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   A Brief Introduction to Chinese Culture(2)  
  
 
THE ANIMAL SIGNS
      Using characteristics that are perceived to be an inherent part of the natures of the 12 animals, Chinese astrology attributes certain aspects of these characteristics and behavior of people born at specific times. This system operates in much the same way as Western astrology.

        THE RAT is an opportunist with an eye for a bargain. Rats tend to collect and hoard, but are unwilling to pay too much for anything. They are devoted to their families, particularly their children. On the surface, Rats are sociable and gregarious yet underneath they can be miserly and petty Quick-witted and passionate, they are capable of deep emotions despite their cool exteriors. Their nervous energy and ambition may lead Rats to attempt more tasks than they are able to complete successfully, Rats will stand by their friends as long as they receive their support in return. However, they are not above using information given to them in confidence in order to advance their own cause.

        THE OX is solid and dependable. Oxen are excellent organizers and systematic in heir approach to every task they undertake. They are not easily influenced by others' ideas. Loyalty is part of their make-up, but if crossed or deceived they will never forget. Oxen do not appear to be imaginative though they are capable of good ideas. Although not demonstrative or the most exciting people romantically they are entirely dependable and make devoted parents. They are people of few words but fine understated gestures. Oxen are renowned for their patience. but it has its limits once roused, their temper is a sight to behold.

        THE TIGER is dynamic, impulsive and lives life to the full. Tigers often leap into projects without planning, but their natural exuberance will carry them through success fully unless boredom creeps in and they do not complete the task. Tigers do not like failure and need to be admired. If their spirits fall, they require a patient ear to listen until they bounce back again. They like excitement in their relation-ships and static situations leave them cold. Tigers are egotistic. They can be generous and warm, but will also sometimes show their claws.

        THE RABBIT is a born diplomat and cannot bear conflict. Rabbits can be evasive and will often give the answer they think someone wishes to hear rather than enter into a discussion. This is not to say they give in easily: the docile cover hides a strong will and self-assurance. It is difficult to gauge what Rabbits are thinking and they can often appear to be constantly daydreaming, though in reality they may be planning their next strategy The calmest of the animal signs, Rabbits are social creatures up to the point when their space is invaded. Good communication skills enable Rabbits to enjoy the company of others and they are good counselors. They prefer to keep away from the limelight where possible and to enjoy the finer things of life.

        THE DRAGON will launch straight into projects or conversations with a pioneering spirit. Dragons often fail to notice others trying to keep up or indeed those plotting behind their backs. Authority figures, they make their own laws and cannot bear restriction. They prefer to get on with a job themselves and are good at motivating others into action. They are always available to help others, but their pride makes it difficult for them to accept help in return. Although they are always at the center of things, they tend to be loners and are prone to stress when life becomes difficult. Hard-working and generous, Dragons are entirely trustworthy and are loyal friends. They enjoy excitement and new situations. When upset, they can be explosive, but all is soon forgotten.

        THE SNAKE is a connoisseur of the good things in life. Inward-looking and self reliant, Snakes tend to keep their own counsel and dislike relying on others. They can be ruthless in pursuing their goals. Although very kind and generous, Snakes can be demanding in relation ships. They find it hard to forgive and will never forget a slight. Never under estimate the patience of a snake, who will wait in the wings until the time is right to strike. They are elegant and sophisticated and although they are good at making money, they never spend it on trifles. Only the best is good enough for them. Very intuitive, Snakes can sense the motives of others and can sum up situations accurately If crossed, they bite back with deadly accuracy. They exude an air of mystery ooze charm and can be deeply passionate.

        THE HORSE is ever-active. Horses will work tirelessly until a project is completed. but only if the deadline is their own. Horses have lightning minds and can sum up people and situations in all instants - sometimes too quickly - and they will move on before seeing the whole picture. Capable of undertaking several tasks at once, Horses are constantly on the move and fond of exercise, They may exhaust themselves physically and mentally. Horses are ambitious and confident in their own abilities. They are not interested in the opinions of others and are adept at side-stepping issues, They can be impatient and have explosive tempers although they rarely bear grudges.

        THE GOAt is emotional and compassionate. Peace-lovers, Goats always behave correctly and they are extremely accommodating to others. They tend to be shy and vulnerable to criticism. They worry a lot and appear to be easily put upon, but when they feel strongly about something they will dig their heels in and sulk until they achieve their objectives. Goats are generally popular and are usually well cared for by others. They appreciate the finer things in life and are usually lucky. They find it difficult to deal with difficulties and deprivation. Ardent romantics, Goats can obtain their own way by wearing their partners down and turning every occasion to their advantage. They will do anything to avoid conflict and hate making decisions.

        THE MONKEY is intelligent and capable of using its wits to solve problems. Monkeys often wriggle out of difficult situations and are not above trickery if it will further their own ends. Monkeys tend to be oblivious of other people and of the effect their own actions may have on them. In spite of this, they are usually popular and are able to motivate others by their sheer enthusiasm for new projects. Monkeys are constantly on the look out for new challenges and their innovative approach and excellent memories generally make them successful. They are full of energy and are always active. They have little sympathy for those who are unable to keep up with them, but will soon forget any difficulties

        THE ROOSTER is a very sociable creature. Roosters shine in situations where they are able to be the center of attention. If a Rooster is present, everyone will be aware of the fact because no Rooster can ever take a back seat at a social gathering. They are dignified, confident and extremely strong-willed, yet they may have a negative streak. They excel in arguments and debates. Incapable of underhandedness, Roosters lay all their cards on the table and do not spare others' feelings in their quest to do the right thing. They never weary of getting to the bottom of a problem and are perfectionists in all that they do. Roosters can usually be won over by flattery. Full of energy, Roosters are brave, but they hate criticism and can be puritanical in their approach to life.

        THE DOG is entirely dependable and has an inherent sense of justice. Intelligent, Dogs are loyal to their friends and they always listen to the problems of others, although they can be critical. In a crisis, Dogs will always help and they will never betray a friend. They can be hard workers, but are not all that interested in accumulating wealth for themselves. They like to spend time relaxing. Dogs take time to get to know people but have a tendency to pigeon-hole them. When they want something badly they can be persistent. If roused they can be obstinate and occasionally they lash out, although their temper is usually short-lived. Some Dogs can be rather nervous and they may be prone to pessimism.

        THE PIG is everybody's friend. Honest and generous, Pigs are always available to bail others out of difficulties. Pigs love the social scene and are poplar. They rarely argue and if they do fly off the handle, they bear no grudges afterwards. They abhor conflict and very often will not notice when others are attempting to upset them. They prefer to think well of people. Overindulgence is their greatest weakness and Pigs will spend heavily in pursuit of pleasure. They always share with their friends and trust that, in return, their friends will make allowances for their friends will make allowances for their own little weaknesses. Great organizers, Pigs like to have a cause and will often rally others to it as well.

Feng Shui

        Furnishing the dining-room The essential furnishings of any dining-room are its table and chairs. A round table symbolizes Heaven, harmony, and friendship, while a square table, representing the Earth, suggests a more formal, hierarchical approach. octagonal tables are often found in China, since each side faces one of the Eight Directions. Despite the apparent informality of the round table, any honored guest, or the eldest member of the family, should be placed at the North side of the table, so as to face the South. At an octagonal table, highly favored in China, the family should be seated according to the Eight Trig rams, with the father at the North-West position and mother at the South-West. The eldest son will be seated at the East, the middle son at the North, as the youngest son at the North-East. The eldest daughter takes her place at the South-last , the middle daughter at the South ,and the youngest daughter at the West. At an eight-sided table, the family should be disposed according to the Eight Trigrams.

        Apart from the sideboard, the remaining furnishings should be minimal. Unless the dining-room serves a double purpose as the living-room or a second reception room, there is little need for other furniture, which would only intrude on the principal focus: the table.

        A simple fish is one traditional way of neutralizing the effect of threatening sha-from an inauspicious telegraph pole, for instance

        The Dining-room Chinese cuisine is not designed for the lone eater. In the Far East, the notable feature of Chinese restaurants and one that makes them so markedly different from restaurants in the Western world, is their sheer size. Vast, brilliantly decorated haIls accommodate rank after rank of huge tables, round which family parties of a dozen or more will feast together - a far cry from the intimate atmosphere of a dimly-lit French or Italian restaurant. Nor do the Chinese delicately keep to their own plates. Etiquette demands that a meal be shared, and that each person at the table should sample all the various dishes that are set down.

        Traveling in China, you would be frequently pressed to join a party of people who until then would have been complete strangers, to share their company and their meal. Thus, eating at the table not only nourishes the body, it also symbolizes friendship, and harmony. Within the home, however, the placing of the dining- room is not as crucial as the location of other rooms. But it is ideal for the dining-room to be East of the kitchen, failing which, it might be placed to the South of it.

        Favorable ch'i are encouraged if the dining-room window faces a different direction from the section of the house where the room is situated, provided that this is not its opposite. That is to say, if the dining-room is located in the Southern part of the house, it is favorable for the window to face Eastwards; or if in the Eastern part, Southwards. If the dining-room is in the North, the windows should look East or West; and if in the West, North or South.

        Ch'i should not rest and stagnate in the dining-room, or the atmosphere will become stale and unpleasant. Consequently, it is preferable that there should be at least two entrances to the dining-room, one from the hallway or living-room, and another from the direction of the kitchen. For the same reason, it is also best if there are at least two windows. The two doors should also be in the same wall, or in adjacent walls, as should the windows. Doors opposite each other are not favored, as this creates the impression of a corridor, rather than a room.

        Shops and stores For centuries, Feng Shui practitioners have been advising clients on how best to plan retail premises in order to ensure maximum sales success. Although the disposition of goods on display, the location of those still in storage, and even the position of the cash register are vital factors which have to be taken into consideration, they all take second place to the nature of the shop's entrance which should actively funnel beneficial ch'i into the shop. A wide-mouthed doorway, so it is said, will help to catch both the customer and the flow of ch'i. In order to counteract poor Feng Shui, doors are sometimes positioned at a slant, and have the additi0nal merit of providing a limited area of standing room within the boundaries of the shop. Psychologically, this little triangle between the frontage of the shop and the street acts a Kind of threshold, the customer feeling encouraged to make the effort to enter the shop.

        The rule that stairs and corridors in the home should not face doors applies equally where business premises are concerned. But, if this occurs, and it is impractical to alter the internal structure, then the arrangement of displays of goods should be such that the customer is obliged to make a change in direction on entering the shop. If the customer has to change direction, it can be assumed that the ch'i will change direction, too, with beneficial results.

        Another effective way to divert ch'i is to line the walls with mirrors. These will not only display goods to potential customers at all manner of angles, but will also increase the brightness of the shop, providing a more stimulating environment for commerce. (This works well in business premises, but would be unsuitable for a family residence, since the energizing ch'i produced would soon burn up a harmonious atmosphere within the home.) Feng Shui identifies two categories of sales-outlet: 'open', where goods may be readily handled, and 'closed' where items are presented for inspection on request.

        In an 'open' shop - such as a greengrocer's - the owner may feel that it is best to have the cash register near the exit, in order to deter thieves from leaving the shop with goods which have not been paid for. But some Chinese geomancers maintain that the ideal situation for the cash register is one which harmonizes with the horoscope of the owner. on page 96, you will find an example explaining how such a calculation can be made, with the aid of the Western version of the Lo P'an. Where there is no single owner, however the position of the cash register is most suited to the South-East.

        When planning the interior of a shop, the cash-point, display, and entrance should be considered in turn. If the shop is of the 'open' type, the object is firstly to encourage as many customers as possible into the Shopping area; secondly, for them to be able to examine the goods; and thirdly, to buy. Thus, consideration of the entrance comes first, display of the goods, second; and finally, the cash-point. Ideally, the entrance should be placed in the South-West (the receiving direction); but if this is not possible, certain compensatory arrangements can be made by means of interior lay-out, thus customers proceed towards the South-West on entering. Alternatively, large mirrors should be placed in the South-West to reflect the entrance.

        In the 'closed' type of shop, such as a jeweler's premises, however, security of the stock is the most important consideration and its placing there fore has to be worked out first; the position of entrance, second; and the cash-point, third. A geomancer would thus recommend that the display of stock is placed in the North-East, since this represents safe-keeping.

        In an agency establishment - such as insurance or real estate brokers - the administration of funds is the first concern; the entrance, the second; and the display of goods, probably negligible. It follows that such businesses are best suited to premises which have a North-West to South-East axis, since these directions are associated with management and trade. But whatever the orientation of the premises, if the furnishings can be arranged to encourage general movement along these axes, according to Feng Shui theory, this will encourage the development of a thriving business. Feng Shui principles also dictate that predominant shapes and colors should be based on the Element associated with the type of merchandise or service which is being offered. Groceries, greengrocery, and books and magazines, for instance, belong to the Element Wood, which suggests cylindrical and tubular forms, as well as blues and greens. Chemical products, and electrical goods and services, belong to the Element Fire, represented by sharp-cornered designs, and the color red. Pottery and builders' materials belong to the Element Earth, represented by square shapes, and yellow or brown hues. The Element Metal covers metal ware and jewelry, and is represented by round shapes, metallic colors, and white; while wine and spirit merchants, petrol stations and agency services are ruled by the Element Water, represented by irregular shapes and black or very dark shades. Thus, the nature of the shop or store should come prominently to the fore when considering matters of interior design.

        Commerce and trade are subject to many whims and changes. For centuries, the Chinese have believed that, though the rises and falls of fortune may not be totally harnessed, they can at least be guided. Thus, while orientation may seem at first to have little to do with manufacture or sales, if the forces of Heaven and Earth can be made to complement each other, then harmony, success, and prosperity will be the consequence.

        The garden When designing a garden, the Chinese have the very opposite of Western objectives. Thus the Feng Shui garden has no formal flowerbeds, nor neat rows of regulated blooms, nor riots of color. Instead, it meticulously attempts to recreate the very best features of Nature, and to become a slice of the landscape, or even a landscape in miniature. The true secret of Chinese gardening is to create space in order to draw attention to detail. In doing this, the Chinese gardener may well take away where the western gardener would add. Tiny gardens may be made even smaller by partitions; walls may be built to shut out features which are not part of the design; and a single plant may stand for many plants, as a perfect Feng Shui location is created in miniature, the principal costs being time, hard work, and patience. The garden can also include features which reveal the Dragon, the Bird, the Tiger and the Tortoise. A token trellis will fend off malevolent sha; while a simply constructed pond may function, as the gardens own Water Dragon. Thus, in attention to the shapes of walls, paths, rocks, and water, gardens can become model examples of all the precepts of the Form school of Feng Shui.

        Use of color The Chinese garden does not have to be a rainbow of color. Indeed, the gaudiness of blazing contrasts is thought to disturb both the garden's appearance and its Feng Shui. Instead, the finest Chinese gardens keep to a discriminating, narrow spectrum. Yet it would need all the colors of the palette to paint the rich variety of shades to be seen. The colors of autumn might serve as a model. Thought they are seemingly all gold and browns, blending perfectly, the number of hues is endless.

        White is not a color, and water is certainly colorless in itself. Yet they both serve to enhance and reflect the colors of their surroundings in the traditional Chinese garden. In Northern China, the blue-green of the pines and the blue of the frosty sky are magnified when crisp white clouds drift across; while in Southern China, pavilions with white-washed walls, leaning over water, may seem to have no color, yet every color.

        The gardener, alert to the principles of Feng Shui, will also endeavor to keep to regional hues which come from the color of the local earth, rocks, sand and natural vegetation, and will use these natural shades to greater aesthetic advantage than the one who tries to hide them with showy displays of transient color.

The Great Four Inventions

        COMPASS As early as the Warring State period (476-221 BC), the magic force of magnetic force was discovered by Chinese people, and a sort of quite simple instrument was made from magnetite to show directions. This is yet the earliest compass in the world. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC -220 AD) a more complicated compass was made from magnetite, a spoon-shaped magnetite placed on a square copper plate. The center part of the plate is quite smooth so the magnetite spoon can move very easily. In Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD) the compass was further improved. People used thin iron needles, rubbed them on a piece of magnetite to make them magnetic. Then the needle was hung up with a thin thread or put on something that could float on water in a bowl. This is the primary model of compass for navigation. China is the first country to use compass for ship going. Between 1099 and 1102 the ships went to or left from Guangzhou.

        PAPER Mr. Cai Lun in Han Dynasty was regarded as the first man in the world to upgrade paper producing technique basing on some other people's idea shortly before him. After him, different materials had been tried for paper making, such as the famous rice Xuan paper (invented in the Tang Dynasty), which is still used right now by calligraphers and Chinese painters. Bamboo was used in the later of Song Dynasty as the basic materials making paper. and thus bamboo paper became soon popular. In 751 Chinese paper-making technique was carried to Arabic countries and in 1150, the technique was known by Europeans from Arabians.

        GUNPOWDER The Chinese invented powder some 1,100 years ago. At the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) gunpowder was first used in war. In 904, during a battle between two local forces, a weapon then called "flying fire" was used. That was a packet of gunpowder tied to the head of an arrow. After the fuse was lighted, the arrow was shot to the enemy side, and the gunpowder explored. This was also the earliest sample of modern rocket. In the 13th century, gunpowder was introduced to the Arab as a result of the Silk Road. One century later, some European countries began to make gunpowder weapons with methods they had learned from the Arabs.

        PRINTING Wood-block printing first appeared in the early of Tang Dynasty (618-907). The technique was developed from the use of seals and stone engraving. Originally people found words caved on stone could last much longer. In the 4th century the method of rubbing a piece of paper on a engraved stone painted with ink was used to make copies. This gave artists an idea to engrave words on a wood-block and print them. On the other hand, the development of economy and literature needed more books and publications. The block printing thus became quite popular in the late of Tang Dynasty. In Song Dynasty, the block printing technique was so well-developed that even today the block-printed books are still quite clear and valuable. Between 1041 and 1048 Bi Sheng invented the movable character-printing method. He caved one Chinese character on each small piece of fried clay. These clays then were put on an iron plate according to the text. After this, ink was brushed on the clay, rice paper was spread over the clay, dry the paper and then the printing was done. After Bi Sheng, wood and iron-caved characters were widely used.

Chinese Marriage

        Chinese marriage was systemized into custom in the Warring States period (402-221 B.C.). Due to vast expanse and long history, there are different customs to follow in different places, although they are generally the same. Visitors still get chance to witness traditional marriages in the countryside.

        In the ancient times, it was very important to follow a basic principle of Three Letters And Six Etiquettes, since they were essential to a marriage.

        Three letters include Betrothal Letter, Gift Letter and Wedding Letter. Betrothal Letter is the formal document of the engagement, a must in a marriage. Then, a gift letter is necessary, which will be enclosed to the identified girl's family, listing types and quantity of gifts for the wedding once both parties accept the marriage. While the Wedding Letter refers to the document which will be prepared and presented to the bride's family on the day of the wedding to confirm and commemorate the formal acceptance of the bride into the bridegroom's family.

Six Etiquettes

        Proposing: If an unmarried boy's parents identify a girl as their future daughter-in-law, then they will find a matchmaker. Proposal used to be practiced by a matchmaker. The matchmaker would formally present his or her client's request to the identified girl's parents.

        Birthday matching: If the potential bride's parents did not object the marriage, the matchmaker would ask for the girl's birthday and birth hour record to assure the compatibility of the potential bride and bridegroom. If the will-be-wedding birthdays and birth hours does not conflict according to astrology, the marriage will step into the next stage. Once there is any conflict, meaning the marriage will bring disasters to the boy's family or the girl's, the marriage stops here.

        Presenting betrothal gifts: Once birthdays match, the bridegroom's family will then arrange the matchmaker to present betrothal gifts, enclosing the betrothal letter, to the bride's family.

        Presenting wedding gifts: After the betrothal letter and betrothal gifts are accepted, the bridegroom's family will later formally send wedding gifts to the bride's family. Usually, gifts may include tea, lotus seeds, longan, red beans, green beans, red dates, nutmeg, oranges, pomegranate, lily, bridal cakes, coconuts, wine, red hair braid, money box and other stuffs, depending on local customs and family wealth.

        Picking auspicious wedding date: An astrologist or astrology book will be referred to selecting an auspicious date to hold the wedding ceremony. Wedding ceremony: On the selected day, the bridegroom departures with a troop of escorts and musicians, which will play happy music all the way to the bride's home. After the bride is clustered to the bridegroom's home, the wedding ceremony begins.

Dragon and Chinese

        In Chinese culture, dragon symbolizes the Chinese people and the people from Chinese origin considered themselves, with a certain amount of pride, 'descendants from the dragon'. The question what this dragon really is and where it comes from has puz led whole generations of scientists and researchers.

        According to ancient texts the dragon was a creature 'with a pair of antlers like the one of a deer, a camel head, the eyes of a hare, and the neck of a serpent. Its belly looks like the one of a shen (a mythical water dragon that resembles a crocodile). Its claws look like the ones of an eagle, its paws like the ones of a tiger and its ears like the ones of a buffalo. The dragon was able to morph from one form into another within a few instances, from fat to thin and from tall to short. It could also rise to heaven and descend to the depths of the sea. It seems to be that the dragon is a supernatural creature that can accept any type of form. The Chinese sign for the dragon appears during the Yin and Shang dynasties (from the 16th to the 11th century B.C., the period of the earliest Chinese hieroglyphs), between inscriptions on bones and turtle shields. These inscriptions depicted a horned reptile, teeth, scales and sometimes paws as well. Above the sign there's often a symbol that seems to indicate that the dragon is considered to be a violent, evil, unfortunate bringing creature. Based on this symbol Chinese scientists concluded that the 'dragon' was in fact an alligator.

        Throughout the centuries scientist came up with many explanations and theories about the dragon. It's beyond any doubt that it must have been, in its earliest appearances, a reptile; a snake, alligator, or lizard. Relics and archeological sites dating from 5,000 to 6,000 years from now have shown that lizards, alligators and dragons were adapted in domestic messes of honor and rituals. By researching the icons on these findings we can trace down the earliest description, evolution and the final appearance of the dragon.

        Though the first dragons had one single form of appearance, the different peoples from ancient China, that got into contact with each other more and more often, started to image their totems with more fantasy. After a long time one picture evolved of which its properties mixed with the ones of different dragons or totems.

        Therefore the dragon is a product of imagination; a mystical creature that has been worshipped by the Chinese for centuries. Also in modern Chinese art the dragon is depicted in many appearances. Ethnical and cultural minorities depicted it in many forms, from a fish to an alligator or human

Chinese Tea

        Chinese Art of Tea (Cha in Chinese) Drinking Wherever Chinese go, the custom of drinking tea follows. The Chinese were the first to discover the tea leaf, and have drunk tea for uncounted ages. When you arrive in the beautiful island of Taiwan, you may see some elderly gentlemen seated in twos and threes, perhaps in a temple up some old street...

        China produces the widest variety of teas in the world. No wonder so many western tourists tend to get confused when they go to buy some souvenir tea to take home. One question inevitably arises: What makes one tea different from another?

        Chinese merchants mark the distinction by sorting teas according to differences in processing. Basically, there are six categories: green tea, oolong, black tea, white tea, yellow tea and dark tea. Of them, green tea, oolong and black tea are the three most popular ones.

        Green Yea ("lu cha" in Chinese ) eaves still look naturally yellowish-green after they are processed, without fermentation. Leaves are first pan-fried in temperatures between 200 degrees Celsius and 260 degrees to kill an enzyme in the leaf that causes oxidation and discoloration. Then the leaves are rolled for shape and fired for drying. The finest green teas are usually dried by a hand-processing method. When the first harvest of green tea comes to Shanghai markets in early May, tea specialists often appear in tea shops to demonstrate the last step of processing: firing. The leaves are stirred by a skillful hand in a heated, large iron wok, leaving the leaves glossy. The Shanghai Friendship Store has had such an exhibition at its tea section on the ground floor in recent weeks. Green tea, in general, has a slightly sweet taste and pleasant aroma. A cup of fine green tea should be crystal clear with a light green hue. It should not be dull. In China, the three best-known green teas are Longjing (Dragon Wel), Huangshan Maofeng( Yellow Mountain Hairpoint) and Biluochun (Green Snail Spring).

        Oolong Tea ("wu long" in pinyin) is a special variety of tea grown mainly in the southern provinces of Fujian, Guangdon and Taiwan. In Chinese, it literally means "black dragon." The processed oolong leaves are stout and crinkled. They feel thicker, looser and drier than green teas. Shaking the withered the tea leaves in bamboo baskets bruises the leaves and causes them to oxidize, leading to the key processing step of fermentation. Partial fermentation makes oolong black in color and creates a rich orchid-like aroma. A cup of oolong produces a full-bodied beverage of reddish orange color. Oolong tea is a little bitter but gives a lingering aromatic after-taste. Premium oolong brands are Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) from Fujian and Dongding (Frozen Mountain Top) from Taiwan. Southern Chinese drink oolong in a cup as small as a shot glass. The serving of oolong is quite ceremonial, often using a complicated tea set that includes a small slim cup reserved for inhaling the aroma of the tea. Good oolong is like good wine. Elements of color, aroma and after-taste contribute to the pleasure of sipping it.

        Jasmine Tea ("huang cha" in pinyin) gets its name from its unique processing. After being roasted mildly, the leaves are wrapped in brown paper and stored in wooden cases for several days so that the leaves turn pale yellow. Yellow tea mainly refers to Yingzhen (Silver Needle), a tea that grows on Mt Junshan on a peninsula on Dongting Lake in Hunan Province. The beverage of yellow tea is a yellow-orange brew with a strong fragrance.

New Year Pictures

        In China, when the Spring Festival comes around, people, especially in rural areas, decorate the doors, windows, and walls of their houses with brightly colored pictures. They hope the pictures will bring their families good luck and prosperity. To many, it would not be a "happy" New Year without the New Year pictures. No other Chinese art form has enjoyed such widespread popularity.

        New Year pictures have a long history and can be traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Originally, people painted menshen (door gods) on their doors with ink and colors to protect their families from devils. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), pictures of door gods were gradually replaced by those of people from real life. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) woodblock printed New Year pictures were traded among the ordinary people. New Year pictures were gradually popularized and developed into an independent art form. In the seventeenth century, during the period of great prosperity of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), New Year pictures flourished along with other handicrafts.

        In China, there are three major kinds of traditional New Year pictures: the Yangliuqing in Tianjin, the Taohuawu in Jiangsu Province, and the Yangjiabu in Shandong Province. Of these three kinds, New Year paintings made by the peasants of Yangjiabu seem to be not only the most primitive but also the most original. Yangliuqing New Year pictures feature a combination of classical and folk-art techniques. Taohuawu pictures carry on the traditions of previous dynasties and also adopt Western perspectives and shadings.

        In spite of the differences between the three schools, all the New Year pictures have some common characteristics. The people portrayed in New Year pictures look healthy and happy and usually have complete bodies. Heads are usually a bit larger than natural so that the face, which is the most expressive part of a person, is emphasized.

        New Year pictures portray various topics from history to daily life. Originally, door gods or kitchen gods dominated the pictures. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, New Year pictures started to draw their themes from the people's lives and also from history, folklore, mythology, novels, and operas. The most impressive of the pictures are those from fairy tales and stories. Heroes in Chinese classics such as Zhuge Liang, Guan Yunchang, Zhang Fei, and Cao Cao in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Wu Song, Li Kui, and Song Jiang in Outlaws of the Marsh, are all commonly pictured in New Year paintings. Figures in well-known folk tales like "The White Snake" and "Romance of the Butterflies" are also portrayed.

        Another characteristic of New Year pictures is the use of symbolism. For example, a chubby, happy baby is often shown embracing a big fish, with a lotus flower at its side. The word "fish" in Chinese is yu, which sounds like another word meaning "affluence", and the word "lotus" in Chinese is lian, which is a homonym of another word meaning "in succession". These symbols express people's hopes for consecutive good harvests. Many other objects used in New Year pictures also have symbolic meanings. The peony represents wealth and honor; the peach symbolizes longevity, and the pomegranate and red plum reflect a large number of children.

Wood Block New Year Pictures

        In China's cities and the countryside, New Year pictures are closely linked with the Spring Festival (the Chinese New Year). Pasting up New Year pictures is a part of the festive celebrations.

        The aim of pasting up New Year pictures is to please children and promote the values of hard work and integrity. Wood block New Year pictures reached their zenith during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Pictures of different subjects, themes and forms of expression were produced in dozens of places in the country. Block engraving, printing and color application techniques also improved during this period. The subjects of the paintings covered all aspects of social life: portraits of door gods, historical stories, fairy tales, folk customs, scenes of production and labor, lucky mascots of birds and flowers, humorous scenes, current affairs-almost everything. No wonder New Year pictures are called "encyclopedias on folklore."

        Many New Year pictures depict religious themes. Door Gods, one reoccurring theme, appeared during the Tang Dynasty(618-907). The Four Beauties, block printed pictures made in the Song Dynasty (618-907), were considered state treasures. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties the art of New Year pictures spread nationwide. According to statistics, there were more than 2,000 varieties of wood block New Year pictures in circulation. These also spread to Vietnam, Japan, Thailand and Russia.

        On New Year's Eve, people pasted New Year pictures in their houses, and welcomed in the God of Wealth. The time to welcome in the God of Wealth varies from place to place. Some celebrate on the second day of the first lunar month, or on the fifth day of the first lunar month, but most celebrate at midnight on New Year's Eve. Jiaozi, a dumpling with a meat and vegetable stuffing, symbolizes the wealth sent by the god of people also paste up portraits of these deities.

        There are several different versions of the origins of this custom. The most common practice was to worship Guan Yu, a famous general of the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265), a figure from the classic novel Romance of Three Kingdoms. He was canonized due to his loyalty, bravery, persistence and selflessness, and people offered sacrifices to him to pray for wealth. This custom continues to this day.

Chinese Wood-carving

        The art of wood carving is an old-line art in China; it can be traced back to the New Stone Age. Our ancestors made the articles for daily use with the simple stone tools, and the primitive art of wood carving accordingly appeared. Although wood works were hard to be preserved, especially after thousands of years, we have handpicked some of them, in order to give you a contour of this storied arts of China.

Red sandalwood carving

        A long time ago the red sandalwood was regarded as the top grade. The tree is mainly produced between Nanyang and Canton, Guangxi areas of China. The growth of the red sandalwood is very slow, which needs at least hundreds of years to become the real wood with hard rigidity and high density. The furniture made of red sandalwood is extremely black, just like the black lacquer that has seldom texture and shows the nobleness, magnificence and connotation.

        It is recorded that people not only from China, but also from Europe and America all enjoy the red sandal wood, and regard the wood as the most noble in the world. It was said that in front of Napoleon's grave had a half-ruler model in red sandalwood, which all of the visitors felt extremely astonished. Someone came to China and found all the top grade was gathered in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

        Since the Ming dynasty, it was popular to use the red sandalwood in the palace to make the furniture and furnishings. The sandal trees were cut out very soon, and the emperors send the assigned persons to collect them. During the course of early Qing dynasty, most of the red sandalwood was gathered in China, which the reason why foreigners believe it was a great works when the red sandal ware was on the top of Napoleon's grave.

Chinese Embroideries

        Embroidery, a folk art with a long tradition, occupies an important position in the history of Chinese arts and crafts. It has a long history in China.

        According to the classical Shangshu (or Book of History), the "regulations on costumes" of 4000 years ago stipulated among other things "dresses and skirts with designs and embroideries". This is evidence that embroidery had become an established art by that remote time. In The Book of Songs, it says that Song takes the place of the particular period to uphold the atmosphere of embroidery clothing, and gradually among the people extensive popular, this has also urged the development of China silk embroidery worker's skill.

        The art became widespread during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. -220 A .D.); many embroidered finds date back to that period. Before the Tang Dynasty, the embroidery was pragmatism and used for decorating. The contents of it had something to do with people's needs and custom. In the Song Dynasty, the reason that the embroidery was so developed was that the government advocated and encouraged it. There are many masterpieces of that period unearthed.

        Embroidered works have become highly complex and exquisite today. Take the double-face embroidered "Cat", representative work of Suzhou embroidery. The artist splits the hair-thin colored silk thread into filaments-half, quarter 1/12 or even 1/48 of its original thickness-and uses these in embroidering concealing in the process the thousands of ends and joints and making them disappear as if by magic.

        The finished work is a cute and mischievous-looking cat on both sides of the groundwork. The most difficult part of the job is the eyes of the cat. To give them luster and life, silk filaments of more than 20 colors or shades have to be used. Recently, on the basis of two-face embroidery have developed further innovations-the same design on both sides in different colors, and totally different patterns on the two faces of the same groundwork. It seems that possibilities hitherto unknown to the art may yet be explored.

Chinese Culinary Culture

        Being one of the important fruits of China's age-old culture, the Chinese food and drink culinary art enjoys a high prestige both at home and abroad. The whole world looks upon eating a Chinese meal as a high-leveled enjoyment. The Chinese people whether living in or outside the county all share a proper sense of pride for such a rich Chinese food and drink culinary culture. Thus, to regard the Chinese food and drink culinary art as a culture, a science, or an art is entirely justifiable.

        The Chinese culinary culture has a distant source and has become well established. The legend has it that the Chinese culinary culture originated with Yi Yin, a virtuous and capable minister of the Shang Dynasty (15th - 11th centuries B.C). It can be seen that China initiated the culinary art as early as the Shang and Zhou (11th century to 221 B.C.) times. With the growth and development of production and economy during various periods, the culinary techniques too registered step by step heightening and improvement----from brevity to variety, from rudimentary to advanced stage, from day-to-day snacks to feasts, even to palatial dishes and delicacies. During about the time from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring Stated Period (CA. 475-221 B.C.), to the Sui-Tang period the Chinese dishes began to be marked apart by Southern and Northern tastes. During the period of the Tang (618 -907 A .D.) and the Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, people went in a great deal for eating and distinct local colors were added to the Chinese dishes, such as the Northern food ("Lu" or the Shandong dishes), the Southern food ("Yue" or the Cantonese dishes), the Chuan food (Sichuan dishes), Wei Yang (Yangzhou) and the vegetarian foods. Records respecting each kind of dishes have been handed down. No matter the four oldest groups (i.e., the Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong and Yangzhou groups) or the eight groups that gradually matured after the Tang and Song Dynasties (the Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong, Yangzhou, Beijing, Anhui, Zhejiang and Hunan groups) or the Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei, Henan, Liaoning groups, as well as the Muslim feasts prevalent throughout the country. Each of these famous groups has its own long history and characteristic traditional techniques; these put together have truly for the Chinese culinary culture produced a rich, sublime fruit borne out of the policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools contend.

        Shanghai is China 's biggest port city. Since the Opium War and the opening of the five ports to foreign trade, it was thronged by traders from all over the world and was densely populated by the Chinese and foreigners, and the city became thriving and prosperous. In the wake of economic growth, the several big culinary blocs poured into Shanghai one after another. Till the 1920s, restaurants featuring the various kinds of dishes, like the Cantonese food, Sichuan food, Beijing food, Yangzhuo food, Ningbo food, Anhui food, Muslim feast, Tianjin food, Suzhou and Wuxi food and Shanghai 's local dishes together with Western cafes, numbering near a hundred, had emerged in Shanghai . So the saying "Satisfying eating is in Shanghai " is actually not coined by the Shanghailanders of today, but prevailed already some 80 years ago. Undoubtedly local people would enjoy their own food quite much. each of these sayings is correct, because in each place there are         distinctly-colored regional culinary blocs and the delicacies of different tastes available in Chinese food, a fact acknowledged the world.

A Brief Introduction to Chinese Culture(1)


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