HISTORY AND CULTURE
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism constitute the essence of the traditional Chinese culture. The relationship among the three has been marked by both contention and complementation in history, with Confucianism playing a more dominant role.
Confucius (Kongzi, 551-479 B.C.), founder of Confucianism, stresses "Ren" (benevolence, love) and "Li" (rites), referring to respect for the system of social hierarchy. He attaches importance to education and was a pioneering advocate for private schools. He is particularly famous for teaching students according to their intellectual inclinations. His teachings were later recorded by his students in "The Analects."
Mencius also contributed a great part to Confucianism, lived in the Warring States Period (389-305 B.C.), advocating a policy of benign government and a philosophy that human beings are good by nature. Confucianism became the orthodox ideology in feudal China and, in the long course of history, it drew on Taoism and Buddhism. By the 12th century, Confucianism had evolved into a rigid philosophy that calls for preserving heavenly laws and repressing human desires.
Taoism was created by Lao Zi (around the sixth century B.C.), whose masterpiece is "The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao." He believes the dialectical philosophy of inaction. Chairman Mao Zedong once quoted Lao Zi: "Fortune lies in misfortune and vice versa." Zhuang Zhou, the main advocate of Taoism during the Warring States period, founded a relativism calling for the absolute freedom of the subjective mind. Taoism has greatly influenced Chinese thinkers, writers and artists.
Buddhism was created by Sakyamuni in India around the 6th century B.C. Believing that human life is miserable and spiritual emancipation is the highest goal to seek. It was introduced into China through Central Asia around the time Christ was born. After a few centuries of assimilation, Buddhism evolved into many sects in the Sui and Tang Dynasties and became localized. That was also a process when the ingenuous culture of Confucianism and Taoism were blended with Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism has the greatest influence on traditional ideology and art.
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China is known as a state of etiquette and ceremonies. Many proverbs have been passed down from generation to generation such as 'civility costs nothing' or 'courtesy demands reciprocity' and so on. For instance, there is an interesting short story. Once upon a time, a man went on a long tour to visit his friend with a swan as a gift. But it escaped from the cage on the way and in his effort to catch it, he got hold of nothing but a feather. Instead of returning home, he continued his journey with the swan feather. When his friend received this unexpected gift, he was deeply moved by the story as well as the sincerity. And the saying 'the gift is nothing much, but it's the thought that counts.' was spread far and wide.
Chinese used to cup one hand in the other before the chest as a salute. This tradition has a history of more than 2000 years and nowadays it is seldom used except in the Spring Festival. And shaking hands is more popular and appropriate on some formal occasions. Bowing, as to convey respect to the higher level, is often used by the lower like subordinates, students, and attendants. But at present Chinese youngsters tend to simply nod as a greeting. To some extent this evolution reflects the ever-increasing paces of modern life.
It is common social practice to introduce the junior to the senior, or the familiar to the unfamiliar. When you start a talk with a stranger, the topics such as weather, food, or hobbies may be good choices to break the ice. To a man, a chat about current affairs, sports, stock market or his job can usually go on smoothly. Similar to Western customs, you should be cautious to ask a woman private questions. However, relaxing talks about her job or family life will never put you into danger. She is usually glad to offer you some advice on how to cook Chinese food or get accustomed to local life. Things will be quite different when you've made acquaintance with them. Implicit as Chinese are said to be, they are actually humorous enough to appreciate the exaggerated jokes of Americans.
As is said above, Chinese consider gifts as an important part to show courtesy. It is appropriate to give gifts on occasions such as festival, birthday, wedding, or visiting a patient. If you are invited to a family party, small gifts like wine, tea, cigarettes, or candies are welcomed. Also fruit, pastries, and flowers are a safe choice. As to other things, you should pay a little attention to the cultural differences. Contrary to Westerners, odd numbers are thought to be unfortunate. So wedding gifts and birthday gifts for the aged are always sent in pairs for the old saying goes that blessings come in pairs. Though four is an even number, it reads like death in Chinese thus is avoided. So is pear for being a homophone of separation. And a gift of clock sounds like attending other's funeral so it is a taboo, too. As connected with death and sorrow, black and white are also the last in the choice. Gift giving is unsuitable in public except for some souvenirs. Your good intentions or gratitude should be given priority to but not the value of the gifts. Otherwise the receiver may mistake it for a bribe.
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Cultures & The Chinese Dress.
On the other hand the ideology also directly influenced dress and adornment. During the Warring States period, many vassal states were competing with each other, hence the patterns of dress and adornment became diversified. During the Sui and Tang, the unity of ancient China and the prosperity of economy brought about new thoughts, and the dress became splendid, particularly the decolIetage appeared. Because of the intensity of the feudal ideology, the patterns of dress and adornment gradually became conservative from the Song and Ming Dynasties. Influenced by western cultures, the designs were more fitting and tasteful from late Ming.
Ancient Dress and Adornment.
Yellow is the most valuable colour as a symbol of centre. Green, red, white and black symbolize the East, the South, the West and the North respectively. Green, red, black, white and yellow are pure colours applied by the emperors and officials. The common people could only apply the secondary colours. With the development of the society, the colours of the dress, which are more harmonious and form a partial contrast, replace that of remote ages, which was very simple. These changes make the dress and adornment splendid.
CHEONGSAM or QIPAO
The cheongsam is a female dress with distinctive Chinese features and enjoys a growing popularity in the international world of high fashion.The name "cheongsam," meaning simply "long dress," entered the English vocabulary from the dialect of China's Guangdong Province (Cantonese). In other parts of the country including Beijing, however, it is known as "qipao", which has a history behind it.
When the early Manchu rulers came to China proper, they organized certain people, mainly Manchus, into "banners" (qi) and called them "banner people" (qiren), which then became loosely the name of all Manchus. The Manchu women wore normally a one-piece dress which, likewise, came to be called "qipao" or "banner dress." Although the 1911 Revolution toppled the rule of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, the female dress survived the political change and, with later improvements, has become the traditional dress for Chinese women.
Easy to slip on and comfortable to wear, the cheongsam fits well the female Chinese figure. Its neck is high, collar closed, and its sleeves may be either short, medium or full length, depending on season and taste. The dress is buttoned on the right side, with a loose chest, a fitting waist, and slits up from the sides, all of which combine to set off the beauty of the female shape
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The Chinese nation has a civilized history of 5,000 years and has created a splendid traditional culture. Cooking has occupied a lofty position in Chinese culture throughout the history.
The Chinese culinary culture has a distant source and has been developed for many centuries. The legend has it that the Chinese cooking culture originated with Yi Yin, a virtuous and capable minister of the Shang Dynasty(ca. 15th to 11th century B.C.). It can be seen that China initiated the culinary art as early as the Shang and Zhou (ca. 11th century to 221 B.C.) times. With the growth and development of productivity and economy during various periods, people have been always exploring new cooking techniques ----from brevity to variety, from rudimentary to advanced stage, from day-to-day snacks to feasts, even to palatial dishes and delicacies. During the period from the Spring and Autumn Period(ca. 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 separated by Southern and Northern tastes. In general, the southern dishes emphasize freshness and tenderness. While due to the cold weather, northern dishes are relatively oily, and the use of vinegar and garlic tends to be quite popular.
During the period of the Tang (618-907 A.D.) and the Song(960-1279 A.D.) dynasties, people went in a great deal for nutritional medical value of different plants: fungus, herbs, vegetables. Many varieties of "medicinal food" have been cooked for prevention and cure of diseases, or for health care and recovery.
As time goes by, distinct local flavours 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), Huai Yang (Yangzhou) and the vegetarian foods and records respecting each kind of dishes have been handed down. There are four oldest types of Chiness food: the Sichuan, Cantonese, Northern(Beijing) and Huaiyang. Later on, eight types gradually evolved after the Tang and Song Dynasties (the Sichuan, Cantonese, Shandong, Yangzhou, Beijing, Anhui, Zhejiang and Hunan groups). Each of these groups has its own long history and characteristic traditional techniques.
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China has a wide variety of arts and crafts with exqui-site workmanship. They can be classified into special and folk types.
Stone carving is created using various rare types of stone, such as the Shoushan Stone and Tianhuang Stone.
Carved lacquerware, shaped like bottles, pots and large screens, is created out of pure lacquer. Usually bright red, it is classically elegant and beautiful.
Cloisonne is a kind of handicraft well known at home and abroad. The blue glaze produced during the reign of Emperor Jingtai of the Ming Dynasty is considered the best. Created by mounting copper strips and plating gold and silver on the surface of a copper roughcast, it looks resplendent and magnificent. The products include bottles, bowls, and cups used as prizes, etc.
Chinese folk arts, with a broad mass foundation as well as a long history, contain profound cultural and historical connotations. They can stimulate people’s aesthetic sense and appreciative taste. Throughout the ages, Chinese folk arts have had a strong local flavour as well as a national style, different in postures and beautiful beyond appreciation.
In technique, Chinese folk arts fall into the categories of cutting, bundling, plaiting, knitting, embroidering, carving, moulding and painting.
Cutting includes papercuts, paperengravings, papercut silhouettes, paperfolding, paper sculpture, and leather-silhouettes, all of which evolved from papercuts.
Bundling includes kites and colour lanterns bundled up with paper, silk or bamboo.
Plaiting, a popular folk art, includes various straw or thread plaited articles. The products include cloth tigers, cool pillows, cushions, tiny fragrant bags, colour silk balls, shoe-pads, and velvet flowers and birds.
Knitting, including wax printing, bandhnu, colour printing, drawn work and flower knitting, is created by weaving, knitting or stitching.
Embroidering includes picture weaving in silk, printing and dyeing. China’s four famous styles of embroidery are those of Suzhou, Hunan, Guangdong and Sichuan.
Carving includes art depictions of various shapes, such as masks, puppet heads, figures, animals and flowers, which are created with bamboo, wood, jade, or horn.
Moulding includes dough modelling, clay sculpture, frozen butter sculpture and pottery sculpture. The products serve not only as ornaments but also as children’s toys.
Painting involves such techniques as hand painting, incision, patchwork, and pyrograph, each having a style of its own.
China is the home of chinaware, porcelain being produced in both the south and north. Famous porcelain-making centres are Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province and Liling in Hunan Province in the south and Tangshan and Handan in Hebei Province and Zibo in Shandong Province. The long-lost techniques of the celebrated ancient porcelain kilns such as Longquan, Jun, Ru, Guan, Cizhou and Yaozhou have now been recovered, “like old trees putting forth new blossoms” as the saying goes. The purplish brown sandy potteries of Yixing, the noted pottery center in Jiangsu Province, are much sought after for their classic elegance and splendid luster.
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Masters of Timber Constructions
Ancient Chinese architecture enjoyed a long history and great achievements, and created many architectural miracles such as the Great Wall. In the process of its development, superior architectural techniques and artistic design were combined to make unique Chinese architecture be one of the three greatest architectural systems.
Ancient Chinese architecture features unique timber framework that clearly identifies supporting structure and bounding structure. The top load of a structure will be transferred to its groundwork through its posts, beams, lintels and joists. Walls bear no load and separate space only so that windows and walls will not be restricted to certain locations on the walls.
Timber framework decides that colour is the main ornament used on ancient Chinese architecture. At the beginning, paint was used on wood for antisepsis while later painting became an architectural ornament. In the feudal society, the use of colour was restricted according to strict social status classification. Since yellow was deemed noblest colour and green the second, they were often applied on palace painting, which was called Hexicaihua (a kind of Chinese colour painting) in Chinese. Usually, dragon or phoenix was painted on green background with mass gold powder or gold foil. The painting will give the structure a clear-cut and a magnificent noble image under the background of white granite basement. It is unique that such sharp colour can achieve artistic effects.