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 Jia-A has since been replaced by the Chinese Super League (CSL), with the best 16 teams from across China competing in a season running from roughly from February/March to November/December.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.

The Fireworks Man: The Alternative Way to Celebrate Chinese New Year

News and Travel Editor

What do you think of when someone mentions Chinese New Year? Some people think of the colour red, the Chinese Dragon, red money envelopes, or even dash to travel home – Did you know 2.98 billion trips are expected this year?! And who can forget the spectacular firework displays happening across the Spring Festival period.

For 14 generations, Xue Jianguo and his family have been creating firework displays with a spectacular twist (You definitely shouldn’t try this at home).

The tradition arose when local villagers couldn’t afford firework shows for their New Year celebrations. Logically, the next best thing was to throw molten iron into the air to create cascading sparks – it’s a good job he’s wearing that straw hat! However beautiful this may be, Jianguo admits the job is quite dangerous.

fireworksman4

So, where is the best place around the world to celebrate Chinese New Year and watch the fireworks? We have our top four, what are yours?

4) London
This is the world’s largest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia. The best areas to head to are Trafalgar Square, Shaftesbury Avenue and, of course, Chinatown.

3) New York
If you’re not in China and you want grand and flashy, New York is the place to be. There are three separate parades across several days of celebrations: the Firecracker Ceremony, the Lunar New Year Parade and the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival. New York is perfect for blending old and new Chinese New Year traditions.

2) Beijing
Celebrating in Beijing this year? If so, Temple Fairs are a must! They’re full of traditional performances, arts & crafts and local street food. We love Ditan Park Temple Fair – it is after all one of the biggest and most popular. If you have time, head to a park to watch athletic competitions and demonstrations.

1) Hong Kong
Probably the most colourful out of all our destinations. Expect incredible fireworks, festive markets and parades. The Victorian Harbour is the best spot for the fireworks, but make sure you find time to watch the night parade along Tsim Sha Tsuji. Naturally, Hong Kong Disney also make an appearance. 

hk-cny
Image by Michael Elleray. Licensed under CC 2.0.

How are you celebrating Chinese New Year? Where do you think is the best place to watch the fireworks this year? Send us your pictures and comments and we’ll feature them on our Twitter and Facebook pages at @ChinaIcons!

Stocking Up for Chinese New Year

News and Travel Editor

It’s coming up to the most important event in the Chinese calendar – Chinese New Year! We’re about to enter the Year of the Rooster once more, and if you were born in 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993 or 2005 then this is your year! Everyone has already started with their preparations.

Our very own Coco is going to give you some top tips on all the essentials for your Chinese New Year celebrations. We’re also going to delve deeper into some of these fascinating traditions revealed by Coco in our video below.

Coming up to Chinese New Year, the colour red is an absolute must. Red symbolises luck, happiness and joy. It’s also common in Chinese weddings and other celebrations. This has been the case since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), when only the Emperor’s close relatives could have red walls, and the peasants had to put up with blue walls – how annoying!

Coco seems like a big fan of this one: Red envelopes are usually given to the younger generation after the New Year’s Feast (lucky for some…). It’s very important that the money shouldn’t appear with a ‘4’ in it (such as 44 or 444), as the pronunciation is very similar to ‘death’. You also shouldn’t open the envelope in front of the person who gave it to you which is considered impolite (probably so there’s no arguments over who received what and why!).

2016-12-16 (10).png

Last, but certainly not least, a few days before the Chinese New Year celebrations, people will often clean their whole house to get rid of the old and welcome the new. We’ve given you plenty of notice so no excuses now!

Have you already started your preparations? Do you have any fun traditions you think the rest of us should take up?

Check in next week for a spectacular insight into the ‘Fireworks Man’, a man and his family, who for 14 generations, have created their own fireworks with a jaw-dropping twist. We’ll also be giving you the lowdown on the best places in China to celebrate the New Year and to watch the world famous fireworks.

Harbin Ice Festival 2017: In Pictures

News and Travel Editor

The world famous Harbin Ice Festival is well underway in China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. We have been treated to some spectacular sights in the past and this year is no exception. Check out some of the stunning shots captured at this year’s festival so far.

This is the 33rd Harbin Ice Festival since its inception in 1963. At the start of every festival, an ice sculpture competition is held, showcasing some brilliant creations. Although the Harbin Ice Sculpture Competition is over for this year, the festival itself won’t finish until February 25th, so there’s still plenty of time to take in the sights across the 200 acre park.

Here are our favourite images so far of this year’s festival.

Fireworks erupt at the opening ceremony on January 5th.

Did you know that many of the blocks used for the sculptures were taken from Harbin’s Songhua River?

Did you double take just then? That’s right, some of the sculptures are actually designed into slides for the public. Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm for this one…

Many of the sculptures are inspired by Chinese folk tales and global landmarks. with the Egyptian Sphynx making regular appearances.

The Harbin Snow Festival has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The festival attracted over 1 million visitors last year.

18 couples have so far braved the cold in Harbin to get married, but that’s not the most daring this to happen at the festival this year…

Swimming competitions take place in a pool cut out of the frozen Songhua River. Just looking at this makes me feel cold.

Next week, our very own Coco will be giving you some top tips on stocking up for your Chinese New Year celebrations as you get ready to welcome in the Year of the Rooster. We’ll also take a look at some of the myths and legends surrounding Chinese New Year, including what NOT to do if you’re given a red money envelope…

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.

#5
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.

#4 
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.

#3
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.

#2
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.

#1
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!

Natural wonders, jaw-dropping engineering, delicious food, bustling cities, ancient temples, glamorous fashionistas, visionary thinkers. This is the site to meet China's icons – past, present and still to come