Euro 2016 and why the Chinese are hooked

Features Editor

It was not quite what I was expecting. Instead of being packed out with trendy locals, Beijing’s Sanlitun bars were filled with flashes of red and blue. And the Beijingers were chanting – cheering on Portugal and commiserating with France. A usual Sunday night social had been sabotaged by the Euro 2016 final taking place 8000kms away.

In all honesty, I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. In 2007-2008 I was in China’s capital making documentaries in the build up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was a time when the whole of China threw its arms around sport in a BIG way. The resulting Games were seen as one of the best ever – Usain Bolt wowed us by breaking the 100m and 200m world records in the iconic Birds Nest Stadium. Michael Phelps claimed a phenomenal 8 gold medals at the Water Cube, China’s National Aquatics Centre. A staggering 40 world records and over 130 Olympic records were smashed and it was all witnessed by millions of people around the globe. Even I managed to get swept away in the 2008 summer of sport. But now it seems that the Chinese have set their sights on football.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Paintings from the 7 th century Tang dynasty show women playing a game that looks suspiciously like soccer and China has had a thriving domestic football scene since the 1990s when the National Football Jia-A League, China’s first professional football league, was launched. Jia-A has since been replaced by the Chinese Super League (CSL), with the best 16 teams from across China competing in a season running from roughly from February/March to November/December.

So far, so good. The problem is that China doesn’t do so well on an international level. The men’s team is 81 st in the FIFA world rankings, having only qualified for one World Cup and having never won the Asian Cup.

(If you’re wondering about the ladies team – they’re currently riding high at 12th . Take a look inside their U17 training with inspiring coach Gao Hong )But China men’s dismal international footballing record might be about to change as aspirations reach an all time high.

Earlier this year, the Chinese Football Association revealed an ambitious strategy to become a world footballing superpower by 2050. And it has backing right from the top – President Xi himself is a self-proclaimed football fan who says he would love China to win the world cup. 20,000 football training centres and 70,000 pitches will be set up, giving 30 million students the chance to try the sport.

But until that generation comes through, there is another solution. Money. Like football clubs all around the world, China’s top teams are owned by the super rich. The appeal of working in this lucrative market has lured across some of the top coaches (Sven Goran Erikson has been in China since 2013). And some $366m was spent during the last transfer window, signing up some of the best players in the world. Striker Jackson Martinez moved from Athletico Madrid to Guangzhou Evergrande and former Chelsea Midfielder Ramires joined Jiangsu Suning.

This is a player so internationally famous, he’s known simply by his first name (his full name is Ramires Santos Do Nascimento). And now he’s playing in China. So why are the Chinese hooked on Euro 2016?

Because the best of the bunch could soon be playing in one of China’s top teams. And could China become a footballing superpower by 2050?

You’d better believe it.

Living the Dream in China: A New Year’s Resolution

News and Travel Editor

Happy 2017!  As we fast approach the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rooster, it’s the perfect time to reflect back on the past year, as well as think of a couple of those dreaded New Year Resolutions…

Fear not! Here at China Icons, we can think of one that’s a bit more exciting than heading to the gym everyday for a week before giving up until next year. If your resolutions include travelling or even relocating, there’s never been a better time to make China a part of your itinerary.

Whether you want to go to China to teach, be an entrepreneur, study at a Chinese university, or simply travel, China has it all. It’s a country where the ancient and the modern coalesce  The most popular destinations for many travellers include Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, where old traditions and fast-paced modern life intertwine perfectly. This is probably why it’s estimated that 600,000 foreigners currently live in China, as well as having 328,000 foreign students in 2012.

We have the perfect insight into travellers who have followed their dream in China, with many opting to permanently settle there. Many  of our China Icons videos explore the stories of these people, from Pol, a Turkish Games Designer, to Lee, a Television Presenter and Writer. We want to share the very best with you and to hopefully give you some inspiration on how you can follow your dream in China.

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A Games Designer in China

Turkish Games Designer, Pol, based himself in Guangzhou at the heart of the gaming development community. Go behind the scenes with Pol and find out more about what you can get up to in Guangzhou when the sun goes down.

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Lee’s Life in Beijing

Lee is a British Television Presenter and Writer and moved to Beijing when he was 26 years old. Lee explains how he started his own TV series analysing film reviews.

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Marion’s Life in Tibet

Now we head away from the big cities with Marion, who moved to Tibet from France and trained herself to become a mountain climber and even had the chance to take on the awe-inspiring Mt. Everest. Marion explains what attracted her to Tibet’s fascinating landscape and culture.

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Stunning embroidery of China’s Miao People

Fiona is an Australian ER Doctor, but moved to China to become a food writer and photo blogger. Watch below to find out more about Fiona’s journey to visit the Miao People and their amazing traditions.

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War Horse Theatre Director Alex Sims

War Horse has become a worldwide phenomenon and British Theatre Director, Alex Sims, has taken it to China. Go behind the scenes of the National Theatre of China and one of the biggest theatre productions in the world.

 

Do you fancy your hand in any of these professions? Are you travelling to China this year and have these videos persuaded you to maybe stay a little longer? Let us know in the comments below!

Check in next week for an insight into this year’s, world famous, Harbin Ice Festival and take a look at some of the stunning sculptures making an appearance this year.

Christmas in Shangri La

News and Travel Editor

It’s Christmas and we promised you some festive cheer and at China Icons, we’ll never let you down. Here is our Christmas special blog and video!

Ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated in the most remote provinces in China? In Shangri La, Yunnan Province, Christmas is an extremely popular and important time of year. It’s a time when the whole community celebrate together through the night of Christmas Eve and into the next day. So settle down with a glass of mulled wine, a mince pie, and relax whilst you watch our peak into Christmas in Shangri La…

You might have noticed a significant lack of the white stuff in our video. Don’t worry! We’ve made up for it below, with a collection of our favourite winter scenes in China. Don’t forget to comment with your favourites and to let us know how you’ll be celebrating Christmas this year.

winter-in-china-1
Image by Allen Watkin.

prince-teng-pavillion-winterA beautiful shot of the Pavilion of Prince Teng in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province.

anhui-winter-storms
Image by 张悦洋 (Zhang Yueyang).

A Chinese Winter storm hits Hefei in Anhui Province back in 2008.

great-wall-winter
Image by Roderick Eime. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Fancy trekking the Great Wall at this time of year?

summer-palace-winter
Image by Bridget Coila. Licensed under CC 2.0.

A very atmospheric pic of the Summer Palace in Winter.

We hope this blog has made you cosy and glad to be indoors, it looks pretty chilly in some of those pictures! Comment below with your favourite winter scenes and with whatever you’ll be getting up to this Christmas.

International Tea Day: A Celebration of Tea from China

News and Travel Editor

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, behind only water at no. 1? And that the average Briton drinks 876 cups of tea per year? If you’re as obsessed with tea as I am, then today is the day we’ve all been waiting for – International Tea Day!

Celebrated annually on December 15th since 2005, International Tea Day officially draws public attention to the impact of the international tea trade on estate workers and small-scale growers. Fairtrade have very much been leading the fight on this and you can check out the work they’re doing here.

As many of you will probably know, China is huge on all types of tea. In fact, it is estimated that there are at least 1500 kinds of tea! To celebrate, here is a rundown of our favourite tea facts and legends from China, as well as one of our favourite China Icons videos of Kate Humble receiving a tea making masterclass…

chinese-tea-drinking
Image by David Boté Estrada. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Did you know that tea is thought to have originated in China over 4000 years ago? The legend goes that tea was discovered by accident by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC. One of Emperor Shennong’s far-sighted policies required water to be boiled before drinking to prevent the spread of disease (very forward thinking!). One day, whilst sat under a tree with a boiling cup of water, a tea leaf allegedly drifted into his tea and after drinking it, the Emperor stated ‘one can think quicker, sleep less, move lighter, and see clearer.’ Thus, tea was born.

For nearly 3000 years, tea was used for medicinal purposes and it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that tea began to be enjoyed as an art form by all social classes. Nevertheless, Chrysanthemum tea remains a medicinal favourite in China and Korea as it’s thought to reduce fevers and ease headaches.

Tea also wasn’t just used for drinking… Believe it or not, tea was also used as a form of currency in Ancient China! Tea leaves were pressed into bricks and scored on one side to be broken up if change was needed.

Tea later became popular in Buddhist monasteries to keep monks awake during the hours of meditation. Because of the popularity tea gained, monks started to cultivate huge fields of tea. It was in one of these monasteries that a young orphan called Lu Yu was educated and wrote the book: The Book of Tea. This was a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea, tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and different classifications of tea.

tea-plantation

So there you have it, whether you’re ill, tired or fully fit, you should never pass an opportunity to have a cup of (Chinese) tea. In the West, we have a lot of catching up to do. Whereas people in the East have generally been consuming tea for thousands of years, us backward folk in the West have only been drinking tea for 400 years, so we’re officially about 4000 years behind. There has never been a better excuse than International Tea Day to start catching up.

If you want to know more about Chinese tea, check out our video below of the lovely Kate Humble receiving a private masterclass in the delicate art of Chinese Tea making.

Chinese Paper Cutting Art

News and Travel Editor

Planning on getting crafty with your gifts this Christmas? Or want to have some extra special snowflakes for your window? How about having a go at the art of Chinese Paper Cutting?

If you’re wondering how to get started, learn from the master in this week’s new video. Zhou Shuying has been paper cutting for decades.  You’ll see that her work is different from the Chinese paper cuts you may be more familiar with…

Paper cutting, the art of cutting paper with scissors or a small knife, started in the 4th Century. Originally it was an art form for high-society women to use as embroidery stencils, but soon began to spread wider and be used decoratively. 
Fast forward to the 21st century to see how this intricate and ancient art-form has shaped one woman’s life forever.
Here at China Icons we hope this gives you some Christmas-craft inspiration!
Do you like hand-made Christmas gifts? What will you be making this year? Let us know in the comments below!

In The News This Month | November

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to the latest China Icons ‘In The News’ blog, rounding up the best stories of the month. As always, so much has been going on this month! But worry not, China Icons has it covered – from World Philosophy Day and Singles Day to medical advancements and ancient discoveries. Read on to find out more!

It’s a spectacular time for science and medicine as a patient has been able to grow a new ear from a transplant on his arm, as he lost his old ear in a car accident. In other news, a Chinese farmer ingeniously created a rotating bed to relieve the pain and cure his wife from kidney stones. Most of us are lucky if we get a cup of tea without asking!

It has been an exciting month for archaeologists as they discovered a new ‘weird bird-like’ dinosaur on a building site of a new high school in Jiangxi Province.

It was also announced that recent discoveries may shed new light on the many cultural influences that may have shaped the various objects and treasures buried with the First Emperor. A radical theory has suggested that inspiration for these spectacular treasures may have come from abroad, with discoveries of bronze ducks, swans and cranes inside the Royal Tomb thought to be of Greek origin.

Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army. Image by Jean-Marie Hullot. Attributed under CC 2.0.

A huge amount of money has been flowing into China this month, from the 25 year old who has built a $500 million startup based on a bike share scheme, to China’s biggest online travel agency, Ctrip, purchasing UK startup Skyscanner for the whopping amount of $1.7 billion. Not to mention the casual $35 billion that has been invested by China in the new Silk Road in Pakistan.

11th November saw (many of us) celebrate Singles Day, which is becoming less to do with being single and more to do with grabbing as many bargains as possible. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, created the event back in 2009 and the day has gone from strength to strength, with sales reaching 102 billion yuan ($15 billion) on Alibaba by 8pm.

On a slightly more cultural note, 17th November was World Philosophy Day, and we all know that you can’t talk about philosophy without talking about China. Take a look at our blog here on everything from Confucius to Sun Tzu, and all their proverbs in between.

confucius-1
Image source: “Life And Works Of Confucius”, Prospero Intorcetta, et al., 1687.

Finally, for all you Toy Story fans out there, it was announced this month that Shanghai Disneyland is to expand with a brand new Toy Story themed area! Unfortunately, we do have to wait until 2018 when we’ll be able to meet Woody and Buzz.

Join us next month for an exclusive peek at Shangri La in the Snow (perfect for some Christmas viewing), a well as so much more from arts and culture to natural wonders and travel in China. December is bound to be a busy one!

Interested in finding out more on stories such as these? Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more incredible videos about China.

What is the Future of Film in China?

News and Travel Editor

The 89th Academy Awards may not take place until February 6th 2017, but Oscars buzz is well underway with films vying for public hearts and attention in the build up to the big day. Films angling for awards tend to be released in fall and winter, so when better to reflect on China’s changing industry and consider what lies ahead for the future of film?
Whilst were on the Oscars, did you know that after 52 years and 200 films, Jackie Chan has finally received an honorary Oscar?  Here at China Icons, we think he deserved one for his role in the Rush Hour films alone!  Watch his acceptance speech below, and I dare you to try to keep a massive grin from spreading across your face. Congratulations, Jackie Chan!

To put it simply, it comes down to numbers.
  • Every day in 2015, 22 cinema screens were opened in China. That’s a total of 8030 new screens!
  • Watching all these screens is an ever expanding audience who last year pushed China’s box office total to $6.78bn. This number is on track to reach a huge $10bn narrowing the gap with the US and expected to overtake the previously dominant US market as early as next year.
  • Year after year, admissions continue to rise by over an incredible 50%
  • Over Chinese New Year 2016, always a peak time for the Chinese box office, the country set a new record for the highest box office gross during one week in one territory with a whopping $548m .
These ever expanding numbers are credited in part to the booming Chinese industry, with Chinese films securing 61% of ticket sales in 2015.   The rest of the sales are from foreign films. There is a set quota of 34 foreign films imported on a revenue-sharing basis, which means US distributors collect 25% of box office revenue. About 30 films a year are imported on a flat-fee basis, meaning Chinese distributors pay a one-off fee for the film and then keep all the profits.  One prominent example of an imported success is ‘Warcraft‘. Although the film suffered negative reviews in the US, in China a network of hardcore gamers pushed the film to have the biggest opening box office take of the year.  
This quota system means that foreign filmmakers and distributors look for creative ways to access the colossal Chinese film market, such as co-productions and joint ventures. Warner Brothers has joined forces with China Media Capital to make Chinese-language films.  Dreamworks opened Oriental Dreamworks in Shanghai. Legendary, China Film Group and LeVision are currently working on Matt Damon-led monster epic ‘The Great Wall’, the largest film shot entirely in China for global distribution.

 
Homegrown leaders are also in on the action. Alibaba founder Jack Ma (profiled briefly here in our Singles Day blog) has teamed up with legendary director Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Indiana Jones, E.T.) to “bring more of China to America, and bring some more of America to China.” 
Richest man in China,Wang Jianlin, paid $3.5 billion earlier this year for Legendary Entertainment, whose hits include “Jurassic World” and “Interstellar.” Not content with just one studio, Wang has announced his intention to own one of Hollywood’s Big 6 Studios, and has also purchased glitzy TV production company Dick Clark Productions. On top of this, Wang’s company, Dalian Wanda Group, recently announced an alliance with Sony Pictures that will allow the company to invest in the studio’s movies. 
It’s a hugely exciting time for a film fan like me. China’s box office is ever-expanding and looks set to change the course of the film industry forever. Keep an eye on your cinema screen, the future of film is coming! Popcorn, anyone?
Do you have a favourite Chinese film? Or is there a film coming out soon that you just can’t wait for? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Giving Thanks for Jujubes

News and Travel Editor

Tomorrow, Thursday 24th November, is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. A day traditionally celebrated with family, a roast turkey and all the trimmings. As you salivate in anticipation of a Thanksgiving feast, I’m going to introduce you to a very different edible tradition. An ancient Chinese fruit that you may never of heard of, the Jujube!

Firstly, what is a Jujube? Also known as Chinese Date, Jujubes have been cultivated in China for over 4000 years! There’s over 700 types, each with varying textures and flavours. Eaten fresh, they taste crisp and fresh like apples. When dried, they taste and look a lot like dates! Jujube trees are tough with spiky branches and able to tolerate both cold and drought.

 

There’s lots of different ways to enjoy Jujubes. You can chomp on them fresh, or bake dried ones into a cake. They can be made into juice, syrups and liquors, or my personal favourite way to eat them – candied!

This wonder fruit is also important in other ways. Some experts believe Jujubes help aid restful sleep, and in traditional Chinese Medicine the fruit is used to treat the aches, pains and abdominal pain. As part of a traditional wedding ceremony, Jujubes are places onto the new couple’s bed in honour to promote fertility in the marriage.

Want a taste?

Here’s a recipe from Baker Gal to try at home

Candied Jujube Recipe

2 lbs dried jujube
3 1/3 cups cold water
3 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp corn starch

1. Wash and drain jujubes. Prick each jujube a few times with a fork. Mix cold water, sugar, and cornstarch, and bring to a boil. Add jujubes. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and refrigerate overnight.
2. In the morning, return the mixture to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Then, remove jujubes from the syrup and place on foil-lined pans. Place the pans in a 275F oven and bake for 2 to 5 hours or until dry to the touch.

So, do you think you’ll be incorporating this wonderfruit into your diet any time soon? Have you ever eaten Jujubes before – and if so, what did you think? Is there another Chinese food you’d love to learn more about? Let us know in the comments below!

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