in China, there was a philosopher named 'Mo Qu' in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. He spent three years making a wooden glede that could fly in the air. He flied his wooden kite in Shandong Province of China, but it crashed just in one day. That wooden glede was the first kite in China and also same in the world. It's over two thousand and four hundred years ago.
dragon - head centipede kite
     "According to an ancient book, in the period of Five Dynasties in China, Li Zheng made a kite in imperial palace. A bamboo whistle was tied to a paper kite. It made sound like Zheng while wind passed through.  Since then, kites that could not give out sound were called paper glede, others were called Feng Zheng.

     "Tang Dynasty poet Gao Pian had written a poem named Kite:
Strings sound the blue sky in a silent night,
Wind brings tunes coming right;
Vaguely resembles a melody to listen,
Also it mists into breeze might.
     "In Tang Dynaster, kite was introduced to CHinese neighboring countries like Korea and Japan. In 13th century, an Italian explorer, Marco Polo, introduced kite to Europe, and  since then, kite was introduced to all over the world.

     "In ancient time, kite was used for military purpose initially, like measuring and three-dimensional forms. Graphic designs are based on individual interests, with silk, paper, and also can be made by plastic materials.
     "Weifang city in Shandong province China is the kite capital of the world. It has the largest kite museum in the world covering an area of 8,100 square feet.The design of the museum resembles the famous Weifang local dragon-head centipede kite. 
     "In a word, through history of the kite's development, Chinese traditional culture is integrated with kite craft. Chinese fairy tales, folk art and luck characters have been used for kite designs."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Traditional Chinese Funerary Customs in Northern China

A few weeks ago the students who could, went home for the weekend Tomb Sweeping holiday. Cindy is a sharp sophomore student this year. When I last talked to her she was getting ready to take a test for acceptance into the Communist Party. Funny how students will tell me that they're trying to gain such acceptance but when & if they are accepted….Silence. Sometime later I'll ask how they did and get a sheepish look; and we part ways politely.   Anyway, she gave an interesting presentation that tied  nicely with the recent holiday.

        "Traditional Chinese funerary customs actually seem even far from most Chinese townspeople now, not to mention the foreigners.  While in rural ares, there are still traditions left from old Chinese society; a society mainly supported by families, not persons.
         "Since the old society is based on families, when a member of the family went away, the whole family, here I'm not talking about a small family with 3 or 5 people, what I'm talking about is the very big family with hundreds of people will hold the ceremony all together.  So it is quite a spectacle when holding a funerary ceremony. The ceremony is not only grand but lasts long. For example, in my hometown, we count 7 days as a unit, and we have many units. So the whole ceremony would go for more than one month. Because it is too much for me to tell you and the time is too limited, I will just tell one detail very unique, interesting and representative in the ceremony. This part is called the dinner for the dead.
        "Before buried, the dead's closest relative, like brothers or sons or daughters, will prepare a dinner for him or her, so he or she wouldn't starve.  When the dinner is ready, the family would open the door, burn some paper coins, call the dead's name for dinner, switch down the lights, and wait half an hour on bended knees in the darkness for the dead to finish his or her meal.  Then here comes the paper carriage with a paper boy, a paper girl to to drive it and some paper golden ingots for the dead to spend. All these things, except the golden ingots which are made of yellow paper, are made of white paper. People burn this carriage to send the dead's soul back to where he should be.  And there is an interesting and real story about this staff. A man in my hometown loves to joke. And one day one of his best friends went away. He was sad and attended the funerary ceremony. When burning the paper carriage, the man couldn't help to joke again, saying, "It would be great for you to take me in your carriage to my home." While after he got home, he fell asleep and didn't wake up until three days later. People say that his friend did take his soul in the carriage with him. But who knows?
        "The second part I would like to share with you is the burial customs. More accurate, is how to choose the best site to set the grave. The principles are based on geomantic theory, using the Eight Diagrams. According to geomantic theory, the dead should 'have mountain beneath his head, and have water under his feet.' It would be great if there's really a mountain. But in the plains, there's no mountain, so people use Kan, one of the Eight Diagrams that represents mountain. So when the coffin was set, its head should be towards the direction of Kan. As for the water, it's not so difficult to find a river in the region. Just be sure that if we draw a line from the foot of the coffin, it can intersect with the river."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hanging the Family Painting - an important rite of ancestors

Family History is an important part of family of John & Roslyn Kuzmich. It is much more than a mere hobby and proved to be a chord of unity in our family through the years. We are not isolated in the moment but profoundly connected to the generations who preceded us and sacrificed for our good. This legacy is worth living up to and passing on.

Family History is an honored aspect of families in China. Tracy gave a presentation that should not have surprised me, but it did. Americans have family reunions all the time, mostly in the summer at
fun gathering spots. Tracy's report gave a new perspective to the tradition of family reunions.

During Spring Festival, every district of China have rites to heaven and ancestors. For sacrifice offering to heaven, the rite has become simple nowadays. However, as time passed, the rites to commemorate ancestors persisted. I'd like to introduce a very important rite in Shandong Province to commemorate ancestors during Spring Festival.

The rite includes a series of activities and the core of it is hanging the Family Painting on the North wall of the central room.

The Family Painting is a very big painting on which is a big Siheyuan quadrangle with house on the four sides is painted. It is a precious and holy thing for every family. It is past down by a family's earliest ancestor generation by generation, and only the family's oldest son has the right to keep it.

On the top of the painting there paints the main hall of Siheyuan, where an elder couple sit sedately, waiting for their descendants to pay a visit to them.

On the bottom of the painting, there are two doors. Out of the door stand a group of guests who are descendants of the family and they are all high ranking government officials.

The most important part is on the middle of the painting. There is a set of grid. From top to the bottom , all family ancestors' names are put into those cells. 

There is a pair of couplet on both sides of the painting. The content of the couplet is varied from family to family. They are domestic instructions which are passed down by ancestors.

Before hanging the family painting, a lot of preparations should be done; such as sweeping the dust, pasting Spring Couplets and laying a table and putting fruits, chicken, fish, and decorated cakes on it.

On the last day of the lunar year, all the males of a family must drive to the graveyard to invite those past ancestors back home to celebrate the Spring Festival together.

Back from the graveyard, there comes the most important part -- getting the painting hanged on our central room. After that done, it is believed that all our ancestors have been back home, sitting around the table, watching us, smiling.

Everyone has to stay up late on New Years' Eve. During that time, al the males have to go to patriarch's house where a super big Family Painting with thousands ancestors names on it is hanged there to worship and kowtow to our ancestors.

On the first day of Chinese lunar year, we set off firecrackers to send our ancestors away. Then the family painting is taken down carefully.

Then we have to wait another one year to have a reunion with those great and kind ancestors.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Imperial Harem System in Qing Dynasty

       John & I were enlisted to teach a class of professional adults in preparation for their government test to apply for grants to work abroad. We taught them Oral English for 2 hours a week while another teacher taught them Written English for 2 more hours on the same day. There were doctors, engineers, teachers, marine biologists and surgeons among this class. During one lesson we asked them to discuss in English the characteristics Chinese adults looked for in prospective mates. With a straight face one articulate gentleman said that the first wife should be pretty and the second wife should be a hard worker. I nearly fell over in shock & laughter. But he was dead serious. There are a lot of unwritten rules of relationships in China, and I learned that it was not that long ago that polygamy was acceptable and respectable in China; the modern version of which includes an acceptable arrangement of mistresses.
        Thus, I was interested to hear Maggie's report on the Imperial Harem System. It is a popular theme in TV entertainment today.

"As we all know, sexual discrimination had existed for a long time. And in ancient China, the system of imperial harem was just one of the reflections of the sexual discrimination. 

"This system mainly describes the wives and concubines of the emperor. There was a Chinese idiom which describes this system quite well:  3,000 beauties live in the Inner Court. The Qing Dynasty's system was among one of the simpler systems in Chinese history. There were 8 classes:

1.  Empress (Huang Hou), only one in the imperial harem. Of all these Harem concubines, the empress was on the highest status. In fact, this system was a system of monogamy with several concubines; and the empress was the principal wife of the emperor. She had more power than any other concubines because she could have 10 palace maids.
The Empress
2.  Imperial Noble Consort (Huang Guifei). There was only one such position in the imperial harem and she ranked only second to the empress. The number of the palace maids she could have was 8. But the emperor always shared more love to her than to the empress.
Imperial Noble Consort
3.  Noble Consorts (Guifei) Only 2 in the imperial harem. And each of them could have 8 palace maids.
Noble Consorts
4.  Consorts (Fei). Only 4 in the imperial harem. They are respectively, Gui  means noble, Xian means virtuous, Shu means kind & gentle, and De means moral. They could command at most 6 palace maids.
5.  Imperial Concubines (Pin). Only 6 in the imperial harem. They could have 6 palace maps, too.
Imperial Concubines
The above 5 categories in the Imperial Harem all had their own palaces. [That accounts for all those many, extra buildings that everyone wonders about in the Forbidden City.]  The following three categories of women all lived together.

6.  Noble Ladies (Guiren), unlimited number in the imperial harem. They can have at most 4 palace maids.
Noble Ladies
7.  First Class Female Attendant (Changzai), unlimited number in the imperial harem. And they can have at most 3 palace maids.
First Class Female Attendant

8.  Second Class Female Attendant (Daying), the number of it was unlimited in the imperial harem, too; and they can have 2 palace maids.
Second Class Female Attendant

"Above all, the center of the life in the imperial harem is the emperor. All of the consorts, which were the wives and concubines of the emperor, all tried their best to entertain the emperor. Every day they had nothing to do but strive for the emperor's love, which was really a Chinese tragedy.

"There were two ways of being a consort of the emperor. The first one is by showing herself in the palace (xuanxiu). That means the daughters of some insisters and officers have the chance to go into the palace to show themselves in front of the emperor to attract his attention. Besides, the maids in the palace also have the chance to get close to the emperor to attract tim, which was the second way. Once being selected, the maid could be promoted step by step from Second Class Female Attendant. The number of the palace maids is limited to 2000.  

"The consorts above the Imperial Concubines can live in their own palace. And there are 12 Eastern Palaces. Consorts below the Noble Ladies all live together. The system was solid, but the number of consorts an emperor actually had during the Qing Dynasty was subject to wild variations. The Kangxi Emperor holds the record for having the most consorts with 79, while the Guangxu Emperor holds the record for having the least consorts, with one empress and two consorts, a total of just three consorts. 

"The tradition of ranking concubines ended as the Qing Dynasty was overthrown. However, the practice of giving rank to people who 'unofficially' (lives with, but never marry) have more than one wife is still widespread. In addition, the term Madame is still used, albeit rarely and only in very formal setting, as an honorable title towards another person's wife in China.

"Finally, with the sexual discrimination being eliminated, this system was also abolished."