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Intro of China
China, a land of beauty and fascination, tempts adventurous travelers all over the world. She is a massive country, covering 6,000,000 square miles and spanning 60 longitudinal degrees. She has so infinite variety of people, enchanting natural landscape, brilliant history and culture and fascinating destinations that a visitor tends to be as bewildered as bewitched.
Full Country Name: The People's Republic of China
Area: 9,600,000 sq km
Population: 1.24 billion
Capital City: Beijing (pop 12 million)
People: Han Chinese (93%), plus Mongolian, Zhuang, Manchu and Uighur minorities
Language: Putonghua (Beijing dialect mandarin)
Religion: Officially atheist; Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism (no states available); Muslim (14 million), Christian (7 million)
Government: The National People's Congress
Head of State: Hu Jintao
Brief Introduction of 56 Minorities
China is a large country famed for its dense population and vast territory. According to official figures, in 1990 the population of China was 1,115,000,000, nearly 20 percent of the world's total population. Of these, about 20 percent lived in cities although since then this has certainly increased as peasants pouring into the coastal cities looking for work. More than a quarter of the population is illiterates, while 600 million have been to school and 4.4 million are university graduates.
There are altogether 56 Minorities in China, among which 55 are officially recognized ethnic minorities except Han. The defining elements of a minority are language, homeland, and social values. The 53 ethnic groups use the spoken languages of their own; 23 ethnic minorities have their own written languages.
Han Chinese makes up 93 percent of the total. According to the 1995 sample survey on 1 percent of China's population, there were 1,099.32 million Han people (an increase of 56.84 million since the Fourth National Population Census of 1990), accounting for 91.02 percent of China's total population. The Han people are found in all parts of the country, but mainly in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River (Huanghe), Yangtze River (Changjiang) and Pearl River (Zhujiang) rivers and the Northeast Plain. The areas inhabited by the ethnic minorities are mainly in the border regions of the north, northeast, northwest and southwest China.
The Han people have its own spoken and written language, known as the Chinese language, which is commonly used throughout China and a working language of the United Nations. The Hui and Manchu ethnic groups also use the Han (Chinese) language.
Most of the 7 percent of the minorities live in the vast areas of the West, Southwest and Northwest. The largest is the 12million-strong Zhuang in southwestern China. Although minorities account for about 7% of the population, they are distributed over some 50% of Chinese-controlled territory, mostly in the sensitive border regions. Minority separatism has always been a threat to the stability of China, particularly among the Uighurs and the Tibetans, who have poor and often volatile relations with the Han Chinese. Therefore, the Chinese government has set up special training centers, like the National Minorities Institute in Beijing, to train loyal minority cadres for these regions. Equality, unity and common prosperity are the fundamental objectives of the government in handling the relations between ethnic groups. To this end, while maintaining unified leadership of the state, China exercises a policy of regional autonomy for various ethnic groups, allowing minority peoples living in compact communities to establish self-government and direct their own affairs.
Self-government of Ethnic Minority
Self-government in ethnic minority autonomous areas is affected through the local people's congress and people's government at the particular level. There are currently five autonomous regions in China. They are Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region founded on May 1, 1947, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region founded on October 25, 1958, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region founded on October 1, 1955, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region founded on March 5, 1958 and Tibet Autonomous Region founded on September 9, 1965. Besides these, China also has 30autonomous prefectures and 121 autonomous counties (or in some cases, banners). The committee of the People's Congress and the head of the government of an autonomous region, autonomous prefecture or autonomous county are of the area's designated ethnic minority.
Organs of self-government in regional autonomous areas enjoy extensive self-government rights beyond those held by other state organs at the same level. These include enacting regulations for self-government and specialized regulations corresponding to local political, economic and cultural conditions; making independent use of local revenue, and independently arranging and managing construction, education, science, culture, public health and other local undertakings. The Central Government has greatly assisted in the training of minority cadres and technicians through the establishment of institutes and cadre schools for ethnic minorities to supplement regular colleges and universities. It has, in addition, supplied the ethnic minority autonomous areas with large quantities of financial aid and material resources in order to promote their economic and cultural development.
is more, China has implemented family planning to control the population growth
with the speed of 15 million per year. The basic demands of the family planning
are late marriage and late childbirth, having fewer but healthier babies specially
one child for one couple. At present, family planning as a basic state policy
is supported by a vast majority of the Chinese people.
History of China
representing one of the earliest civilizations in the world, has a recorded history
of about 3,600 years. It possesses rich historical documents as well as ancient
relics. Like other nations, China, in its development, passed through the stages
of primitive society, slave society, and feudal society. During the middle decades
of the 19th century, capitalist forces of foreign countries invaded China, and
China was slowly transformed into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. The
founding of the People's Republic in 1949 marked China's entry into the socialist
stage. During the long period of historical development, the industrious, courageous,
and intelligent Chinese people of all nationalities collectively created a great
civilization. They made great contributions to all of mankind.
A brief Chinese chronology
|Xia Dynasty||21th Century-16th Century BC|
|Shang Dynasty||16th Century-1066 BC|
Eastern Zhou Dynasty
Sping and Autumn
|Qing Dynasty||221-206 BC|
|Western Jin Dynasty||AD 265-316|
|Eastern Jin Dynasty||Eastern
Northern and Suthern Dynasties
|Southern Dynasty||Song||AD 420-479|
|Northern Dynasty||Northern Wei||AD 386-534|
|Eastern Wei||AD 534-550|
|Northern Qi||AD 550-577|
|Western Wei||AD 535-557|
|Northern Zhou||AD 557-581|
|Sui Dynasty||AD 581-618|
|Tang Dynasty||AD 618-907|
|Five Dynasties||Later Liang|
Northern Song Dynasty
Southern Song Dynasty
|Liao Dynasty||AD 907-1125|
|Xi Xia Dynasty||AD 1038-1227|
|Jin Dynasty||AD 1115-1234|
|Yuan Dynasty||AD 1279-1368|
Republic of Ching
Climate of China
China's climate varies from bitter coldness in winter to unbearable heat in summer. The Yangtze River serves as China's official dividing line between north and south. Given the size and varied landscape of the country, there is no one time in the year when Chinese weather is ideal. Of course, the warmest areas in winter are to be found in the South and Southwest, such as Sichuan, Banna in Yunnan, and Hainan Island. In summer the coolest spots are in the far northeast.
China has a climate dominated by dry and wet monsoons, which make clear temperature differences in winter and summer. In winter, northern winds coming from high latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from sea areas at lower latitude are warm and moist. Besides, climates differ from region to region because of the country's extensive territory and complex topography. In the south of the Nanling Mountains, rains are plenty and the temperature is high all year round. In the Yangtze and Huaihe river valleys in the central part of China, there are four distinctive seasons. In northeast China, summer is short but there is much sunshine, while winter is long and cold. Precipitation is limited in northwest China where it is cold in winter and hot in summer. In southwest China of low latitudes, the land is elevated high, and has characteristically vertical seasonal zones.
There's not really an 'ideal' time to visit the country, so use the following information as a rough guide to avoid temperature extremes.
Northern winters, from December to March, can be extremely cold. Beijing generally experiences temperature of -20C, dry and no sun. Further north, temperatures reaching -40C are not uncommon, and you'll see the curious sight of sand dunes covered in snow.
During the summer, from May to August, temperatures in Beijing can hit 38C (100F), coinciding with the rainy season for the city. The best time for visiting the north is spring and autumn. Daytime temperatures range from 20C to 30C (68F to 86F) and drop a lot at night. Precipitation is 6370cm (25-28 inches) per year.
Chinese started to cast bronze wares about 5,000 years ago. However, bronze vessels were commonly used till the Shang and Zhou dynasties by aristocrats in daily life and ancestral rituals. Thus, the Shang and Zhou bronze vessels were the most highly esteemed objects of their time. The ancients believed that their deceased ancestors would intercede on behalf of the living, provided they were honored and respected. The bronze vessels were kept in ancestral halls and used during a variety of feasts and banquets. Most bronze vessels were used for cooking food or to heat a millet wine. However, certain huge vessels usually symbolized power and status. For example, Ding, a tripod caldron, some having 4 legs, was originally cooking vessel and ritual vessel inscribed with memorial address, and gradually transferred into a symbol of state and power. Owing to their importance, bronze wares exemplified the latest technical and artistic developments. Early bronze vessels, including Jue (wine goblet), Zhi (wine goblet), Zun (wine beaker) and Ku (wine goblet beaker) except Ding, were all developed in shape and decoration.
1976, at Anyang in Henan province, capital of the Shang dynasty, archaeologists
uncovered a Shang tomb, the burying chamber of Fuhao who was Emperor Wuding's
consort and a female general who leaded troops and helped her husband in wars.
The tomb was the only Shang imperial tomb found intact. Many bronze vessels were
found, including those she used before and those specially cast as her burial
vessels. Now many famous Shang bronze vessels displayed around the world are all
Fuhao's grave goods. Most of the Shang vessels are shaped into animals and decorated
with motifs of Taotie, a kind of legendary vicious beast and other zoomorphic
Cloisonne, whose history can date back to over 500 years ago, is well-known traditional enamelware. It is actually called the "Blue of Jingtai" as blue is the dominant color adopted for enameling and cloisonne became prevalent during the reign of Jingtai (1450--1456) in the Ming dynasty. Owing to the brilliant color and splendid designs, cloisonne has been highly appraised at home and abroad. Regarding the making of cloisonne, it involves quite elaborate and complicated processes: base-hammering, soldering, enamel-filling, enamel firing, polishing and gilding.
Procedure of Cloisonne-making
This is, in fact, the work of a coppersmith. As copper is easily hammered and stretched, it is employed to make the body of cloisonne. A sound judgment is required because it determines the uniformity of thickness and weight. In contrast to the work of a coppersmith which is ended when the article is shaped, base-hammering is just the beginning in the making of cloisonne.
2. Filigree Soldering
The second step can be compared to embroidery, as both require great care and high creativity. The only difference is that instead of embroidering on silk, the cloisonne craftsman adheres copper strips onto the copper body. 1/16 inch in diameter, these strips are shaped into what the artisan requires, usually a complicated but complete pattern. With a blueprint in mind, the craftsman exerts his experience and imagination in setting the copper strips on the body.
3. Enamel Filling
Then comes to enamel filling, which requires such basic elements as boric acid, saltpeter and alkaline. Due to the different minerals added, cloisonne appears different in color. Usually one with much iron will turn gray, with uranium, yellow, with chromium, green, with bronze, blue, with zinc, white, with gold or iodine, red. After ores are ground into fine powder and contained in plates, workers apply them on the little compartments separated by filigrees.
4. Enamel Firing
Put the article to the crucible and in a moment the copper body will turn red. In time of firing re-filling is repeatedly required, as the enamel in the little compartments will sink down a little after firing.
To make the filigree and the filled compartments even, the artisan has to polish the half finished products again and again. First emery is used. Then after the whole piece is put to fire again, a whetstone is employed for polishing. In the end, a piece of hard carbon is required in order that the article will obtain some luster on the surface.
Lastly, place the article in gold or silver fluid with changing electric current so as to keep the cloisonne free from rust. Another electroplating and a slight polish are demanded for the exposed parts of the filigree and the metal fringes of the article.
The development of the modem toy industry in China has had an effect on what children play with, but traditional folk toys continue to play a major role in contemporary Chinese culture. As China continues to grow and develop, traditional folk toys are flourishing. Toys represent fundamental ideas, desires, and concerns that are central to the lives of Chinese people and to Chinese culture.
Chinese folk toys enjoy a history as old as the nation itself. Revealing aspects of the land and its rich cultural heritage, they portray the wisdom and creativity of folk artists throughout China. Many practical, instructive and artistic folk toys are favored by children and adults alike. Further, these toys serve as a means through which Chinese people can express their hopes and desires, as well as their affection towards their children. Infused with a multitude of meanings, from the instructive to the decorative, Chinese folk toys bring beauty and art into ordinary lives.
Playing with History
Colorful glass marbles with flowers or other designs inside of them are quite popular among children across China. Used in a variety of games, these toys, like the children who play with them, have their own ancestors with a long history.
Among the relics unearthed from the ruins of Banpo Village in Xi'an were some small clay and stone balls dating back to the Yangshao Culture of the Neolithic Period (4800-4300 B C). Archeologists believe them to be ancient children's toys. The diameters of these balls vary from 1.1 cm to 3 cm, too small and light to be used as bullets or other weapons. Some of the clay balls have decorative prints and scratches on them. Small pottery and glazed porcelain balls from a later period (4400-3300 BC) have also been unearthed in the ruins of Wushan Mountain in Sichuan Province. Scholars argue that more durable and decorative than the earlier clay and stone balls, these are the precursors to the contemporary glass marbles so popular today.
A large number of masks and centimeter-long toys in the shapes of animals such as dragons and lions have been found in the ruins of several places. Closely linked to the lives of rural people in ancient China, these toys were undoubtedly enjoyed by both children and adults as their contemporary counterparts are today. In today's China, masks and statuettes in the shape of historical characters, beasts, and other animals can be seen in the hands of many children.
Toy with Sounds
Toys with pleasing, rhythmical sounds have always been favorites of children. Parents sing lullabies and whistle tunes to coax their children into sleeping. But folk toys with simple sounds are equally effective. Small cymbals, bells and little gongs, familiar instruments of traditional Chinese folk music, along with shaking-drums and bird-shaped whistles are among the most popular and common toys, particularly in rural areas.
Whistles of various kinds are perhaps the most common of musical toys. In ancient times, whistles were made and used by hunters. At Tieshan Town in Lushun City, a saddle-shaped pottery dating back to the Neolithic Period has been unearthed and, when blown, produces a sharp sound. In later periods, clay coo-coo and other bird-shaped whistles were made. Together with other musical toys, they have been handed down from generation to generation. Today children on city streets as well as those in the countryside enjoy blowing clay and plastic birds.
Another popular musical toy is the bamboo flute. Bamboo can be found everywhere in southern China and musical toys made out of bamboo tubes along with those made of reed pipes are quite popular. The bamboo flute, which has several holes drilled into a piece of bamboo, can be blown horizontally or vertically and produces beautiful sounds. A traditional musical instrument, it continues to be widely used by both adults and children. Another traditional wind instrument for children is the sheng, which is made of several reed pipes put together and with a 'mouth" attached. Like the bamboo flute, these reed-pipe instruments have a long history in Chinese culture and are still popular today.
Ancient artisans were capable of producing elaborate movable toys. Using ordinary materials and simple tools, they made toys that were not only fun to play with but also objects of great beauty.
Clay "roly-poly" figurines are often seen for sale at country fairs. Funny and attractive, these figurines revolve on spherical clay pedestals and never fall down, even when lightly struck by children. Cloth lions and tigers open their mouths and shake their heads or tails when a hand is placed inside the toy's body. Chickens can be made to move their heads up and down as if they were pecking rice.
Among movable toys, shadow puppets enjoy the longest history and best reputation. Made of colored cardboard, leather, or hardened sheets of plastic, they are used by children and adults in a variety of puppet shows. With wires, strings, or sticks attached to them, the puppeteers can move various parts of their bodies.
Similarly made furniture is also used as scenery in puppet shows. Many of the sets and characters are from ancient Chinese history and folk literature. Increasingly, however, contemporary figures of Soldiers, workers, and peasants enjoy popularity among children. Reflecting various aspects of modern Chinese life, these puppets provide a medium for both artists and consumers to express their ideas, concerns and desire. Moreover, as certain figures grow in popularity and demand, the puppets constitute a kind of cultural record, which enables scholars and others to view changes in and attitudes about Chinese culture.
Toys of Practical Use
Toys are most often seen in terms of their ability to amuse. However, the Chinese people, who are known for their thrifty and practical nature, make toys for other purposes as well.
Foodstuff has long been a source for art creation. Culturally expressive and emphasizing traditional materials and culinary devices, some Chinese foods serve not only the need of eating but also the purpose of playing. A good example is the sugar-molded figurines popular throughout China.
Sugar-molded toys are children's favorites. Previously melted, the sugar is poured into wooden or metal molds which are carved with various patterns. The most common motifs are chickens, fish, pigs, horses, lions, and tigers. Candy figurines are also made without molds. In city parks, candy-making artists create various figures with a few quick strokes of a spatula. Fun to observe and eat, these figurines represent figures and designs important in Chinese culture.
Chinese began to know and use jade in the early Neolithic Age according to archeologists and archeological findings. Many jade wares dating back to 4,000 to 6,000 years ago have been excavated in different places. It was not only used for decorative purpose but also others. Until the Shang and Zhou dynasties, jade wares had been developed into tools, weapons, daily utensils, accessories and ritual utensils. As commodity exchange boomed, jade was bestowed with currency function. For thousands of years till now, jade was and is a symbol of love and virtue as well as a status symbol.
In the Zhou dynasty, jade use was first regulated in Zhouli (Rites of the Zhou), which was the constitution of the Zhou dynasty concerning with politics, economy, military, diplomacy and law. With other two classics named Yili (Rites) and Liji (Book of Rites) later, it strictly stipulated national rites and etiquettes and directing philosophy. Only in Zhouli, Rites of the Zhou, there were dozens of articles concerning with jade use and function under different occasions such as politics, sacrifice, alliance, and military activities, etc. According to the three classics, special ministry should be set up to manage jade use. It was stipulated that six jade ritual items should be made to offer sacrifice to heaven, the earth, the east, the south, the west and the north. There were also strict regulations on six jade tablets used by emperors, dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons respectively. Jade ware can be divided into following categories - ritual utensil, funeral utensil, accessory, currency, weapon, diplomatic gift, musical instrument and food according to the functions listed in the three classics. Simple carving, careful handling and not mixing private and public ritual vessel were basic rules to follow in jade use.
Ancient Chinese believed jade the essence of Heaven and the Earth, so they carved jade into birds and beasts and worshiped as totems. Then witchcraft soon applied jade as percussion instrument since it sounded pleasing to the ear and traveled far. After people knew musical scales, jade became musical instrument. The ancients seemingly tended to associate jade with heroes who made great contributions, for Emperor Yan, God of Farming and Emperor Huang who united China first.
Jade was also the symbol of power. In the ancient time, only aristocrats could own jade wares. The imperial seal of the Qin dynasty, the first feudal society in China, was made of jade. The seal was later hunt by seigneurs to prove they were the real Heavenly Sons.
Furthermore, more noble attributes were given to jade, making it a standard of morality. Confucius even concluded jade had 11 virtues, namely benevolence, fidelity, polite etiquette, wisdom and sincerity, etc. Hence, it was not only a decoration but also a symbol of ethics and norms. People then threw themselves into the vogue to ware jade accessories. It was said that a gentleman would never leave his jade ornaments.
Jade was believed capable of standing for Heaven, the Earth, the east, the west, the south and the north and emperors. It can be messenger between Heaven and mankind. In the ancient times, Yu, Chinese character meaning jade, was the same with Wang (king). The three horizontal strokes stringed by a central vertical stroke represent Heaven, the Earth and mankind respectively. Hence yu, is always used in Chinese to call something precious and jade had always been treasured in China as the royal gemstone.
Chinese people believed jade had supernatural power. Using jade wares and jade ornaments could resist invasion of evil influence and avoid evil apparitions and secure safety and auspiciousness.
Sounding strange, some people believed, however, that jade was edible and could keep one physically immortal. Most of them are Taoists.
These precious stones played significant role in the development and spread of religions in China. Since belief the ancients bestowed with jade is coincident with religion in many aspects, jade serves religion. In the Buddhism, the Pure Land is composed of gold, silver, agate, coral, amber and gray jade. Thus Chinese Buddhism emphasizes collecting and using various precious stones. In Famen Temple in Shaanxi province, near Xi'an, among the four Buddhist Relics discovered, one was placed in tailor made jade coffin. The Buddhas and Buddhism musical instruments in the Potala Palace and Ta'er Lamasery are mostly decorated with lazuli, turquoise, agate, gray jade and white jade. Until the Tang dynasty, Buddhism reached its peak, and jade carvings concerning with Buddhism, such as Amitabha, Kwan-yin, prayer beads, avalanched as amulets to protect people from disease and evil and agents to carry their emotion, expectation and belief to Buddha. Alike, in Taoism, jade has such functions too.
Kite was originally called Zhiyuan in north China, and Yaozi in south China. Early in the Five dynasties, a man named Li Ye used to make and fly kite in the imperial court. He once attached a whistle made of bamboo to the kite, sound was let out when the kite was flying, them kite was named after Zheng, a kind of Chinese music instrument. Then it was named Fengzheng till today.
The earliest kite in the world was made by Mo-tse, a famous Chinese philosopher lived 2300 years ago, for military purpose. He spent three years making an eagle and managed to fly it. The eagle later was regarded as the first kite in the world. Kite flying became a recreation probably from the Tang dynasty when the royal family and aristocrats were addicted to it. It was said that the Emperor Xuanzong in the Tang dynasty once was deeply attracted by a kite named Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea flying in the air. The invention of paper made kites cost less and quick spread among the common people. As time went on, kites flew to various counties in the world. The well-known British scientist, Dr. Needham, once described kites as an important scientific invention spread to Europe from China in his book, A History of China's Science and Technology. The invention of kite aroused the dream of mankind to fly and led to invention of airplane.
Kite making is a traditional Chinese folk handicraft. Kite made in Tianjin, Beijing and Weifang are more superior among many styles.
Tianjin is well known for its kite making and the most famous craftsman in Tianjin was Wei Yuantai, nicknamed Kite Wei, who made kites for more than 70 years. The first kite made in China was a butterfly or eagle kite with a rigid framework. The selection of materials was limited and the craftsmanship was clumsy. Kite Wei developed some 200 kites with many new structure designs, such as flat hard-winged, soft-winged, three-dimensioned and foldaway kites, among which foldaway kite is most noticeable. It has a flexible tenon bamboo framework secured with glue instead of thread, and reinforced by a copper ring at every joint. Kites, one to three meters long can be folded and held in a very small box. More than fifty kinds of kites made by the Weis' have been exhibited at home and abroad. In 1915, Wei Yuantai kites won a gold medal and a certificate of merit at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Wei's kites have obvious virtues, such as fine craftsmanship, vivid appearance and good balance. Later generations of Wei inherited and developed these strongpoints. Wei Yonghang, the third generation of Wei Yuantai, developed more than 50 new designs further on the base of old Wei designs.
Beijing is also famous for kite making. With large variety in shape, Beijing kites, which are made of paper or silk and painted totally by hand, have a good market reputation home and abroad. The most experienced craftsman in Beijing, named Fei Baolin, has developed several hundred kinds of kites in different shapes and sizes. The smallest is as small as the palm of your hand.
Weifang in Shandong province also is famous for its kite making and flying customs. Each year, Weifang International Kite Festival is held in April, and kitephiles from all over the world will take part in and compete in the festivity.
Chinese lacquer ware has a long history. As early as the New Stone Age, wares coated with black and red lacquers appeared in China. From the Shang dynasty to the Han, colorful painting, gold inlaying and other techniques were introduced into making lacquer ware. The oldest lacquer ware discovered may date back to the Warring State Period (403--221 BC) when lacquer ware was popular.
Chinese lacquer is a natural varnish made from the sap of the lacquer tree. Exposed to air, it forms a plastic coat, resistant to water and acid or alkaline corrosion. To make lacquer ware, a base coat is applied to a core material, followed by extremely thin layers of the finest lacquer. Then another layer is added upon after it dried to make it strong and light, while the lacquer ware looks elegant in appearance and harmonious in color. In the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties, lacquer ware production step into floruit.
The best-known lacquer ware in China is solid lacquer without any wooden base produced in Fujian Province, which is characterized by its heat, acid and alkali resistant properties.
Paper-cut is one of China's most popular and characteristic folk arts. It takes paper as the material and scissor or engraving knife as the tool. The tradition can be traced back to the 6th century. However, it probably emerged even a few centuries earlier. Paper-cuts are mainly used as decorations and patterns, and for religious and decoration purposes.
According to usage, paper-cutting works can be categorized into three types. First, paper-cutting works ornament gate, window, wall, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns in homes. It is still widely used today. At some important festivals, for example at the New Year's Festival, it is very significant to put some paper-cuts on entrance gates. They are supposed to bring good luck for the family. Paper works are also used for decoration on presents or are given as presents. Second, they were used for religious purpose, serving as decorations for sacrificial offerings to the ancestors and gods. Third, some paper-cuts are made into embroidery base patterns used in decorating clothes and lacquer work.
The paper-cut art has been widely spread and of a long history. It has exerted an influence on decorative patterns, leather silhouette, printed cloth, embroidery and paintings. Folk paper cutting outlines the natural forms by way of employing characters, symbol and implication to constitute beautiful patterns. Various paper objects and symbolic figures used to be buried with the deceased or were burned. It is still the case in some part of China.
Paper-cuts are produced by hand, not by machine. There are two methods of manufacture: scissor cuttings and knife cuttings. The former one is fashioned with scissors. Several pieces of paper, up to eight pieces, are fastened together. Then, artists cut the motif with sharp, pointed scissors.
In knife cutting, artists put several layers of paper on a relatively soft foundation consisting of a mixture of tallow and ashes. Following a pattern, the artists hold a sharp knife vertically and cut the motif into the paper. Considerably more paper-cuttings can be made in one operation with knife cuttings than with scissor cuttings.
As a form of folk art, it occupies a significant position in the folk activities. As early as the Southern Song dynasty, professional paper-cutting craftsmen have emerged. Today, in the countryside, usually only women and girls make paper-cuts. It used to be even one of the craftsmanship that every girl was to master and that were often used to judge brides.
Forms of Folk Paper-Cut
Window paper-cutting means the type of paper-cutting works pasted on windows as an ornament. In the north of China, farmers' houses are mostly windowed with wooden squares. It is commonly seen that a layer of white leather paper is pasted on the vertical squares, rectangular squares or geometrically patterned squares. In case of some important holidays, such as Spring Festival, instead of the old leather paper, new paper-cutting work is pasted as a symbol of bidding farewell to the outgoing year and ushering the New Year in. The fauna and flora, figurines as well as a series of theatrical tales can all become the themes of the window paper-cuts.
It is a type of paper-cutting works that hang on the gate sills. It is also called "hanging label", "hanging money". It is in the form of flag with big head, double size and lower part as tassel. It is engraved on red paper or multi-colored paper, with geometrical patterns. Embedded with figures, flowers, phoenix, dragons and the other propitious characters, the gate label must be hung in series when hung up.
It is used to decorate the household appliances and indoor furniture, such as teapot, soapbox, basin, and dressing mirror. It takes the form of circle, rectangle, peach, pomegranate and other propitious patterns. The auspicious themes and red color imply happiness.
Gift paper-cut is attached to cake, birthday noodle and egg. In Shandong Province, people attach it onto the "happy egg" to celebrate a baby's birth. Tortoise-patterned paper cuts symbolic of longevity are commonly seen in the countryside of Fujian Province.
Served as the base pattern for shoe embroidery, it is cut into a bundle of flowers or a shape of crescent moon, which are embroidered on the head of shoe or matched to the size of the shoe vamp and along the two ends. With themes of flora fauna and birds, shoe paper-cut makes possible doubled needling and color changing, two embroidery techniques.
It is mainly used as decoration on the occasion of sacrificing rituals. It is engraved on the wax polished paper of double color. Its themes usually include spirits and other legendary characters.
Paper-Cutting Flower Bundle
This kind of paper cutting has a layout pattern. It takes a form of a circle-shaped flower with four even sizes. The paper can be folded up and cut into a flower bundle in four even sides. This pattern has its great merit in decoration.
China is famous for its china - porcelain wares. Chinese porcelain wares were and are exported to many nations and acquire high appraisement.
Porcelain also experienced a long history in China. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, primitive porcelain wares emerged in the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River and the Yellow River. Real porcelain wares appeared in the Han dynasty. In the process of porcelain development, different styles in different periods blossomed.
From the Han dynasty, celadon porcelain and black porcelain were mainly produced. Celadon porcelain continued to develop during the later dynasties. In the late Tang dynasty, celadon porcelain production techniques matured and were manufactured in large scale. At the same time, white porcelain, which appeared in the later Northern and Southern dynasty, reached its peak too. White porcelain, mainly produced in Xing Kiln in Hebei province, sounds like musical instruments when tapped.
The Song dynasty, the most important dynasty in Chinese porcelain history, brought prosperity in porcelain production and appreciation. There were many famous kilns, and Ru Kiln, Jun Kiln, Guan Kiln, Ge Kiln and Ding Kiln were the top five among them. Ru Kiln produced creamy porcelain wares while Jun Kiln produced rosy porcelain wares red as sunset glow. Ge Kiln was specialized in artificial cracky wares. Among them, the most famous were Ru Kiln wares. The fine and delicate Ru wares which used special glaze with carnelian added. The Ru wares basically had four kinds of glaze according to color, namely azure, sapphire, moon white and turquoise. It was very difficult to control the firing temperature and glaze prescription. Since the production of Ru ware lasted only 20 years, Ru wares are so rare that only about 70 pieces are found nowadays in the world. In a word, in the Song dynasty, porcelain production and techniques reached an unprecedented height.
During the Yuan dynasty, porcelain industry continued its rapid development. Blue and white porcelain, which emerged in the Tang and Song dynasties, reached its maturity. The blue and white ware was painted with power blue under transparent glaze. So the color was perfectly protected under the hard glaze, enabling long-term use and reserve. Among those kilns, Jingdezhen kiln made breakthrough in techniques. It remodeled material prescription and improved firing temperature, hence facilitated producing large wares. Second, blue and white wares and red-under-glaze wares were successfully produced and rapidly matured, to mark that combination of Chinese painting and porcelain production reached maturity and color-under-glaze porcelain wares developed to a record high. Third, great achievement was made in the producing of colorant glaze. Before the Yuan dynasty, people had few color choice.
In the Ming dynasty, blue and white porcelain wares became the main stream of porcelain production. Blue and white ware stepped into its golden era during the Yongle, Xuande and Chenghua reigns. Delicate and thick glaze, various patterns and affluent models are basic features of the Yongle and Xuande porcelain wares. Chenghua wares were delicate and lighted colored, with Chinese ink wash painting flavor. In the late Ming dynasty, blue and white porcelain met another surge during the reigns of Jiajing, Longqing and Wanli.
In the Qing dynasty, blue and white made a great leap forward to radiate its worldwide influence. Among the Qing porcelain wares, those produced in the reigns of Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong are the most famous.
As early as 8,000 years ago, in the Neolithic Age, earthenware, primitive pottery, were invented and produced along the Yellow River and the Yangtze River, which has been proved true due to archeological findings. There were front-page discoveries. At the early stage of the Neolithic Age, potters had to make by hand. Clay was coiled into ropes and then carefully smoothed using a paddle on the exterior pressed against an anvil on the inside wall. Later till the primitive Yangshao Culture period, potter's wheel was invented, and kiln was bettered, the production of pottery made a leap. The representative pottery then was red earthenware decorated with black animal and geometric designs. During the Longshan Culture period, end of the Neolithic Age, fast wheel was used and pottery reached a record height, represented by the white pottery and eggshell-thin black pottery.
Pottery continued to develop in the successive dynasties. During the Zhou dynasty, pottery wares gained variety of designs and decorations. And faience appeared. Until the Qin dynasty, pottery industry stepped into a new era. The world famous Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses excavated in Xi'an, Shaanxi, astonished archaeologists for the marvelous techniques. Innovations and experimentations went on in later dynasties until in the Tang dynasty another great leap forward was made. The tri-colored pottery appeared! The sharp colored pottery won world reputation. Since in the Tang dynasty, people emphasized luxurious funeral, nice and delicate pottery wares were always served as grave goods which included pottery officials, dancers, warriors, and animals.
During the Ming dynasty, purple clay pottery blossomed. The famous unique pottery, seldom glazed, was and is specially produced in Yixing, Jiangsu, since there's no purple clay in other places. It was and is the favorites of many people in China. The pottery usually maintains artistic beauty and daily use.
Fahua pottery was also famous in the Ming dynasty. The pottery, in the south of Shanxi province, was fired at low temperature. Usually, human figures, pavilions, peonies, and birds were painted upon in peacock blue, green, purple and white.
Visitors to China may be amazed at many souvenir shops where the service of " Seal-Engraving" is readily available. Very often, the engraver claimed that a seal would be finished in 15 minutes - less than the time the visitors usually stay in a souvenir shop. And many foreign businessmen who are so used to signing their names in a contract found with astonishment that their Chinese counterparts preferred to use seals. To the Chinese, a seal was for many centuries a symbol of power. The emperor's seal was called Xi, and it gave authority to all his inferiors, and governments at different levels all issued orders endorsed with official seals. In other words, the seals stood for different levels of government and their corresponding powers.
The art of seal-engraving can be traced back to more than 3,000 years to the Yin Dynasty when the cutting of inscriptions on tortoise shells were the only way that the ideas of human being could be recorded. It developed rapidly in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) when people engraved their names on utensils and documents to claim ownership or for verification in social contacts.
Wen Peng (1489-1573), the son of Wen Zhengming, a famous Ming Dynasty calligrapher and painter, is known as the "father of seal engraving art". But seal engraving really came to age only in the 19th century when a group of famous engravers came to the fore.
Some present engravers in China are professionals, but most are amateurs. The Xiling Seal Engravers' Club in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, was founded in 1986 by Wu Changshuo, a renowned painter and engraver. It is China's biggest national engraver's organization today.
As we all know, traditional Chinese painting is a harmonious combination in the same picture of the arts of painting, calligraphy with engraving skills and the art of the arranging Chinese characters into imaginative patterns in a very limited space. A master seal engraver must be able to write different styles of the Chinese scripts and arrange all the characters in a perfect balance. Like a master calligrapher, sometimes, he needs to exaggerate the thickness or thinness of a stroke, elaborately straighten or curve it, or even deliberately deform an ideogram to create an artistic effect.
A perfect seal is very much determined by the engraver's speed and strength of his wrist and finger movements, as well as the particular tool he uses. Also he should be very familiar with the various materials- jade, gold, brass, stone, wood and etc-so that he can apply his tool with the right exertion and rhythm.
Today, stone is the most widely used material in seal engraving. Among all the stones, Shoushan stones, which come from the northern outskirts of Shoushan County, Fuzhou City, are the most famous. The most valuable for engravers is Tianhuang Stone, a kind of Shoushan stone. It is said that the emperors of the Qing Dynasty used to put a piece of Tianhuang on the table for wealth and good luck when they held a ceremony to worship heaven.
Another less precious stone is called Chicken Blood stone, which comes from Changhua County in Zhejiang Province. The " Chicken's blood" stone contains cinnabar which makes it look like blood splashed on the stone in a free pattern.
Nowadays, seals are still widely used, and the art of seal engraving has become more, not less, popular than ever before. More note-worthy is that many foreigners are now able to appreciate this art form, which for a long time has been considered uniquely Chinese.
The cultivation of the silkworm can be traced back to the 3 rd century BC. It was said that Demigod Leizu, a legendary figure of prehistoric China, started the planting of mulberry trees and raise of silkworms. According to archeological discovery, silk and silk fabrics emerged at least 5,500 years ago. In the Zhou dynasty, special administration was set up to manage sericulture and silk production. From 138 B.C. to 126 B.C., Zhang Qian started his diplomatic mission under imperial order to the west along the famous Silk Road. Gradually, sericulture and silk production techniques spread to many countries. Now, Chinese silk still enjoys high reputation in the world.
Embroidery always accompanies silk and its development. The most famous embroideries in China are Su embroidery in Jiangsu, Xiang embroidery in Hunan, Shu embroidery in Sichuan and Yue embroidery in Guangdong, namely Four Renowned Embroideries.
Suzhou Embroidery appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty and was briefly named Su embroidery. According to history records, Su embroidery was so popular in the Song dynasty that people even named their lanes with names concerned with silk and embroidery. Almost every family raised silkworm and embroidered. Su embroidery reached its peak in Qing dynasty.
Su embroidery has wide range of themes. Its techniques include single face embroidery and unique double-face embroidery, which looks the same from either side. Simple composition, clear theme, vivid image and gentle color are basic features of delicate Su embroidery. Now it even absorbs some western painting techniques.
Combining merits of Su embroidery and Yue embroidery with local embroidery, Xiang embroidery came into being in the later Qing dynasty. However, Hunan's local embroidery had a long history. Archeologists have discovered fine silk embroidery items in the Chu and Han Tombs, which were both more than 2,000 years ago.
Compare with the other embroideries, it is unique in style. Its unique embroidery techniques facilitate tiger patterns embroidery, which Xiang embroidery is famous for. Although it features techniques of painting, engraving, calligraphy and embroidery, it is generally based on the Chinese painting. Now, it has developed a new unmatched embroidery product - Double-face and Different Images Embroidery, which features different images and colors on each side of the transparent chiffon.
As it is mainly produced around Chengdu, Sichuan province, it is also called Chuan Embroidery. It has a long history although it formed a style in the middle of the Qing dynasty. The materials adopted for such embroidery are local-produced soft satin and colorful threads. The threads are neatly and thickly used and the colors are elaborately arranged. It is characterized by even stitches, bright threads, closeness and softness in texture, delicate needling. Its theme covers mainly animals and plants in the nature, especially adept at embroidering pandas and fish. The embroidered products include mirror curtain, wedding dress, hats and shoes etc., with the main themes of auspicious happiness.
It is also called Cantonese Embroidery for it is produced in Guangdong province. It is said that it was created by a minority people in the middle and at the end of the Ming dynasty. A variety of threads are used, including thread twisted from the peacock quill and down thread from the horsetail. The whole piece is bright in color with gold thread as the contour for embroidering complicated patterns, looking splendid. Such themes are usually employed as A Hundred Birds Displaying Homage to The Phoenix, marine products and melons.
Originated in the primitive society, silk skills are one of great Chinese contributions to the world development. It demonstrates the brilliant civilization of ancient China. According to the different weaving skills and silk fabrics, silk goods are divided to many types, such as brocade, satin and so on. Historically, most of these silk goods served as clothing material and decorations. However, the common people, who once produced excellent silk skills and goods, could not afford this expensive material because of poverty.
Chinese Embroidery Pouch
the Chinese name of embroidery pouch, was named after the original name of an
ancient food, although it really was a bag for containing things instead of a
food for eating.
There are several meanings of embroidery Pouch: 1. It refers to a bag woven out of stain and cloth. The outside of embroidery pouch is embroidered while the inside has a thick layer. It was popular with people as gift to express friendship and souvenir. In daily life, it can be used for containing thins, such as watch, wallet, mirror, tobacco and fan.
In China, as a custom, a girl began to learn embroidery at the age of about seven. When married, the pouches made by the girl would be given to the relatives and friends as a gift or manifestation of her deftness in handwork.
Secondly, on the Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese people often insert Chinese mugwort to exorcise the five poisonous creatures. When the girls made pouch, they also filled it with mugwort and perfumed grass.
Thirdly, pouch also served as a gift between young girls and boys as a symbol of love.
Due to the high-quality silk and exquisite skill were used, this kind of brocades look like colorful cloud, hence the name Cloud brocade. From the Yuan dynasty to the Ming dynasty, Cloud brocade was mostly used for imperial clothing material.
its name suggests, Dai brocade is the product of Dai minority. Early in the Han
dynasty, they have produced muslin, a kind of cotton cloth, which was classified
to cotton and silk brocades.
Different from the smooth development of cotton brocade, the growth of silk brocade had experienced several undulations. The cotton brocade takes the yarn of original color as its material while the silk brocade is woven by the weft dyed in red or black.
It is a brocade of the Dong minority. Taking yarn and silk as its materials, the Dong brocade can be woven with one or two materials of these two. Featured by its patterns, which mainly are flora, fauna and Chinese characters, this kind of brocade commonly served as the material for child's sleeveless garment, quilt facing, scarf, etc.
Produced by the people of Li minority living in Hainan Island, this kind of brocade mainly served as the material for women's tube- shaped skirt, bag, etc. Woven with cotton yarn and silk thread, Li brocade was once called as "Li cloth" and "Li curtain" in the Song dynasty.
Mainly produced by people in the south and north of Shandong province, this kind of brocade is featured by its bright color and strong texture. It was in the 1980's that Lu brocade experienced a large progress and gradually catered to the need of the modern life.
Made by the people of Miao minority, this kind of brocade is popular in Guiding, Guizhou province. It is used as ornament for the collar, front and sleeve of woman's garment, as well as the material for daily costume and quilt.
Produce in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in Han dynasty, Sichuan brocade is the main branch of the traditional silk brocade. Since Sichuan and the middle China was linked up, the brocade-making skills were spread throughout China. With more and more designs, patterns, and colors applied, Sichuan silk brocade had flourished in Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties. Especially in Tang dynasty, Sichuan brocade produced a large number of marvelous goods, in which the bundle flower lining brocade and the red lion and phoenix lining brocade were magnum opus of this period.
the History of Xiangzhou recorded, Yao minority is the originator of Yao brocade.
The main patterns of Dong brocade are flora and fauna or geometrical grains. Woven
with dyed yarn or silk thread, these beautiful brocades are widely used by Han
people as dowry when the girls are married.
Not all brocades are suitable to the festive occasions. In some places, brocades with different colors have different meanings. Such as in Quanxiu, Guangxi province, the red brocades suggest happiness and propitious, while the orange or green brocades imply mourning and sadness.
Produce in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, this kind of brocade was the most famous brocade in China. It once was lost at the end of the Ming dynasty, but soon revived at the beginning of the Qing dynasty. Suzhou brocade was characterized by the harmonious colors and geometrical patterns. It is divided to big brocade and small brocade according to the size. Big brocade, also called heavy brocade, mainly served as mounting picture and decoration, while the small brocade is used as decorations for small articles.
in the Guangxi province, it is a brocade of the Zhuang minority. Taking the silk
down and locally produced silk threads as materials, the articles such as quilt
facing, tablecloth, and scarf are woven on the weaving machine, which operated
by one woman. The patterns on the Zhuang brocade are mainly figures, flora and
fauna and geometrical grains.
Chinese Marriage Customs
marriage was systemized into custom in the Warring States period (402-221 B.C.).
Due to the vast expanse and long history, there are different customs to follow
in different places, although they are generally the same. Visitors still get
chances 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.
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 will formally present his or her client's request to the identified girl's parents.
Birthday matching: If the potential bride's parents do not object the marriage, the matchmaker will ask for the girl's birthday and birthhour record to assure the compatibility of the potential bride and bridegroom. If the couple's birthdays and birthhours do 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 proposed marriage stops.
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 stuff, depending on local customs and family wealth.
Picking a wedding date: An astrologist or astrology book will be consulted to select an auspicious date to hold the wedding ceremony.
Wedding ceremony: On the selected day, the bridegroom departures with a troop of escorts and musicians, playing happy music all the way to the bride's home. After the bride is escorted to the bridegroom's home, the wedding ceremony begins.
Different with the West, the dominant color on traditional Chinese wedding is red, almost every thing. Chinese tend to apply red to add happy atmosphere in such big days.
At dawn on the wedding day, after a bath in water infused with various grapefruits, the bride puts on new clothes and wares a pair of red shoes, waiting for the so called good luck woman to dress her hair in the style of a married woman. Her head will be covered with a red silk veil with tassels or bead strings that hang from the phoenix crown. Then she waits her future husband to escort her home, with married women talking around her how to act to be a good wife.
On the other hand, the bridegroom prepares himself to receive his wife. He gets capped and dressed in a long gown, red shoes and a red silk sash with a silk ball on his chest, the groom knelt at the ancestral altar as his father put a cap decorated with cypress leaves on his head to declare his adulthood and his family responsibility.
Then the bridegroom set out to receive his bride. Usually he will be crowded among his friends as escorts and musicians who play happy music all the way to radiate happiness. Dancing lions, if any, precede the troop. In the ancient time, a bridal sedan chair (or a decorated donkey due to poverty or bad traffic) would be used to serve the bride. There will be a child carrying a bridal box among the people, reflecting the bridegroom's expectation to have a child in the near future. The most interesting part of the reception really takes place at the doorstep of the bride's residence, heavily guarded by the bridesmaids or sisters of the bride. It is customary for the bridesmaid to give the bridegroom a difficult time before he is allowed to enter. Usually wisdom and courage and his friends will help the bridegroom to succeed in the quizzes. After passing the tests and singing for his bride, the bridegroom is finally allowed to meet his bride. However, there is one more pass, he has to negotiate with the bridesmaid and sisters of the bride to distribute them red packets, with auspicious money enclosed in, in order to take his bride home.
Before the bride departures to his bridegroom's home, she will be carried by the good luck woman to the sedan chair. On her way to the chair, a sister of her will shield her with a red parasol and another threw rice at the sedan chair, at the back of which hung a sieve and a metallic mirror that were believed to protect the bride from evil. The bride has to cry to show that she does not want to leave her parents.
Then firecrackers will be set off to drive away evil spirits as the bride sits into the sedan chair. All along the way people make great efforts to avoid any inauspicious influence. For instance, the sedan chair is heavily curtained, so as to prevent the bride from seeing an unlucky sight, e.g. a widow, a well or even a cat. When the parading troop arrives at the bridegroom's, firecrackers will be set off to hail the bride's arrival. Before the sedan chair a red mat is placed so that the bride will not touch the bare earth. By the threshold a flaming stove and a saddle will be set up, the bride is required to step over, to avoid evils.
The wedding ceremony is the hottest point. The bride and bridegroom are led to the family altar, where the couple pays kotows to Heaven and Earth, the family ancestors and parents successively. Then they bow to each other and will be led to the bridal chamber. The ceremony proceeds under a director's prompts and applauses of the audience.
Then there will be a grand feast for relatives and those who help in the wedding. The newlywed couple will resume to drink wedlock wine. Generally they are required to cross their arms to sip the wine and then exchange their cups to gulp down. They also will toast with guests to pay their thanks. Good wishes of the guests rush to the couple. However, well-intentioned people will try their best to fuddle the bridegroom who is dodging to avoid the embarrassing scene.
Teasing games in the bridal chamber: After night falls, the teasing games start. Usually all young men can participate except for the bride's married brothers-in-law. Those funny and silly games will ease the tension, since in ancient times the newlyweds never met each other before the wedding! Most of the games require the shy couple to act like wife and husband. The festive atmosphere also promotes closeness among all the family members and the community beyond. There also will be other activities conducted by the bridegroom's mother after the roaring laughter fades into the darkness.
Other Customary Practices
Preparing the bridal bed: A good luck man, usually having a nice family, will help to install the bridal bed in the right place in the bridal chamber on a selected day before the wedding day. Before the wedding, a good luck woman will arrange the bridal bed and scatter candies, lotus seeds, peanuts, beans and fruits of good meanings on the bed. Nobody is allowed to touch the bed until the couple enters the bridal chamber after the wedding ceremony. Children will then be invited onto the bed to bless fertility of the couple.
Dowry: Usually the bride's dowry shall be sent to the bridegroom's family by the day before the wedding day. Sometimes the dowry will be brought by the bride's escorting troops on the wedding day to show off. Traditional dowry normally consists of items such as jewelry, embroidered beddings, kitchen utensils and furniture. The package of the dowry is always changing except those basic items of symbol. For example, dozens of years ago, sewing machine, bicycle, and recorder were musts in a marriage. Now, they are totally out of fashion.
Bride's Return: Traditionally, the newlyweds are to return to visit the bride's parents one or three days after the wedding. They will be hailed with a banquet and it is the bridegroom's turn to suffer teasing of the bride's relatives and friends. That is still well intentioned.
Traditional marriage customs lost its popularity due to the collapse of feudal marriage custom and its complexity. However, traditional marriage can still be seen in the countryside, despite innovations. Now, traditional marriage custom revives in some places and attracts will-be-couples.
Chinese Dragon Culture
Dragons are deeply rooted in the Chinese culture. The Chinese often consider themselves,'the descendants of the dragon.'
Nobody really knows where the dragon comes from. The dragon looks like a combination of many animals. For the Chinese people, Dragons were described visually as a composite of parts from nine animals: The horns of a deer; the head of a camel; the eyes of a devil; the neck of a snake; the abdomen of a large cockle; the scales of a carp; the claws of an eagle; the paws of a tiger; and the ears of an ox. The Chinese word for Dragon is spelled out in roman characters as either lung or long
In China, the Dragon was credited with having great powers that allowed them to make rain and to control floods (by striking the river with its tail, causing it to open and thus divert the floodwaters) also Dragons are credited for transportation of humans to the celestial realms after death. Also, in China, Dragons are symbols of the natural world, adaptability, and transformation. When two dragons are placed together but turned away, they symbolize eternity via the famous Yin-Yang.
In China, the Dragon was credited with having great powers that allowed them to make rain and to control floods (by striking the river with its tail, causing it to open and thus divert the floodwaters) also Dragons are credited for transportation of humans to the celestial realms after death. Also, in China, Dragons are symbols of the natural world, adaptability, and transformation. When two dragons are placed together but turned away, they symbolize eternity via the famous Yin-Yang.
Chinese emperors think they are the real dragons and the sons of heaven. Thus the beds they sleep on are called the dragon beds, the throne called the dragon seat, and the emperor's ceremonial dresses called the dragon robes.
In the minds of the early Chinese people, the dragon was a god that embodied the will and ideals of the Chinese people. It is said that the dragon is a large-scaled reptile, which can become dark or bright, large or small, long or short, and can fly into the sky in the spring and live under the water in the fall. It seems that the dragon is capable of doing almost anything.Traditionally the dragons are considered as the governors of rainfalls in Chinese culture. They have the power to decide where and when to have rain. They believe the kings of the water dragons live in the dragon palaces under the oceans. The Chinese sign for the dragon appears during the Yin and Shang dynasties (from the 16th to the 11th century BC, 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.
ancient China nobody had any doubts about the existence of dragons. People showed
great respect for any dragon depicted in pictures, carvings and writings, and
as a result the dragon became the symbol of Chinese nation. All people in china,
including the emperor, prostrated themselves before the image of a dragon with
reverence and awe. As a result, this unreal animal became the spiritual sustenance
for a nation: firstly, as the totem of a tribe and then as the symbol of the nation.
Eventually it became the sign on the national flag of the last feudal dynasty,
the Qing Dynasty. The chinese people regard themselves as descendants of the dragon.
Jade (Yu in Chinese pinyin) was defined as beautiful stones by Xu Zhen (about 58-147) in Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the first Chinese dictionary. Jade is generally classified into soft jade (nephrite) and hard jade (jadeite). Since China only had the soft jade until jadeite was imported from Burma during the Qing dynasty (1271-1368), jade traditionally refers to the soft jade so it is also called traditional jade.
Jadeite is called Feicui in Chinese. Feicui is now more popular and valuable than the soft jade in China.
The history of jade is as long as the Chinese civilization. Archaeologists have found jade objects from the early Neolithic period (about 5000 BC), represented by the Hemudu culture in Zhejian Province, and from the middle and late Neolithic period, represented by the Hongshan culture along the Lao River, the Longshan culture along the Yellow River, and the Liangzhu culture in the Tai Lake region. Jade has been ever more popular till today.
Chinese love jade because of not only its beauty, but also more importantly its
cultureThe Chinese love jade because of not only its beauty, but also more importantly
its culture, meaning and humanity, as Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC) said there are
11 De (virtue) in jade. The following is the translation (don't know the translator):
'The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music. Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth. To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: "When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade."'
Thus jade is really special in Chinese culture, also as the Chinese saying goes "Gold has a value; jade is invaluable."
Because jade stands for beauty, grace and purity, it has been used in many Chinese idioms or phrases to denote beautiful things or people, such as Yu Jie Bing Qing (pure and noble), Ting Ting Yu Li (fair, slim and graceful) and Yu Nv (beautiful girl). The Chinese character Yu is often used in Chinese names.
There are Chinese stories about jade. The two most famous stories are He Shi Zhi Bi (Mr. He and His Jade) and Wan Bi Gui Zhao (Jade Returned Intact to Zhao). Bi also means jade. He Shi Zhi Bi is a story about the suffering of Mr. He when he presented his raw jade to the kings again and again.
raw jade was eventually recognized as an invaluable jade and was named after Mr.
He by Wenwang, the king of the Chu State (about 689 BC). Wan Bi Gui Zhao is a
follow-up story of the famous jade. The king of the Qin State, the most powerful
state during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), tempted to exchange the jade
from the Zhao State using his 15 cities, but he failed. The jade was returned
to the Zhao State safely. Thus jade is not only invaluable, but also the symbol
of power in the ancient time. And it is interesting to note that the Supreme Deity
of Taoism has the name, Yuhuang Dadi (the Jade Emperor).
Jade was made into sacrificial vessel, tools, ornaments, utensils and many other items. There were ancient music instruments made out of jade, such as jade flute, yuxiao (a vertical jade flute) and jade chime. Jade was also mysterious to the Chinese in the ancient time so jade wares were popular as sacrificial vessels and were often buried with the dead. To preserve the body of the dead, Liu Sheng, the ruler of the Zhongshan State (113 BC) was buried in the jade burial suit composed of 2,498 pieces of jade, sewn together with gold thread.
Jade culture is very rich in China. We have only touched the surface of it. In conclusion, jade symbolizes beauty, nobility, perfection, constancy, power, and immortality in Chinese culture.
Peking opera is a purely Chinese opera form which dates back to the year 1790. That year four local opera troupes of Anhui Province came to Beijing on a performance tour on the order of the imperial court. The tour was a hit and the troupes stayed. The artists absorbed the tunes of the Hubei local opera and drew on the best of Kun Qu, Qin Qiang and Bang Zi and other local operas.
"Sheng, dan, jing, chou," for instance, are just the terms for four different types of roles. "sheng" is the positive male role, "dan" is the positive female role, "jing" is a supporting male role with striking character and "chou" is the clown. Every type has its telltale facial makeup and decoration.
But actually, "piao you" means Peking opera fans, "piao fang" means the place where fans meet to amuse themselves and "xia hai" means turning professional. When you come across with a small group of Peking opera fans singing in a street corner, that corner can be considered a "street piao fang." There is no lacking of social celebrities among Peking opera fans. Emperor Guang Xu of Qing Dynasty, for example, was not only a good amateur Peking opera singer, but was also a good drummer in the Peking opera orchestra (the drummer plays the role of the director of the orchestra). The Empress Dowager was an avid Peking opera fan, too. The huge three-storey theater in the Summer Palace is a proof of her love for Peking opera.
Chinese Martial Arts and Its Brief History
The beginning of Chinese martial arts probably started long before history was recorded. Martial techniques were discovered or created during the long epoch of continuous conflict between humanity and animals, or between different tribes of humans themselves. From these battles, experiences were accumulated and techniques discovered which were passed down generation to generation. Later, with the invention of weapons, different types and shapes of weapons were invented, until eventually metal was discovered. Following the advancement of weapon fabrication, new fighting techniques were created. Different schools and styles originated and tested one another
of these schools or styles created their forms by imitating different types of
fighting techniques from animals (e.g. , tiger, panther, monkey, snake, or bear),
birds (e.g. , praying mantis). The reason for imitating the animals' fighting
was that it was believed that, in order to survive in the harsh natural environment,
all the animals still maintained a natural talent and skill for fighting. The
best way to learn the fighting techniques was by studying and imitating these
animals. For example, the sharp spirit of the eagle was adopted, the pouncing/fighting
of the tiger and eagle's strong claws was imitated, and the attacking motions
of the crane's beak and wings were copied.
Since the martial techniques first developed in very ancient times, gradually they became part of Chinese culture. The philosophy of these fighting arts and culture has in turn been influenced by other elements of Chinese culture. Therefore, the Yin/ Yang Taiji theory was adopted into the techniques, and the Bagua (Eight Trigrams) concept was blended into the fighting strategy and skills.
In terms of technique development, these methods were crude and relatively unorganized. However, over time, as cultural and societal advances were made, established schools of philosophy and martial arts emerged , serving to organize systematic training methods. These arts, refined and perfected in China , were preserved mainly within family clans and religious temples. It is only within the past two or three generations that these arts have become accessible to the West.
As the martial arts of China are deeply founded in Chinese philosophy, they contain both a strong theoretical framework pertaining to technique and skill development, as well as a deep rooting in ethics and morals. It is said that the true martial artist embodies not only physical skill but also a high level of intellectual and moral refinement. Understandably, painstaking effort, dedication and perseverance are essential in order to reach the highest accomplishments. .. or in short, gongfu.
In the West, Chinese martial arts are usually referred to as "Kung Fu", or "Gung Fu". However, the term does not specifically mean "Chinese martial arts". Rather, gongfu is the philosophy which is applied to any time-honored pursuit of excellence. It can refer to any endeavor in which one, over time, refines their skills and art through diligent practice, such as a cook, photographer, artist, and so on. In short, gongfu may be translated as " Skill and success gained from painstaking effort". Thus, for the practitioner of gongfu, consistent and accurate training are essential.
Chinese Pi Ying Xi
Chinese Pi Ying Xi, also called leather-silhouette show or shadow play, came into existence almost a thousand years ago. It is said in Yuan Dynasty it once spread to west Asia and even as far as Europe. The paper or leather cut silhouette is reflected onto a piece of white cloth and performers behind the scene control it to walk, dance, or do various kinds of acts by the strings connected to the joints, with companion of music and songs.
Among the many types of Pi Ying Xi, the silhouette show of donkey leather in Tangshan, Hebei Province and of ox leather in northwest China are renowned for their exquisite cutting and distinctive folk music.
About its origin there is a beautiful love story. It has it that, Liu Zhe, the Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty, liked all kinds of entertainment and kept many artists in his palace. Among the musicians Li Yannian was the best. Not only was he good at playing all kinds of musical instruments, but also could he improvise songs. One year the King of Qiuzi, a tribe in the northwest, came to present tribute. On the reception banquet Li Yannian was ordered to give a performance and he sang about an exceeding beauty. All the people were fascinated and lost in the graceful scene he created. Later when someone reported to the Emperor Wu that Li's sister was such a beauty, the emperor was so pleased as to call her in. And finding she was pretty beyond description, he fell in love with her at the first sight. She received great favor and gave birth to a son the next year.
But good times did not last long for she fell ill seriously afterwards. As the emperor visited her, she covered her face with quilt and said, 'I hope your majesty can take good care of my brother and son for the sake of our past.' But she refused his request of taking a last look of her, 'A woman makes up to please her lover but I am not as good-looking as before and not dressed up. Please leave me as I am.' So finally the emperor went away disappointedly. As explained to her maid she said,'His majesty favors me because of my appearance. I'm no longer pretty with illness and he will forget all my goodness at my sight. But otherwise he'll remember me forever.'
her death the emperor missed her so much that a necromancer was summoned to call
back her spirit. Though his mind racked, the necromancer found no way to meet
this expectation. In the evening when pacing up and down in his room, he saw his
shadow reflected on the wall. Thus an idea was hit upon out of the predicament.
He copied the concubine's picture onto a piece of leather and after coloring and
cutting a lifelike silhouette was made. With all the details well prepared, Emperor
Wu was invited to the room. From far away, he saw his concubine's silhouette came
up slowly and gracefully, knelt down respectfully and remained there. Just as
he was approaching, the necromancer stopped him and said the spirit needed a respectful
distance. And hundreds of years later Pi Ying Xi was passed down from the descendants
of the necromancer.
Feng Shui - The ancient doctrine of China
Feng Shui is an ancient art related to the law and order of the universe and the power of nature. It was first developed some 6,000 years ago. It's a system based on the elements of astronomy, astrology, geology, physics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology and intuition.
Feng Shui is related to is all that matter a great deal to people: their environment,
places, people, time and the interaction between the potential factors...
The Chinese term 'Feng Shui' simply means 'Wind and Water.' The concept of them goes throughout the theory and its practice. The ancient Chinese believed a kind of underlying essence of force of things that tends to be dispelled at the chance of wind, while checked at the chance of water.
In ancient China, people would act in virtue of the theory in the hope of promoting prosperity, good health and relationships. Here are some ways Feng Shui is supposed to be able to help you:
a job, raise or promotion;
getting pregnant or preventing miscarriages;
protecting a couple from divorce;
creating more harmonious family relationships;
feeling free from job impression;
improving business better;
feeling more safe in life.
Believe it or not, it is trusted by a considerable number of people. They believe they are always lucky in life by virtue of Feng Shui.
Two major groups - "Chinese taste" and "Export"
This is generally speaking all porcelain made primarily for the Asian market. This could be divided into:
porcelain "Guan yao - Imperial kiln/ware"
Ordinary porcelain "Min yao - peoples ware"
Both of these groups very often carry base marks. Antique export porcelain on the other hand, very seldom carry base marks. So, you could have the mark as a sorting factor such as; if the piece is antique and carry a mark at all, it is very likely to have been made for the Asian market. Most antique western export Chinese porcelain do NOT have marks.
kiln/ware - Guan yao
With this we mean "porcelain specifically made for the Chinese Emperor and the Imperial household
Imperial kiln/ware - Guan yao
With this we mean "porcelain specifically made for the Chinese Emperor and the Imperial household". If we forget the really old stuff and focus on the white bodied stoneware we in the west call porcelain the first specifically "Imperial" kiln was set up in Jingdezhen during the Yuan dynasty. From then on, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, "Imperial porcelain" was ordered from and made by this separate Imperial kiln - located at Zhushan (Pearl Hill) in the city of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, where still today a thriving porcelain industry is fully functioning.
When talking about "Ming porcelain" as something very fine and expensive we are all having this Imperial Ming porcelain - Ming Guan yao - in the back of our minds. Here is also where most collectors go astray since there is a lot of porcelain which dates to the Min dynasty without being "Imperial". As a basic rule; if you have paid less than US $5,000 for something you think is a real Imperial Ming, prepare yourself for the fact that you might just have become the owner of either a fake or something which is not Imperial Ming but which just might be from the period.
Peoples ware - Min yao
Most of the Chinese porcelain we see today are "Min yao - peoples ware", mostly bowls and all kinds of pieces connected to the Asian way of life. This kind of porcelain have not changed very much over the years and might therefore be hard to date properly.
There is actually very little that differs between a provincial rice bowl made in the 12th century from one made in the 19th century. The prices are mostly somewhere in-between US $20 and $250 anyway. In this area your personal taste makes all the difference.
Chinese export porcelain (2)
Chinese Export porcelain on the other hand are porcelain made singularly for use outside China. Chinese export porcelain could be divided into porcelain made for:
- Europe and the US (rarely marks)
Oriental - Near East and India (rarely marks)
Japan (rarely marks)
South East Asia (often marks)
Interestingly enough the Chinese themselves are today hardly aware of ever having made these pieces and does not immediately recognize them as Chinese!
The difference between antique pieces made for different markets is found both in their shapes, which depends on their intended use, and their decoration. Most pieces you can sort up easily by comparing to textiles from the area. This might sound odd but fashion is fashion and that is what decides the decoration on porcelain too. The Chinese potters just made what was ordered and what could be sold.
The western 17th to 19th century shapes are typically flat and deep plates with condiment flanges, chargers, tea and coffee cups with or without handles, dishes, soup tureens, jugs, pitchers and the like.
They are quite easy to recognize and are in many ways the safest pieces to start with for a western collector. They are easy to recognize, easy to date, quite affordable and are available in a wide assortment of different qualities and prices, which makes collecting interesting.
With Oriental pieces I am really thinking mostly about extra huge food platters and high water ewers intended for Turkey, Persia and the Islamic markets in general. The huge food and water storage jars called "Martabans" might fit in here too.
The most interesting Chinese porcelain which were made for the Japanese market I feel are those connected to the Japanese tea ceremony. Typical pieces are small food dishes (intentionally made to look warped) from late Ming and a few decades into the Qing dynasty.
The South East Asia has been a huge market for the Chinese traders during at least the last 1000 years and all kinds of heavy bowls, small boxes and small jars are found here. Song and Yuan Dynasty pieces are quite common and the trade as such has by way of its geographical closeness continued into modern times.
In a way the Straits Chinese Porcelain for the Straits Chinese clientele in Penang, Malacca and Singapore belongs here too but as a culturally distinct group with its decoration inherited from Ming dynasty Swatow wares.
Collecting and fakes
Export pieces from the last two centuries are easily found. It is not very likely that you really should have to worry too much about "fakes" within this area - other than regarding extraordinary expensive pieces such as figures - which are notoriously hard to date - and some late 18th century armorial pieces, which has been copied both at Samson in France and during the 20th century in China and Hong Kong.
I once tried to order museum souvenir replicas of an 18th century Chinese Export Tea Caddy at a factory in Jingdezhen itself. The manager looked worried at me and explained that it might be very hard for them to copy such a piece, since this kind of porcelain had never been made in China before. That really surprised me, since at that minute we must have sat within walking distance of the site of the original 18th century kiln where it had been made 200 years ago. The outcome? You do not really want to know that. If you think I am too reluctant to accept anything as genuine, trust me, I am not. It was impossibly to see any difference. Even the small things I look for were there. The only good thing was that the cost of making the replica was about the same as the originals sell for anyway. We did - one - of these, and it is properly marked as such, so do not worry about that one. However, if you think there is something wrong with a piece - it most probably is.
What makes Chinese porcelain so exciting to collect is, I believe, the fact that it is so difficult. Thanks to all the fakes there are many genuine pieces around not properly identified as such. A flea market bargain could easily turn out to be the real thing.
Pieces made at the Imperial factory was by command marked with a period mark - a "nian hao" - drought up by the Emperor. The Imperial period mark seems to have been written on the porcelain by a small number of highly specialized painters who very well might have spent their entire life just painting the same mark. These marks also differs very little between pieces and the handwriting of a just a few different painters can be recognized. These marks were then - in my opinion - copied outside the Imperial kiln since day one, and the "non Imperial" marks heavily out numbers the genuine. One special case is when imperial pieces from an earlier period were actually ordered to be copied at the Imperial kiln, but the majority of "fake" marks are just the handiwork of private entrepreneurs wanting to raise the value of their merchandise and might be very hard to date properly.
Most of the antiques Chinese export porcelains does not have any marks at all. South East Asian market export pieces from 1860 to the 1920's often have smudged red, square "seal" marks. These marks could say anything, but the porcelain is still mostly from mid to late 19th century. We also seriously have to consider the tremendous output of fake pieces who could have any mark, from the 1970's up until today.
Spend "one tenth" on books
Strangely enough people who hesitates to spend $20 on a book on Chinese porcelain could happily spend $200 on a piece of porcelain that "just might be Ming". My personal rule of thumb is to spend at least one tenth on books, of whatever amount you intend to spend on porcelain. You will notice that your porcelain collection immediately will gain in value to yourself with whatever amount of money you spend on books about what you collect. It can also be nice to know that when you buy a book - it is not a fake.